This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
“Anyhow, man, you can really—when that whale… when that harpoon goes in the whale and the whale-line starts goin’ snicker-snack, whippity-whap, you better watch out if you’re rowin’ a whaleboat, because you’re gonna get… well, if the… if there’s even a tiny kink in the line—and this is why harpooners spend all day just rollin’ up the whale-line, rollin’ up the whale-line, roll, roll, roll, you gotta roll it up nice and round. You gotta keep it all smoooooooth and silky. Don’t put a kink in it! ‘Cause then when it starts whippin’ out, it’s gonna go smack and somebody’s damn head is gonna get cut off. So. There you are. You’re in your boat. The whale-line you know at any moment might… begin to… make its lightning streak through the… you know… and if you’re not… you’re not a… the cautious type… you’re not agile… and… high-spirited… and by the way! Guys when e—when that line is whippin’ and whappin’, that’s when all the best, happiest, funniest jokes come out, because… you know, you gotta be a… good sport when you’re about to get your arm sliced off by the old whale-line. And in conclusion…”
“If you think you’re any better off sitting by your fireplace with your old fireplace poker instead of a harpoon, you’re wrong, because all of us are surrounded by the whale-line, and it’s gonna start whippin’ out when you least expect it. It doesn’t matter where you are.”
This is me, Jack, returning, to say that the only time philosophy—well, philosophy has helped me twice. In a [laughter] practical way. Once I was on an airplane—and I have a terrible fear of flying—and I happened to be reading some Epictetus, and I suddenly thought, “O—oh! Oh, I see what he’s saying. I’m just as much in danger… of impending and immediate death and obliteration just walkin’ around on the ground as I am up here in the air.” And a strange sense of calm came over me, realizing that circumstance was immaterial to some extent.
In the face of the Great Circumstance.
I’m gonna put capital letters on that like I’m Donald Trump doing a tweet. Anyway… that was a note to myself for transcription purposes.
Another time—this is not as… but anyway, when I was reading this chapter of, of Moby-Dick, uh, I noticed that Melville or Ishmael was saying the same thing. You’re just as much in danger… sitting in your house… you’re just as much a helpless… pawn of mortality [laughter] no matter where you are! So… watch out for the whale-line.
Oh, the other time was when, ah, my car was stolen when [laughter] I was reading Spinoza, and I, ruhhhhhh, I just looked at the blank space where my car used to be and went, “Mmh.” [Laughter.]
And I believe, and this might not be accurate to Spinoza at all, that I had just read something like, “It’s as useless to worry about the… future as it is to worry about the past.” That’s a… a grievous, uh… defilement. And please check out my novel, A Grievous Defilement.
The saga of a multi-generational winemaking family.
[End of recording.]
I keep wanting to mention that, you know, when I go to the Memphis airport… [laughter] I sometimes catch an early flight from the Memphis airport, which is the nearest airport to where I live. But… it’s… Well, I could tell you about the Tupelo airport. That’s what this is all ab…
Let me… stop myself.
[Long pause. Throat noise.]
God help me. Oh! I was just going to say that if I have to catch an early morning flight, sometimes I stay overnight at an Elvis-themed hotel near the Memphis airport. And they have a channel that just runs Elvis movies. And one night I was… as I drifted off to sleep, the 1968 comeback special… [coffee gulping] was on, and Elvis picks up his mic stand and… brandishes it like a harpoon! And just says in a casual aside, “Moby-Dick.”
Or, it might be that he says “Captain Ahab.”
I suddenly can’t remember. I wrote it down! In one of my numerous… I don’t remember. I’ll try to…
I’m sorry I brought it up. It’s just a strange, uh… example of… Moby-Dick… uh… invading the… pop-culture consciousness. Who cares? This is something only a fool would, would think about.
And I’m sorry it has taken us away f—well, maybe I’m avoiding the chapter! It just occurs to me. Maybe—is it a Freudian… because this one’s tough. I mean, they kill a whale! I knew they were going to kill a whale. They haven’t managed to kill one yet, and it’s, wuh, what chapter are we on? Is this Chapter…? I’m gonna open the book, because I can’t remember. Sixty-One! Chapter Sixty-One. It takes them sixty-one chapters, but they… kill a whale, and it’s just as horrible as you might imagine it to be.
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).