Thursday, January 08, 2009

Moby Dick: Chapters 87-92

Photo: quilted artwork found at the Newport, Oregon aquarium

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

In the last chapter, I meant to comment on Ishmael's liberal use of 'mystic'.

In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin to Free-Mason signs and symbols...
It occurred to me perhaps he's sprinkling 'mystic' wherever he encounters 'something unknowable.' Or maybe that goes to the root of mysticism...the unknowable. What happens when it becomes 'knowable'? Does it lose its mystic quality? Will he resist the knowability, insist in the unknowability, as so many religious folk do?
...considering the inexhaustible wealth...with which the thousand islands of that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision of nature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land, should at least bear the appearance...of being guarded from the all-grasping western world.
Indonesia, Burma, Bali, Malaysia...there are also pirates. Sounds a little like the seas near Somalia today. The Somalian pirates, after all, feel justified in taking goods passing through their seas....and the western world is still all-grasping. Not that I'm defending piracy.
While other hulls are loaded down with alien stuff, to be transferred to foreign wharves; the world-wandering whale-ship carries no cargo but herself and crew...
...including enough water for their 3-4 years at sea, not once touching land. the distance of some two or three miles, and forming a great semicircle, embracing one half of the level horizon, a continuous chain of whale-jets were up-playing and sparkling in the noon-day air.
Ranks and battalions of whales in front, Malay pirates behind. druggs? oh...devices to create draaaggg. Ishmael's boat hooks a whale, who takes them into the middle of the vast herd.
...with the tapering force of his parting momentum, we glided between two whales into the innermost heart of the shoal, as if from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake. ...Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.
for a sweet extended video of a humpback mama and baybee go here. Awwww....
Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance...
and then he ruins it...
...but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.
We see lovers, we see mothers, we see fighters, we see all the different pieces of a whale's life. Ishmael identifies so much with the whales...
...though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments... But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.
How then can he kill them? What an amazing self-description. tornadoed Atlantic of my being...

A wounded whale breaks up the peace. Starbuck gets the boat out safely. Yay, Starbuck! For their efforts, one drugged, one waifed.

Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

Two schools: one primarily female with one dominant male...the schoolmaster or Grand Turk; one primarily young males

When the dom male gets old...
...a love of ease and virtue supplants the love for maidens; our Ottoman enters upon the impotent, repentant, admonitory stage of life, forswears, disbands the harem, and grown to an exemplary, sulky old soul, goes about all alone among the meridians and parallels saying his prayers, and warning each young Leviathan from his amorous errors.
On the other hand...
The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools. Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness.... They soon relinquish this turbulence though, and when about three fourths grown, break up, and separately go about in quest of settlements, that is, harems.
Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

Fast Fish: belongs to the party fast to it.

Loose Fish: fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.
But what plays the mischief with this masterly code is the admirable brevity of it, which necessitates a vast volume of commentaries to expound it.
After a legal example outlining fast-fish-loose-fish, Ishmael compares it to other aspects of his world.
What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected villain's marble mansion with a door-plate for a waif; what is that but a Fast-Fish? ...
But what I really think Ishmael/Melville wants to get to is this:
What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?
Chapter 90: Heads or Tails
"De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam."
Bracton, l 3. c. 3.

What's this? The first chapter ever to start with a quote?

The Man can take the English whalers' whale on behalf of the King. Who knew?
...up steps a very learned and most Christian and charitable gentleman, with a copy of Blackstone under his arm; and laying it upon the whale's head, he says—"Hands off! this fish, my masters, is a Fast-Fish. I seize it as the Lord Warden's".
Chapter 91: The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud

and the incident in which Stubb snookers French whalers out of the most precious ambergris.

The French ship Bouton de Rose has two horrendously smelly whale carcasses strapped to her sides. Again, I say be careful what you name your ship.

Also, this is the second chapter to begin with a quote:

"In vain it was to rake for Ambergriese in the paunch of this Leviathan, insufferable fetor denying that inquiry." Sir T. Browne, V. E.

Any more to come? Scanning through...I didn't see any. Ya never see such inconsistency in a book published today.

Chapter 92: Ambergris

Otherwise known as 'whale vomit'. Hmmm...I wonder if they spit up those things on the Oregon Coast? Might be a reason to become a beachcomber...

Used in:
  • perfumery
  • pastilles
  • precious candles
  • hair-powders
  • hair-pomade
  • Turkish cooking
  • offerings at Mecca
  • flavor in claret wine to induce a whale to vomit:
By some, ambergris is supposed to be the cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale. How to cure such a dyspepsia it were hard to say, unless by administering three or four boat loads of Brandreth's pills, and then running out of harm's way, as laborers do in blasting rocks.
First, find those elusive Brandreth's pills.
Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.
After all that talk of decaying whales, Ishmael defends whaling as not really as smelly as its reputation.

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