This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
And then Ahab shouts, “Whales! Whales! Hey, everybody! Look at the whales! Uh-oh! Action!”
One of the cats sneezed.
“Whales! And if you see a white one, uh, you know… yell your head off about it.”
“A white whale?” says Popeye, like he never heard of such a thing before, or… I—that’s the impression he gives. I’m not sure. But he’s like, “What? A white whale? All right, I told you! Ahab. Come on, Danny DeVito. Let’s get some whales!”
“So, we just saw some whales, but I forgot to tell you what a whale is. Let me put it to you straight, people. A whale’s a fish. I don’t care what these fancy scientists say. Just look at it! It’s a damn fish.”
“Now. There have been many books written about whales, but nobody knows a damn thing about whales. Now I’m gonna list these books. Here’s forty books that have been written about whales. Guess what? Only two of these people even ever saw a whale. So fuck all of ‘em. I’m—I’m in charge here.”
“And I’m not sure if I’m Ishmael, because Ishmael doesn’t know anything about whales. Uhm…”
“Well, he does go on the Pequod and say, ‘Hey, that thing’s made out of this kind of whale and this tiller over here is made out of that kind of whale.’ So, somewhere between… the end of the adventure presented in the novel Moby-Dick…”
“Uh, presumably… is he like… he’s not like Will Graham in… uhh… you know. Who… after being stabbed by Hannibal Lecter said, ‘No thanks, I’m gonna retire now.’”
“Nope. If we are to assume that I am Ishmael…”
“And we’ve seen that I, Ishmael, if that’s who I am, kind of, uh… I’ve disappeared for the last few chapters, and maybe I’m still not back.”
“Ahhhhhh, whales. What was I saying about whales? Oh, yeah. I’m gonna list every kind of damn whale you can imagine. Now, number one is my favorite, the sperm whale. I gotta tell you, everybody loves that sweet, sweet spermaceti.”
“Now, now, now, let’s talk about some whales I don’t care for as much. A razor back whale. He doesn’t bother us, we don’t bother him. Nobody hunts them. I saw one once. All you ever see is their back pokin’ up over the water. Uhm… oh, yeah! A sulphur bottom whale. That’s a funny name. Now I’m gonna tell you somethin’ you’re not gonna want to hear about porpoises, which I consider a kind of whale. Porpoises are delicious. But I’m also gonna tell you they have great personalities and make everybody happy. But! Also, watchmakers and jewelers like to squeeze the oil out of their jaws, ehhh, for reasons I’m apparently not going to bother to explain.”
[Sniff. Throat noise. Pause.]
“Okay, now I think you have a pretty good idea what whales are. Perhaps it was a matter I should have addressed earlier, since the whole damn novel is called Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. So, in conclusion, fuck all of you. This is Ishmael. Or… somebody. Uh, you’re—none of you are fit to lick a whale’s… butthole.”
I grabbed up the recorder quickly, because I had a notion reading Chapter… Thirty-Three. Hmm.
[Inhalation. Exhalation. Throat noise. Sniff.]
That maybe I understand Ishmael. Something about Ishmael now. There’s Ishmael the hero of the adventure, the… Ishmael the adventurer. Then there’s Ishmael the author, who, after having had the adventure, apparently went to [short laugh] a lot of… libraries. And… fashioned his… this is just an idea I’m having. Fashioned his adventure into a narrative. This is really boring to talk about, isn’t it? In fact, the more interesting it is, the more boring it becomes to talk about.
I’ll try to remain as flippant as possible in the future.
But right now you’ve got Ishmael… lamenting, well, you know, ironically lamenting: “Oh, Ahab! You’re so shaggy. You’re just an old, shaggy Nantucket… geezer. This is what I have to…? You know, not an emperor, with a… not a handsome emperor.”
[A catch in the throat.]
Ishmael contemplating the… great mind, potentially, of a leader, and the… debasement that is inevitable when the trappings of power come into play.
I told you it was boring.
But I can believe in Ishmael. I can believe there’s one Ishmael. I can believe that Ishmael—the happy-go-lucky moron we meet… he’s not a moron, but a… the… uninformed vagabond who’s just out for a good time…
Perhaps could be seen through the reflective eye of the… utterly transformed and broken Ishmael who comes out the other end of the machine.
This isn’t… accurate. And it doesn’t have enough laughs.
And now we meet the lovable character Dough-Boy.
Everyone’s favorite in Moby-Dick. Dough-Boy has a face like a loaf of bread. He’s a… well, I guess that’s all you need to know about Dough-Boy.
Dough-Boy appears in Chapter Thirty-Four.
I’m gonna just… look.
[Coffee slurping. Loud stomach growling.]
I’m gonna say I know my observations about Ishmael have been pedestrian.
[A kind of grunt.]
And I’m not doing any research, I’m just reading the book. Is that a lost opportunity? “No!” he… answered himself.
It keeps it honest. Honestly… stupid.
Here, I’m just going to recite, from memory, Chapter Thirty-Four.
“Dough-Boy, his face like a loaf of bread.”
Man, I can’t get past Dough-Boy, can I?
“Dough-Boy comes in there, ‘Eyyyyyyyyy!’”
No, Dough-Boy’s not so ex—exclamatory. He’s more of a nervous… fellow. What with his face being like a loaf of bread and everything.
Hello, Pan. You want to come up?
This black cat, eighteen years of age, like Ahab, she is.
No, I don’t know. She’s much more social than Ahab. That’s what this chapter’s about, in part.
“‘It’s dinnertime, Mr. Starbuck.’ Down they go to the captain’s table. Rigorously in order. Starbuck first, then Stubb, then Flask. Flask… like Rumpelstiltskin or Danny DeVito.”
Hey! Pan crawled right up in my lap.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick. Please read the original novel here, if you like (highly recommended).