This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
[Pendarvis turns on the recorder after reading Chapter 40 of Moby-Dick.]
Party time! Drunk sailors. Whoopin’ it up, dancin’ like crazy. Each sailor—ohhh, sailors. It’s like the Disney ride, “It’s a Small World After All.”
“I don’t know if I can dance!” says the sailor from Iceland. “I like to dance on ice!”
They all, you know: “I like pagodas!” chimes in the sailor from China.
Uhm, there’s a lotta that. It’s like… every sailor… mentions something from his homeland.
“Dance, you fuckers!”
That reminds me of a birthday party I had once.
You know, there was a little too much, you know… [short laugh] somebody trying to get everybody to dance.
There is a guy. I think he’s, like, a French sailor. “Come on! Come on! Let’s… dance!”
And… you know that guy. Thinks everyone else isn’t dancing enough.
Am I making this guy up? Because—I don’t mean—I know he’s in the novel. But I mean I think he exists in all of our lives.
There was a f—guy who famously [short laugh], at one of my birthday parties [sniff], uh… kind of… uhh… jaunted past the couch, and, uhhrrr, said, “Dance, f—you fuckers!” And the people sitting on the couch, in a row, heard him fart in a rhythmic, motor-boat-like puttering, as Theresa described it, as he sailed by.
Anyway, that’s like this French sailor: “Dance! Come on! Where’s your tambourine, Pip?”
Pip being the cabin boy you recall from… earlier. He’s famous for his tambourine.
[Bird sings outside.]
“Play th—beat that tambourine until the bells fall off of it!”
“Okay. Some bells have already fallen off of it. All right. You’re makin’ me ruin my tambourine.”
Meanwhile, Tashtego sits there thinking, and saying, “White people are stupid.” And… Yes, there’s some race stuff in this chapter, because then a Spanish sailor and Daggoo, the African harpooner, begin to have some back-and-forth.
“A storm comes up! Ah, mark that—you know how our captain has that weird white place on him? You know? Well, uh, look, the sky’s got a black mark, just like our captain’s white mark.”
And then Daggoo says, “What’s wrong with black? Black—I’m black and… uhh… it’s fantastic.”
And then the Spanish sailor throws out some haughty words at Daggoo, and some racist remarks, and they go back and forth.
“Yeah? You’ve got a white liver to match your white skin!” Daggoo says. And—you know, meaning cowardice.
And then the Spanish sailor’s like, “Well, you’re big, but a big man has a small spirit.”
And they’re gonna fight.
The storm is… rockin’ the boat, much like in that great song by the Hues Corporation. Was that the name of the band who sang “Rock the Boat”?
And it’s fitting that I mention that dance tune, because, uhm… the d—dancing, the… drunken revelry merges with the storm, in a way, so that there’s almost no difference. Like, everybody’s really into the storm shakin’ the boat up. They’re like, “Yeah! Shake the boat, baby! Whooooo!”
“Yeah, man! This is… groovy!”
And, uh, everybody except Pip, who says, “Oh, you know, white men…” Pip is black as well. Uhm. “White men, a white God, a white whale, all this whiteness is, is just givin’ me the… the… creeps! Uhm… please save me from… people who show no fear.”
So, there you have it. To recap:
“Man, let’s dance!”
“Yeah! I’m gonna dance…”
“No! I don’t feel like dancing.”
“You better dance!”
“Well, let me at least mention the kind of floor I dance on in whatever country I come from.”
“Yes! I’ll mention my country as well! By means of some common object you might find there.”
“Cool! Let’s do that!”
“Wait a minute. This storm is comin’ up.”
“Wow! It’s kinda awesome. It’s like… the sky is drunk and the boat is dancing.”
“Ishmael here again. Did you miss me? I’m not certain I was ever gone. But… let’s just say I wandered off. And now I’m back. [Sigh.] Announcing myself, in fact, at the beginning of Chapter Forty-One. It’s me! Or… to put it… to quote myself directly, ‘I, Ishmael.’ So there’s no shilly-shallyin’ around.”
“And I’m glad I’m back because I wanna tell you about a little fella named ‘Moby-Dick.’ That’s the name of this chapter.”
I’m sorry, I’m gonna interrupt Ishmael for a second, because, uh, it reminded me that Moby-Dick makes me think of Dracula in the novel Dracula. Uh, Dracula is often [sigh]… talked about and not much seen, as people chase around after him. In the novel. [Coffee pot sounds.] He’s not the… much like Moby-Dick, he’s more of an absence that haunts the… book. Hmm. Interesting! I’m sure that’s been observed before. I make no claim to any original thought, ever. But Moby-Dick and Dracula serve similar… narrative purposes. In their novels. I shouted that: “In their novels!” I, wuh, deh, you couldn’t, of course, this is a transcription you’ll be reading, so you can’t… know some of my [coughing] Laurence-Olivier-like random shouting.
[Throat clearing. Lip smack.]
Okay. [Coughing.] Oh, another thing makes me think about… I’m gonna hand this back over to Ishmael, but… uhm… no, I’ll just wait and interrupt again when we get to that part. Okay! “Thank you for that, uh, but now it’s me, Ishmael, takin’ over again. Uhm… I have no idea what you were talking about, sir. Allow me to continue. What can I say about Moby-Dick? Well. After the captain was so worked up, naturally we all got to… talkin’ on the ship, and… uh, saying what—what the hell’s up with Moby-Dick? I wanna—lemmuh—give me a clue!”
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).