On (almost) the occasion of the Big M-D’s birthday, we’re pleased to bring you our third installment of a Smart Dude. (Click for episodes one and two.) We promise that we are inviting the Smart Dude back out of genuine enthusiasm and not because his dick analysis is really stiring up some big, hard stats. Though, truly: it is.–Eds.
So yesterday was the 161st anniversary of Moby-Dick, and we all know that the traditional 161stanniversary gift is an irreverent review. (This could get awkward when people start living long enough to celebrate a 161st wedding anniversary – make a mental note to ask your great-grandkids about this because we’ll all be uploads in a quantum computer in Saturn’s rings by then.) When I started reading Moby-Dick, I had no idea that people would all of a sudden care much more about this book than at any time in recent memory. We have the Moby-Dick big read, with which I have almost kept pace in my reading (I plan to listen after I’m done reading because the two experiences are, to me, quite different). We have yesterday’s lovely google doodle. Why now? What is it about the world today that has made a book that is 161 years old suddenly more relevant than it was last year, or on its 150th anniversary?
This is a good question but I’m not going to answer that question because, apparently like Ishmael, I’m pretending to just be along for the ride.
Since our last installment, I’ve only read one additional chapter – but what a chapter! Chapter 28: Ahab. (I’d like to pause for a moment and point out the comment on the second installment from “Lusciousthe Cat”, who hails from “The University of Hard Knocks” and would like to share some of his wisdom about penis enlargement. Lusciousthe is obviously on board with all of the dick-based linkbait in that post. Even so, an additional six inches seems a bit extravagant, no?) [Eds: No comment.]
Twenty-eight chapters in, we finally meet one of the most famous iconic figures of American literature, Captain Ahab. His presence has been felt in so many ways, but he’s remained invisible up to this point. When he finally emerges from his crèche belowdecks, our narrator notes the effect on the crew (some combination of reverence and fear) and describes Ahab’s appearance in great detail, although Ahab doesn’t really do anything but stare out to sea like an emo. He is gaunt but solid, a sculpture of inert bronze or hewn from a living tree, but most prominently, he is marked with a long scar from his head, presumably down to his feet (so says one of the sailors, although it sounds like nobody knows for sure where the scar ends – not exactly a topic of polite conversation). Is the scar like the damage lightning leaves on a tree? Or is it more like the seam left from casting metal in a mold? Such a complicated man.
Oh, right, and he’s got a fake leg carved from a whale’s jaw. Just like the Pequod lost its mast off of Japan and they built a new one with what was at hand. (Although the nature of the ship was unaffected by the replacement, Ahab became a human-whale cyborg.) The ship has been adapted to Ahab’s needs as well, with divots placed in convenient locations to brace his whale-leg in (I am guessing ivory doesn’t grip as well as Crocs), further enhancing the link between the Captain and his ship (or perhaps the ship and her Captain). And is that a little sexual? I haven’t worked in very many dick references in this installment, and I’m afraid to sully my search history with “ivory dildo” but I feel like that’s a thing. Either way, I’m pretty sure he has an ivory penis strapped to his leg. Penis, penis, every where, nor any … nevermind.
Ahab is tangibly less than human due to his whale-leg, but Ishmael can’t seem to decide in what way he is inhuman – is he like a statue, and therefore not alive, or like a great tree, or like a legend? Regardless, it’s clear that the Pequod does not need him – yet. This implies the question (but – pedant alert – does not beg the question) of what sort of task lies in the Pequod’s future that could possibly require such a man as he.
I was expecting an entrance filled with blood, rage, and spittle, as if Mastodon’s “I Am Ahab” were his WWE entrance music. Instead, the mystery man appears on deck, and just sort of … looms. Even so, his entrance is powerful, just as his absence was a near-physical presence.
Jake Bartolone: Exactly that type of person.
Jake Bartolone returns for episode three!
And seriously, Sarah Blackwood, take paragraph six right to your Intro to American Lit seminar: “Ahab is tangibly less than human due to his whale-leg, but Ishmael can’t seem to decide in what way he is inhuman.”
But srsly smart dude/ Jake if you were in my class I’d encourage you to go back to read the description of the Pequod in “The Ship:” “She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.”
Hester Blum, maybe you can tell us how this stands out, or doesn’t from typical 19c ship descriptions. Are all the ships hybrid this way?
“All noble things are touched with that.” So, so emo. Yes, I’d sort of forgotten about that description — one of the complications of reading in fits and starts, and mostly while on the bedroom floor waiting for the baby to fall asleep.
Not typical!–between tiller and ivory, an anomaly, befitting the Pequod name, associated with an “extinct” Indian tribe and thus “barbaric” and festooned with fetishes, trophies, all the trappings of Ahab’s association with exoticism, orientalism, etc… An example of typical: the Charles W. Morgan, last surviving wooden whaleship: http://www.mysticseaport.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=58CDBE74-65B8-D398-78B82F78C63BCD4A
Jamie L. Jones has lots to say on whaleships and obsolescence!
So the Pequod and Ahab are being replaced, bit-by-bit, with the same stuff.
Jake Bartolone: everyone’s dream seminar attendee. Also Jake, I’ll note that the passive voice in your analysis is completely apropos, as the agent behind this transformation is purposefully blurred.
I am so much better as a self-directed learner than in a classroom setting, though. And I am meticulous about my use of passive voice, thanks for noticing.
I totally want my students to jump into this discussion.
Your students SHOULD totally jump into this discussion! Have at it.
This is fantastic, if for no other reason than the fact that you subtly tagged it with “Cylon”. Sneaky, very sneaky.