“But I Digress...”

The Classics Slacker gets a sinking feeling whenever Ishmael strays from his narration and drops anchor, settling on whatever subject he feels like gassing on about for hours and hours. His digressions usually begin with “The tale would be lost if I didn’t mention…” or “You would be really confused if I didn’t first explain…” or “Let me show off how much I know about _______________.

Moby-Dick is liberally sprinkled with whole chapters of this nature, covering subjects such as:

Whale Art. A treatise on the pictures, drawings, paintings, sculptures, and figurines of whales as rendered in various mediums. Good information for the next time you’re garage-sale shopping in Greenland.

Brit. Yellow stuff that floats on the water. Whales eat it when they aren’t eating sailors.

The Line. Rope used to snare whales. Either made of hemp (“a dusky dark fellow, a sort of Indian”) or Manilla (“a golden-haired Circasian to behold”). Yes, even rope can get Ishmael all man-excited.

The Dart. Heavy implement used to fling into a whale. Could it be yet another of Melville’s not-so-subtle symbols of male genitalia? You betcha.

The Crotch. Not what you think. But given all that has come before, you can hardly be blamed.

The Whale as Dish. Delicious vittles to delight everyone at your dining room table.
          Whale fritters. “Brown and crisp and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives’ dough-nuts, when fresh.” When was Ishmael sniffing around old housewives? Before he met Queequeg? And did he really eat their dough-nuts? This description of whale fritters raises more questions than yeast.
          Whale tongue. “A great delicacy in France.” Right up there with snail eyes and frog legs. Sacre bleech.
          Whale brains. “Two whitish lobes, precisely resembling two large puddings, mixed with flour and cooked.” A great delicacy in England, one assumes.
          Whale blubber strips. “Exceedingly juicy and nourishing for infants.” For when the baby aisle is fresh out of Gerber’s mashed liver and beets.

Cutting In. Exactly what it sounds like. Spare you the gory (literally) details.

The Blanket. The skin of a whale. Keeps him warm and cozy. But not so much after he’s dead.

The Great Heidelburg Tun. “A wine cask with a capacity of 49,000 gallons.” Why wine? Why Heidelburg? Good questions, meinen liebchen. The German tun refers to the tun (head) of the sperm whale, which “contains the most precious of his oily vintages.” Probably best not to serve it with dinner. Unless you’re eating schnitzel with noodles.

Finally Ishmael returns to the main story. There are, not surprisingly, a few hits and misses as Ahab and his guys continue to pursue the big fish.

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