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The chapters in Moby Dick seem to follow a sort of pattern. Typically, three chapters of Ishmael babbling about science or history will go by before we get one chapter of plot that makes the whole thing worthwhile. If this ratio could be reversed, I would greatly appreciate it.

Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling opens with the following.

pg. 384: There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.

This book would seem to be one of them.

Ishmael goes on to assert that all great heroes in history were secretly whalemen, including Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnu (which he spells "Vishnoo" because he is from the past).

Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded is yet another reference to the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale, despite there already being an entire sermon on the subject earlier in the book, as well as numerous references sprinkled into each chapter. Yes, Ishmael, you made a Biblical reference, well done, now can we please move on!?

Apparently not. Ishmael talks about how several scholars have posited that the whale in the story of Jonah and the whale may not actually be a whale. Theories on what it was include:

- "a dead whale" (pg. 388)
- "some vessel with a whale for a figure-head" (pg. 388)
- "a life-preserver" (pg. 388)

What I want to know is this: if the whale is not, in fact, a whale, then how is Jonah a whaleman? And if Jonah is NOT a whaleman, then WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT HIM!?

Chapter 84: Pitchpoling is ripe to be turned into lewd slang, if it is not already used as such.

Ishmael explains that some sailors grease the bottoms of their boats to make them go faster.

pg. 389-390: Queequeg believed strongly in anointing his boat

That's endorsement enough for me.

Anyway, the word "pitchpoling" refers to the practice of lancing a whale from a fast-moving boat. (Notably, not harpooning, but lancing. The harpoon and the lance are two different weapons, the lance being longer and more slender than the harpoon and with a handle made of pine as opposed to a heavier wood.)

Stubb is apparently very good at lancing.

pg. 391: He reminds you somewhat of a juggler, balancing a long staff on his chin.

My elementary school had a janitor who could do that with his mop. Cool guy.

Chapter 85: The Fountain is five-and-a-half pages on whale spouts. I am not even kidding.

According to Ishmael, the contents of a whale's spout remain an eternal scientific mystery. Is it water? Vapor? Air? Nobody knows!

pg. 392-393: If I say, that in any creature breathing is only a function indispensable to vitality, inasmuch as it withdraws from the air a certain element, which being subsequently brought into contact with the blood imparts to the blood its vivifying principle, I do not think I shall err; though I may possibly use some superfluous scientific words.

Possibly.

pg. 396: Nor is it at all prudent for the hunter to be over curious touching the precise nature of the whale spout. It will not do for him to be peering into it, and putting his face in it. You cannot go with your pitcher to this fountain and fill it, and bring it away. For even when coming into slight contact with the outer, vapory shreds of the jet, which will often happen, your skin will feverishly smart, from the acridness of the thing so touching it. And I know one, who coming into still closer contact with the spout, whether with some scientific object in view, or otherwise, I cannot say, the skin peeled off from his cheek and arm. Wherefore, among whalemen, the spout is deemed poisonous; they try to evade it. Another thing; I have heard it said, and I do not much doubt it, that if the jet is fairly spouted into your eyes, it will blind you. The wisest thing the investigator can do then, it seems to me, is to let this deadly spout alone.

tl;dr - Whales breathe acid.

Guess what Chapter 86: The Tail is about. Three tries, no hints.

Ishmael gets seriously into describing whale tails, going over how the muscles intersect and repeatedly comparing it to an elephant's trunk, only with less dexterity and more strength. How strong is a whale's tail?

pg. 398: Could annihilation occur to matter, this were the thing to do it.

There you have it.

Speaking of tail strength, that seems to be the quality Ishmael admires most, not just in tails but in the world at large.

pg. 398: Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it

Also in dudes.

pg. 398-399: Take away the tied tendons that all over seem bursting from the marble in the carved Hercules, and its charm would be gone. As devout Eckerman lifted the linen sheet from the naked corpse of Goethe, he was overwhelmed with the massive chest of the man, that seemed as a roman triumphal arch. When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditic Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings.

On the one hand, it is refreshing to see both active and passive strength equally valued, rather than the usual method of saying active is better because passive sucks or passive is better because active is a douche. It is also kind of surprising that Herman Melville, notorious women-hater, wrote a passage where he identifies Christ's femininity as His strength.

On the other hand, dear God, how could anyone come away from this book without getting their gaydars pinged? I would LOVE to see an essay arguing that Ishmael is straight. And yes, it is a point that would have to be argued. If I have to provide evidence of Ishmael being totally homogay, you have to provide evidence of the reverse. It's only fair.

The rest of the chapter can be summed up as "whales have tails you guys and that's really really cool."

Today's reward for reading words is by Hannah, aka [profile] fabledquill, ~explosive-toaster on deviantART and fabledquill on Tumblr. She's a fantastic artist and kindly drew me the following picture of Queequeg and Ishmael.


COMMISSION: Moby Dick by ~explosive-toaster on deviantART

[Image description: Queequeg, a beefy Maori man covered in green tattoos and wearing cutoff pants with a rope for a belt, is jogging along with Ishmael (white guy in western 1840s garb) slung over one shoulder. Ishmael looks indignant, while Queequeg has the world’s greatest troll face on. The entire image is ridiculously adorable and swear t’God I squealed for near to five full minutes when it showed up in my inbox.]

She's also open for commissions, so have at it!

---

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

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

February 2012

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