This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
“Look. I’ll tell you this, as long as I’m here. Uh, even Ahab might be tickled… his fancy might be [long pause; stifled laugh] jiggled…”
“His… he… the… when those island, mmmmmmmmm. When that floral… mmmmmmmmmnnnnnnnnhhhhhh! I’m talkin’ about…”
“I don’t know. Jasmine, or, erruh, you know, some kinda… when that ticklish scent of… warmer climates began to… mnnh… the tendrils of…”
[Laughter that almost turns into choking.]
“Well, anyhow, when… those… you know what I mean. You… when…”
“Look. Even Ahab started gettin’ a little… well, he didn’t smile. He’s not the kind of guy that you’re gonna get a big smile out of. But you could—he had a look on his face like, m—‘I might be capable of smiling.’ So. But. Forget… I don’t know why I’m ending with that. And I did, Ishmael, me, your friend. I did end the chapter with that, even though, uh…”
[Raspy inhalation, prolonged exhalation. Small noise in throat.]
“Seems like I’d want to end with tree, lightning, a seam, a man who is split, yet… a man who is cloven, yet… bound together by some… preternatural force that rockets through him. And he’s got a crucifixion in his face, don’t forget about the crucifixion in his face. And one leg. And the other leg is, is, uh, whale… made out of a whale.”
[Throat clearing. Distant music of Bob Dylan.]
Noodles are always being generously buttered.
I just read a headline [harmonica burst] in the New York Times [harmonica], in the Food section, about “These Generously Buttered Noodles…” [sigh; throat clearing] do something.
I think that adverb is often applied to the buttering of noodles.
I haven’t read any more Moby-Dick [coffee being poured] yet. [Throat clearing.]
I was lying in bed last night, thinking about… Ishmael.
[Coffee pot clatters into place, accompanied by laughter.]
Uh… is it bad that I call him Ishmael?
He says “Call me Ishmael.”
I remember back when I first read Moby-Dick, however long ago that was, I… [sniff] I had the impression that Ishmael was just a pseudonym that the narrator takes on.
[Short throat noise.]
Or even something…
What’s the word I’m looking for?
Just a passing… analogy, or…
But then I noticed, reading it this time, that he does refer to himself as Ishmael several more times. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not a [throat clearing]… that doesn’t mean that we’re not to assume that the narrator’s actual name is—oh, Robert. And he’s—the narrator, for his own reasons, is… not giving his own name.
This is incidental, but…
In fact, I’m not even gonna m—say what I was about to say, because it’s too incidental, unlike the generously buttered noodles.
[Very, very long pause—almost unbearably so!]
I was close to figuring out why I do this.
[Very long pause.]
Is it a way of [short barking laugh] accounting for my time?
[A long slurp of coffee precedes the termination of the recording.]
Chapter… Twenty-Nine… is… that’s right? Yeah.
We’re really getting… unless I miss my… and it could well be that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
[Bird chirping rapidly outside.]
Whom we’ve been given every reason to trust as a narrator… and so far, he has behaved himself. [Mild laughter. Coughing.]
He has behaved himself.
He has done the things we want a first-person narrator to do.
The things that we demand!
We… the reader is a greater tyrant than Captain Ahab!
But… suddenly, and, you know, I could be wrong. They’re on a ship, after all, and how big is a ship? I don’t know. Suddenly I thought of gopherwood, you know, cubits. I’m thinking of, uh, the Old Testament.
Before I… veer too far away… I’ll say that… I’ll get to the point. Ishmael rises, unless I’m—I am mistaken, from… his fleshly casing, not… something a first-person narrator should do. Suddenly, he’s… a cloud, I think! Floating over the—going wherever he wants. Uh… being privy to… the thoughts and the… [chirping bird] the… b—and events that he could not… or it doesn’t seem, necessarily, that he witnessed.
So what I’m trying to say… can I put it simply? What am I? Can you just say what you mean? You… knave?
Yeah. Ishmael, our first-person narrator [swallowing; bird chirping], seems to have broken free of his body. His imaginary body. And now he can tell us anything that happens on the ship. Untethered. Ishmael.
You know, I think about—uh, the book Homicide, upon which the television show was based. Uh, the David Simon… uhh… nonfiction book. I wondered while I was reading it, hey, how come he can know what the policemen were thinking? The detectives. Uh, sometimes, uh—this is not accurate. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book. But… “As he drove back to the precinct, he was wondering…” You know. “Why they overcooked his hamburger at the… diner earlier that week.”
That’s a terrible example! And it doesn’t exist.
But…! Uhhrrrruhrrrrr, I started to question, uh… question the veracity of the book, until I got to the end, and, uhhhh, David Simon, in an afterword, uhh, explains his methods and addresses those exact concerns I was having. That he would have subsequent interviews with the, uh, personages… thus depicted. Why am I talking this way?
I mean, Moby-Dick is a little… what’s the word? Ornate in spots, but not… clumsy… not clumsily so, like I am! In fact, Chapter Twenty-Nine begins with a, with a bewitching—and I believe the word “bewitching” is used by Melville—a description of the tropic weather overtak—as they… leave the… icebergs and… uhh… enter this paradise! And old men… like to walk the decks at night. Old… men. A lot of talk about old age in this chapter, and it’s accurate! All of it.
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).