November 29, 2019

"Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds."

"Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras. But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? and that is adding insult to injury, is it? Look at your knife-handle, there, my civilized and enlightened gourmand, dining off that roast beef, what is that handle made of?—what but the bones of the brother of the very ox you are eating? And what do you pick your teeth with, after devouring that fat goose? With a feather of the same fowl. And with what quill did the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Cruelty to Ganders formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last month or two that that society passed a resolution to patronize nothing but steel pens."

From Herman Melville, "Moby-Dick."

41 comments:

Wince said...

"Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds."

At first I thought Melville was saying he's tired of the dating scene.

mccullough said...

Moby Dick needed a good editor. Lot of slack in that book

Ken B said...

A friend asked if he should give Moby Dick, which he had not read, to his 8 year old daughter. I burst out laughing. This is an example why.

Yancey Ward said...

I have noticed the last few weeks a recurrent theme in the leftist media and blogosphere- that is Trump as Ahab. The idea is that Trump is chasing down the various plots to impeach and remove him with great futility, and with the ultimate failure ensured.

tcrosse said...

Althouse posted another extract from Moby Dick a short time ago, and it so fascinated me that I had to download a copy onto my Kindle. As an ostensibly educated person I'm supposed to have read it years ago, but it's my good fortune to have saved that pleasure for my old age.

Yancey Ward said...

It is a great story, but McCullough is correct, Melville needed a good editor.

Ann Althouse said...

I think you Melville-needed-an-editor people are reading it wrong. If you're looking for a page-turning adventure story, of course, that could be edited from the "Moby-Dick" text.

The question is how to value that text that we have, and I think powering straight through, getting it done, is just a terrible mistake. I recommend taking only a chapter. Think of it as being more like you'd read the Bible. You don't just read through. You hang out in one place and really get to know it. That's why I just give one passage.

With "Great Gatsby," I was into doing one sentence and only one sentence at a time. With "Moby-Dick," the chapters are short, and they have titles. Pick a chapter (any chapter). You can orient yourself by reading a plot summary, but then just read and reread a chapter. Read it out loud to somebody and talk about what things mean, they way you'd do a Bible study session.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

I think Trump is the Great Orange Whale and the Democrats as Ahab.

Ann Althouse said...

"The question is how to value that text that we have, and I think powering straight through, getting it done, is just a terrible mistake. I recommend taking only a chapter."

The very chapter from which I took my quote — Chapter 65, "The Whale as a Dish" —  has the perfect analogy: "The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite."

It's too long. It takes away your appetite.

Ann Althouse said...

The whalers strip the blubber off the whale and cut off and save the head (hard to do considering the lack of a neck) and set the rest of the carcass go, to be scavenged by sharks and sea birds.

Ann Althouse said...

Stubb eats some of the meat, but nobody else wants it.

Ann Althouse said...

About the absence of a neck:

"Now, the beheading of the Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not without reason. Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck; on the contrary, where his neck; on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet intervening between him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in a discolored, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bear in mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cut many feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, without so much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus made, he must skilfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts, and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertion into the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb's boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?"

Bob said...

> and set the rest of the carcass go, to be scavenged by sharks and sea birds

And that fact leads him later to one of the most brilliant philosophical\ passages in the book.

"Are yo\u\ a believer in ghosts, my friend?"

Bill Peschel said...

Ken B: The spermaceti chapter would have been an eye-opener:

"While some were occupied with this latter duty, others were employed in dragging away the larger tubs, so soon as filled with the sperm; and when the proper time arrived, this same sperm was carefully manipulated ere going to the try-works, of which anon.

"It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine's bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! no wonder that in old times this sperm was such a favorite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a sweetener! such a softener! such a delicious mollifier! After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize. ...

"Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, - Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

"Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!"

MikeR said...

"Feejee" and laughing sickness: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuru_(disease)
Fatal, and transmitted only by eating an infected human's brain.
Cannibalism is a really bad idea.

tcrosse said...

What would the NYT crossword be without Typee and Omoo?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

......the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite."

That sentence is pretty funny. It has been ages, decades, since I read Moby Dick. I didn't remember that Melville had a wry sense of humor.

Reading a book written so long ago, using language and forms of writing that are out of "vogue" today, is a bit hard. You have to slow down and really think about meaning of what is under all that florid writing.

daskol said...

An extended riff on the biblical proscription of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. Meliville always strikes me as angry or contemptuous of his readers. The very length of this book is part of that. Billy Budd seems to me to say: you think you have something with your whole “God” story in Jesus? I’ll show you what a real god story looks like, I’ll do a “God’s human face” better than the Bible did, and nobody will even buy my book, let alone create a whole religion around it. Too brilliant.

daskol said...

I skimmed, at best, lengthy sections of the book my first time through, especially the chapter on cetologic taxonomy. That was a mistake: on a second look, there’s a lot of humor, usually angry humor, sprinkled into the seemingly boring sections. I missed the whole fast fish/loose fish bit first time around when I was focused on the plot and characterization. It’s all about the penumbra.

Portlandmermaid said...

I recently listened to it again on Moby Dick Big Read. I skipped quite a few parts this time that I didn't find interesting, but man, that ending when Ahab is pulled past the ship and sees the doomed people we've come to know, and the frightening moment after the whale has smashed the ship and the few remaining men in their little boat look for it on the open sea, "The ship...where is the ship?"

Ann Althouse said...

"And that fact leads him later to one of the most brilliant philosophical\ passages in the book.

"Are yo\u\ a believer in ghosts, my friend?""

That's Chapter 70, "The Funeral":

"There's a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vulturism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free. Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghost survives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-war or blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuring the swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating in the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the whale's unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the log—shoals, rocks, and breakers hereabouts: beware! And for years afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held. There's your law of precedents; there's your utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air! There's orthodoxy! Thus, while in the life the great whale's body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world. Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend?"

narciso said...

that's just full of microaggression, yes Melville dumped years of research into this volume, like tom wolfe would do nearly two centuries later,

Two-eyed Jack said...

I like to put an opera DVD on when preparing our Thanksgiving meal. Yesterday I put on the San Francisco Opera's production of Moby Dick. I like it and it is much shorter than the book. Stubb sings to Pip about whale steak, "tough, rare and bloody," so I was primed for this post.

daskol said...

Air-sharks...ancestor to Chevy Chase’s landshark?

Brayan said...

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daskol said...

I wonder what Melville would have made of our Saturday meet-markets, where live bipeds look at other live bipeds and buy them drinks and stuff.

Seeing Red said...

I read the headline and thought it was recounting Friday nights at a bar.

I never read Moby Dick. Saw the movie.

James K said...

The question is how to value that text that we have, and I think powering straight through, getting it done, is just a terrible mistake. I recommend taking only a chapter. Think of it as being more like you'd read the Bible. You don't just read through. You hang out in one place and really get to know it. That's why I just give one passage.

Yes! One has to just relax and dwell in it. People are similarly impatient with movies now. "Where's the action? It's slow." I love the first hour of "The Deer Hunter," more than the part after the cut to Vietnam (though the cut itself is one of the great moments in cinema). You just immerse yourselves in the lives of these people, while nothing too dramatic happens. It's the same with Moby Dick. The action only begins well into the novel, but by then you are really in that world, if you allow yourself the freedom.

James K said...

I didn't remember that Melville had a wry sense of humor.

There's a lot of humor in Moby Dick, mainly in his depiction of the motley crew of cast-offs on the ship.

YoungHegelian said...

I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.

I like in Moby Dick when Melville goes all Biblical on Our Asses!

Fandor said...

For a wonderful experience listening to MOBY DICK I recommend Recorded Books Unabridged Classic read by
FRANK MULLER. Audiofile said, "Reader Frank Muller is outstanding, providing, in a richly ecocative voice, a sense of time and place that matches the book perfectly."

FRANK MULLER was called "the first true superstar of spoken audio."

You won't be disappointed by Muller's performance reading this classic.
I kid you not.

Bob said...

^ Seconded. Frank Muller's recording is really the only way to "get" Moby Dick. Ishmael is a raconteur, and Muller is the best way to understand that.

Kirk Parker said...

Althouse,

"I think you Melville-needed-an-editor people are reading it wrong. If you're looking for a page-turning adventure story, of course, that could be edited from the Moby-Dick text.

"The question is how to value that text that we have, and I think powering straight through, getting it done, is just a terrible mistake..."

This, this, a thousand times this.

Consider:

"Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it...."

Kirk Parker said...

Followed, after a few intervening paragraphs, by:

"Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But BEING PAID,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!"

Leora said...

Yancey Ward
I've seen at least two and maybe three cartoons showing Trump as Moby Dick and Shiff or the Dems as Ahab in the last month or so. Here's one https://grrrgraphics.com/ahab-nadler-and-the-white-whale which makes three or four.

Also Victor Davis Hanson writes "Trump, like Moby Dick, seems a weird force of nature whose wounds from constant attacks only seem to make him more indestructible and his attackers even more obsessed with their prey."

bagoh20 said...

It's a misfortune of the highest order to be so large and hunted by creatures so much smaller and tenacious. Hunting is central to our nature, and possibly what allowed us to rise above the other apes, but whaling is the most horrible of our hunting history. So many, so huge, so benign and undeserving of violence, and to the ends of mostly being wasted. A very sad chapter in our history.

bagoh20 said...

The way we hunted whales is how I imagine visiting extraterrestrials would deal with us - coveting our gall bladders or pancreas as a delicacy and discarding the rest.

Phidippus said...

bagoh20: That put me in mind of this classic piece from The Onion, back when it was funny:

https://www.theonion.com/i-desperately-need-bone-marrow-1819583277

DavidD said...

I’ve just started reading In The Heart of the Sea, based probably on a recommendation from a fellow Althousian.

I’d read Moby-Dick as a young adult; I may have to read it again soon.

Kirk Parker said...

bagoh20 @ 5:14pm,

I think you misunderstand: sperm whales had their blubber harvested and rendered as whale oil, and this formed the largest single part of the revenue. I assume that the meat was mostly discarded because it would have been too difficult to preserve it, whereas the whale oil once rendered kept fine at ambient temperature.

Kirk Parker said...

Oh: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sperm_whaling