Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 17-23

Chapter 17: The Ramadan

I suppose Melville is showing his prejudices here. He knows enough of exotic religions to know the name of Ramadan, but not that it would not apply to this cannibalistic exotic, tattooed islander who seems to have a mix of 'heathen' religious elements in his repertoire. I can't expect more from the times, I suppose. Even his narrator, Ishmael, who professes

As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical...
can't help but view these non-Christian religions as 'comical'. That's a stature of Yojo in the pop-up, Queequeg's god. I can't help but think of Indonesia, though. I do believe there's quite a mix there of animistic, Islam, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist religious roots. Poor Ishmael couldn't sleep well, thinking of his companion so uncomfortable while sitting in meditation all night. Never mind that Ishmael is the one that is uncomfortable.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him...
The only one comical or frantic here is Ishmael.

Chapter 18: His Mark

Q demonstrates harpooning, and gets the job even though they only hired Christians. For the record, the pop-up graphic novel took liberties. I didn't think the two owner-captains were frightened of him...just highly impressed at his ability to hit a mark the size of a whale's eye. For them, thrift trumps piety, or rather, thrift has a higher rung within the piety ladder. Also, it was a dab of tar, not a fish, but I can understand the difficulty in conveying a dollop of tar without also using the lengthy words of Melville.

When truly big emergencies happen:
No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands—how to rig jury-masts—how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of."
Chapter 19: The Prophet

A cryptic stranger quizzes Ishmael and Queequeg:

"Yes," said I, "we have just signed the articles."

"Anything down there about your souls?"

"About what?"

"Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,—good luck to 'em; and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."

I like that, fifth wheel. So true. Life's much easier as a Buddhist that way. What's with the silver calabash? I found an explanation here. There is more in that book's passage about Melville's admiration of Hawthorne as well. Tistig's prophecy? Don't remember...

The nutty doomsayer is named Elijah. I remember that significance. Elijah was the enemy of Ahab and Jezebel, and brought about their death.

Chapter 20: All Astir

Supplies for three years. That will cause a stir. Still no Ahab to be seen, but Ishmael tries not to know it bothers him.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

Again Elijah appears. In the Bible, he was responsible for dead priests of Baal. Here, for loss of seamen? Funny scene in which Q would use a man for a footstool.
"Holloa! Starbuck's astir," said the rigger. "He's a lively chief mate, that..."
Starbucks eh? Now I must know. [insert Jeopardy tune here.] The business does seem to get its name from this.

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas

I might have been reading this on Christmas if I'd been up to speed on my own schedule.
And here Bildad, who, with Peleg, be it known, in addition to his other offices, was one of the licensed pilots of the port—he being suspected to have got himself made a pilot in order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the ships he was concerned in...
Cold Christmas, ice as armor. That must be quite a sight.

The owner-Captains are like mother hens, sending their flock off to school or whatnot.
Be careful in the hunt, ye mates. Don't stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent. within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind that cooper don't waste the spare staves. Oh! the sail-needles are in the green locker! Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts.
Palavering = such a better word than 'talking' or 'chatting.'

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

Bulkington? Oh, he was the aloof one. parse this out...the land seems good, a refuge, but in a tempest it is bad, for a ship. The ship must head out to sea, into the tempest in order to be saved. So it is for Bulkington, Ishmael says.
Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

...For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!
So vain? Is that the same as 'in vain'?
Apotheosis = such a better word than 'glorification' or 'perfection'.

Interesting choice of phrase: slavish shore. There is a certain freedom Ishmael is looking for on the sea. Is it the freedom from thoughts of Death as he must work every moment to live? Is it the freedom from having to think and behave only in certain ways when among normal people, among women? Is it freedom from creditors?

Um. Still no glimpse of Ahab. I cannot yet turn the page of the pop-up book.

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