This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
So I’m sorry—I thought, “I’m sorry if I glide over things that make me uncomfortable.”
Now, I don’t feel like I have a true right to address, uh, the racism in Moby-Dick… in a serious… this forum isn’t… I don’t… [sigh; throat clearing]. I’m just tryin’ to think of some excuses to make for myself, I guess.
Some cowardly, craven way to wriggle out of any responsibility. However, Chapter Thirty-Seven has nothing to do with any of this. Well, there’s a little… talk about whiteness, as, you know, whiteness is famously not a… whiteness is scary in Moby-Dick.
Ahab’s floatin’ around…
Ahab’s in his cabin, uh…
[Distant, unintelligible words of Theresa talking on the phone.]
“Yeah, everything looks pale and white wherever I go. I used to care about sunrise and sunset, and the colors they splashed about. Well… I don’t… I don’t have any fun anymore. I’m just sittin’ around. Not havin’ fun. God tried to… push me over like a bully on a playground. And I guess God expected me to say, ‘Pick on somebody your own size!’ Well, it’s… the—the joke’s on God, because God’s the one who ran away from me! I don’t care! Do your worst, God!”
Boy, Ahab’s really… and that “pick on someone your own size” is actually in there. I didn’t know that was such an old construction. It has proved very [sigh] useful over the years. Actually, it’s something like “pommel somebody your own size,” which… is not what we said in the schoolyard. That’s what Ahab says.
“I guess you think I want you to pommel somebody your own size!” he says to God. “Well, where’d you go? Why are you runnin’ away, God?” he taunts God.
I’m just making myself nervous by saying all this.
Don’t get the wrong idea, God! That’s me talkin’ to God. I’m on your side, God.
[Extremely long pause.]
“Nobody can stop me. I’m Ahab. My course is set on iron tracks, and I’m just… rocketing down those tracks. God wishes He could do somethin’ about it!”
“Well, I’m fucked,” thinks Starbuck, leaning on the mainmast.
“Well… fuck it. What am I supposed to do? I’m… stuck on this ship with a crazy man. [Stomach growling.] I’m gonna do whatever he tells me! And that’s all there is to it. [Long pause.] Oh, yeah. When it comes to gods… he’s very democratic. He’s right up there with ‘em. But when it comes to the people below him, suddenly he’s not so much in favor of equality anymore! Well, what am I complainin’ about? I’m just fucked. Listen to that! They’re havin’ a party on the front of the boat. [Pause.] I’m Starbuck, so I wouldn’t use the word ‘boat’ to describe this whaling vessel. Listen to that! Sounds like a real wild time. Meanwhile, at the back of the boat, there’s old sour… crabapple Ahab… hunched over and farting.”
[Very long pause.]
“That’s life for ya. The front is overloaded with [long pause]… confetti cannons [suppressed laughter] and… disco balls. And… there in the rear you have the real commander, the bitter old farting husk… who’s takin’ you on a crazy trip to… hell town.”
[After a thoughtful pause, the recording is terminated.]
Mere seconds ago we finished watching Underworld U.S.A.
“He died in an alley! Just like his father!” I raved. “With his fist clenched! You know that’s the way I’m gonna go out.” And I demonstrated, clenching my fist and making a… a horrible… moan. Made Theresa laugh.
“Don’t be so ghoulish,” she said, but she was laughing.
That has nuff—[throat clearing]… That has nothing to do with today’s [throat clearing] subject, which is Chapter… Thirty… Nine…
Stubb. Stubb’s just laughin’ it up. “Ho ho, hee hee,” he remarks. “Here I am, old Stubb! I love to laugh. I’m in the same… boat [long pause; throat clearing]… I meant that metaphorically. I’m—I mean, look. I’m just like Starbuck. He’s over there mopin’. By the mainmast. I’m in the same predicament. Uhm… we’re just goin’ down the slide into… [very long pause] whale city. [Laughter.] And, uh, you know, we’ve got old crazy eyes at the helm, and I don’t see the point in doing anything but laughing. That’s what I do when I… that’s what I do—well, you know what? That’s what I do no matter what the occasion. Uhm… maybe there’s something wrong with me. Wonder what my wife’s doing back in… Nantucket? Oh, I know what she’s doin’, she’s havin’ a party with a buncha sailors. Oh, well, ha, ha, that makes me laugh. I bet she’s laughing too. Uhm, I’m not those narrato—I’m not like the guy in the Porter Waggoner song ‘The Cold, Hard Facts of Life,’ who knifes his, uhm, wife and her lover. I’m not like Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia, when he comes home and finds his wife partyin’ with a bunch of guys. He’s just like—he gets all… sullen about it. That’s not for Stubb! Stubb thinks it’s funny. Stubb has real… serious problems.”
“Or maybe it’s the rest of the world that has a problem. ‘Cause, look. Here I am. You, me… the guy down the street, the lady at the store, the kid lickin’ an ice cream cone, the dog and the cat… the butterfly and the… daffodil, all headed for one place, and there’s nothin’ to do to stop it. So… laughing… appears to be the appropriate… response. Stubb out!”
[End of recording.]
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).