Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 9-16

I am so excited: I received the pop-up book for a present. (I got it the day after xmas because the weather delayed delivery.) I think Ishmael peeking out of the bedcovers is just perfect.

Chapter 9: The Sermon

The preacher sermonizes on the book of Jonah, and I find myself wondering, is this all he preaches about? Or are there other spots in the bible handy for seafarers?

Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God... And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.
It seems to me the preacher is aware of the peccadilloes of his flock, and flushing out the story of Jonah with that. I felt I had to go look at the original, as no doubt it is relevant to the rest of the book. Again I was reminded of the travails of Odysseus. Odysseus and his men are shipwrecked (often) due to the wrath of Poseidon; Jonah's shipmates are endangered due to the wrath of his God. And it is due to their willfulness. Could this be an essential koan for sailors, that somehow it is in their power to save their lives if only they could fulfill the will of God?
And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.
Woes to them: who slight the living God; who are charmed from Gospel duty (does that mean not seeking religion because life is so good?); who pour oil on God's stormy waters; who seek to please; who worry about a good name in name only; etc. Oh, and Paul is a Pilot. So there's another spot ripe for sermons.

Delights to them: oh I can't list them all. Basically, who let themselves be held by God.

Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

Oh, I believe Ishmael is falling in love with the Pagan. He can't stop talking about him. He is entranced by the man's hidden nobility. Queequeg is even phrenologically like George Washington. His uncouthness is more like uncouthiness, that is, not exactly (refer to Stephen Colbert's truthiness).
If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan's breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.
Oh my.

Thirty dollars in silver. Uh oh. That can't be good. Which is the Judas here?

Then, oh my. (Do you see my hand over my shocked mouth?) They couldn't sleep...just had to keep talking. Why, it's like, well, Ishmael says it best:
Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.
Chapter 11: Nightgown

Confabulations = such a better word than conversations.
Ishmael = definitely a bottom. 'Teach me everything, oh Socratic heathen, you. Tell me what to do.'

Chapter 12: Biographical

Kokovoko = not on any map.
There was excellent blood in his veins—royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untutored youth.
vitiated = corrupted morally; debased.

So Queequeg was quite the creative stowaway. How sad that he threw away his royal position in Kokovoko for the Christians, who "had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings before him."

Ishmael is not so smitten as to realize the skill of the harpooneer can be of use to him.

Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

It's OK for cannibals to be seen in town, just not OK for him to be on such confidential terms with a white man about town, sharing a wheelbarrow and all. It makes me wonder if the landlord Peter Coffin had a whiff of the matchmaker about him, a wickedly gleeful matchmaker.
I asked him why he carried such a troublesome thing with him ashore, and whether all whaling ships did not find their own harpoons. To this, in substance, he replied, that though what I hinted was true enough, yet he had a particular affection for his own harpoon, because it was of assured stuff, well tried in many a mortal combat, and deeply intimate with the hearts of whales.
Oh, what a large harpoon you have, my friend. May I.....touch it?

One of the greenhorns mimicked Queequeg a bit too close to get away with it, and Queequeg gave him a little toss. While his is berated, the ship gives the greenhorn a big toss right into the water, and Queequeg single-handedly saves the day.
He only asked for water—fresh water—something to wipe the brine off; that done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying to himself—"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians."
Chapter 14: Nantucket
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it.

Lotta sand there. Plants must be imported. Nothing to support them but the sea, so Nantucketers became the kings of the sea. Oh, this must be Ishmael's holy grail.

Chapter 15: Chowder

Coffin sent the two to Try Pots in Nantucket. (Good to know from the annotations that this refers to the large pots used on whaling ships to render whale blubber.) The creative sign seems ominous to Ishmael.
The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on the other side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a gallows. Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time, but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving.
Argh. Ish keeps sending mixed messages. Does he want a glorious happenstance suicide by sea or not? If only the sea could take the decision out of his hands...

Eat seafood? Got chowder? With some smoked herring for variety?

Chapter 16: The Ship

Queequeg's god Yojo sends Ishmael to find their next job. (Why is Tit-bit obvious?) Of the three ships he sees, it seems he picks the oldest most clabbered-together rickety thing he could find, the Pequod, named after massacred Indians.
She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the Sperm Whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
What a romantic Ishmael is. He sure has a thing for cannibals, doesn't he? And nobility touched by melancholy. Ah. He is touched by melancholy, and he would like to be noble. He seeks that which he would be, if only he had that calm surety he sees in his new bosom friend. It seems from this description the ship is as much a character in the story as the people and the whale.
There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the appearance of the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most old seamen...
I can't help but think of the real live sailors I saw in Newport. It was early afternoon, and for them with their very early work day it was evening and their happy hour. They were brown and sun- and wind-scored like Captain Peleg.
...there was a fine and almost microscopic net-work of the minutest wrinkles interlacing round his eyes, which must have arisen from his continual sailings in many hard gales, and always looking to windward;—for this causes the muscles about the eyes to become pursed together. Such eye- wrinkles are very effectual in a scowl.
Marchant service. hehe. The Nantucket Quakers = sanguinary = bloodthirsty. ...but just about whales, apparently. A long back-and-forth with the other owner, Ishmael is He hasn't yet met Ahab, named for the King who was married to Jezebel.

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