Sometimes it’s easy to go skimming along through this book and then be suddenly met with an ugly reminder that it was written before the civil war.
Naturally, this is any time a Black character shows up. It happens again this chapter, and while it’s not as bad as the cook, there are still some off-hand comments and just… general weirdness and discomfort around the portrayal of Black characters in this book. Like I think it’s about as good as you can expect from any white writer in 1850, but still, it’s a bit jarring.
The more I reread this book, the more I find that old advice about skipping every other chapter baffling.
The idea was that the book switched back and forth between narrative and non-narrative chapters, so if you want a “normal” book you could just skip them, but as we’ve seen that is not at all the case. Instead, what happens is that Ishmael will give us a chunk of the story, and then go off on a bunch of tangents related to that narrative, and then those tangents themselves. Moby Dick is a weird book, and you just kinda have to deal with it.
Alright, enough about space whales, let’s get back to good ol’ fashioned domestic Earth whales.
We’ve got a real barn burner of a chapter today. One of those ones that feels like it was written specifically for me, or at least the 21st century audience. This is just a beautiful bit of philosophical writing that really gets across an idea in a very neat and tidy way. Sure, there are a few rough edges to it, I won’t ignore those, but we’ve certainly gotten used to them by this point, haven’t we?
Ahhh, nice to be back. It’s been far too long since I really had time to sit down and work on this blog or read this book. I’ve been much too busy and not quite comfortable enough with my new surroundings and situation, but now… it is Time.
Let us see, where ever did I leave off in this magnificent tome… ah yes, the aftermath of The Pequod‘s encounter with a vast school of whales. We encountered an exciting new phenomenon… which means it’s time for Old Ishmael to regale us with some more whale facts!
We’re finally out of the non-narrative chapters! Enough about whale anatomy, lets get back to story, shall we? Or, at any rate, some interesting disconnected incidents which the Pequod had while sailing about the ocean.
This one is pretty lengthy, and pretty thrilling. It’s one that never makes it into the filmed adaptations, which is a shame because it’s so very dramatic. Then again, there hasn’t been one since the advent of CG, you could really do it justice now. Of course, Moby Dick is probably unfilmable, or would require more of a broad TV approach to really do justice.
Ahhhhh, good to be back. And today, Ishmael has graced us with a fascinating chapter, with plenty of huge, sinewy subject matter to sink our teeth into.
Yes, this chapter is another one describing the anatomy of the whale, but there are some, uh, very interesting tangents, shall we say. Perhaps a bit revealing of our old friend Ishmael? Who could say, I can only speculate.
This week’s chapter is, as they say, a doozy. Not that it is especially long, but it is dense, and comes to a surprising conclusion at the end. We’re back to pure non-narrative stuff, pontification on the nature of whales, in this case a specific part of their biology: the breath. This one requires a bit of cutting through the underbrush of 19th century vocabulary, but if you can manage that, it’s quite fun. Continue reading “Chapter 85: The Fountain”→
Now that the choking, toxic smoke in the air of Seattle has been replaced with the more traditional water, I find myself in a writerly mood once again. And a readerly one, I suppose. A torrential downpour outside does tend to push one towards cozier pastimes, I find. Continue reading “Chapter 80: The Nut”→
Yes, after a few chapters in a row of straight philosophizing, Ishmael has deigned to give us some more Things That Actually Happened on his fateful whaling voyage. I often wonder how much of the initial poor reception of this book would have been mitigated if Melville mixed these two modes of writing together more evenly. I remember hearing that it went narrative and non-narrative every other chapter, but that’s obviously not true.
I bet you never could’ve guessed this chapter title. Not in a million years.
In this chapter, we learn a bit more about the other whale, the one the southern whalers usually spurn, at least these days. And by “these days” I of course mean the 1840s, when this book was written. Nowadays, nobody is out hunting whales, except the Makah of the Washington coast, and the Japanese, probably. Continue reading “Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s head—Contrasted View”→