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Moby Dick: Dissecting the Whale, various chapters

[ Edited ]
Melville's novel has so many chapters on the scientific, historical, nautical and physiological knowledge of whales that you might think you are reading nonfiction. Except that he also expounds on the philosophical and religious significance of whales with such great depth that you feel like Ahab himself looking for deeper meaning. Anyone care to look within this beast? See the chapters "Etymology," "Extracts," 32, 42 45 55-7, 85-88, 102-5.

Message Edited by fanuzzir on 12-10-200610:57 PM

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Melville on the Sperm and Right Whale

I thought it might be informative to see what Melville has to say about whales. In Moby Dick he breaks the story narrative to step forward himself and present chapters related related to the subjects of the story. Kind of a non-fiction book within the fiction. Chapter XXXII Cetology is one of those chapters. This is a chapter that some of you might want to skip or skim when you get to it since we have covered the subject well in our Preliminary Discussions. For those of you who don't have the book yet you can read this chapter online.

http://www.princeton.edu/~batke/moby/moby_032.html

It is a stand alone and will not spoil the story for you. It isn't Melville at his most readable as it was written for and based on knowledge about whales at his time. It is pretty dry. I will pull out the relevant extracts below.

Melville does not follow the scientific classification of whales but develops his own and divides the whales into Folio, Octavio and Dudecimo and then proceeds to discuss the whales in each of his categories. Since only two whales are important to our story I will just pull out his information on those whales:

------------------------------

BOOK I. (Folio), Chapter I. (Sperm Whale). - This whale, among the English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa Whale, and the Physeter Whale, and the Anvil Headed Whale, is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. He is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most majestic in aspect; and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce; he being the only creature from which that valuable substance, spermaceti, is obtained. All his peculiarities will, in many other places, be enlarged upon. It is chiefly with his name that I now have to do. Philologically considered, it is absurd. Some centuries ago, when the Sperm Whale was almost wholly unknown in his own proper individuality, and when his oil was only accidentally obtained from the stranded fish; in those days spermaceti, it would seem, was popularly supposed to be derived from a creature identical with the one then known in England as the Greenland or Right Whale. It was the idea also, that this same spermaceti was that quickening humor of the Greenland Whale which the first syllable of the word literally expresses. In those times, also, spermaceti was exceedingly scarce, not being used for light, but only as an ointment and medicament. It was only to be had from the druggists as you nowadays buy an ounce of rhubarb. When, as I opine, in the course of time, the true nature of spermaceti became known, its original name was still retained by the dealers; no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so strangely significant of its scarcity. And so the appellation must at last have come to be bestowed upon the whale from which this spermaceti was really derived.

BOOK I. (Folio), Chapter II. (Right Whale). - In one respect this is the most venerable of the Leviathans, being the one first regularly hunted by man. It yields the article commonly known as whalebone or baleen; and the oil specially known as "whale oil", an inferior article in commerce. Among the fishermen, he is indiscriminately designated by all the following titles: The Whale; the Greenland Whale; the Black Whale; the Great Whale; the True Whale; the Right Whale. there is a deal of obscurity concerning the identity of the species thus multitudinously baptized. What then is the whale, which I include in the second species of my Folios? It is the Great Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the Greenland Whale of the English Whalemen; the Baliene Ordinaire of the French whalemen; the Growlands Walfish of the Swedes. It is the whale which for more than two centuries past has been hunted by the Dutch and English in the Arctic seas; it is the whale which the American fishermen have long pursued in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, on the Nor' West Coast, and various other parts of the world, designated by them Right Whale Cruising Grounds.

Some pretend to see a difference between the Greenland Whale of the English and the Right Whale of the Americans. But they precisely agree in all their grand features; nor has there yet been presented a single determinate fact upon which to ground a radical distinction. It is by endless subdivisions based upon the most inconclusive differences, that some departments of natural history become so repellingly intricate. The Right Whale will be elsewhere treated of at some length, with reference to elucidating the Sperm Whale.
-----------------------------

Of course if I keep this side research going I won't get Moby Dick read! I'm only up to Chapter 13! I figure I have a week to go to get the first section read. This it is pretty interesting stuff.

Bucky
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x-tempo
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Re: Melville on the Sperm and Right Whale

An interesting quote from Andrew Delbanco's recent biography of Herman Melville:

One consequence of Melville's years at sea was a certain cosmopolitan amusement at how human beings organize themselves into ranks, and how those doing the organizing always reserve a place for themselves at the top. The many passages in Moby-Dick in which whales are listed, sorted, described, defined ('to be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail'), assigned a formal name ('Narwhale') or nickname ('Nostril whale'), categorized by girth or physiognomy or even character ('the Fin-Back is not gregarious'), aesthetically assessed (the mealy-mouthed porpoise has 'sentimental Indian eyes of a hazel hue. But his mealy-mouth spoils all') amount to what one critic calls 'a zestful-skeptical running commentary on the age's passion for comparative anatomy'; These ceteological chapters retard the pace of the narrative, and many readers prefer to skip them in order to get on with the great chase; but it is here that Melville makes his case, with tongue in cheek, against all forms of classification -- including the racial form. (Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and Work)

When I read the above paragraph it confirmed what I had always suspected -- that the chapters about cetology are intended to parody human racial hierarchies and the types of pseudoscientific racial classification which were common in the 19th century. Pseudoscientific theories were sometimes used to justify slavery; even many abolitionists believed in some sort of human hierarchy rather than full racial equality.

I also think that the variety of whales described in the cetology chapters is meant to reflect the human diversity of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic crew of the Pequod. Or it might have been a way for the author to indirectly 'explain' the presence of so many different ethnic and racial types to the reader.
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Re: Melville on the Sperm and Right Whale

Thanks for this x-tempo - I will go back to these chapters, which, I must confess, I had partly skipped.




x-tempo wrote:
An interesting quote from Andrew Delbanco's recent biography of Herman Melville:

One consequence of Melville's years at sea was a certain cosmopolitan amusement at how human beings organize themselves into ranks, and how those doing the organizing always reserve a place for themselves at the top. The many passages in Moby-Dick in which whales are listed, sorted, described, defined ('to be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail'), assigned a formal name ('Narwhale') or nickname ('Nostril whale'), categorized by girth or physiognomy or even character ('the Fin-Back is not gregarious'), aesthetically assessed (the mealy-mouthed porpoise has 'sentimental Indian eyes of a hazel hue. But his mealy-mouth spoils all') amount to what one critic calls 'a zestful-skeptical running commentary on the age's passion for comparative anatomy'; These ceteological chapters retard the pace of the narrative, and many readers prefer to skip them in order to get on with the great chase; but it is here that Melville makes his case, with tongue in cheek, against all forms of classification -- including the racial form. (Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and Work)

When I read the above paragraph it confirmed what I had always suspected -- that the chapters about cetology are intended to parody human racial hierarchies and the types of pseudoscientific racial classification which were common in the 19th century. Pseudoscientific theories were sometimes used to justify slavery; even many abolitionists believed in some sort of human hierarchy rather than full racial equality.

I also think that the variety of whales described in the cetology chapters is meant to reflect the human diversity of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic crew of the Pequod. Or it might have been a way for the author to indirectly 'explain' the presence of so many different ethnic and racial types to the reader.


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Re: Melville on the Sperm and Right Whale

[ Edited ]
Very interesting, x-tempo. Thanks. I suspect that all chapters have a meaning, they are not hanging there just haphazardly---even if I do not always understand the paralells.

ziki
not reading the book right now, just the posts

Message Edited by ziki on 01-14-200705:10 PM

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Re: Melville on the Sperm and Right Whale

X-tempo, thanks for your homework in citing the Delbanco book; I like even more what you said about the racial hetereogeneity of the crew. I've always been intrigued by the book, chapter, and folio analogies he uses to taxonimize the whale--I think he is also talking about the classication of Western knowledge in general and the Western literary tradition in particular. He's either making fun of it all or saying that its evidence of some human obsession with some deep mysterious being or dark import that we are all trying to put our minds, and our petting classifications around . . .
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"The Whale as a Dish"

You all are foodies, or so you say. What do you think of Chapter 65, and the prospect of a whale meat dinner? (It follows a rather ghastly description of Stubb chowing down on his kill.)
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"The Blanket" and "Cutting in"

Episodes of savagery, like feeding sharks, alternate with reverent, almost delicate forensic accounts of whale dismemberment (anyone think of CSI besides me and those ghastly close ups?) Melville goes one better and says he finds hieroglyphics inside a whale, a sure sign that he is looking for more than blood and guts . . .
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Re: "The Whale as a Dish": Et tu Brute!



fanuzzir wrote:
You all are foodies, or so you say. What do you think of Chapter 65, and the prospect of a whale meat dinner? (It follows a rather ghastly description of Stubb chowing down on his kill.)




Well, I can't find a recipe for whale meat in Joy of Cooking, sharks yes, but that's it.
Are there any good omega oils in whales? It doesn't surprises me that French ate tongue of the right whale. Those guys over there (mark my prejudice) eat just about anything, heheh, I have been just discussing the Art of French Cooking with Julie Powell here on BN. Whale was not mentioned.

The thing is that the whales seem to be poluted very badly nowadays 8x more than what is considered too much in USA (I heard on te Voyage site).Poisons are also stored in fat tissue and I wonder if that plays in.

Whale brains....hmmm, I might not be that daring.

What happens with the whale meat they catch nowadays and what happens with the oil? Oil lamps are not so popular nowadays.


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Re: "The Whale as a Dish": Et tu Brute!

Ziki wrote:
What happens with the whale meat they catch nowadays and what happens with the oil?


The Japanese eat a lot of whale meat Ziki - it is the main ingredient of sushi over there. And I seem to remember seeing whale steaks on menus when I was in Norway. I think the blubber is processed down into various fat based products - don't know about the oil. It is all very horrid because no-one needs to eat whale these days:smileysad:




ziki wrote:


fanuzzir wrote:
You all are foodies, or so you say. What do you think of Chapter 65, and the prospect of a whale meat dinner? (It follows a rather ghastly description of Stubb chowing down on his kill.)




Well, I can't find a recipe for whale meat in Joy of Cooking, sharks yes, but that's it.
Are there any good omega oils in whales? It doesn't surprises me that French ate tongue of the right whale. Those guys over there (mark my prejudice) eat just about anything, heheh, I have been just discussing the Art of French Cooking with Julie Powell here on BN. Whale was not mentioned.

The thing is that the whales seem to be poluted very badly nowadays 8x more than what is considered too much in USA (I heard on te Voyage site).Poisons are also stored in fat tissue and I wonder if that plays in.

Whale brains....hmmm, I might not be that daring.

What happens with the whale meat they catch nowadays and what happens with the oil? Oil lamps are not so popular nowadays.


ziki


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whale ice cream for Brutes in Japan, whale lunch to school kids-ehhh...

Choisya,
you sent me surfing again.In Japan the government tries to reinforce this in school kids.Shocking but perhaps not surprising.


http://luna.pos.to/whale/gen_cook.html

http://www.highnorth.no/library/Culture/Recipes/no-wh-me.htm


http://www.wdcs.org/dan/publishing.nsf/allweb/38F865D143F73D29802571110037169A

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/18/AR2005061800890.html
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Re: whale meat dumped ?

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Re: whale meat dumped ?

Absolutely sickening! :smileysad::smileysad:




ziki wrote:
http://www.hackwriters.com/whalemeat.htm


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Re: Moby Dick: Dissecting the Whale, various chapters

I actually read all of these chapters, didn't skim any of them. I found them interesting, especially since I found I had all I could tolerate of the actually whale hunting.

Denise



fanuzzir wrote:
Melville's novel has so many chapters on the scientific, historical, nautical and physiological knowledge of whales that you might think you are reading nonfiction. Except that he also expounds on the philosophical and religious significance of whales with such great depth that you feel like Ahab himself looking for deeper meaning. Anyone care to look within this beast? See the chapters "Etymology," "Extracts," 32, 42 45 55-7, 85-88, 102-5.

Message Edited by fanuzzir on 12-10-200610:57 PM




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Re: "The Whale as a Dish"

OK, I might be persuaded to try whale steak but not rare.

Denise



fanuzzir wrote:
You all are foodies, or so you say. What do you think of Chapter 65, and the prospect of a whale meat dinner? (It follows a rather ghastly description of Stubb chowing down on his kill.)


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Re: "The Blanket" and "Cutting in"

No, I didn't try to concentrate on the images that came into my mind like this. I don't watch TV so I've only seen two episodes of CSI on two vacations I used to go on with friends.

Denise



fanuzzir wrote:
Episodes of savagery, like feeding sharks, alternate with reverent, almost delicate forensic accounts of whale dismemberment (anyone think of CSI besides me and those ghastly close ups?) Melville goes one better and says he finds hieroglyphics inside a whale, a sure sign that he is looking for more than blood and guts . . .


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Re: Moby Dick: Dissecting the Whale, various chapters

There's a strange fascination to these chapters, I agree; we don't ever have the feeling that we must like the storyline or the characters. Melville is giving us what he thinks we need to hear on our own. But I do miss that opening narrator's voice--I wish those chapters had had some of his humor.
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liking

R.Fanuzzi wrote:There's a strange fascination to these chapters, I agree; we don't ever have the feeling that we must like the storyline or the characters.

This caught my attention....and I wonder how it is with liking the main characters.

I have to like the (anti)hero enough in order to care. That I think Melville achieved with Ishmael in the first chapters and then dropped it totally trusting the reader will carry Ishmael through the whole tome. I'd say that I managed it just about and not easily. I would have liked Ishmael of meat and blood and bones through the middle chapters interact with elements. it At the same time I feel Melville wanted to elevate it somehow and perhaps leave the personal level...go higher so to speak. ismael appeared in the 'squeezing hands in blubber' but it was a bit otherworldly if you know what I mean.
Ismaels as a man, Ishmael as a witnessing conscience....they might be difficult to reconcile technically.


RF:Melville is giving us what he thinks we need to hear on our own. But I do miss that opening narrator's voice--I wish those chapters had had some of his humor.

I had to give up that missing and let the book take me onward otherwise I hadn't managed the educational reading. As you say Melville gives me what he thinks is important and he doesn't care what I do with it.If I throw the book into the river, my loss, he doesn't care. That I think in the technical approach. In life he cared about the appreciation from readers, his livelihood.

As I mentioned I had a teacher in music that was like Melville and it payed off. At 10yo she played us all heavy duty symphonies and when we giggled stupidly she just said 'one day you'll understand' and carried on unabated.

She and Melville were a brother and sister, heheh and they were unforgettable. I am not saying that is the only way to do it, far from, but they got through to me.

ziki
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Re: liking

Great post Ziki - I'm with you here. Melville/Ishmael's silent voice carried us on a remarkable voyage and if we survived it we were the richer. If we threw the book away it was our loss.




ziki wrote:
R.Fanuzzi wrote:There's a strange fascination to these chapters, I agree; we don't ever have the feeling that we must like the storyline or the characters.

This caught my attention....and I wonder how it is with liking the main characters.

I have to like the (anti)hero enough in order to care. That I think Melville achieved with Ishmael in the first chapters and then dropped it totally trusting the reader will carry Ishmael through the whole tome. I'd say that I managed it just about and not easily. I would have liked Ishmael of meat and blood and bones through the middle chapters interact with elements. it At the same time I feel Melville wanted to elevate it somehow and perhaps leave the personal level...go higher so to speak. ismael appeared in the 'squeezing hands in blubber' but it was a bit otherworldly if you know what I mean.
Ismaels as a man, Ishmael as a witnessing conscience....they might be difficult to reconcile technically.


RF:Melville is giving us what he thinks we need to hear on our own. But I do miss that opening narrator's voice--I wish those chapters had had some of his humor.

I had to give up that missing and let the book take me onward otherwise I hadn't managed the educational reading. As you say Melville gives me what he thinks is important and he doesn't care what I do with it.If I throw the book into the river, my loss, he doesn't care. That I think in the technical approach. In life he cared about the appreciation from readers, his livelihood.

As I mentioned I had a teacher in music that was like Melville and it payed off. At 10yo she played us all heavy duty symphonies and when we giggled stupidly she just said 'one day you'll understand' and carried on unabated.

She and Melville were a brother and sister, heheh and they were unforgettable. I am not saying that is the only way to do it, far from, but they got through to me.

ziki


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Re: liking

He's a little like Whitman, then: he doesn't want us to fall completely into the story and forget about the author. He wants to meet with us as readers and reach out to us directly, so he dispenses with the fiction part at crucial times. He must feel that we need some kind of enlightenment, or some kind of spirituality that we would never have if we didn't know whales . . .
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