Thursday, October 25, 2012

Moby @ Midpoint...

Well, dear friends and fellow non-whalers, I am just past the midpoint of Moby-Dick.
The crew of the Pequod have just slain their first whale.
At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air, and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!
This poor whale was nameless, but you just know that Moby is lurking, and will soon give Ahab and the boys a run for their money.
You know, I am a total pacifist when it comes to animals, and hunting in general. 

I'm definitely not a vegan, but Good Lord, there's got to be more humane ways of killing beasties than this….. harpooning business!
But enough about my sympathies.
This is a great book. I'm seeing why so many people have loved the thing.
My own edition [shown above] has, at the back of it, an afterword-style essay by Howard Mumford Jones, and he says "People who think Moby-Dick is a novel are wrong."
He calls it a "journey" book -- equating it to others like the Odyssey, Tom Jones, Gulliver's Travels, Don Quixote, and The Voyage of the Beagle, etc.
It requires a reader to have somewhat of a desire to actually get on board, to a certain extent. We all know that it is a BIG book, but beyond the sheer size of the thing is the never-ending digressions of the author into the very nuts and bolts of whaling in general. Entire chapters devoted to how rope ought to be properly coiled, and detailed descriptions of the machinery involved in basic whale slaughtering.
There are chapters on the whale as depicted in art through the ages. But just as you fear you may be getting bogged down in the lore of it all, Melville does return to the activities of the crew and the current voyage -- where the near-insane Captain Ahab has only one thing on his mind as he clomps around on his fake leg -- KILL MOBY!
Herman Melville, through his narrator Ishmael, constantly laments the fact that so little is known [at the time] of the exact nature of whales. For instance, in a chapter on the different sizes of whales, the great blue whale is not even mentioned --so little was known about it. This was an age of umm… severe lack of underwater photography, among other non-advances in scientific discovery and awareness! Nowadays we know so much more about the precious nature of these majestic creatures, and I'm always cognizant of this, as I read this old book.
I'm so glad that we do not have to rely on whales to supply our need for lamplight and candles.
I've never seen any movie version of Moby-Dick, and so I don't actually know how the thing ends -- but the conclusion of Jones's essay does make me want to find out. He says… "Ahab seeks to impose his will upon the inscrutability of the universe. In such a contest the universe will always win…"
I find myself wanting Moby-Dick to swim away with an "Up yours!" smirk on his face at the end of it all.
Why did people like… whale so much, back then? 

Didn't they know that you can just go to the store and buy already packaged hamburger?


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Love your quote! "clotted red gore" - sort of sounds like words from a patriotic anthem....

I loved Moby also, but I think because I listed to a great audio recording of it (As my husband wrote in his review of it: "In the performance to which I listened (“Unabridged Classics” on 18 CDs), Frank Muller did a superb job of mastering accents and employing different voices for different characters.")

Stefanie said...

So glad you are enjoying the book. If you thought the first whale kill was gruesome, you haven't seen anything yet. There are some parts of the book that made this whale loving vegan cry. And yet I've it twice so obviously it is worth the horrors. Of course I cheer for Moby :)

Nikki Steele said...

Such a stunning description, even if quite horrible. I read somewhere that you're supposed to take almost everything in Moby Dick as a joke. I read it with that in mind, and turned out to be quite funny. What do you think?