ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)
[personal profile] ambrmerlinus
Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand is the chapter everyone points out as being incredibly gay, but I disagree because I enjoy being contrary.

It opens with the following, which I am pretty sure is the only acknowledgment we will get of the horrors in Chapter 93.

pg. 441: That whale of Stubb's, so dearly purchased

Understatement of the fuckin' century right there.

Anyway, Stubb's whale is taken aboard and butchered in the usual fashion, the spermaceti is gathered from the case in the whale's head, and the crew sets about working with it.

pg. 441: It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine's bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! No wonder that in old times this sperm was such a favorite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a sweetener! such a softener! such a delicious mollifier! After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.

So, yeah, Ishmael really loves his job, and–

pg. 442: Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,–Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

I'm seriously starting to believe that spermaceti fumes are intoxicating.

pg. 442: In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.


MOVING RIGHT ALONG, the rest of the chapter is taken up by definitions of yet more whaling vocabulary. I'd list it here but I'm pretty sure we're all far past the point of caring.

Back to the point I made at the very very beginning of this entry, yeah, this is the chapter I've heard most often cited as proof that Ishmael is totally homogay. And while I wholeheartedly believe that Ishmael is totally homogay, I'm not sure this chapter should be held up as proof.

The homoeroticism in Chapter 94 stems mostly from a difference in vocabulary, kind of like how Watson and Holmes are almost constantly ejaculating in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and while it's good for a giggle every now and then, it's generally understood that they are just speaking suddenly and not actually jizzing their pants.

Because of this fact, I feel like focusing on Ishmael's love of sperm[aceti] only serves to detract from the novel's overall genuine homoeroticism. Yes, an entire chapter where Ishmael expounds upon the merits of sperm, sperm, sperm sounds very gay, but any amateur literary fan can tell you that context is everything, and a man can enjoy whaling without being homosexual.

In my experience many literary fans assume that anyone who sees homosexual content in literature is picking up only on the vocabulary used and not on any real subtext. This has led a few people to dismiss the idea that any fictional character who does not wear a rainbow flag on their head could possibly be anything but firmly heterosexual.

I believe we all know that notion to be completely false.

My point is, the silly sperm bits of the story do not prove anything one way or the other about Ishmael's sexual orientation. His late night leg-entwining gab sessions with Queequeg, on the other hand, could stand to raise more eyebrows. (To say nothing of his possessive language use re: Queequeg, and his near-constant praising of Queequeg, and the entire chapter spent talking about how he and Queequeg weave a mat together but it's like they're weaving their lives, man, because their destinies are totally intertwined and there is no way in hell Ishmael is anything less than a completely lovestruck stoner.)

In conclusion, Chapter 94 is not quite as gay as previously thought, though it is incredibly weird.

For Chapter 95: The Cassock, I had to turn to SparkNotes.*

Ishmael describes a curious object onboard The Pequod. In his humble opinion, it is the most curious object on the whole deck, at the moment. It is an "unaccountable cone" (pg. 443) on the whale's body, longer than a man is tall, about a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black.

Ishmael describes the object being cut off of the whale and skinned. The skin is then used like a raincoat or a smock for the guy whose job it is to cut up the whale blubber into teeny-tiny pieces.

The entire time I read the chapter, all I could think was

the cassock is totally a whale penis

but I told myself that was silly, because really? What evidence am I going off of here, exactly? Why is my brain leaping immediately to conclusions made of whale penises?

So I tried to keep reading, and al the while my brain is going

whale penis whale penis whale penis

and so finally to shut the damn thing up I Google "cassock whaling" and come up with the aforementioned SparkNotes for Moby-Dick, and you know what?

I was totally fucking right.

Sometimes I really, really hate being right.

Chapter 96: The Try-Works describes the process of getting oil out of whale blubber. Solution: burn it! Burn it all!

Seriously, though, this is how a try-works... works.

Boiling the whale blubber is the job of the harpooneers, and Ishmael wastes no time in comparing the sight of the three men lit by try-works fires to demons howling in hell.

And then it's story-time! Ishmael tells the reader about this one time where it was his job to steer the ship at night while the try-works was going, and he fell asleep. While asleep, he got turned around to the point where, when he woke up, he was facing away from any light source other than the hellish flames of the try-works and assumed he was trapped in some sort of dimension of fire and brimstone. During his confusion, he nearly capsizes the ship.

Ishmael – the worst sailor? (Probably.)

Chapter 97: The Lamp is only a page. On it, we learn that the belowdecks of whale ships are incredibly well-lit, because whale ships are constantly making their own lamp oil.


Without further ado, here is your obligatory fanart reward for reading big long stacks of words.

[Image description: a white sperm whale painted in acrylic on top of pages ripped from one of my many copies of Moby-Dick, because I like to make my librarian friends cry.]

I was going for "menacing" and, as always, ended up with "cute." FML

This was an experiment in how to paint things on top of other things. It's not quite a failure, since I still got something out of it, but the pages got all kinds of wrinkly (probably because they are supposed to be read and not painted on). Going to experiment next with sealing the pages before I paint on them. Should be fun!

*Yes, I realize this makes me a failure at literature forever and all time. I'm sorry.


For more adventures in Moby-Dick, check out the Moby-Dick, or The Rant tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.

Date: 2011-09-26 02:43 am (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
Oh, but those spermaceti passages are fun! And yes, I agree they are no proof of anything but Ishmael being high. However, if one chooses to read them for the giggle, then that is a damn, damn fine giggle. :-)


ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

   1 2 34

Most Popular Tags

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 22nd, 2017 10:35 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios