This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
[A new recording commences.]
Chapters… Twenty… Four? And Twenty-Five!
Uhm, justifying whaling as a subject. It’s funny to think… that the author of Moby-Dick needs to stop twenty-four chapters in and… reassure the reader, with some irony, that whaling is a fit subject for a novel.
I guess he could have never—what’s that, sweetie?
THERESA: I was just thinking, yes, I’m afraid someone would breach the gate. Or they would knock it over.
JACK: No, you’re right. It’s best to… We’re discussing this baby gate we have to keep the… two feral cats away from the arguably more domesticated… definitely more domesticated cats. But… we were thinking of leaving it up as we sleep, but the gate is flimsy.
Well, we’re gonna—it’s gonna…
[Music from a distant TV.]
Well… she’s gone. [Laughter.] She’s long gone. She’s down there. I hear things rattling around in the kitchen. Who knows what’s happening?
Chapters Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five.
Kinda cute. I don’t mean that as an insult. It sounded terrible. Oh, that reminds me. Mary Miller was just on Twitter, saying, “Why are only women writers called ‘quirky’?”
I’ve been called quirky—okay, then, that brings up the question. You know, do you want to get on there and be a man? “Boo hoo hoo, I’ve been called ‘quirky’ too!” Uh…! I’ve been called quirky until the tear—the quirky tears rolled [stifled laugh] down my face. [Laughter.]
But, you know. Shut up. Shut up, male. I agree with that sentiment. I would like for myself to shut up.
So I deleted—I composed, sent, and then deleted three different tweets on the subject, which were, in tone, uhm… Melvillean. [Short laugh.] Not really. N—uhhh, in tone, accommodating and humble. [Laughter.] Yet, uhm…
Anyway, so, Chapter Twenty-Four.
“Whaling, whaling, I say to you! Why, what lights the lamps of the world? Whaling! Why—wuh, what did… uh… everybo—why, there are whales in the Bible, for God’s sake. Whales… everybody loves whales. Shut up, you!” [Laughter.]
“Why, is it not fitting to speak of killing whales? Why, we celebrate soldiers for killing men! And whales are harder to kill than people!”
And he’s bein’ funny.
Funny… you know what…
He knows he’s being…
I was gonna say he’s like Bill Maher. I’m kidding! I don’t like Bill Maher at all! [Laughter.] And God forbid I should ever compare Herman Melville to Bill Maher. I’m not sp—talking about politics or anything, I’m just talking about, uh, just, uh…
I don’t know! His…
Uh… mode. His mode. I can’t… it doesn’t…
Well, I’m sorry [laughter] I mentioned… I’m sorry I mentioned his name.
Uh… let’s see.
And you know, then Chapter Twenty-Five is just—it really… and forgive me, and I don’t mean to try to edit Herman Melville. But Chapter Twenty-Five should’ve been part of Chapter Twenty-Four. It’s just like, “Oh, yeah! One more thing. One more thing. Don’t you think—what kind of oil…? How ‘bout that ambergris, baby? What do you think a king gets on his head when it’s time for a little… hoopla? [Laughter.] I’ll tell ya what! Nothin’ but whale oil, one hundred percent. Come over here, baby. You want to be king? Hocus pocus, alley oop! Squirt… I just splatted o—some whale oil on your head. Consider yourself coronated.”
Is coronated a word?
“You just got coronated.”
I’m… well, it goes without saying. I was about to say, “I’m worse than Herman Melville.” [Wheezing laughter.]
[Recording is terminated.]
[New recording begins.]
Laurence Sterne had already come along and screwed around with everything, so…
But I did notice… I just read the chapter about Starbuck… and I noticed that Chapter Twenty-Six and Chapter Twenty-Seven have the same titles. I didn’t read Chapter Twenty-Seven yet. But I thought, “That’s funny. He named…”
“He named the…”
I’m gonna double check and make sure I’m not lying!
Anyway, henhhh—I’m sayin’ Herman Melville doesn’t care.
[Unintelligible.] He casts aside your… petty—yeah! What if he brought this into a workshop?
“Hey, Herman! Did you earn that?” would be the… boy, that’s a phrase I grew weary of hearing in… back in the olden days when I taught a… workshop.
[Book pages flapping.]
“Taught” is a generous word for what I did.
Let’s see. Chapter Twenty-Six, “Knights and Squires,” Chapter Twenty-Seven, “Knights and Squires.”
Oh, Herman! What are you doin’ to me? You devilish cad.
[Short throat clearing.]
Starbuck. He’s an important character. Get out your red pencils!
Starbuck! He’s skinny! But don’t dare think that makes him less of a… you know. Whaler. I was gonna say “man.” ‘Cause there’s a lotta talk about MAN… and I’ll put that in all caps, please. There’s a lot of talk about… I believe the phrase “immaculate manliness” is tossed about by… Herman Melville in this chapter.
“Starbuck is skinny, see? But it’s because… there’s nothing wasted on him. He’s like a lean, mean… whale… killing machine. But don’t you think…!”
Well, he’s kinda like the second-in-command in many movies you’ve seen. Flying Leathernecks! [Laughter.] You’ve never seen that. I don’t even remember the plot! I’m gonna use a lot of allusions to things that are problematic in two—at least two ways. One being that you don’t know what I’m talking about, and why should you? Number two being I don’t remember the plots of the movies I’m talking about.
You know! John Wayne in… They Were Expendable, probably.
I feel like everybody in that movie was like a… you know, an upright…
Well, Starbuck is a kind of a John Ford… character.
[Sniff.] Maybe John Wayne in Fort Apache. I have a vague… the vaguest of all… that movie I can recall with some [a small sniff followed by a huge sniff]… Man! My sinuses are really bad. I have to—I’m teaching, uh, Chris Offutt’s screenwriting class today. He’s out of town, so I s—told him I’d [unintelligible]. I’m just gonna be like… you know, bubbles of snot will be… I’m not used to [laughter] being out in public. [Something between a cough and a throat clearing.] Once again, I’ll compare myself to Captain Ahab, because we haven’t seen him yet, either. He’s holed up in his cabin. [Two enormous sniffs.] Uhhh. All the better to make a dramatic… appearance.
Set sail into the next chapter here.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick. Please read along here, if you like (highly recommended).