Books

'Moby-Dick': The Learned Fogo Von Slack Declares That Locke Was Queequeg

3D rendering of a sperm whale
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Linda: Two chapters about the law of whale possession? TWO?

Marc: Hey, at least those chapters are in response to something actually happening, rather than, "This isn't going to come up, but let's talk about the difference between whale skin and the undercoating of a lion."

Linda: Yeah. True.

What we read this week: Chapters 81-95

What we will read for next week: Chapters 96-110

Marc: My theory is as follows. It's 1850 or thereabouts. Even though one would presume that the bulk of the population is situated more or less along the Atlantic coast, very few people have ever seen a whale. The only time they may have ever even heard of a whale is from Jonah. There's no Internet, no television, no movies. Photography has just been invented, and whales certainly weren't going to sit still for that nonsense. If Melville wants to tell the story about a whaling voyage and have it take on any meaning by its readers, he essentially has to build up an entire scientific, nautical, engineering and metaphysical system from scratch. Thus, chapter after chapter covering whale anatomy and behavior, the etiquette of the sea, etc.

(This is where actual Melville scholars jump in and say, "You're way off.")

Linda: No, I understand. It just seems like ... two chapters on the law of whale possession is a lot.

Marc: You say that now, but wait until your neighbor tries to drag in the humpback that you left in the yard when your phone rang.

Linda: Yes. Thank you.

Marc: Forewarned is forearmed.

Or foreflippered.

Linda: Can't say I leave my humpbacks in the yard.

Marc: I'm just saying, it's good to know your rights.

Linda: "I partly surmise also, that this wicked charge against whalers may be likewise imputed to the existence on the coast of Greenland, in former times, of a Dutch village called Schmerenburgh or Smeerenberg, which latter name is the one used by the learned Fogo Von Slack, in his great work on Smells, a textbook on that subject."

Now he's just saying things.

Marc: I don't even know where to start on that quote.

Linda: I think by admitting that he's just saying things.

Marc: Well, I certainly agree that a book on Smells is destined to disappoint, futile exercise that it is.

Linda: Dancing about architecture, etc.

Marc: I am also taking this moment to claim "The Learned Fogo Von Slack" as my goth nickname.

Or possibly my nom de mentalism.

Linda: I shall now address you thusly.

Marc: Commence!

Linda: All right. Would you like to be called "Fogo" or "Professor Von Slack"?

Marc: I thought it was clear. "The Learned Fogo Von Slack."

Linda: All right, TLFVS, let's review where we now stand in the story.

You go first.

Marc: Nice.

Well, we began with an encounter with fellow whaler Jungfrau, which opportunity Melvishmael took to unload a whole pile of anti-Dutch invective that he'd been saving up for who knows how long.

Linda: Yes. Angry at the Dutch, he is, for sure.

Marc: Then, of course, more anatomy.

Linda: Right. "The Tail."

Marc: Precisely. Because I had not pondered the tail to the proper degree.

Linda: And then there is a thing that happens where they get a whale, but they can't get him on board without sinking the ship, so after torturing him to death, they just cut him loose and let his body sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Humane Society FAIL.

Marc: To be fair, they were equally uninterested in the well-being of Pip, who got horked overboard and left behind lest the far more important whales get away, only to rescued by what Ishmael admits was "the merest chance." So there may be a complaint in there as well.

Linda: Yes. They did treat Pip no better than the whale. LEFT TO DIE.

I think in these chapters, Ahab only has a very brief cameo, where the captain of the other ship is looking for oil, and he runs over like, "MOBY DICK MOBY DICK," and the captain's all, "Eh?" and then he scurries away again.

Marc: Right. Give him this: he knows how to stay on message.

Most of the other captains we meet along the way aren't painted any more sympathetically, though. They're either idiots easily manipulated by their bitter mates into giving up their perfectly fine haul (the Rosebud captain) or filthy, dishonorably buttery Dutchmen.

Linda: Ah, yes, the Rosebud.

The Rosebud full of suckers. Well, the one sucker. And a lot of jerks.

Marc: Where they basically go, "Tell your captain the whale is haunted, and I'll just call him names."

Linda: You told me there was more action in this section.

YOU PROMISED.

Marc: Well, first of all, the whole "Your boss is a putz"/"He says that it's good to see such a friendly face around these parts" fake-translation scene is reasonably sharp comedy where nobody comes off well. And "The Grand Armada" is a rather engrossing bit of action, I think.

Not to mention the fact that "The Pequod Meets The Virgin" was so exciting that the front cover of my copy just went "Too much! I'm out of here, suckers!"

Linda: You broke your book!

Marc: The gripping tale of the Jungfrau broke my book. Couldn't handle the baleen-battling action!

Linda: Yes.

Exactly.

I just want to point out that if indeed there is a point at which Melvishy runs out of whale honk to unload, he hasn't reached it yet. I give you: "The Fountain."

Marc: If I may: "Every one knows that by the peculiar cunning of their gills, the finny tribes in general breathe the air which at all times is combined with the element in which they swim, hence, a herring or a cod might live a century, and never once raise its head above the surface. But owing to his marked internal structure which gives him regular lungs, like a human being's, the whale can only live by inhaling the disengaged air in the open atmosphere." (my emphasis)

But it's totally a fish!

Linda: So let me understand this.

You have waited something like 80 chapters to win an argument with a fictional character about whether a whale is a fish.

Marc: He's so close. It's like he needs to take one tiny baby step and then the truth will dawn on him. But he just... won't... take it.

Linda: Well, maybe he will now, since you pointed it out.

Marc: I'll keep you posted.

But in more "Fountain"-germane news, were you not interested to find out that not only do whales lack a sense of smell, it's just as well on account of the decided lack of flowers in the open sea?

Linda: ...I suppose.

Marc: And were you not curious to learn the precise mixture of air and water spumed skywards whenever a whale surfaces?

Linda: I really was not.

I feel about that the way other people felt about certain elements of Lost. STOP ADDING STUFF I DON'T NEED TO KNOW.

Marc: I was about to make my own Lost joke about precisely this, but you beat me to the punch. Well played.

Linda: I read your mind! I am psychic! Up is down! It's like Lost!

MarcIt all happened in the mind of the whale.

Linda: The whale was dead the whole time.

Marc: The whale was the island! That's why the island could move! And, uh, move through time!

Namaste!

Linda: Wait, are you saying they were stranded on the back of Moby Dick? Because that explains the numbers.

Marc: Jacob. Jonah. HOW MUCH MORE OBVIOUS COULD THEY MAKE IT, PEOPLE?

Linda: It all makes sense now.

Marc: Locke was Queequeg.

Linda: That explains why he and Jack were always in bed giggling.

Marc: I knew something would.

Linda: Seriously, it's all clear finally.

Marc: It's here that I feel obligated to publicly declare my theory that Desperate Housewives is going to be revealed as a thinly-veiled gloss on Call Of The Wild. Just you wait.

Linda: That will be very interesting if it actually happens.

It reminds me of Kevin on The Office saying that if John Cougar Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, he's going to be one very rich dude.

Marc: Hey, he's been Cougar-free since 1991.

Linda: True, that's true.

At any rate, we are about two-thirds of the way through the book. I can't wait for the part where something occurs!

Marc: We are at least reaching the point where little short stories about whaling are breaking through the Wikipedia entries, even if they haven't yet coalesced into a coherent narrative just yet.

Linda: I'll give them this: I'm very glad I read it. Seriously, it's SO DIFFERENT from anything that would get published now, that it was worth reading even if nothing ever happens in it.

Marc: You've just doomed yourself.

Linda: I have not! I'm not one of those people who can decide from the last third that I didn't enjoy the first two-thirds. Again, allow me to mention Lost.

Marc: No, of course. I was simply referring to your announcement to the universe that you would be happy if nothing ever happened in the book. In my experience, that's when the universe chucks you on the shoulder and winks, "You got it, toots."

Linda: I find that the universe almost never calls me "toots."

Marc: Maybe they've got a different agent working on my account.

Linda: The universe just calls you "The Learned Fogo Von Slack." A/k/a "toots."

Marc: The one and only!

 

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