Contented Reader

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Moby Dick, chapter 36

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Moby Dick

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

Herman Melville

Moby Dick Big Read

Life is randomly shitty.  You’re going about your life, just doing the best you can, and for no reason at all, a gigantic load of crap is dropped on you from nowhere.  You get a cold.  You fall down the stairs.  A giant white whale bites off your favorite leg.  And what can you do about it?  Not a damned thing.  There’s no one to blame.  You could blame God, or Fate, if you liked, and fat lot of good it will do you, because you aren’t really even sure if either of them exists, and even if they did, what could you do about it?  God hasn’t shown up to defend himself since that incident with Job, and Fate, never.

I’m continuing to read Moby Dick with the Moby Dick Big Readone chapter per day as the audio recordings are released on mp3.  It is a great way to read this book.  I’ve read it before, and more than once, but this slower pace gives me time to think about what I’m reading, time to enjoy Melville’s language and his ideas.

This whole book is raw power, barely focused and pointed everywhere at once.  Most of the chapters are shorter and more self-contained than I had realized, reading the book through all at once.  Each one is its own little world, all part of a whole, but so different from each other.  In chapter 35, he was describing the mechanics of a ship’s masthead, and how pleasant it is for a dreamy, philosophical person to stand in the masthead, thinking his thoughts and utterly failing to see any of the whales he is supposed to be looking for.  Then today, I turn to chapter 36, and Melville says, “Oh, by the way: Fuck God.”

Because that’s what Ahab is saying in this chapter.  That whoever is in charge of the amount of pain in the universe is a complete bastard.  That maybe there’s no way to hurt God, or Fate, but he’s going to look in the direction that the pain came from, and he’s going to hit right there as hard as he can, and hope that whatever was behind it can feel the blow.  That’s crazy, but it’s a kind of crazy I have to respect.  Because reading it, you know that there’s nothing to hit there but a big dumb fish, and the random pain of life really is random, and a person would be wasting life and time in fighting it, but even so, there’s a little voice inside that says, “Yeah!  Go hit that whale, Ahab!  Maybe Fate will feel it after all.”

“All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!  How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?  To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me.  Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond.  But ’tis enough.  He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an outrageous malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.”


Written by Contented Reader

November 5, 2012 at 6:44 am

Posted in Reviews


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