The Whale in the Room

Ride the Whale!

Month: September, 2012

Chapter 12 is where we learn about Queequeg

It’s called biographical. Queequeg comes from an island called Kokovoko. “It is not down in any map; no true places ever are.”

It seems that Queequeg comes from savage royalty, but longs of seeing Christian lands. I wonder what those times must have been like. Times when one might say, “Y’know, those Christians seem to really be putting it together. I should probably dip my wick in ‘at, as I imagine that before long, they will come for my heathen ass.” These days, I expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Moving on. There was no room for Prince Queequeg on this Christian vessel headed for Christian lands, so in the dark of night our boy snuck out.

“Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these thickets, with it’s prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in hand; and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains; and throwing himself at full length upon the deck, grappled a ring-bolt, and swore to not let go, though hacked in pieces.”

Guess what? Queequeg is more badass than you will ever be. Ever. Not Sorry. Funny thing, it didn’t take long for Queequeg to realize that the civilized Christian was not so civilized at all. By the time he made it to Nantucket and witnessed where these whalemen spent their wages, “Thought he, it’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.” Truth be told, I would guess the savage is more at home with his savage behavior than the devout and spiritual are with their own, thus leading to a minimalization of twisted needs. It’s true that we all need someone to love. To lean on. Or whatever. We do not all need someone to suck on our toes to get off. But let us not judge.

and then,

“For the nonce, however, he proposed to to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans.” Yes Queequeg. Let the spreading of oats commence. But what of Oates? Hall and Oates? Next.

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Chapter 11 is called “Nightgown”

The exponentially growing awesomeness that is this book is unsustainable. I take that back. This book might be infinite in it’s awesomeness. I am a believer.

The long and the short of it goes like this; Ishmael and Queequeg toss about, can’t sleep, sit up, smoke tomahawk pipe. End scene. In the course of two pages, many a nugget of truth are delivered for snacking, all wrapped in the striking prose of a poetic little rant.

“The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”

Hermano gets meta!

Start with the premise of enjoying the womb-like warmth of a down comforter, with the tip of your nose exposed to the chilly air. Who doesn’t like that? Now turn that experience into an anecdote about perspective, reality, and the causal and essential relationship between contrasting entities. I think we just got iced dude.

“Then there you lie, like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

Yes dude. Yes we do.

“I was only alive to the condensed confidential comfortableness of sharing a pipe and a blanket with a real friend.”

I fear that at some point, this bromance will be put to the test. Tally Ho!

A Bosom Friend. Yes Dude. Chapter 10.

In this case, our dear Ishmael tells us of how he and Queequeg become bosom friends. Upon returning from the whalemans chapel, Ishmael finds Queequeg in the common room. It’s a little awkward at first, but they decide that they shall henceforth be bosom friends. Best friends. Blood brothers in arms. It’s a rather heartwarming chapter and I can tell that these two are gonna need each other. Hermano Melville seems to be telling us that oftentimes there is more civility in the so called “savage” than there is in the ranks of civilized society. He has a serious crush on Queequeg. To be fair, so do I.

“Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”

“…content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. Surely this was a touch of fine philosophy…”

No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it.”

“I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but a hollow courtesy.”

Hermano Melville, I applaud you and your love of the savage. I can imagine that celebrating the virtues of the savage was not popular in your day, in the dark ages of the 19th century. And so, through fiction you impart a healthy dose of asskicking wisdom. Another line that snagged me was the following.

‘So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he must have “broken his digester.”‘ Truth be spoken Hermano Melville.

Or as a friend of mine used to say, “the empty tin rattles the loudest.” Yes dude.

Ishmael and Queequeg eventually retire to their quarters, newly minted homies for life. “But we did not go to sleep without some little chat”

ooooohhhhh. Pillow talk.

“Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg- a cosy, loving pair.”

Yes. Dude.

Chapter 9. The Sermon.

With speed he flew to my relief,

    As on a radiant dolphin borne;

A choice line from Father Mapple’s glorious maritime sermon. It’s actually a line from some hymn, which I will assume very real. I like the imagery of these Christians. Dolphins are known affable and intelligent creatures, so it comes as no surprise that, if the lord were to deliver one from evil, (s)he would arrive upon the back of such a delightful creature, glowing with divine awesomeness.

Hermano Melville, through our portly friend Father Mapple, seems to be hinting at some awesome sinning that should unfold in later chapters. I can’t wait. Father Mapple tells us the story of Jonah and the whale, how Jonah was a vile sinner and blah blah blah he tried to run away from the lord and then got et up by the whale and and it’s dark and moist and terrible and smelly so Jonah was all like, ‘I deserve this lord, for I am a sinner,’ and the lord is like ‘okay, you are delivered from evil.’ In accepting one’s punishment as just, one is delivered from evil. I think.

It’s hard to say where Hermano Melville stands on sinning, but he certainly seems to know how it works.

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

This chapter has got me thinking about our dear narrator Ishmael. Is he fleeing some terrible sin, some atrocity committed in the city of New Yawk? Can Ishmael be holding back on some very essential detail that drives him to a life at sea? I’m no scholar (and grateful that no scholars are present to demean my plebeian interpretation of this rock-star-pile-o-pages) but Hermano Melville seems to be building something rather sinister here.

“Terrors upon terrors run shouting through his soul. In all his cringing attitudes, the God-fugitive is now too plainly known.” Yes dude. So dark.

One thing is becoming clearer, and that is that while very little seems to be happening in terms of action (a friend recently told me that almost nothing happens throughout the entire novel) every element, which becomes a chapter, is a platform for commentary on some universal theme. Heady.

“While he was speaking these words, the howling of the shrieking, slanting storm without seemed to add new power to the preacher, who when describing Jonah’s sea-storm, seemed tossed by a storm himself.”

That’s how I feel about you Hermano Melville.

“Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of boisterous mob can never shake from the sure Keel of Ages.”

This book is BAD ASS. So BAD ASS that the next chapter is titled “A Bosom Friend.” Just you wait. NeXXXt!

The Pulpit or a man of certain venerable robustness. Chapter 8.

From time to time we should probably play a little game called “what exactly is going on here?” Our dear Ishmael is in the church on a blustery, stormy day in New Bedford after having departed New Yawk in search of work on a whaling ship. He has acquired a delightful friend, heathen in appearances yet quite deliberate and cool, named Queequeg. They have shared a bed, spooned, and elicited odd childhood memories in Ishmael. As far as I can tell there was no suggestive language to give the impression of sexual touches, so get your mind out of the gutter. This is a family web log and we shall maintain the utmost professionalism and respect for taste and decency. Breakfast has been consumed and now we appear to be in search of some spiritual sustenance.

Hermano Melville has provided us with a dashing and dramatic entrance for our new friend and man of the cloth, Father Mapple.

“I had not been seated very long ere a man of certain venerable robustness entered; immediately as the storm pelted-door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that his fine old man was the chaplain.”

In plain speak, as I see it; these two big ass doors fly open, and they’re like huge and wooden and covered in like engravings and scripture and shit, and there’s this storm ragin’ and this big fucker, and I mean BIG fucker, dressed in like holy robes and shit, looking all serious and holy and in charge, walks in like it’s not a big deal, even though it is because he’s about to drop the serious word of the lord and everyone knows it cause he’s got that boss look in his eye that says, “I see you and I see your sin.” The word of the lord. Here it comes. Fuck.

Turns out he was just wearing a raincoat, and upon removing it, reveals a suit of casual profession. The pulpit, the namesake of dear chapter 8, is the stand from which our new acquaintance Father Mapple shall deliver us from evil. The pulpit itself is tall and comes equipped with an ornate red rope-ladder, so as to be like a ship. Because we are in a whalmans chapel, and obviously the lord channels his wisdom from a sturdy three-masted vessel known as Heaven. Once father maple has fully, slowly, and robustly ascended the pulpit, he draws the ladder up within,

“… leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec.”

Let’s get ready to rumble. The sermon is probably about to begin. Next.

Ch. VII- The Chapel (The Whalemans Chapel)

At some point it seems pertinent to admit that this book here, this Moby Dick, is not a necessarily a comedy of errors. Or perhaps it is. At what point do I acknowledge that there are serious forces at work here? When do I admit that I am not above being moved by the words of Hermano Melville, that something resonates with me, you’re dearest, drunkest, literary tour guide? Almost now. But not quite.

Wandering around New Bedford, our dear homeboy Ishmael stumbles upon a chapel. The Whalemans Chapel. There are whalers, widows, widows-to-be, and a pastor that has yet to show. There are many an inscription of the deceased whaling community and Ishmael is kind enough to share a few with us. They all read “sacred” at the top, which is courteous, if not redundant. I assumed all things in the house of the lord had varying degrees of sacredness. I enjoyed this one in particular.

Sacred.

To the Memory

O F

ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY

NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY

AND SAMUEL GLEIG,

Forming on of the boats’ crews

of

THE SHIP ELIZA

Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,

On the Off-shore Ground in the

P A C I F I C,

December 31st, 1839.

T H I S  M A R B L E

Is here placed by their surviving

SHIPMATES.

Towed out of sight by a whale, on New Years Eve no less. I wonder if they were aware of that fact and had some sort of celebration planned after they had killed and secured the goods of said whale. Sometimes I become truly indignant about the cost of my cellphone bill ($100, which, mind you, does more than my home PC did 10 years ago). Somewhere, someone is probably (definitely) starving to death. I quit smoking and so I eat all the time (the need hole must be filled) and now I’m worried about getting fat. Which is happening. At some point or another, someone was very likely towed out to sea by an angry whale, never to be seen again. Happy New Years. I shall try to complain less and do more stuff without congratulating myself for merely existing. Truth. Fact. Next.

Ch. 6, The Street (is where you find the good stuff)

Ah the diversity of a whaling town in the 19th century. Cannibals, heathens, savages, white men, dark men, whalers, and I can only assume the occasional lady of the night to compliment the sole, lonely lady boy for the whaler of peculiar need. I imagine that a life spent at sea with no company except that of surly whaler men, drunk and over crowded, malnourished and malcontent, will no doubt breed the most unusual sort of fantasies and fetishes amongst the crew.

“And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens.”

Something tells me Ishmael (Hermano Melville) knows a thing or two about loneliness and the subsequent reacquaintance with the fairer sex. Go team. Ishmael gives us a little preview of the sort of folk that populate New Bedford. Boring. Where’s the whale? What about the one-legged madman, hell-bent on destroying said whale? Where’s the boat? Why are we still in town? I’m getting impatient. Let’s go club some whales! Next.

Ch. 5, Breakfast, or Grub Ho!

“A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!”

A choice line from an otherwise short and reflective chapter. Our well rested narrator descends into the common room to break his fast and notes the odd silence that captivates the whalers. Where one would expect them to be of the boisterous sort, harassing each other about bedding some unfortunate salt wench, they eat in almost shameful silence. Amongst peers, one would assume familiarity and fraternity. Not so much. Queequeg, from the head of the table no less, proceeds to eat enthusiastically with his harpoon, which is thoroughly badass.

“… reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads and grappling beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people’s estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.”

Beefsteaks for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Next.