Moby Dick Reading Journal – Chapters 87-98

Well, friends, I haven’t done one of these in a while… I’ve been so busy with launching Trinian that I have neglected my other work! But I’m finally back on track again, and reading regularly.

In addition to the book launch, it’s also been difficult to keep reading because the storyline is getting a bit slow right now, and most of the chapters have been about technical things regarding whales. Once in a while, something exciting happens, like Pip falling overboard, but in general Melville, through the mouth of Ishmael, has been detailing a lot of secrets about sperm whales; things I never knew before, never thought to ask, and things that I really don’t know that I care about now that I know about them!

But Ahab keeps pacing the deck, and there is a whiff in the air, a bit salty, a bit breezy, that something exciting is coming this way in the next few chapters…

After all, I’m 70% through the book, so I must be reaching a climax soon, right?

Meantime, while the ordinary life of a whale boat continues on the Pequod, there’s definitely been some gems of writing in these chapters. There was a vivid passage describing the absolutely rancid smell of burning whale that blew me away with its descriptiveness. I felt as though I myself were inhaling this “wild, Hindoo odor…such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres.” That smells “like the left wing of the day of judgement… an argument for the pit.”

Also, I think the analogy below is my favorite passage of the book thus far:

“And there is a catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”

Ishmael is here saying that man must not be afraid to dive into the blackest parts of the human experience, question and experience it, for he is called to fly with the eagles, and even they, as they soar on lofty heights wilst seeking wisdom, must dive into the mire of the deepest, blackest places. But those deep places are still higher and grander than any other place of earth. Such is man’s intellect above all others, when he seeks wisdom.

Even when Melville is boring, his words are ‘higher than the others writer’s upon the plain, even though they soar!’

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