This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Chapter Fifty-Five. Melville gives us a long “Well, actually…” with al—all, with everything those words have come to signify.
I thought for a brief moment it would be funny to say “Whale, actually…” but it wasn’t. And it’s a… it’s a crying shame.
Anyway, Melville, Chapter Fifty-Five… uh, Ishmael, I should say. “Everything… every picture you’ve ever seen of a whale is wrong. You have no idea what a whale looks like, you idiot.”
“Olden times, sculptures, uh, all those guys got it wrong, and who can blame them? But even our modern scientists with their illustrations, engravings in their tomes—wrong, wrong, wrong! This whale… this guy makes a whale look like a pig with no legs. This other guy makes a whale look like a squash. Take that! People that paint signs on taverns, they’re idiots, too. Everybody’s an idiot. No one luh—knows… what a whale looks like but me. And I’m gonna tell you later, in a later chapter. But I just wanted to get that out of the way, to let you know that… you’re all a bunch of morons lookin’ at pictures of whales and thinkin’ you know something. I’ll tell you something else! You could even look at a skeleton of a whale and not understand what a whale is. That’s like looking at a wrecked… meh, uh, sometimes, uh, drawings are made from whales that wash up on the beach. That’s also idiotic. Everything is stupid.”
“When it comes to whales. So. Why don’t you all just go to hell?”
I guess Ishmael would be very sad to live in our… with the internet, ‘cause everybody—he’d probably still say, “You have no i—look in the—you tellin’ me you’re lookin’ at a picture of a whale on a, on the internet? You idiot. That’s also nothing like [laughter] what an actual whale looks like. So why don’t you all cram it?”
He does mention Jeremy Bentham, with whom I’ve always had a fascination for his—the utilitarian philosopher, who, uh, had himself… preserved in a sort of a… I can’t remember what he—an “auto-icon”? Is that what he called it? It’s like his body, uhm… “I want my body to be brought out at meetings, and put it at the head of the table in a glass case, and it’ll be like I’m… there.”
And everybody said, “That’s a…” [big burst of laughter] “great idea!”
“Let’s do it!”
And so his wishes, wuh, were fulfilled.
Ishmael makes cheeky reference to him being used as a candelabra in his… [chair creaking] you know… semi-skeletal form. Saying that his—that even in this state he looks more like Jeremy Bentham than a skeleton of a whale looks like a whale.
[Massive throat clearing before recording is terminated.]
[New recording begins.]
“Well, I changed my mind. This is Ishmael. I changed my mind. There are a couple of good pictures of whales. I’m gonna tell you about them in Chapter… Chapters Fifty-Six and Fifty-Seven? Is that…?
“We’re really bookin’ along now! Uh, there’s a French guy that knows how to paint whales. I have to tell ya, he really gets a lot of the details wrong… of the whale. So why do I like this guy? Seems weird. But…”
“He really gets the action right, with all the sailors about to get chomped by whales.”
This is Jack taking back the mic.
I just want to say that I think what Ishmael really likes is pictures of sailors being eaten by whales. And he, he, you know, you can get all the whale details wrong… you want, as long as there’s a coupla sailors stuck between the whale’s teeth. What does that mean, Ishmael? Nywah. No, let’s just keep it—I’m not throwin’ it back to Ishmael.
Chapter Fifty-Seven, Ishmael tells us that, you know, guys who’ve been on whaling boats, and maybe a whale bit their leg off, not unlike Captain Ahab, but this is a different guy we’re talkin’ about now… might draw some pictures of whales on a piece of… board, and kinda hang it… around his neck, I guess, like a sandwich board, or perhaps have it propped up somewhere nearby, and ask for… [swallowing] donations, and… those whales are pretty good. Ishmael says they’re accurate.
And, you know, guys who are out at sea for a long time…
Like to carve… pictures of whales. There’s some good whale stuff around if you know where to look for it. Including the sky! Yes…! Verily the constellations themselves are filled with whales.
That’s about all I’m gonna crank out on Chapters Fifty-Six and Fifty-Seven. I didn’t really…
[Short, rattling sigh.]
There’s an undertone that you really gotta… that civili—thuh—I’m really stretching it here—that civilization is the, the… not a good place for art. Yes, civilization consumes the art, but to make the art you gotta get away…
First of all, that’s not true. Uh, second of all, I don’t even think Ishmael says that. So… [laughter makes a few words unintelligible] what I’m talking about.
But I’m gonna conclude by saying that Theresa and I watched Mr. Majestyk last night, the Charles Bronson action movie where he’s a wronged watermelon farmer, and… the hitman who wants to kill Charles Bronson for the flimsiest of reasons, sits in his Airstream trailer while his henchpeople—yes, of two genders—uhm… say… uhhhrrh… “Hey! You don’t need to go after Charles Bronson. He’s small potatoes.”
And the guy’s like, “I don’t care! I’ll do this as my personal favor to myself! I’m gonna… I’ll… I’ll… you know what I do. I’m a hitman! And I’m gonna do it to him. And I’ll track him to the end…” Annh, anyway, the thing I’m getting at is this hitman is a lot like Moby…
Not…! He’s not like Moby Dick! Charles Bronson would be Moby Dick in this…
And I can imagine Elmore Leonard, who wrote the screenplay, thinking, “Hey, I’m gonna really…”
All I’m saying is Captain Ahab is a resonant—I don’t even know why I started this sentence.
[Recorder goes off.]
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).