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Thread: Moby!

  1. #91
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    All good stuff above, guys! Thanks bounty, Danik, hellsapoppin! So we've got Starbuck and Mocha Dick. When are we going to come across somebody named Cappuccino? I know, I know. That was low hanging fruit.

    One thing I'm continually struck with while reading this book (my kindle says I'm at 83%) is how many things are covered in these pages. I'm also struck by the many levels a reader can find in this book. As with all good art, it can mean many things to many people. We can speculate about what Melville intended, or we can sort of let the words wash over us and find meaning where we can.

    I suspect a devout religious person will find deep spirituality in Moby, whereas a strict secularist will find an secular message. Practicing Quakers of the day probably found much to admire in Captain Bildad while an Adam Smith capitalist probably found Captain Peleg more to his liking. Similarly a follower of Islam probably gravitated towards Fedallah. Someone who has read Darwin will find much in this book just as someone who takes Genesis literally. An Earth-First conservationist will find just as much in this book as will a Drill-Baby-Drill type. A biologist will find biology, a mycologist will find mycology, an astronomer will find astronomy, an astrologer will find astrology. And of El Sancho of the Litnet will find a connection to the Panza of the Iberian Peninsula.

    At any rate Moby cuts a wide swath, or carves a deep wake, as the case may be. Don Quixote is such a book. The Sun Also Rises is such a book. I only just speculated that Ahab may have been the inspiration for Jake Barnes. Then I read this and now I'm sure:

    For it had not been very long prior to the Pequod’s sailing from Nantucket, that he had been found one night lying prone upon the ground, and insensible; by some unknown, and seemingly inexplicable, unimaginable casualty, his ivory limb having been so violently displaced, that it had stake-wise smitten, and all but pierced his groin; nor was it without extreme difficulty that the agonizing wound was entirely cured.
    Bummer of an injury, Ahab.
    Uhhhh...

  2. #92
    Registered User hellsapoppin's Avatar
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    "To be or not to be" cf. ""Would I be a murderer"


    Hamlet and Starbuck are two characters who suffered a similar fate. Both had been wronged. A higher authority usurped control over their lives and families. Those usurpers abused their authority and posed a great threat to them. Hamlet wanted to go back to Wittenberg. Starbuck wanted to go back home to his family. Both were stopped in their quest for peace. What then were they to do?


    In Shakespeare's Hamlet the protagonist muses about suicide over ''Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles ..."

    In Moby Dick, instead of suicide, Starbuck muses about killing Ahab as a means of avoiding a sea of troubles.


    Hamlet also thought about killing King Claudius in revenge for the wrong that had been done to the Prince. But he sees the old man at prayer (seemingly in a state of repentance) and thinks better about it.

    Starbuck thought about killing a sleeping Ahab but withdrew as did Hamlet. He asks, "Great God where art thou?"


    Neither followed through with their musings and both were ultimately killed as a consequence of their inaction. The Bible promises "I will repay saith the Lord." But this Lord failed to do so for both characters.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  3. #93
    Registered User hellsapoppin's Avatar
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    ~ Fedallah ~ quoting Sancho, "a follower of Islam probably gravitated towards Fedallah"


    "Spiritual" adviser to Ahab which may be hard to believe considering how abusive and blood thirsty he is. But Fedellah would not likely be a favorite among Orthodox Muslims as he is a Parsee, or a member of an orthodox Indian branch of Zoroastrianism. The Parsee wears a turbin which is a pagan headdress. Thus, while tolerated, members of this religion are not recognized as "People of the Book".
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  4. #94
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Oy vey. Wrong religion. Ah well, my main point was that art means different things to different people. I don’t think you can say definitively it means this one thing but not the other. So the same passage can give an optimist hope while giving a pessimist apprehension.

    Anyway, talk about serendipity. I made that post while boarding an airplane. Then I sat down in my seat (a middle seat in coach on a packed airplane) and started reading about the Pequod sailing into a Pacific typhoon. My seat mate looked over my shoulder and said, “Hey, you’re reading Moby Dick. I love that book. I just reread it last year.” I told him I’d read it years ago too but was probably too young to get much out it. He said he had the same experience. I didn’t mean to put him on the spot, but I wanted to know, so I asked what it was about the book that he liked so much. He hemmed and hawed a little bit then said, “Well, I’m a merchant marine. I liked the sailor stuff.”
    Uhhhh...

  5. #95
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Again, talk about serendipity. I just read the scene where Starbuck contemplates murder/mutiny. And I agree, it has a Shakesphere feel about it — with a maritime twist. Starbuck goes through a whole pro vs con reasoning process: where’s the closest port (in Japan as it turns out); how to go about restraining Ahab if needs be; how would the crew reactn etc. It was a solid, methodical process. Whether or not he came up with the right answer, well, that remains to be seen.
    Uhhhh...

  6. #96
    Registered User hellsapoppin's Avatar
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    quoting Sancho,


    ~ “Well, I’m a merchant marine. I liked the sailor stuff.” ~


    My dad was a merchant marine for 20 years. He had so many stories to tell! I guess this is why I have always loved movies and books about the Seven Seas. Here's a few of my fave movies:


    Yankee Clipper 1927 - Douglas Fairbanks
    Mutiny On the Bounty 1935 - Charles Laughton (my dad's fave actor)
    Captain Blood 1935 - Errol Flynn
    The Sea Hawk 1940 - Errol Flynn
    The Sea Wolf 1941 - Edward G Robinson
    Treasure Island 1950 - Robert Newton
    Captain Horatio Hornblower 1951 - Gregory Peck
    Moby Dick 1956 - Gregory Peck
    The Gallant Hours 1960 - Jimmy Cagney



    There were probably about a dozen more but just cannot remember them off hand. And as for sea faring stories, well there are just too many to list.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  7. #97
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I simply love how ample this interchange is getting Sancho and poppin. One theme that called my attention and that seems so very current, is this mad insistence in a self-destructive war, started out of revenge or simply out of greed for more territory.

    As for the comparison between Starbuck and Hamlet: as poppin points out they are both prey to their inactivity (and their scruples) but it seems to me that the position of both is a bit different.

    Hamlet is the crown prince of his country. As such even not being king yet he has the possibility to get allies outside Denmark. Maybe what hampers him most is not the uncle, but having to go against his own mother. Anyway his inactivity causes the extermination of the ruling
    dynasty and lays the country open to foreign domain.

    Starbuck's position though much more modest is, in a sense, much more difficult. He is trapped on a ship with a mad captain, being he himself the direct subordinate of that captain. He can´t afford to fail. One faulty step in bringing the whole crew on his side and he will be tried for treason. I think Starbuck is a nice guy who is not used to lawlessness. And maybe that´s his biggest difficulty. He doesn´t know how to deal with it without dirtying his hands.
    "I seemed to have sensed also from an early age that some of my experiences as a reader would change me more as a person than would many an event in the world where I sat and read. "
    Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row

  8. #98
    Registered User hellsapoppin's Avatar
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    @Danik

    Very glad to see you are enjoying the exchange here.

    Your post inspired to check into the equation between Hamlet and Starbuck. I came up with this:



    According to Melville biographer Leon Howard, "Ahab is a Shakespearean tragic hero, created according to the Coleridgean formula." The creation of Ahab, who apparently does not derive from any captain Melville sailed under, was heavily influenced by the observation in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's lecture on Hamlet that "one of Shakespeare's modes of creating characters is to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself ... thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances." Whenever Moby-Dick's narrator comments on Captain Ahab as an artistic creation, the language of Coleridge's lecture appears: "at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half-wilful over-ruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature." All men "tragically great," Ishmael says, "are made so through a certain morbidness." All mortal greatness "is but disease."

    Ahab's speech combines Quaker archaism with Shakespeare's idiom to serve as "a homegrown analogue to blank verse.



    from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Ahab

    I was not aware that Ahab was so much like these other characters as shown in the wiki link.


    In Shakespeare, Claudius was King while Hamlet was Prince as you say. In Melville, Ahab (based on a biblical king per 1 Kings 16:29) ruled his own vessel as if he was a king with Starbuck second in command like a prince. Thus, the equation between Shakespeare & Melville along with the equation of Hamlet and Starbuck turned out to be quite appropriate.


    Online article about biblical king Ahab:

    https://www.christianity.com/wiki/pe...the-bible.html


    He worshiped a pagan god, committed many evils, refused to heed wise counsel, and his actions led to the deaths of many. Captain Ahab was a cultist, committed many evils, also refused wise counsel, and his actions led to the deaths of his crew.


    Very interesting set of characters throughout the book.
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  9. #99
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Concerning current affairs, I was thinking sort of the same thing, Danik. I couldn’t help but to compare the whaling industry to the war in Gaza. Specifically two ethical principles: proportionality and proximity. (How’s that for alliteration?) The proximity of antagonists in both cases does not pose an ethical problem. Israelis clearly face a threat from Hamas and the whalers clearly put themselves in harm’s way by virtue of proximity to a big dangerous animal. But the proportionality principle is problematic. The Israeli response is quite heavy handed and although Ishmael makes a defense of whaling with respect to over-fishing allegations, his reasoning is somewhat flawed. He compares whaling to buffalo hunting on the North American Great Plains. The American Bison was practically exterminated in very short period of time around about the same time of Melville’s book. Ismael claims the same could not happen the the whales for a number of reasons. And in retrospect, Ismael was simply wrong. We of course have the benefit of hind sight. Ismael did not foresee the industrialization of whaling. And with ever bigger, more powerful ships as well as whaling gear like exploding harpoons, proximity is now the ethical principle that is also violated.

    So I finished the book last night. Melville gave us two perfect bookends:

    Call me Ishmael…And the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
    I’m in the process going back through sections of the book and reading analysis and reviews. Thanks for links, hellsapoppin. Ahab certainly does seem like Shakespearian character, as does Starbuck. I don’t know if this comes up in the criticism, but doesn’t Mr Kurtz have a little Ahab in him?
    Uhhhh...

  10. #100
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hellsapoppin View Post
    @Danik

    Very glad to see you are enjoying the exchange here.

    Your post inspired to check into the equation between Hamlet and Starbuck. I came up with this:



    According to Melville biographer Leon Howard, "Ahab is a Shakespearean tragic hero, created according to the Coleridgean formula." The creation of Ahab, who apparently does not derive from any captain Melville sailed under, was heavily influenced by the observation in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's lecture on Hamlet that "one of Shakespeare's modes of creating characters is to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself ... thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances." Whenever Moby-Dick's narrator comments on Captain Ahab as an artistic creation, the language of Coleridge's lecture appears: "at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half-wilful over-ruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature." All men "tragically great," Ishmael says, "are made so through a certain morbidness." All mortal greatness "is but disease."

    Ahab's speech combines Quaker archaism with Shakespeare's idiom to serve as "a homegrown analogue to blank verse.



    from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Ahab

    I was not aware that Ahab was so much like these other characters as shown in the wiki link.


    In Shakespeare, Claudius was King while Hamlet was Prince as you say. In Melville, Ahab (based on a biblical king per 1 Kings 16:29) ruled his own vessel as if he was a king with Starbuck second in command like a prince. Thus, the equation between Shakespeare & Melville along with the equation of Hamlet and Starbuck turned out to be quite appropriate.


    Online article about biblical king Ahab:

    https://www.christianity.com/wiki/pe...the-bible.html


    He worshiped a pagan god, committed many evils, refused to heed wise counsel, and his actions led to the deaths of many. Captain Ahab was a cultist, committed many evils, also refused wise counsel, and his actions led to the deaths of his crew.


    Very interesting set of characters throughout the book.
    @Poppin
    I wasn't aware that Captain Ahab was so Shakespearian, but in his madness and desperate determination he is a very dramatic character indeed. He is certainly "tragically great" and as such the focus of the novel. I had forgotten all other characters except Ismael and Quequeg.

    I agree that Starbuck can be considered a "prince" in the sense that he would be the captain's successor if something happened to him. But I don't remember if he has the tragically dimension of the Danish Prince or if this is more a case of the right man at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Thanks for the wiki link. One interesting thing is this symbolic and mythological aspect of the character. I thought of the madness of King Lear, but he is a victim not an avenger.
    "I seemed to have sensed also from an early age that some of my experiences as a reader would change me more as a person than would many an event in the world where I sat and read. "
    Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row

  11. #101
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Congratulations for finishing the book, Sancho! You are a very quick reader!
    I fully agree to your analysis of the Gaza conflict and how it compares with this exaggerated whaling expedition. Ishmael defends it because it is his living.

    I think Kurtz is also crazy but for another reason. If I rightly remember he has lost the touch, or almost, with civilization.
    "I seemed to have sensed also from an early age that some of my experiences as a reader would change me more as a person than would many an event in the world where I sat and read. "
    Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row

  12. #102
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Bah, I just happened to have some dead time sitting on an airplane. Once I sort of tuned into Ishmael’s language it actually went fairly quickly. The language I found fascinating. It’s a mash-up of 19th century American English with a bunch of Nantucket/sailor/Quaker-isms tossed in. My wife is getting pretty sick of it — “Avast, woman! Hast thou a supper yet made?” (That was Sancho to Sancho’s Old Lady last night. I wound up fixing myself a PB&J)

    At any rate, Stubb was a lot of fun to read, especially when he was on the chase, urging the rowers on:

    Why don’t you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then:— softly, softly! That’s it — that’s it! long and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull, can’t ye? pull, won’t ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes don’t ye pull?— pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out! Here,” whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; “every mother’s son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That’s it — that’s it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her — start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!”
    Here’s Starbuck and his crew on the same chase:

    “Pull, pull, my good boys,” said Starbuck, in the lowest possible but intensest concentrated whisper to his men; while the sharp fixed glance from his eyes darted straight ahead of the bow, almost seemed as two visible needles in two unerring binnacle compasses. He did not say much to his crew, though, nor did his crew say anything to him. Only the silence of the boat was at intervals startlingly pierced by one of his peculiar whispers, now harsh with command, now soft with entreaty.
    And here’s Ahab on the same chase:

    But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his — these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land.
    It pretty much sums up their personalities.
    Uhhhh...

  13. #103
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Lol! Poor Mrs. Sancho! Good point about the language as descriptive of the main characters.

    One thing I forgot about Moby is also how much humor it contained. The opening chapters when Ishmael meets Quequeg are absolutely hilarious.
    "I seemed to have sensed also from an early age that some of my experiences as a reader would change me more as a person than would many an event in the world where I sat and read. "
    Gerald Murnane, Tamarisk Row

  14. #104
    Registered User hellsapoppin's Avatar
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    Homo eroticism in MB

    Over the years many commentators have speculated as to whether Melville was a homosexual. Among these writers were Hart Crane, WH Auden, EM Forster, and Virginia Woolf. Biographers have said that he had a "longing" for Hawthorne as shown in the letters they exchanged with each other. The longing was, of course, never reciprocated. Melville spent much time at sea in a business known as a refuge for those same sex inclined. And other letters he wrote (according to biographers) included some rather unguarded moments. For us as moderns, this is no big deal. In fact it is inconsequential. But in the past, it was so.

    In 1996, a Texas public school district challenged Moby-Dick for violating its community ideals. This difficulty with the novel arose when “parents complained that the book went against family values,” so it was shunned from the classroom for a few months, although it was never actually banned (Jarvis 80). Although these values were never clearly defined, literary critics believe that a “controversial topic in Moby-Dick scholarship has been the novel’s homoeroticism,” or the underlying themes of same-sex desire and symbolic gender roles ...


    https://www.ipl.org/essay/The-Import...k-F3ALM7HESCF6


    Several nonfiction writers have also speculated as to Melville's sexual inclinations. See,

    https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/...and-hawthorne/


    Many modern readers of the book also speculate on this. See,

    https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9991956


    While we will never know the full truth about this, we can readily conclude that there are homoerotic elements throughout MD. The first being the "marriage" between Quee & Ish previously discussed. This unity was repeated when Ish says they "were wedded" on p 253 of the monkey rope episode. There was a certain "squeeze of the hand" on Ch 94 ~ let us all squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness". Chapter 95 deals exclusively with the whale's sexual appendage called its “grandissimus”:


    https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/...ck-the-cassock


    It is transformed into garments which qualify one for the office of "archbishoprick".

    In the Cabin Table episode we saw where the harpooners made sport of Dough Boy. That because of it, he had to check for teeth marks on his arm. Perhaps this may suggest that there had been some form of sexual abuse of that victim. There may be other instances which are same sex sexually suggestive as well. This may be one of the reasons why the book was so obscure well into the 20th century.

    more:

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...-for-our-times
    When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent

    ~ Isaac Asimov

  15. #105
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Who knows? I’m sure it’s a possibility. A lot if the homoerotic stuff in the book could be read that way. And it's easy for a reader to think Ishmael is Melville, but that is a very slippery slope. Writers of fiction are a very slippery lot. I mean they write fiction after all. As for Ishmael, I kept trying to fit his relationship with Queequeg into one of Aristotle’s definitions of friendship. Reduced to an absurd level, the categories are friendships of: Utility, Pleasure, and Virtue. It kinda/sorta works, but not really — their friendship seemed to meander around a bit in those categories. They both seemed to be concerned about what was best for the other, for the other's sake (Virtue), but they also simply enjoyed hanging out with each other (Pleasure).

    The Mat Maker chapter was interesting from a friendship point of view. As usual Ishmael goes into a detailed explanation of how to make a mat — the loom, the warp, the weft, the shuttle, etc. Anyway Ishmael is being very meticulous about his part of the operation — stringing the loom, pulling the weft through — but Queequeg is sort of halfassing it. His job is to pound the weave tight with the shuttle, for which he's using his lance. It's pretty funny. I pictured an old married couple stringing popcorn to trim out their Christmas tree, the wife enthralled, the husband distracted.

    At any rate, it seemed to me Ishmael had a friendship of virtue with Queequeg, but Queequeg had a friendship with everybody. Queequeg did not hesitate to put it on the line for Tashtego when he was sinking in the whale's head, and for that matter Queequeg put it on the line for a kid he didn't even know on the ferryboat from New Bedford to Nantucket. If you remember a kid gets knocked overboard into the frigid water and while everybody else is standing around wondering what to do, Queequeg strips down, dives in, and saves the day. He didn't even stop to consider his own welfare.

    So anyway, based on what I just read (thanks for the links) about Melville and Hawthorne, it does sound a lot like Ishmael and Queequeg. But again. I donno. Could be. But I don't particularly want to try to psychoanalyze someone from beyond the grave. I'll leave the man's privacy to himself.

    So I mentioned two types of friendship with respect to Ishmael and Queequeg, but I didn't mention the third — friendships of utility, which is generally an agreement between people where they more or less use each other. When the need is over, the friendship is over. Sailors are known for this sort of thing. I mean three years with no port calls is long time for a bunch of 20-something dudes. The pressure is going to build up and without relief of some sort, nobody will be able to think straight and the whaling endeavor will suffer. And let's face it, it takes an imagination that not everybody has to go out with Rosie. (Nope, I won't explain who Rosie is — for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land)
    Uhhhh...

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