Ink and Light: The Gobi Desert’s Singing Dunes and Inspiration from Herman Melville

Khongoryn Els: The Singing Dunes, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

A trace of slate in the sand grains at Khongoryn Els results in vibrations that are not only easily audible, but which reverberate through one’s body.

…I am tormented
with an everlasting itch
for things remote.
Herman Melville – Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1851

Herman Melville (1819-1891) served aboard a whaling ship before deserting in the Marquesas. Although he knew his subject (the book draws from Melville’s own experience, The Bible, Shakespeare’s work, research into whaling, the actual account of a hard-to-catch white whale nicknamed Mocha Dick and the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex by a whale, Moby Dick received mixed reviews and was a commercial flop. Dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorn “in token of my admiration for his genius,” the book sold just 3,200 copies in Melville’s lifetime and was out of print at his death. 

A year after Melville’s death, Moby Dick was reprinted by Harper and Brothers. Literati circles – mostly in New York – kept interest in the book (barely) alive over the next several years until it was rediscovered by larger audiences. Of the book, William Faulkner said that he wished he’d written it himself; D. H. Lawrence called it “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” and in time it found its place as an icon of American literature.

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