Sunday, January 04, 2009

Moby Dick: Chapters 61- 70

Chapter 61: Stubb Kills a Whale

Queequeg -> squid good, means sperm whale

I idly swayed in what seemed an enchanted air. No resolution could withstand it; in that dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at last my soul went out of my body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum will, long after the power which first moved it is withdrawn.

There's that mystical enchantment again. I remember that, the hypnotic effect of waves making you feel closer to life, the universe, and everything.

The three harpooneers are described like predatory animals. It seems a bit racist to me.

loggerhead: Nautical. A post on a whaleboat used to secure the harpoon rope. I sure am glad I budgeted the time out to read this slowly. Melville uses so many words that have fallen out of common use, much whaling jargon, and references that only people of the day would know. It's still a great read, but slower for the looking things up. Meg's annotated Moby Dick makes it a lot easier, less paging back and forth. Thank you, Meg! I'm pretty good at deciphering definitions from context, but I needed this definition detail to understand this, which was key to my trying to understand how the line worked.

It was the magical line. An instant before, Stubb had swiftly caught two additional turns with it round the loggerhead...
Whole Atlantics and Pacifics seemed passed as they shot on their way, till at length the whale somewhat slackened his flight.

"Haul in--haul in!" cried Stubb to the bowsman; and, facing round towards the whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him, while yet the boat was being towed on. Soon ranging up by his flank, Stubb, firmly planting his knee in the clumsy cleat, darted dart after dart into the flying fish; at the word of command, the boat alternately sterning out of the way of the whale's horrible wallow, and then ranging up for another fling.

The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill.
The language is amazing. There's so much here I would quote just to hang on to it. I can see why one person on my alumni email list named this book as one he immediately wanted to read again.

Stubb killing the whale, seeking "the innermost life."
"He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo. "Yes; both pipes smoked out!" and withdrawing his own from his mouth, Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.
Chapter 62: The Dart

I agree with Ishmael. It is so not efficient to expect the harpooneer to haul ass and throw the first dart so mightily. Again I have to wonder if there is a bit of racism here, and if this was truly the way of the whalers...that in this position it seems the men are always the "heathen" or the "savage," and that these would be considered super-humanly strong men by virtue of being "savages."

Chapter 63: The Crotch

Another irrationality regarding the harpoons. Not only must the harpooneer throw after reaching exhaustion while rowing, he has a second harpoon attached to the single line, and ideally was to throw that one immediately after the first, and if he couldn't, to toss it over so it wouldn't stab someone on the boat to death, which could still happen if it was loose and whipped about.

But oh, Herman, you are clever. This chapter is about the crotch, "a notched stick of a peculiar form...perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale near the bow, for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the...harpoon" ...but it is also a 'crotch' for your story. You are resting a foreshadowing here, ready to pull the foreshadowed tale out to aim at your reader when the time is ripe.

Chapter 64: Stubb's Supper

The three boats tow the whale to the ship...why can't the ship come to them? Can't they signal, 'come and get us'? So they finally get it there, and strap it to the ship...great technical detail on that feat...and Stubb wants his whale steak.
Here be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not, as a general thing, and according to the great military maxim, make the enemy defray the current expenses of the war (at least before realizing the proceeds of the voyage), yet now and then you find some of these Nantucketers who have a genuine relish for that particular part of the Sperm Whale designated by Stubb; comprising the tapering extremity of the body.
Interesting duet:
Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale's flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness.

But, as yet, Stubb heeded not the mumblings of the banquet that was going on so nigh him, no more than the sharks heeded the smacking of his own epicurean lips.
Stubb -> seems drunk on whale meat, or on the killing...he's a mean drunk. I wasn't sure if he was really upset with the cooking of his meat, or just wished to mess with the cook. I guess he was serious.
Well, for the future, when you cook another whale-steak for my private table here, the capstan, I'll tell you what to do so as not to spoil it by overdoing. Hold the steak in one hand, and show a live coal to it with the other; that done, dish it; d'ye hear?
Avast heaving again.

I would like to see avast return to everyday language, and not just that of sailors. So much better than "Stop it."

Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish

Descriptions of past whale delicacies that are now spurned.
It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light.
This theme of cannibalism is being further developed. Perhaps I will be taking back my umbrage over Ishmael's view of sea creatures as cannibals. Something to keep an eye on, I imagine.
But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal?
Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre
...sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning.
I was wondering about that.
Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; ...these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades, kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks*, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part.
Pantheism* seems to be another theme to watch out for.
A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw.
*Note to self: look at that article after I've finished the book and the book group. (found by googling 'pantheism Melville'.

Chapter 67: Cutting In

After hooking with a blubber hook, they peel the whale's fat off like and orange skin.

Chapter 68: The Blanket
True, from the unmarred dead body of the whale, you may scrape off with your hand an infinitely thin, transparent substance, somewhat resembling the thinnest shreds of isinglass, only it is almost as flexible and soft as satin...
A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or blubber of the whale. It has already been said, that it is stript from him in long pieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most sea-terms, this one is very happy and significant. For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian poncho slipt over his head, and skirting his extremity.
Chapter 69: The Funeral

So they get their blubber, remove the head...quite a technical feat...and let the carcass go. Whatever happened to using all the parts of the animal?
There's a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled.
The corpse can be mistaken for rocks and shoals from a distance. How funny:
And for years afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held. There's your law of precedents; there's your utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air! There's orthodoxy!
And that's funnier. Or sad. Or a shame. Orthodoxy arises out of mistakes. Perhaps that is something to keep an eye on too.

Chapter 70: The Sphynx

So the head looks like a sphynx? Ahab treats it as such...
"Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest.

That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went;...etc. etc...O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"

"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-masthead.

"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. "That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better man.--Where away?"
Do I detect a bit of the irreverent humor of the whaler there?

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