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.]
Oh. I need to…
Tell you about Tashtego and Daggoo! Who, it cannot be a coincidence—and I’m sure many… I bet you a lot of… academics have, you know… [short laugh] I was going to jokingly say “gotten rich.”
But a lot of academics have probably…
Oh! Then I was gonna say, “burned the midnight oil.” Can I n—can I speak in anything other than a cliché?
Anyway, this is rich stuff! And it, and it obviously is no coincidence that the two other harpooners represent… yuh, nuh, the most shameful aspects of the United States. Not the harpooners! The harpooners represent individuals, admirable once again—God, I use that word a lot, or variations of it. And I’m very sorry. Uhm…
And there’s probably some ra—you know, I don’t know! Melville, I’m sure, is touched with racism, but once again, Queequeg is obviously the most—he loves Queequeg, and the narrator loves Queequeg, and, uhm, there’s also awe when he describes Daggoo, the African harpooner, who… uh… any white man standing in front of him looks like a flag of surrender. That’s a paraphrase, but pretty close. Not very close, but it’s accurate.
[Long pause. Sniff.]
Then there’s Tashtego, who’s Native American, from New England, and th—it can’t be a coincidence, obviously, that these two harpooners are from populations that were… uhm [extremely long pause]… I’m tryin’ to think of a verb that’s strong enough. [Pause.] That were exploited—that’s not strong enough—and wiped out by… America’s colonialist and imperialist, uh… sins!
There you have them.
And, yes, both Daggoo and Tashtego are described in racist… [throat clearing] ahhh, gosh! Melville is hard to pin down, because he—obviously that’s not his intention, and yet he can’t quite wriggle free from the… ugly… shroud of… sophisticated society.
[Very long pause.]
His terms are not all his. Some of his terms are from… the poisonous air that he breathes. And so he uses some terms indistinguishable from those a racist would use. The narrator doesn’t seem to be consciously racist. The author…
[Bird singing outside. Extremely long pause. Sharp inhalation. Pause continues. Bird continues. Pause continues.]
I’m just trying to…
That was a very long pause because I was trying to [sniff; throat noise] figure out how much slack… any—anybody deserves, I guess.
[Breathing. Big sniff. Pause. Throat noise. Nose noise.]
[Recording is terminated.]
[Immediately after reading Chapter Twenty-Eight, Pendarvis begins a new recording.]
“Out here on this… ship… cold as hell. We left on Christmas, you’ll remember, but we’re goin’ south, so… [sigh] Maybe, you know, things begin to—it’s still gloomy. Well… the time I’m talking about, it was still gloomy, a transitional day between the icy cold and… before we got any hint of a balmy… of a balminess. And all this time, days and days, no sign of Ahab. Stayin’ in his cabin. He’s like a rumor. I think about that one crackpot on the docks fillin’ my head with—filled, wuh—fillin’ my head full of… goony… rumors… and cracked dreams.”
Hey, you know what’s better than this? Moby-Dick.
Anyway, wait. Hold on a second.
Whenever you hear me say, “hey,” that’s me being Ishmael again.
“Hey. So… uh… then I looked up and saw—yehyehyuhhyuh, you know, you keep thinkin’ about somethin’ and then there it is! And there he was. Ahab! Now, one old Native American guy on this… ship—not the harpooner I told you about, but another guy—told me that… oh! I forgot to mention that Ahab has this… sssss… this line, this streak! This… split, this… what looks like a seam down his face, and it goes right into his shirt, a white and livid scar that… the Native American guy said he got in a tussle with a whale. I guess. Another guy on the ship, a guy from the Isle of Man, says… and he’s old too. All these old guys have an opinion about everything.”
“This old guy’s like, ‘Oh, no, he’s—I tell ya, he’s just born with it, and when they take off all his clothes and lay him on that final slab, which will probably never happen with Ahab… you’re gonna find out there’s a mark on him from the top of his head that reaches all the way down to his feet! He is one marked… motherfucker.’”
“And, uh, to me, however, Ishmael speaking…”
“Hey! You remember me.”
[Rattling sigh. Long pause.]
I’m just… puzzling myself. Okay, wait, I’m gonna turn into Ishmael again. I—I mean, come on, is there a point to this? I—you want something dramatic, you’re in the wrong place, lover. [Wheezing laughter.]
“So, anyhow, it’s me again, Ishmael. Beep boop bop. I’m your man. And as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, there he stood! To me, he was like a still-living tree that had been struck by lightning and survived. Uh, he’s just a frickin’ green tree, a… with a… you know, all the… everything [laughter] that implies. [Laughter.] What does being a tree imply, you may ask. I don’t know. You’ve seen trees. What are you gonna do? You gonna fight with a tree?”
[Helpless, wheezing laughter.]
“Anyhow, uh… uh…! There he stood, with his ivory leg plugged in a hole especially bored on the deck so that he could stand there steady, looking at everybody like, ‘That’s right. I’m Ahab, motherfuckers.’”
That is a cheap…! Ishmael, I’m telling you. That is a cheap…
You know, you don’t have to work blue.
“He has a crucifixion in his face! You can quote me on that. That’s me, Ishmael, and I said that. This guy—I’m talkin’ about a living tree. He’s like a sq—a, a, stt, lightning couldn’t kill him, and he’s a tree, and he has a crucifixion in his face. So, you know, you don’t… what else do you want from me?”
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).