- The Endless Depths of Moby-Dick Symbolism by Joe Fassler 20 Aug 2013 basically tells us that there is so much symbolism in Moby-Dick as to render it meaningless!
- However his discussion with David Gilbert, a self-professed lover of Moby-Dick, reflects exactly what I’m enjoying (or more precisely, feeling smug about) our #slowread.
You cannot read this book for speed. It is designed for the long haul, the chapters never too long, naps seemingly built into the text. It is, dare I say, a voyage. When in doubt, or simply in need of something, the something uncertain, a scratch like the scratch Ishmael feels in those opening lines, instead of the sea I will take to Moby-Dick and turn to a random page and read a few paragraphs out loud, my voice hauling forth the words like a net full of squirmy fish. It gets in your blood. It is your blood.
- Moby Dick is Not a Novel: An Anatomy of an Anatomy by Jacob Shamsian, 21st Oct, 2014.
- I’ve never heard of an anatomy story before, but according to Shamsian, Moby-Dick is one (as is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and Gulliver’s Travels).
- Moby-Dick isn’t actually a book about a whale named Moby-Dick. Melville uses his many pages to talk about whatever he wants. His book wanders through plot, character descriptions, short essays about whaling, admiration of the ocean, and whatever else enjoys discussing.
- The anatomy, on the other hand, has a purported subject which is actually a lens used to write about other subjects. Moby-Dick has many subjects, but its primary concerns are twofold. First, Melville sincerely likes writing about whales and whaling….
- …The Pequod’s voyage, of course, is Ahab’s voyage, the second main subject, his hunt for “the inscrutable thing” embodied within the whale.
- It’s the dissonance between the narrative chapters and the whale biology essays that make Moby-Dick an anatomy.
- The Daily Dick – another blogger who managed to complete his challenge to read & blog about every chapter of Moby-Dick (back in 2012).
- Call Me Ishmael is a blog and song combo hosted by Patrick. He discusses each chapter and finishes up with an original song. He is one of the few who has actually completed his self-imposed challenge.
Chapter 45: The Affidavit
- Ishmael doesn’t need much incentive to include a diversionary chapter on pretty much anything that he can remotely link to whales or whaling. Therefore we now have a chapter entirely devoted to the implausibility or incredulity some might feel about his story.
- I guess we can now see this as a perfect example of an anatomy story (see article link above).
- To dispel this ‘profound ignorance‘, he tells us that he knows of ‘three instances‘ where a whale, after being harpooned and escaping, returns years later to seek vengeance.
- We also get a list of famous whales –
- Timor Jack, New Zealand Tom, Morquan and Don Miguel.
- Ishmael reveals the danger to life and limb in whaling –
- For God’s sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man’s blood was spilled for it.
- The Essex 1820
- The Union 1807
- Commodore J (probably Thomas ap Catesby Jones 1790 – 1858. In 1827, the Peacock under Jones’s command had been severely damaged in an attack by a whale. In 1843, Commander Jones returned a young deserter called Herman Melville, to the United States from the Hawaiian Islands!)
- Melville says (via Ishmael) that he ‘was stopped on the way by a portly sperm whale, that begged a few moments’ confidential business with him.’ 🤣
- Langsdorff’s Voyages & Captain D’Wolf (& apparently Ishmael’s uncle…)
- John D’Wolf married the sister of Herman Melville’s (not Ishmael’s) father.
- Author and narrator lines being blurred again.
- He also spends quite a bit of time proving to us that it is indeed possible for a whale to ram a ship with it’s head and stove it to.
- Patrick’s poem for this chapter:
I’ll testify to the reverend’s holy words:
All truth told here. It’s your choice to believe it,
I’ve seen it thrice — embattled monsters torn
From dealing fateful blows, brought back after years gone by.
No simple brute — a thoughtful, malicious eye
Turns back assault, and stove in many leaders.
You will never be
Broken, lest irreverent
To powerful things
When you face them.
Haughty disbelievers knocked from donkeys
On the road to Damascus. It’s your choice to believe it.
(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 1, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea October 4, 2009
Chapter 46: Surmises
- Ahab 101 – a Study in Madness.
- In which Ahab contemplates his crew, Starbuck and their ongoing loyalty to his mad idea.
- Ahab may be obsessed with catching Moby-Dick, but he’s still savvy enough, or lucid enough, to realise that he has to keep the men busy and purposeful until such time.
- …yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less capricious and unreliable.
- Ahab realises that his ‘magnetic ascendency‘ over Starbuck does not extend to the ‘spiritual man‘.
- Starbuck’s body and Starbuck’s will were Ahab’s, so long as he kept his magnet at Starbuck’s brain; still he knew taht for all this his chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his captain’s quest.
- Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good degree continue true to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod’s voyage.
- That is, they must still hunt and capture whales for their spermicetti.
Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker
- Weaving 101 – the Nature of Time.
- First we see how Ishmael and Queequeg weave a sword-mat. It was nice to be reminded of a time when human hands, and not machines, wove mats. And that doing such work, can have a meditative effect, or as Ishmael says, a
- ‘strange dreaminess….and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates….here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads‘.
- I had read about Melville’s love of metaphors prior to starting the book, so I was thrilled to finally encounter the Loom of Time in this chapter, with Ishmael as the shuttle and Queequeg as the sword. One of Melville’s most famous metaphors – and one that threads it’s way throughout the story (see what I did there?) – starting with chapter 1 – The Loomings – the idea of weaving, ropes and lines representing free will, chance and fate.
- this easy, indifferent sword must be chance – aye, chance, free will, and necessity – no wise incompatible – all interweavingly working together.
- The chapter finishes with the (chance) sighting of a whale followed by the sudden (fated) appearance of a group of ‘five dusky phantoms‘ around Ahab.
Chapter 48: The First Lowering
- A new character – Fedallah – an aboriginal native of the Manillas – stowaway, phantom, harbinger of evil.
- Surrounded by rumour and mystery.
- Ahab’s personal prophet?
- We now know what, or who, Archy heard in the hold
- AND Ishmael remembers the shadowy figures he saw creeping onto the Pequod ‘during the dim Nantucket dawn.’
- We are reminded of Elijah’s ‘enigmatical hintings.’
- The breaking of tradition, with Ahab taking command of one of the spare boats, to join the chase for the whale with his own specially picked crew.
- A long chase ensues full of drama and action.
- Our first attempt to capture a whale is unsuccessful and almost lethal.
- A squall tosses them ‘helter-skelter‘, with Starbuck’s boat being tipped over just as night comes in. They all managed to climb back in to wait for rescue.
- A sudden ‘faint creaking‘ in the dark alerts them to the approaching ship, which doesn’t see them. They all leap over board just before the ship mows down the boat.
- for one instant it tossed and gaped beneath the ship’s bows like a chip at the base of a cataract; and then the vast hull rolled over it, and it was seen no more til it came up weltering astern.
- Knowing that Ishmael is still alive to narrate this tale, makes the dramatic tension in this chapter a little less, well dramatic.
Chapter 49: The Hyena
- Melville Philosophy – or is it Ishmael?
- There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.
- Whaling Philosophy – or the life and times of a desperado?
- There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy.
- Ishmael asks Queequeg, Stubb and Flask if the recent capsizing that he experienced is a common affair when whaling.
- Apparently it is.
- Ishmael compares his near-death experience to Lazarus.
- The biblical story of Lazarus (often considered a precursor for the resurrection story of Jesus) whereby Jesus calls forth the dead Lazarus from his tomb to the amazement of a group of onlookers. The witnesses now believed in Jesus’ ability to perform miracles and he gained many more followers.
- all the days I should now live would be as good as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case might be. I survived myself; my death and burial locked up in my chest.
- He then writes a new will and testament.
Since remote antiquity, statecraft’s great metaphor has been weaving. Traces of cloth found at Fayoum and depictions of weavers at work on the walls of pharaonic Egypt reveal the centrality of weaving to ordered life in the ancient world….
No key unlocks the meaning of Moby-Dick; as one of the greatest works of literature, it leaves all interpreters floundering in its wake. But one image is unmistakably clear: the Pequod is the American ship of state, with its 30-man crew—30 states at that time—drawn from every imaginable racial, religious, linguistic, and geographic place and people. It is a voyage that imagines its purpose as all things to all men. For our Middle Eastern interests, it self-defines America as uniquely able to hold the trust and play the statesman’s role for Arabs and Jews alike. That moment would not come until the mid-twentieth century.
After Moby-Dick was published and largely ignored, Melville made a personal expedition to the Holy Land in the hope, not to be realized, of finding answers to his doubts about religious faith. This he would chronicle in “Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage to the Holy Land” in 1876. Longer than “Paradise Lost” and just as much a journey through biblical texts, “Clarel” like Moby-Dick, but with more reason, was also ignored.
Moby-Dick’s, and Melville’s, obsession with Palestine was a central contribution to the definition of American identity both before and after the Civil War. But the strategy the United States followed through the nineteenth century was not designed for shaping world order; it was a mission to “bring in the sheaves” of souls for the next world.
|Photo credit: Barbara Kelley|