Friday, December 26, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 5-8

Moby-Dick: A Pop-Up Book I am so behind already this week...but I expected so with the holidays. While I am enjoying the reading, I'm still doing a bit of procrastinating. I haven't felt much like sitting at my desk and typing either. Murasaki wrote in the comments about finding the chapel scenes funny, and I thought I hadn't read carefully, but I just hadn't read that far yet. Naughty Murasaki! No fair giving bits away ahead of time.

Chapter 5: Breakfast

...a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.
The annotated powermobydick explains bosky...forest-like...but not monkey-jackets. I did find my internal image of this scene funny. "Grub, ho!" The narrator sees that too, revealing the illusion of the saying that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. I have a soft spot for "bashful bears."
Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas—entire strangers to them—and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table—all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes—looking round as sheepishly at each other.

Chapter 6: The Street

Extravagance and uncouthiness mixed...sounds kinda like the gold rush, or backstage with a rock star.
And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses.
Is this bloom due to the riches, or the absences of their men?

Chapter 7: The Chapel

Memorial marble tablets are the first things to capture the attention of the congregation. it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
I am really taken with the image of faith as a jackal. This sets a tone for me, and I'm not yet finding this humorous. I think a jackal-like Faith has deep roots in this country, and it is not pretty. It is the kind of faith that votes for a president because he is "a man of God." It is the kind of faith that willfully puts others in harm's way to fulfill the beliefs of that faith. It is the kind of faith that will court death due to the fear of death. I wonder how this will play out, how Melville sees it.

Ishmael is merry at the thought of a dramatic valorous death.

Chapter 8: The Pulpit

The famous Father Mapple climbs into the pulpit on a ship's ladder and pulls it up after himself. Ishmael sees the pulpit as "a self-containing stronghold—a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls." Like that fortress (see link for photo), this pulpit is a place to fortify against evil. Maybe I've been reading too much from atheist bloggers, but I find that more ominous than humorous. Ishmael feels more dead than alive, it seems. His bodily substance is nothing compared to who he really is. So is this fake ship's prow more real to him than the real ship's prow?
Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.


Anonymous said...

It's been awhile since I read Moby-Dick, but (at least in my experience) Melville's not a humorous writer at all, but quite skeptical. The dark portents were intended. You might also find some interesting references to Melville's relationship with the writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the "Adonis" of Salem, if you google their names together.

"Whence come you, Hawthorne? By what right do you drink from my flagon of life? And when I put it to my lips -- lo, they are yours and not mine." This quote and others puts certain scenes in the book in a different light.

Jason Sacks said...

I appreciate that Melville is not intending to be humorous, and perhaps any humor in this book is solely in the eye of the beholder. But I too found Ishmael's initial encounters with Quequeg to be quite humorous, with their sudden turnabout from fear to great affection. At the very least they feel a bit forced, as if Melville felt a strong need to create a friendship between the characters without heed for the logic of most standard events.

Of course, this quick adjustment might just have something to do with the way sailors bond on ship. In a crisis on ship, one has to trust another or problems might arise quickly in a crisis.

These chapters discussed today are much more filled with portent. It's striking how quickly the book literally turns darker, as the town feels suffused by darkness, whether wandering the streets or even attending church. And as you note, Ishmael feels dead in church - though I have to wonder how much of that is the kind of living death of waiting onshore for his ship to literally come in.

Anonymous said...

Actually (Jason), I agree that the Queequeg "marriage bed" scene was kind of funny, and probably meant to be so by Melville.

And, in these troubled times, it IS tempting to see the book as mostly ominous portent....