Friday, April 21, 2023

Kaplowitz Media. Commentary on Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851) by Herman Melville (Etymology, Extracts, & Ch. 1 Loomings)

Kaplowitz Media. Commentary on Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) by Herman Melville (Etymology, Extracts, & Ch. 1 Loomings)

Call me Kap lol. But prior to getting to that alluded to and perhaps most famous 'opening sentence' in all the history of literature, we must jump a pair of hurdles. Although first and even prior to that, the book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who Melville was writing at the same time as cobbling together this, his magnum opus. We well might see glimpses of that relationship later in interactions between Ishmael and Queequeg... but I get at once too far ahead and behind myself.

The first of the preamble pairing is titled Etymology (Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School). So this fellow who first greets us, likely with an off-putting cough and ill-hued pallor, is a keeper of information. Wait... "late?" As in Irene Adler? [refocus] This particular information, at least--replete with "queer handkerchief," and "gay flags." Meanings of words change in living languages. I do believe that Melville deeply loved Hawthorne. Words have different meanings often at the same time. I won't get bogged down there. Yet, anyway.

After our brief introduction to the "pale Usher," we get to read directly from his perceived curation a couple-few quotes pulled from that many bits of reference. Precisely, a couple of dictionary definitions and a word from [Richard] Hackluyt as to Whales. For the sake of brevity, H lived around 1600 and was absolutely all for England's colonization of America. Well, of North America, No sense in making this more personal at the cost of history-proper. Curious as to how to say Whale in Fegee, Icelandic, both, and/or even more languages? Well, that's covered too.

Then we come to Extracts (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian). Are we passed off to some sort of co-worker? Is he dead or just not alive, as well? I often am quite wary of starting a bit of writing with a wall of content, an impenetrable length of text. A monstrous opening paragraph. Really, that sort of thing is a gamble wherever and whenever placed. You really have to grab (and then keep) a reader's attention fresh off, I've always heard. Short. Exciting. Sentences. Even. Fragments. Work best. Not more than a few lines. I praise Melville's testicular fortitude by beginning Moby-Dick in such a hard-to-break-in Encyclopedic manner. And I like to think I like to dare an audience. Well-played, Herm. (Several small blocks of texts seem almost harder to settle-in through, at least in our book at hand.) But what the situation itself lends to is something akin to the feeling of that movie trope of a god giving you your orientation from a place outside of space and time. My one of those always looks like Morgan Freeman welcoming someone to a brightly lit room with no furniture and also no walls. I think that's from a movie. Another is the cartoon trope of office workers in a character's zoomed-in-on brain, looking for that one file, all clerks mid-panic. Pages and pages of Whale excerpts from the Bible, songs, what are apparently whaling voyage logs, and (of course) dictionaries. Little personified cartoon brain cells screaming for the proper files as they run harried circles around the office and each-other. How was this for a big old 'graph?

Ishmael? I'd call whoever whatever by then. I'm just happy to get out of that reference section exposition purgatory waiting room holding cell place(s?). Ishmael it is, then.

The Bible does seem to play heavily already. Ismael, Abraham's first son. An Islamic prophet. Not just religions of the Abrahamic variety are aboard, though, Queequeg is a Pagan cannibal. Queequeg who fasts and that said fast is called Ramadan by Ishmael. That's fairly intriguing and also obviously not the case. We'll get there when we get there, and no more looking ahead. So what happens here?

Call me Ishmael. Not, "My name is Ismael." Is this an alias that explains our narrator's seemingly religious ignorance? Confusing a Pagan for a Muslim seems a lot more likely if your real name is Rob or Bill. OK. Enough peeking for real, for now. Now, in Loomings, we get to know our Ishmael a bit. Or at least what leads him to these pages (to the sea). He is a sailor. And also he is a bit of a jerk... or at least a ruffian. At best a wayward sort who fancies "methodically knocking people's hats off," during fits of ennui or even depression which can only be cured at sea...

[Or perhaps our Ishmael is an Ishmael and he applies a familiar label to an unfamiliar event. It's not as if his introduction is written as damning as 'Call me... Ishmael.' Finally, maybe I've over-thought this whole thing. I am interested, however, in hearing how different narrators read that line.]

... Which is all well and good because he also feels as if most men are constantly pulled toward the waters anyway. But how best to heed that universal and personal call in his almost travelogue opinion? Not as a passenger. That's right out. He's too broke for that and doesn't want to get seasick. Also "Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook."--those aren't any good, either. So "simple sailor," it is. Funny, how even Cook is capitalized but his own position, not so much. Perhaps that's grammatically correct or perhaps that's a look into his own self-worth. Referring to himself as i, not I, say.

Nevertheless, his arrival upon becoming a sailor seems mostly a noble trip. Exercise, fresh air, and some semblance of humility.A slight smattering of responsibility. Oh, and getting paid is cool. Wait--is all this him making it okay that he's lacking the funds to just get on a boat via paid ticket? He's bullshitting himself, methinks. And then woe is he for a bit, lamenting his boring time afloat when he could be doing something super cool and I'm feeling like this guy is simply a fart in the wind. A somewhat entitled malcontent. "Who aint a slave?" demands note (1851).

Also, he says a thing that blows much to all nobleness out of the water.: "I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever." But I feel he lies there. Also, it strikes me that his assumption that nigh everyone is like him in that we all need to go afloat in order to not be punks is also something of him selling himself a bill of goods. Perhaps he really is just out of sorts and needs to get back on a boat but it would be nice if he just shut up, stopped projecting, and Frigate did it. (First sailing pun, I hope it landed.)

Oh but then the drama! It must be tiring to be in Ismael's head. Enter the "overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity." From that penultimate paragraph on out through the chapter's end, reads with more grandeur, more gravitas--also they read faster. They roll like uncontrollable waves. The last chunk of words bears no period, no full stop. Nine commas, a semi-colon, and a pair of hyphens (one on account of a line-break).

And land--well--land is beginning to drift from sight. A last thought; all those blocks of quotes at the onset are in juxtaposition to the just-mentioned rolling waves of words and can be seen as the pavement squares that Ishmael leaves behind.