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225 pages, Hardcover
First published April 14, 2020
When I give up the fish, I get, at long last, that thing I had been searching for: a mantra, a trick, a prescription for hope. I get the promise that there are good things in store. Not because I deserve them. Not because I worked for them. But because they are as much a part of Chaos as destruction and loss. Life, the flip side of death. Growth, of rot.Why Fish Don’t Exist is one part memoir, one part discussion of science and its history, and one part biography of David Starr Jordan. Jordan lived a rather remarkable life as a scientist and taxonomist who later became the first President of Stanford University. Yet during his life, he relentlessly overcame the personal losses of his brother, a wife, a daughter, and professional losses as his original records and sample collections were destroyed by a fire in the 1890s, and then destroyed again by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
“When I give up the fish, I get, at long last, that thing I had been searching for: a mantra, a trick, a prescription for hope. I get the promise that there are good things in store. Not because I deserve them. Not because I worked for them. But because they are as much a part of Chaos as destruction and loss. Life, the flip side of death. Growth, of rot.”
What David Starr Jordan set in motion by practicing the art of taxonomy, by following Darwin’s advice to sort creatures by evolutionary closeness, led to a fateful discovery. In the 1980s taxonomists realized that fish, as a legitimate category of creature, do not exist.
But fish, in particular, do not exist.
What words go here?
Imagine seeing thirty years of your life undone in one instant. Imagine whatever it is you do all day, whatever it is you care about, whatever you foolishly pick and prod at each day, hoping, against all signs that suggest otherwise, that it matters. Imagine finding all the progress you have made on that endeavor smashed and eviscerated at your feet.
Those words go here.
Maybe Cape Cod is fertile ground for existential transformation. Something about the metals in its sandy soil catalyzing metaphysical shifts — I don’t know. All I know is I, too, had my entire worldview rearranged when I was visiting its shores. It happened when I was about seven years old, and oddly enough, it was that moment that would pave the way for my obsession with David Starr Jordan, that would make him the kind of person I hoped could save me when my life later unraveled.
If fish don’t exist, what else do we have wrong? Slow dawning for me, a scientist’s daughter, but when I give up the fish, I realize that science itself is flawed. Not the beacon toward truth I had always thought it was, but a blunt tool that can wreak a lot of havoc along the way.