Monday, March 1, 2010

Me v. Moby: Part Ten

3:12 p.m. I don’t think I’ve seen Captain Ahab for about 80 pages. He hasn’t said anything since the Pequod met the Jeroboam. Since then, they’ve offed three other whales; and Ishmael discussed whale heads, spines and migratory groups.

I don’t miss Ahab like I did Ishmael and Queequeg earlier. This may be heresy, but there are four characters on the Pequod I prefer to him—Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck and Stubb. Ahab, by his nature, can only have a single facet. He’s obsessed with the whale. The other four have more layers.

But Ahab still drives the narrative (at least, when there is a narrative to drive.) I may think a car has a nice stereo system or paint job, but I still need the engine.

3:21 p.m. You want to snap on someone? Tell them they stink worse than an Assyrian city during a plague.

3:36 p.m. It only took 392 pages, but I’m glad Ishmael got around to defending the smell of a sperm whale. Next, he’s going to explain how they’re not fat, just big-boned.

3:51 p.m. OK, I know it’s immature, but I laughed aloud when I read, “Let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness. Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm forever!”

4:07 p.m. Nobody describes stink better than Melville. The scent of burning blubber: “It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment.”

4:20 p.m. Melville has spent more than 400 pages describing various aspects of the whaling industry; but he beautifully summates it in two sentences. “This is man-killing. Yet this is life.”

4:45 p.m. It’s been awhile since I summarized the plot. Allow me to rectify that:

The Pequod-ites go whaling, repeatedly. There are a few close calls. Tashtego nearly drowns while trapped in the head of a dead sperm whale. Pip, one of the youngest whalers, leaps into the sea to avoid a whale. When he’s recovered hours later, his sanity has left him.

Most importantly, the Pequod meets a British vessel with a captain that has a similar story to Captain Ahab. The British captain lost his hand while trying to harpoon Moby Dick. But, instead of turning into a monomaniac, the Brit has a sense of humor about it.

The captain claims to have seen the white whale twice since losing his hand. Naturally, Ahab wants to know if he tried to kill it again.

“Didn’t want to try to,” the captain replies. “Ain’t one limb enough?”

In this exchange, Melville illustrates the two ways in which people deal with trauma. You can accept it, move on and hopefully learn from it; or you can do what Captain Ahab does.

5:01 p.m. My Grampa Lea used to say, “If you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it.”

Now I know his source material.

5:17 p.m. “For the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outstretching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the circle of the sciences.”

This is an authorial admission.

5: 18 p.m. “To write a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”

So is this.

5:36 p.m. “Wherefore, for all these things, we account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality.”

Wow, Melville sure got that wrong.

6:10 p.m. A final summary before dinner: Ahab cracks even further. (Farther? No, further.) He points a musket at Starbuck for suggesting they port. Queequeg gets sick, so the ship’s carpenter builds him a coffin. Then, Queequeg recovers from the illness.

-Jason Lea,

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