This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
[Very long pause.]
[Another long pause.]
He’s the kinda guy you’ve seen in movies. He tells the newcomers, “Oh, you think it’s this way?” Like he’s the police lieutenant, who’s like, “Oh, hey, newbies. You think you’re all gonna be just kickin’ down doors and…?”
“I’ve got a…”
“I’ve got news for ya! This is what police work is about.” Then he throws a big pile of… papers down on the—I don’t know what movie I’m making up now. The Glass Shield? Directed by the great and somewhat neglected—is that true? Is he neglected? Charles Burnett? I hope not. I think they just put out To Sleep With Anger on the Criterion label, so that’s good. That’s a great one.
You know the kind of thing I’m talkin’ about.
He’s the kind… [Laughter.]
It’s very, uh, pathetic, everything I’m saying and doing. Not just… here. But everywhere in my life.
Do I reduce everything to a…
Well, you know, I find the proper cliché… [long pause].
I’m gonna say there’s a talent in finding the proper cliché. I haven’t found it! So it’s okay for me to say that.
And, uh, Starbuck does not speak in this chapter, but I’ll go ahead and… do it anyway.
“You think… okay, aaauhh. I’d rather be…”
“I’d rather have a… a… coward for a…. crew mate than a… than a brave man! Brave men are dangerous!”
This is the kinda… you can imagine…! John Wayne making this speech. I’m not gonna do the voice. I’m not gonna be like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.
[Extremely long pause.]
“I’d rather… oh, you think you’re brave, huh? Well, uh, lemme tell ya somethin’. Bravery is a precious commodity on this ship. It’s like those molasses, uh, in that leaky barrel, there. We need to stop up that leak, because… you can’t run out of molasses, for Christ’s sake! We’re gone… we—there’s not a store around here! We’re on the sea! Do you see a 7-11? So…”
And… you know…
“We’re not goin’… ‘Hey, I forgot my wallet.’ Well, too bad!”
Uhhh… you know.
“This is it! This is your life for the next three years. And if you have any bravery, keep it, you know? Don’t squander it! Don’t be, you know… You’d be cra—first of all, you’d be crazy not to be afraid of a whale! A whale killed my father! A whale killed my brother! Wuh—you know, they kill people! And I’m in the business o’ killin’ whales!”
Oh! Yehyehyehyeh, he’s kinda like—he’s kinda like Patton in the film Patton.
Except Patton was not… never mind. Well! I guess Omar Bradley, played by Karl Malden, was… Patton’s superior.
But Patton had more Ahab-like qua—never mind! Forget I said anything about Patton, for God’s sake. Andrew Jackson comes up at the end of the chapter. Uh… Melville thinks more highly of them, of him, than we… tend to think of Andrew Jackson now.
Uh, he mentions him in the same breath with John Bunyan.
“Oh, you think… you think that greatness can’t come from poverty and lowly prisoners weltering in a cell? What about John Bunyan?”
And I can go with him on that. John Bunyan.
I, as a Southern Baptist child, found, found Bunyan thrilling! It was like [short laugh] Tolkien for me! Hey, what? Uh… Mr. Loudmouth? And… Johnny Crabapple? [Laughter.] These are not the names of people in Pilgrim’s Progress, but it’s pretty close.
I still remember the library where I checked out my copy. And the smell of the book!
[Long pause. Throat noise.]
I feel I’ve mentioned this elsewhere. Our library in Bayou La Batre was… shaped like a log cabin. And forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but it—I guess it was a log cabin! Because if something is made of logs, and is shaped like a log cabin, is it—isn’t it a log cabin?
This is a question that only Herman Melville could answer.
Uh, my brother and I were in Bayou La Batre, I don’t know, it’s been several years ago now, and… went by the library, and all the—it was an empty log cabin with all the windows smashed in. But back then… blah blah blah. The old man rhapsodizes about libraries. What a… treasure for all of us. Thank you, Grandpa. Tell us about your nosebleed you got from how dusty it was in the library. Oh, they don’t make nosebleeds like they used to, do they, Grandpa?
[Sigh. Long pause.]
Anyway, so Starbuck is like, uh, straight as an arrow, skinny, no nonsense…
He has all the qualities that Melville seems to love. But doesn’t Melville also love the—well, let’s wait until we meet Captain Ahab and see… I have no idea. “That of which we… cannot speak…” whatever. You know what Wittgenstein said. Well, I’m like, screw you, Wittgenstein! I’m gonna talk about all kinds of things I don’t know anything about. You got a problem with that? [Laughter. Rattling sigh.]
Ah, this has been… fruitless. I always think that, and maybe I’m always right. But perhaps a big, barren husk is just what you need.
[Recording is over.]
The appearance—the first appearance—perhaps he’s been mentioned, I’m not sure. But the—I believe, the first appearance of Stubb, the second mate, reminds me that I’ve gone to the well of Moby-Dick… a few times in the past, before this project, to… scrounge around in it, and… you know, unfairly plunder… its riches. Much like [short laugh; coffee being poured]… I am much like a whaling man, if you haven’t picked up on that already.
[Coffee pot replaced on warmer.]
Oh, that’s pretty good!
Hunting down the big novel, Moby-Dick, uh, slaughtering it and using the pieces for my comfort. [Coffee sipping.] Like a real jerk.
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).