Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Moby Dick: Chapters 76-80

Chapter 76: The Battering Ram

...the front of the Sperm Whale's head is a dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender prominence of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you are now to consider that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping part of the front of the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; and not till you get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come to the full cranial development. So that this whole enormous boneless mass is as one wad. Finally, though, as will soon be revealed, its contents partly comprise the most delicate oil; yet, you are now to be apprised of the nature of the substance which so impregnably invests all that apparent effeminacy.

What befel the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Sais?
Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

I tried to draw Ishmael's description of the head (yes I used the back of a receipt):

HTotSW = Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm Whale
Here's what it really looks like.

Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets

Tashtego...again the harpooneer...gets this dangerous task. He finds the right spot, opens a hole, and puts an iron bucket down like drawing water from a well. What comes up is "all bubbling like a dairy-maid's pail of new milk."

The problem is...
...poor Tashtego--like the twin reciprocating bucket in a veritable well, dropped head- foremost down into this great Tun of Heidelburgh, and with a horrible oily gurgling, went clean out of sight!
Chaos ensues. The connection to the tackle breaks or is let loose. The whale sinks.
...and now over the water--Daggoo, through a thick mist of spray, was dimly beheld clinging to the pendulous tackles, while poor, buried-alive Tashtego was sinking utterly down to the bottom of the sea! But hardly had the blinding vapor cleared away, when a naked figure with a boarding-sword in its hand, was for one swift moment seen hovering over the bulwarks. The next, a loud splash announced that my brave Queequeg had dived to the rescue.
No wonder Ishmael is attracted to the man. It seems only the 'savages' are the heroes, and it could be Ishmael is in the role of the damsel in distress. He became midwife to a breech birth from the mouth. (I made that note before I read it...am I getting inside Ishmael's head or what?)

Oh, little did I know how apropos the coinage of the word santorum really is. Not that I'm advocating making a dirty word out of someone's name, but Rick Santorum did start with the hate. And actually, santorum isn't really a bad thing, and is in fact an indicator of something that is quite a good thing, depending on the person. Considering the closeness of the word to sanctorum as it is used here, we've found a handy ghey spin.
Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, it had been a very precious perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest of fragrant spermaceti; coffined, hearsed, and tombed in the secret inner chamber and sanctum sanctorum of the whale. Only one sweeter end can readily be recalled--the delicious death of an Ohio honey-hunter, who seeking honey in the crotch of a hollow tree, found such exceeding store of it, that leaning too far over, it sucked him in, so that he died embalmed. How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato's honey head, and sweetly perished there?
Chapter 79: The Prairie

Oh, I bet the phrenologists and physiognomists just hated Melville's cracks at them. So this is where he gets the inherent dignity of the brow. The bigger the brow, the greater the dignity. I guess that would make the Cro-Magnon Man more dignified than homo sapiens? Look what I found while searching for a Cro-Magnon comparison.

And did he have access to Buddhist scriptures? Here's why I ask:
For you see no one point precisely; not one distinct feature is revealed; no nose, eyes, ears, or mouth; no face; he has none, proper; nothing but that one broad firmament of a forehead, pleated with riddles...

...In profile, you plainly perceive that horizontal, semi-crescentic depression in the forehead's middle, which, in man, is Lavater's mark of genius.

But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his pyramidical silence.
I refer to this.

Chapter 80: The Nut
...in another cavity seldom exceeding ten inches in length and as many in depth --reposes the mere handful of this monster's brain...

So like a choice casket is it secreted in him, that I have known some whalemen who peremptorily deny that the Sperm Whale has any other brain than that palpable semblance of one formed by the cubic-yards of his sperm magazine.
Ah, but the whale's brain is larger than any other mammal. And the whale can perceive in two directions at once. Anyway I think it's quite fair to include the spine in phrenology, making the whale the supreme among the brains/neurosystems.

1 comment:

MegDC said...

I don't know about Buddhist scriptures, but the people at Melville's Marginalia Online recently posted a catalog of every book Melville is known to have had access to.