Tell ‘Em, Ishmael

Just a quick quote from Moby Dick (which is fucking great, by the way).  We’ll leave it mostly at that, because there aren’t really words to express how much I like this excerpt anyway:

“Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.  Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.  Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.  Methinks my body is but the less of my better being.  In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.  And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.”

Oh, and this, so you’re not going “WTF is a stove boat?” like I was (bolding is mine):

stave  (stv)

1. To break in or puncture the staves of.

2. To break or smash a hole in.

3. To crush or smash inward.


Oh, the verbduh.  So, stove in as by a whale.  A big, mean mythically huge white sperm whale.  If that should strike you as unrealistic, read this.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of writing that makes a novel immortal.  Book Report to (II) follow.


5 thoughts on “Tell ‘Em, Ishmael

  1. wellllll…. (you made me) i read the wikipedia account. people were TOUGH in those daze! gnawing on your companion’s bones, 95 daze at sea, burning down entire islands, hauling off 360-some galapagos tortoises to hasten extinction, them’s wuzz da times, man!

    • Yeah, it was much less enlightened time for sure. I guess to be fair-ish, they weren’t so aware back then of how their actions would eventually impact the environment, although some of that stuff you mentioned is pretty well indefensible no matter how enlightened the time was. My buddy, who read it before me, said that during the climactic battle with the titular whale at the end that he wanted Moby Dick to win rather than the whalers. I have a feeling I’ll feel that way too once I get there.

      The book’s kind of aware of this too; Melville seemed way more aware of those things you mentioned than his contemporaries. The overriding theme in it is the uncontrollability of nature, and every time it describes the whale it’s really mythic/spiritual, some implacable force of nature, both actual and human nature, because he’s pretty obviously a symbol of how destructive obsession is too. But I think the whale himself represents a lot of things, and the act of whale hunting too.

      And after reading about the actual process of hunting and killing a sperm whale, even today, I’m pretty staunchly anti-whaling. It’s slow and painful. But I was just writing in an upcoming post about how I think I like animals better than people in many instances, so perhaps that undermines the credibility of my opinion? And still, disagree as I might, I gotta admit that those whalers were in fact tough as hell. Fighting a whale from a rowboat with basically spears is not a trivial thing. Seems so crazy to me that human beings would even contemplate doing it, particularly after it had gone on a while and many of the whales had learned to be more tricky and tactical in addition to being just plain huge.

      There, a mini book report for you in the comments. Who else is gonna do that for ya?

      • i’ve got a few more books i want you to read then tell me what i should think about ’em. okay? then … maybe i’ll watch the mooveez uv the books.

      • Hey now, I’d never tell you what to think about them, only babble on and on and on about what I think about them. And as we both seem to like Pynchon, and as Pynchon strikes me as an author that not everybody would like, I’d love to hear any recommendations you have. Oh, and Lovecraft, we got him in common too.

        If I came off as trying to impose my opinion, I apologize. And if I came off as not agreeing with everything you said, then I worded my reply badly.

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