This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Oh! Blubber. Skin. The blubber is the skin, Ishmael insists.
“You’re gonna tell me that blubber can’t be—you can’t have skin that thick! That’s impossible! Well, what do you call it, then? Because it’s the covering on the whale. So, uh, fuck you.”
That’s Ishmael saying that.
“Uh, I’ll tell you another thing. Sure! There’s a… there’s a kind of a… you can rub this stuff off the… there’s a thin layer of junk on a whale, but you can’t call it his skin. It’s a very thin… I call it the ‘skin of the skin.’ And you know what I like to do with it? Because I’m a sick fucker. I like to use it as a bookmark in my whale books.”
That’s what Ishmael says. Thin membrane off the surface of the whale. Transparent. And, in fact, Ishmael thinks it might—or so he fancies… oh, how he chuckles mirthfully at his whimsical fancy, like a real piece of shit.
And he says, “I like to fancy that it has magnifying powers!”
Oh, whales’ skins are covered with interesting marks… uh, like hieroglyphics. And, in conclusion, uh… whales… are all bundled up like cozy… you know…
“Be like a whale, says I, Ishmael. Be like a whale! Get yourself a big coating of blubber—spiritual blubber.”
“Be you warm at the North Pole and cool at the Equator. Be in the world but not of it, all wrapped up in your blubbery… goodness. That’s a tip from Ishmael!”
Skinned and beheaded, the massive corpse of the desecrated whale begins its funereal… [long pause] return.
Beset from above by shrieking birds, from below by the snapping jaws of… carnivorous… kin…
“Ohhhhh!” cries Ishmael. “Oh! What a… terrible world! Why, God? What made this world such a… piece of shit?”
And… he forgets for the moment his… own… and without irony, he says this, forgetting his own place in the desecration.
That’s Chapter Sixty-Nine.
Oh, there’s another part. Do you really wa—do you want the whole thing? I guess I owe it to you. The other part is… “And look at these morons, off in distant ships, spying through their spyglasses. ‘Oh, ho ho! A… shoal! A shoal to be avoided at all costs! Let us not wreck our vessel upon this spot! Let us mark it in our… sea charts!”
And really what they’re looking at is a dead… whale. Or the remains of such.
“Here is orthodoxy!” Ishmael taunts.
Uh, he really—you know. He’s like the number one mansplainer.
It was yesterday when I read Chapter Seventy, and maybe…
And many events have intervened.
Such as… I went to a bar.
And behaved abominably.
Having just received a cellphone for the first time in my elderly days… I took it out and looked at it.
For which I was chastened. Not only chastened but mocked. “Oh, look! He’s sending a text!” everyone cried in wonder.
“It’s a gif!” exclaimed one incredulous witness.
And I… you know, I acted out. [Unintelligible] pushed back against [coffee gulping; clink of cup on coaster], perhaps too roughly, against being the figure of fun.
The tottering… Captain Ahab. Now there’s a skit no one needs to see: “What if Captain Ahab had had a cellphone? It might go something like this.”
Chapter Seventy includes… a description of the sea that goes like this, if I am recalling correctly. Remember! I was… it has been some… time, and many… intoxicating fluids have washed through my system in the intervening hours. Then there was the matter of a dream-filled sleep.
[Sniff. Emphatic throat clearing.]
“An intense copper calm, a universal yellow lotus.” This was the description of the sea which I found to be… uh… incredible! Why paraphrase anything?
Is a question you might ask yourself… or that you ma—might ask me, if you ever met me. You might grab me and… uh, shove me into a dark alley and… uh… there amongst the pile of garbage where I lie, you might kick me in the ribs and shout, “Why? Why paraphrase anything? When you got great stuff like that lying around.”
[Coffee slurping. Clink. Sniff.]
And then the head of the whale, which has been severed from the whale’s body in a… an operation requiring, uh, immense skill…
[Birds tweeting outside.]
As the whale does not have an appreciable neck, Ishmael points out.
[Some sort of clunking and bumping.]
The head… hangs there… Ahab walks up to it and says…
[Birds tweeting. A single emphatic throat noise.]
I paused there as if for my own laughter, which did not come.
“Hello, head. How are you? Look at you, head. Oh, noble head. Oh, mighty, hooded head. How’s it going? There you are. Oh, the things you must have—oh, head! Oh, head, you’ve been down there close to hell. You’ve been places no one else has been. You’ve seen the most secret things in the world! Even the lovers leaping from burning ships. You’ve seen them entwined. Oh, you crazy head. You… wackadoodle ding dong daddy. You magnificent, silent, unspeaking… head. Head of… wonder. Oh… head. Why…? Whyyyy… can’t you tell us? Why must you be so shy and not… come on, head. Why don’t you give it up? Come on! Be my friend, giant, severed whale head. Head! Head of… triumph. Oh… heavenly, magnificent head. Uh, why is it that you’re so smart? And you won’t tell us…? One reason is, I’ll tell you why!”
“Well, we cut your head off, and that’s probably why you’re so quiet.”
Ahab doesn’t say that part.
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).