Archive for the ‘Moby Dick’ Category

(I can’t update this as much as I’d like this week because I don’t have internet at home, so the next chapters will probably be bunched together.)

“Puritanic sands…”  That is his description of US soil.

I also liked the phrase, “Adam, who died 60 round centuries ago…” i’m not sure why I liked it, except that it made me think of how much things have changed.  I don’t think Darwin had made his splash yet.   Education, academia, maybe thinking in general seems so complicated now.  There are more dimensions.  I know this earth’s age thing gets people’s underwear all wadded up, or however the phrase goes, and it’s a great dividing line for lots of folks.  I have heard talk of the good old days when education and religion were one (though I don’t see how that would be good but that is just me. And a ton of other people).  As I stated before, I don’t like talking about earth origin stuff because it’s not really concrete–there are other more certain subjects to tackle, I think.  But I can’t help wondering what it would be like to study and write at a time when such things were taken for granted; when people didn’t spend time talking about it as much (or did they?), or divide much over it.  I think I prefer to write in a  time of many viewpoints and I like the complexity of the conflicting views, but still, I wonder.

“Methinks what they call my shadow on earth is my true substance.”  This whole paragraph was pretty astounding, I thought.  But that’s the one that stuck out to me.

“The world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is it’s prow.”

I love this entire chapter–the descriptions of the church as if it’s a ship (that quote was just a summary.)  It reminds me of the diversity within the Kingdom of God.  I’m not a purpose driven Christian.  I’m very comfortable with being a writer and I don’t really think God would care if I changed my mind and decided to become a genetic engineer, butt I do think God is involved in whatever I chose.   I think of when Jesus told Peter he’d make him a fisher of men.  People laugh at that verse a lot but whatever.  I love the fact that Jesus is so involved in his disciples fishing, throughout the gospels.  Think:How did Jesus find his tax money?  Anyway, as a writer, I am really hung up on this idea of being a part of God’s story for humanity, the poetry God wrote into his creation (from marriage to self-resurrecting forests with seeds that only start to work when they touch a flame), and especially this idea Paul came up with that God is the “author and perfecter of our faith.”  There is something to learn about God from all areas of life.  That’s why I just loved that in this chapter, Melville seemed to be seeking within the boundaries of his obsession.

I think this book is making me interested in boats.

Oh, and speaking of choices, I saw a bumper sticker last week that read “God is pro LIFE.” I agree, Jesus is life, after all.  But I couldn’t help but notice that someone could have a bumper sticker that said “God let’s us choose,” and they would also be correct.


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“If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very well probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreampt of getting under the bed to put them on.”

In another time, or maybe to another person in this time, this scene would have probably been a riot. Hilarious, I mean. I can sense how it’s funny, but there is too much in my PC mind barricading my ability to find much humor the jokes about being uncivilized. I think this is progress; it’s sort of degrading humor that has been washed out by awareness of other cultures and things. I guess people probably do still argue that Western culture is “further along,” but I can’t see it that way. Especially not American culture. There is so much that we do that seems ridiculous compared to the way other people do it; eating, for one. It’s ridiculous what we feed ourselves in this country, and that food that isn’t pumped with crazy chemicals is more expensive than the stuff that’s healthy. Health care for another–it’s very odd to think that people are turned away for health care sometimes here. Food and health just seem like basic concepts; ones we haven’t quite mastered.

And the very idea of laughing at someone’s differences just doesn’t register to me. In this case, the habit of wearing boots. When I was in Pietermaritzburg, I observed a rehearsal of a play performed by Zulus, Americans, and British people. There was a scene when a Zulu man was fascinated by a pair of boots and it offended some of the cast members. “Do they think we have never heard of shoes? We wear shoes!” one of them said. What is it about boots as being a source for this humor? Why is someone out of it if they don’t wear boots? In most parts of the world, maybe not most but many, it’s too hot for them.

The type of humor reminds me of all the stuff Disney used to get away with but can’t anymore. Even the fact that Queequeg is (suspected of?) being a cannibal–and noticing the red steak meat he eats for breakfast– would just never fly anymore, just like it doesn’t fly to have an Uncle Remus character in “Song of the South.” Some people see it as innocence, but, like Melville stated in the last chapter, the ignorance is the parent of fear. I can see how it goes hand in hand. Sometimes I still hear this sort of joke passed along, this sort of making fun of a person’s lack of touch with Western Culture, and it always makes me stop. I wonder if the person who cracked the joke has been tucked away in a block of ice for the last five decades.

Not to say that I’m not enjoying the book, or that I’m offended, or that my reaction to this aspect of it is preventing me from getting anything else out of it. It would be foolish to get offended, knowing the context of when the book was written. It’s very odd to think that Melville’s humor about being uncivilized is, itself, a lack of cultural progression…

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The second-person in this chapter threw me for a bit.  I wonder if there is a lot of second person throughout the book.  It makes it seem really informal when he says “you don’t like to” do various things.  I remember, when I was pretty young, confusing the girls on the block when I’d use the general you.  And I did it a lot.  The girls always made me clarify if I was speaking specifically about them or if I was speaking in general. I don’t think I do that as much anymore. Sometimes it seemed like Melville was speaking directly to me and it made me pause; it was as if he was time -raveling with his statements.  And that’s a thing about being a writer–maybe one of the most fascinating and appealing things–is that we’re still interacting with people, communicating ideas, long after we’ve died.  It sort of reminds me of in The Great Divorce, when some authors choose to roam the earth after they die, mostly hanging out in libraries to see if people are still reading their books.  Apparently CS Lewis stuck around to give JB Phillips some words of comfort.

In that way, books are like ghosts, if they continue to be read by people.  They are forever adding to the discussion, even if it seems that particular discussion has ended.  It’s sort of eerie.

I was pretty amused when I read that Ishmael “abominated the thought of sleeping with” the harpooneer.  It’s nice to see an author having fun.

Did innkeepers (or in this case, landlords) really rent out rooms to more than one person?  Strangers?  I found it to be a bit hard to believe.

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.”

That is so true.  I wonder if that is/was a common proverb. I’ve never heard it stated like that before but I totally agree.  Maybe that is part of Ishmael’s thing.  He knows a bit about the world already and maybe he’s trying to fight being prejudiced or drawing conclusions about people.  It seemed he was in this chapter.   The stumbling into the Negro church really boggled me in the last chapter, though.

And speaking of drawing conclusions about people, I feel like traveling has both made me see how individual each person is while simultaneously wanting to group people together and say, “That’s a western thing,” or a Thai or Indian thing.  I found myself fighting the idea of coming off too American, yet frequently telling people that the US is a melting pot.  No two people are the same but it seems like it’s easier to draw conclusions about them based on where they are from.  Or to try to recognize the patterns, even though I know full well there are always and usually exceptions.

Anyway, I’m very curious to find out what Melville will do with this Queequeg character.

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“But what thinks Lazarus?  Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up to the northern lights?”

I wonder that too, about the homeless people who choose to hang around New York, my Detroit, or, heaven forbid, Chicago (which I am nearly convinced is the coldest place on earth in the winter.)  It’s true, there are tons more  Lazaruses in California.  One of my favorite people in the world has a scheme to make “homeless people trading cards” for the famous homeless people of LA.  It never occurred to me, but LA is a place where everyone feels the need to make a splash and remembered, which is probably my friend deems the homeless people worthy of trading card covers.

It’s funny to me that Jesus had a friend named Lazarus (who he raised from the dead) and then told this story about a guy getting his sores licked after he dies in poverty and giving the character the same name.  As my uncle pointed out yesterday, Lazarus means “God is our hope,” so I guess it’s not rocket science that Jesus chose that name, but… you know.

My boyfriend says if he were homeless he’d just start walking south.

“Would not Lazarus rather be in Sumatra than here?”



Um, who doesn’t want to be in Sumatra?

What’s the difference between “jolly” and “cheery,” and why is it more acceptable to be cheery than jolly?

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Yesterday I participated in two discussions about the opening line: Call me Ishmael. I haven’t read a lot of The Whale commentary, nor have I been taught the book, so even though the thoughts about the line are my thoughts, I don’t attempt to try to be “original.” I mean, so many people have read this book… That’s the thing about reading something outside academia is that in order to know what has been said already about the book, you have to do a lot of research on your own. In that regard, I’m excited to go back to school. But anyway, about Call me Ishmael…

Lisa pointed out that his name might not be Ishmael. Call me Ishmael leaves room for that idea. I will be paying close attention to see if any of the other characters in the book refer to him by that name. I’m guessing they won’t. Rob, on the other hand, saw it as an intimate invitation and seemed to take it for granted that Ishmael is the narrator’s real name. Thinking about it on my own, and in context with the rest of the chapter, I see it as having a few different connotations. Most of us know that Ishmael was Sarah’s mistake, a source of division and sorrow, and, as the story goes (from t, the start of the Palestinian/Israel conflict. So the name Ishmael runs pretty deep. I wonder how much Melville knew about the conflict at the time. I mean, this is pre-WWII.

When I think of the character in the Abraham story, I think of Ishmael being maybe the most tragic figure in the whole book of Genesis–maybe the whole Bible. He’s exiled from his family, and yes, God blesses him, but you know… it’s not the same. I mean, when you’re a kid, how comforting is it to know that you must flee the only home you know, even if you get the promise of having gobs of descendants? That’s why I sort of read Call me Ishmael with the idea that he’s crying out, “Woe to me!” Or maybe he’s just setting up the further discussion of his condition of not being able to stay on land for very long. He’s saying, I’m an awkward fellow (he likes watery places), but then sort of describes that all (men, hmph) share this awkwardness of longing to be at sea. That’s how I took it anyway.

I know for a fact that all people don’t have adventurer streaks, but alas, call me Ishmael, I have that disease. I want to see what’s out there. And sometimes my travel disease does make me feel a bit like a mistake. I mean, it would be much easier on my family (and my back, from moving so much stuff around to storage) if I had the ability to stay in one place for longer than, say, two years at a time. But I get that drizzly November feeling too. And I love this stuff about not wanting to be a passenger. I sort of reflect that attitude, too, I think; when I go places, I never want to be a tourist. I want to have a duty. To belong the best I can (though, call me Ishmael, I don’t really get to belong to these places where I am a stranger. Not fully.)

Maybe I share with him the looming need to be in a place where I don’t really belong. I sort of thrive in, or am most comfortable in places where I don’t fully blend in. This can sometimes be a burden, but it makes me feel alive; when I put on shoes that don’t really fit, I never forget I am wearing those shoes.

A simple sailor–yes, that sort of describes my experience in Thailand. I wasn’t there to reach some ambition (to be a sea captain) and I wasn’t there as a tourist (or passenger who has to worry about how to spend money), but rather, a simple sailor earning my experience by simple ( okay it was wacky–it was really wacky work) labor. And I want to see more places but I don’t want to just pass through. I want to be a part of those places. To have purpose, which is different than ambition. Maybe just to “be friendly with all the inmates of the place” I’m lodging in.

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Reading these reminds me a bit of reading “Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” that is to say, there’s lots of sort of silly stuff before and around the book.  Extras, I guess.  I did not expect The Whale to be this way, and by this way I mean scattered, but I guess I didn’t/don’t really expect anything from The Whale, except that reading it is/will be a job.

higgledy-piggledy: they just don’t use words like that any more.

Writers hear two different bits of wisdom when trying to decide what they will write about.  1) Write what you know.  2) Write what interests you.  The second makes a lot more sense, though I can see why people would be discouraged from writing about kinds of people and places they are unfamiliar with.  But would anyone really try to do that?  But maybe “know” is sort of a loose term anyway.  Do writers need to be told these things?  One bit of advice I liked was from Natalie Goldberg.  She said “Write about that topic you just can’t stop talking about.”   It sounds practical.

Melville, with these extracts, or quotes about whales, seems to be shouting something.  Something like:








and then


The quotes about the oil in whales jumped out at me (of course they did).  It’s just so bizarre to think, especially in light of our current world, there is an animal out there, swimming in the ocean, holding within it a “sea of oil.”


Natalie Goldberg also suggests a writing exercise where the writer picks a word like death, teeth, or sleep, and writes about it non stop for 10 or 20 minutes or so.  “Write everything you know about…  Now go!”

WRITING EXERCISE: Everything I know about WHALES:

P’Nui told me that she and P’Gwang went on a whale sightseeing trip while she was near Cape Cod.  She saw the tail in the distance. That’s all she saw.  One of the extracts mentioned that when a whale snaps his tail, the sound can be heard from three or four miles away.  Whales are outrageous. They hold oil? They sing?  They are giants.

I barely ever think of whales, or think of the fact that one of my best friends has seen a tail of one; sat in the ocean with one.  Maybe my aunt saw some in Alaska, I don’t know.  At the moment, seeing a whale seems like it would be the same as going to the moon–something I assumed when I was young that everyone got to do before they died.  A natural part of life, or something.  But now, seeing a live whale in the ocean seems like  something only select people experience.  Though, of course, I’m much more likely to see a whale than I am the moon.

Whales have songs they sing to each other and they travel in groups from the north to the south and then the north again, along the American coast.  Huge distances.  Whenever I think of Jonah I also think of Geppetto and Pinnochio, because they both hung out in whales for a while.  I never read the book of Jonah.  There’s a ton in the old testament that I’ve never read.  My friend read it and she related to Jonah, thinking that she was being disobedient to her call because she didn’t feel like meeting the responsibilities of her job.  I think her reaction made me not want to read Jonah–it seemed like it was a story about disobedience and punishment, and that’s not a story I necessarily want to read.

Whales change their song every year.  I think I learned this on PBS.  Or maybe I made it up.  I don’t know.

Whales are really heavy.  When sperm whales end up sick and on the beach, it’s an event to get them back in the ocean.  It takes a Whale Rider to get them back.

I think some whales have hammerheads. No, wait, that’s sharks.

Killer Whales, like Willy, are not killers.  They are usually portrayed as heroes or maybe it’s victims.  I don’t know.  I never saw the movie.  Killer whales are smaller than sperm whales.

Whale hunting may or may not be illegal now.  Lot’s of people are into “Saving the whales.”  That is interesting, because some of the extracts made it seem like whales were viewed as dragons or monsters of the sea.  Scary as hell.  Of course they would be scary.  If I went with the P’s on their whale “hunt,” would I be sort of scared?   Humans are powerful creatures.  You know they are powerful when it’s up to them to save monsters.

I think some people eat whale.  But I think it’s probably against the law.  And I think I heard that indigenous Alaskans used whale “products” for everything: fuel, meat, insulation… More stuff I may or may not have learned on PBS.  Whales are useful.  That’s what I think I learned.  I wouldn’t want the job to kill it though.

Melville probably would have appreciated google searches.

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I’m fascinated by the queer handkerchief with all gay flags of known nations printed on it.  In Thailand, purple is used as a symbol for homosexuals rather than rainbows, so maybe the handkerchief had a purple flag, a rainbow flag–  Okay, actually I was taken back by the idea that he calls the nations’ flags gay, or happy, as he undoubtedly meant it.  I never see flags as happy.  Kind of solemn, actually.  Solemn like patriotism is solemn.  Maybe the flag of Argentina is gay. 

 And then this idea of known nations.  It’s so strange to think that today, nearly 200 years later, all nations are known.  Or are they?

I’m excited that there are maps at the start of the book.  Excited because there’s the prospect of reading about he 19th American century view of the rest of the world.  In the introduction, Feidelson mentioned that America was expanding at the time Melville wrote this and I can’t help but think, at the time I am reading this book, the world is shrinking.  The world is smaller than it was when Melville wrote this book

The man mildly loved his mortality? 

These days, there would be the word “whale” in Arabic and in Chinese.

Whale in Thai: ปลาวาฬ   pblah-wann

Whales are named for roundness?  I would think they were named for massiveness.

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