Laura Harris & Fernando Zalamea

In the Sign of Jonah: Around Moby-Dick

“The miracle of Herman Melville is this: that a hundred years ago in Moby Dick…he painted a picture of the world in which we live, which is to this day unsurpassed.” -  C. L. R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In

Laura and Fernando are going to chat about Herman Mellville’s Moby Dick, read through anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and mathematical practices.

C. L. R. James read Moby Dick through its queer, indigenous, working class, motley crew, as it charts an anti-capitalist map of the “living madness” of industrial civilization, on fire and plunging blindly into darkness.

In helping us understand the fundamental and abysmal swing between the given and Utopia in modern life, does a mathematical reading of Moby Dick offer us a profound abstract orientation with which to understand our times? As we follow the book, as we sink in the bottom of the abyss to then be able to ascend, or rise to high cusps to be able to later descend, we mirror the transits of contemporary maths, moving between the local and the global, the real and the ideal, crossing through the penumbral zones, the half-darkness and outposts of the obscure where our lives are lived. 

Laura Harris wrote one of our favourite ever essays: What Happened to the Motley Crew? Her book Experiments in Exile: C. L. R. James, Hélio Oiticica, and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness shows how James and Oiticica gravitate toward and attempt to relay the ongoing renewal of dissident, dissonant social forms that constitute what she calls “the aesthetic sociality of blackness.”


Fernando Zalamea is a Colombian mathematician, philosopher, cultural critic and writer living in Bogotá. He opens up the vast spectrum of modern and contemporary mathematics and the new philosophical possibilities they suggestto any of us who have ever read an epic novel, been moved by a piece of art, or wonder about the complexity of human understanding and social life.  His thinking — as summarised in English in his book Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics (Urbanomic x Sequence Press 2012) — weaves  together strands of the modern and postmodern, the rational and the romantic into a synthetic universality, endlessly revisable and updatable, and puts forward an idea of the trans and transmodernity as a term to encompass our unfolding epoch. 


Image Description: Two white origami geometric paper whales are sat perched on a low wooden coffee table.  One is larger than the other. The small one sits in front and they face in opposite directions with their tales pointing upwards.  On the coffee table there are glasses of water and a closed book with a bookmark sticking out.

  • Video

    in the sign of jonah
  • Audio