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Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish

pg. 318: That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp and, like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and philosophy of it.

No, one really must needs not, Ishmael.

But of course, Ishmael goes on (and on, and on...) anyway. According to him, whale meat is too rich for most people to eat regularly. He goes on a tangent about how tasty whale brains are, and how similar they are to calf brains.

pg. 319: and every one knows that some young bucks among the epicures, by continually dining upon calves' brains, by and by get to have a little brains of their own, so as to be able to tell a calf's head from their own heads; which, indeed, requires uncommon discrimination. And that is the reason why a young buck with an intelligent looking calf's head before him, is somehow one of the saddest sights you can see. The head looks a sort of reproachfully at him, with an "Et tu Brute!" expression.

Every. One. Knows. Didn't you know? I totally knew.

In Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre, you can probably guess what happens.

pg. 321-322: Nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly, Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades, kept up an incessant murdering of the shards, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part.

You can skim that passage; the only three words you need to absorb are "Queequeg murders sharks." I am picturing Ishmael watching this from on deck, alternating between tearing out his hair with worry and swooning at Queequeg's badassery.

The whaling-spade itself is a pretty badass weapon.

pg. 321: The whaling-spade used for cutting-in is made of the very best steel; is about the bigness of a man's spread hand; and in general shape, corresponds to the garden implement after which it is named; only its sides are perfectly flat, and its upper end considerably narrower than the lower. This weapon is always kept as sharp as possible; and when being used is occasionally honed, just like a razor. In its socket, a stiff pole, from twenty to thirty feet long, is inserted for a handle.

In Chapter 67: Cutting In, they peel the whale. No, really.

pg. 323: Now as the blubber envelops the whale precisely as the rind does an orange, so is it stripped off from the body precisely as an orange is sometimes striped by spiralizing it. For the strain constantly kept up by the windlass continually keeps the whale rolling over and over in the water, and as the blubber in one strip uniformly peels off along the line called the "scarf," simultaneously cut by the spades of Starbuck and Stubb, the mates; and just as fast as it is thus peeled off, and indeed by the very act itself, it is all the time being hoisted higher and higher aloft till its upper end grazes the main-top; the men at the windlass then cease heaving, and for a moment or two the prodigious blood-dripping mass sways to and fro as if let down from the sky, and every one present must take god heed to dodge it when it swings, else it may box his ears and pitch him headlong overboard.

In Chapter 68: The Blanket, Ishmael talks about whale blubber for 4 pages. Short version: blubber is thick, it keeps whales warm, and Ishmael does not know where a whale's skin ends and its blubber begins.

He also says this:

pg. 327: But more surprising is it to know, as has been proved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer.

What the fuck kind of experiments were those?

Also also:

pg. 327: Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter's!

Take that as you will.

In Chapter 69: The Funeral, Ishmael laments the Circle of Life and claims that whales have ghosts.

In Chapter 70: The Sphinx, Ishmael points out that whales don't really have necks, making the job of beheading them somewhat difficult. Then Ahab starts talking to a whale head.

pg. 331: "Speak thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee.


pg. 331: Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them.

I like how Ahab doesn't specify the genders of the lovers. My imagination can wander wherever it damn well wants to.*

In Chapter 71: The Jeroboam's Story, the Pequod encounters the Jeroboam, who has a very interesting crewmate aboard.

pg. 333: Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual notabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish man, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant yellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.

This is Gabriel, a young Shaker whose claims of prophecy have been taken as fact by the Jeroboam's crew. As a result, Gabriel pretty much controls the ship.

There's a sickness aboard the Jeroboam, so they visit the Pequod by pulling one of their longboats alongside and shouting back and forth. Ahab of the one-track mind asks if they've seen Moby Dick, and indeed, they have! Turns out that Gabriel has declared Moby Dick to be the mortal incarnation of his God, and forbidden the crew to hunt it. The only crew member to disobey this directive, Macey, got eaten by the whale.

Ahab, naturally, ignores this foreshadowing, and remembers a letter he was given back in Nantucket to pass on to the Jeroboam, should they happen to meet at sea. The letter turns out to be for Macey, the dead guy.** Ahab tries to give them the letter anyway, but Gabriel refuses.

pg. 338: "Nay, keep it thyself," cried Gabriel to Ahab; "thou art soon going that way."

And when Ahab ignores Gabriel and passes the letter down to the Jeroboam's captain...

pg. 338: But as he did so, the oarsmen expectantly desisted from rowing; the boat drifted a little towards the ship's stern; so that, as if by magic, the letter suddenly ranged along with Gabriel's eager hand. He clutched it in an instant, seized the boat-knife, and impaling the letter on it, sent it thus loaded back into the ship. It fell at Ahab's feet.

With that, they depart. But Ishmael will not let any foreshadowing go unheralded.

pg. 338: As, after this interlude, the seamen resumed their work upon the jacket of the whale, many strange things were hinted in reference to this wild affair.

Thanks, Ish, we got that.

*More specifically, it lets me pretend that he is referencing this song. (TRIGGER WARNING for references to homophobic violence and sexual assault, which makes this song sound terrible, but it's actually really sweet, I swear. Skip to 2:16.)

I love the chorus(es) to absolute pieces, but the verses are kind of annoying, in that 1. they get kind of over-the-top and triggery in the kind of violence they describe happening to the gay pirates, and 2. I sincerely doubt that historical pirates were that homophobic. I mean, they're already criminals, so why would they give a fuck about sodomy laws?

(I did attempt to find out if there was some kind of historical precedence for violent homophobia among pirates, and Google didn't come up with anything other than "some pirates might have been gay," so...)

Also the video is stupid. There, I've said it, and I feel better for it.

In conclusion, I love the choruses, hate the verses, and overall this song get stuck in my head a lot.

**As they say at The Living Room, "THIS ONE'S FOR THE DEAD GUY!"


Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen
Part Nineteen
Part Twenty
Part Twenty-One
Part Twenty-Two
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ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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