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warhol in iran

Friends of our too-long moribund Writing New York site, I hope you’ll come say hello while I’m in town, briefly, to participate in the following event, which draws on a new research project I’ve undertaken re: New York in the Age of Warhol.

Andy Warhol in Tehran
A lecture at NYU, open to the public

Thursday, October 23, 2014

6:00-7:30pm

19 Washington Square North, New York

In 1976, Warhol visited Tehran to take photos for a portrait of Empress Farah Pahlavi. In 1978 he painted the Shah and his twin sister Princess Ashraf as well, though the Revolution prevented these portraits from being publicly displayed in Iran. This lecture considers Warhol’s Iranian portraits in multiple contexts: the OPEC oil crisis; Warhol’s celebrity portraits of the ’70s; and today’s global art market, in which these paintings help pose key questions about American Pop’s global legacies.

Speaker:

Bryan Waterman, Associate Professor of English, NYU; Visiting Associate Professor of Literature and Program Head for Literature, NYUAD

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tv2In Martvch 1974, a band called Television — Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca — played both their very first show (at Townhouse Theater on W 44th) as well as their first gig, a few weeks later, at a dive country and bluegrass bar on the Bowery recently renamed CBGB + OMFUG. They were not a country or bluegrass band. Within months CBGB had become a mecca for new music, underground rock and roll by New York’s unsigned bands, including The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Patti Smith Group. This is where punk rock was born.

Several events this week commemorate punk’s 40th anniversary:

Thursday, March 20, 7 pm, at The Strand, 828 Broadway: Richard Hell in conversation with Bryan Waterman, marking the pbk release of Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. [open to public]

Thursday, March 20, 6pm, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections presents the GoNightclubbing Video Lounge, a multi-media installation curated by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong paying tribute to the infamous Danceteria Video Lounge, which they created in 1980. [open to public]

Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23, 11 am to 1 pm, Silver 401, NYU: “Punk and the City,” a three-day seminar as part of the annual American Comparative Literature Association meetings. Twelve presenters on a range of related topics, from Latin American punk to Pussy Riot. [registration fees apply]

so so glosSaturday, March 22, 7 pm, Great Hall at Cooper Union: Punk Turns Forty: A Plenary Sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association and the Fales Library. Part I: Brandon Stosuy, editor at Pitchfork, interviews Richard Hell; Part II: Avital Ronell moderates a panel with Vivien Goldman, Kathleen Hanna, and Tamar-kali. [Free admission at 6:30 for ACLA conference attendees and at 7:00 for the general public, as space allows]

Saturday, March 22, 10:30 pm doors, Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South: So So Glos, with Household and Arm Candy, a concert to benefit Silent Barn. [$5-$10 sliding donation; all-ages]

Sunday, March 23, 5 to 8 pm, The Panther Room at Output, 74 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Classic Album Sundays presents Television’s Marquee Moon. Presenter: Bryan Waterman, author of Marquee Moon (33 1/3 series). [Tickets: $10 at the door or online here]

 

 

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The Final Pursuit

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Last week, I had the privilege of participating in “The Final Pursuit,” a panel discussion at Plymouth University celebrating the “Moby-Dick Big Read” project. My co-panelists were Peninsula Arts director Sarah Chapman; “Big Read” co-curators Philip Hoare and Angela Cockayne; Anthony Caleshu, professor of poetry at Plymouth University; Zeb Soanes, the “voice” of BBC Radio 4; and musician and author David Rothenberg.

For a more detailed account, take a look over at patell.org.

 

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And so, finally, we reach the end.

When Moby-Dick was published in London by Richard Bentley on October 18, 1851 (using Melville’s original title, The Whale), it seemed to end with the haunting final words of Chapter 135:

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

“The Epilogue,” which explains how Ishmael came to survive the wreck, was missing! The final chapter was followed by the “Etymology” and “Extracts” sections, which Melville had intended to precede the book, as they would in the American edition published on November 14. In the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, Hershel Parker surmises, “Most likely, Bentley had told his compositors to put all the etymology and extracts, all that distracting junk, in the back of the third volume, and in the process of shifting things around the single sheet (half a page of type) had gotten lost.”

Believing that Melville had disobeyed crucial novelistic conventions, the first British reviews, which appeared in the London Spectator and the Athenaeum, savaged the novel, and these two reviews circulated in the United States just as the novel was published there.  The Athenaeum wrote, “The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English, and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed.” The Spectator commented, “His catastrophe overrules all rule: not only is Ahab, with his boast’s-crew, destroyed in his last desperate attack upon the white whale, but the Pequod herself sinks with all oh board into the depths of the illimitable ocean. Such is the go-ahead rule.” Because neither review specified precisely what was wrong with the novel’s ending, so that Americans readers were immediately prejudice against it — despite the fact that their edition had the epilogue!

Once you’ve read or heard the epilogue, ask yourself this. It is preceded by an epigraph, a line from the Book of Job: “And only I am escaped to tell thee.” At the opening of Job,we learn that “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (1:1). Satan, who has been wandering the earth, appears to God and challenges the idea that Job is “perfect and upright”: here Satan is not the Christian “devil,” but rather a kind of prosecutor — what today we might call a “devil’s advocate” — whose role is to keep humankind honest. Satan suggests that Job loves God only because he fears him: “Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” (1:10-11). God agrees to let Satan test Job: “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.”

So Job is visited by a series of catastrophes, which destroy his property and family. He is smitten by sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” Still he refuses to curse God. He does, however, wish that he could have an explanation for what is happening him. The Book of Job is a classic example of dramatic irony: we the reader know the explanation but Job does not. And he never will. God appears to him and refuses to tell him, insisting instead on the incommensurability between the divine and the human:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (38:1-7)

The Book of Job is a crucial intertext for Moby-Dick and not simply because God uses the leviathan as an example of his power:

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn? Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens? Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants? Canst thou fill his skin with barbed iron? or his head with fish spears? Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more.
Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?(41:1-10)

At the end of the Book, Job receives material satisfaction — all he is lost is restored to him in greater quantity — but not intellectual satisfaction. The Book of Job reinforces the idea that the the divine remains forever inscrutable to humankind — which is one of the animating ideas behind Moby-Dick.

The line that Melville quotes at the start of the epilogue formulaic line with which each of the four messengers who relays catastrophic news to Job concludes his speech.

So I ask you, if Ishmael, in writing his novel, plays the role of messenger, who plays the role of Job?

“The Epilogue” is read by by poet Mary Oliver. The accompanying illustration is the digital (!) video Isolation Tank (2010-11; single-channel HD video/sound installation) by Gary Hill (still shown above).Visit the “Big Read” site to watch it.

 

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

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Chapter-135-stephen-grimes2-e1347322438566And so we reach the climactic confrontation between Ahab and the white whale, Moby Dick.

It’s a beautiful morning, which prompts Ahab to meditate on the way that feeling often overrules thinking:

“What a lovely day again! Were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the angels, and this morning the first of its throwing over to them, a fairer day could not dawn upon the world. Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. God only has that right and privilege.”

Ahab once again touches, with bitterness, on the incommensurability between the divine and the human, and with it, implicitly, the idea of the fall of man. History (in the Judeo-Christian conception) begins with man’s disobedience, which is why the “summer-house” is for the angels and not for man. The world that Ahab surveys is far from new-made: a lot of time has passed and for human beings time has brought pain, suffering, and all-too-often the desire for revenge, as if revenge could somehow provide relief for the human condition. Ahab meditates on the passing of time and then on the wind, another manifestation of the non-human, in what sounds to me like another reference to Lear: “Were I the wind, I’d blow no more on such a wicked, miserable world. I’d crawl somewhere to a cave, and slink there.”

I won’t comment, today, on what happens on the third day of the chase, in deference to anyone who is reading or listening to the novel for the first time, though I will be writing about it in the near future. Suffice it to say, for now, that Fedallah’s prophecies are indeed fulfilled in prose that is vivid and often riveting.

Here is one of my favorite passages not only from the novel but from the annals of literature written in English:

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, i give-up the spear!”

“The Chase – Third Day” is read by BBC radio presenter James Naughtie. The accompanying image is by Stephen Grimes.

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

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In “The Tail,” Ishmael refers to the phenomenon of breaching, when the whale bounds out of the water and elevates itself into the air before plunging down again:

As in the ordinary floating posture of the Leviathan the flukes lie considerably below the level of his back, they are then completely out of sight beneath the surface; but when he is about to plunge into the deeps, his entire flukes with at least thirty feet of his body are tossed erect in the air, and so remain vibrating a moment, till they downwards shoot out of view. Excepting the sublime breach — somewhere else to be described — this peaking of the whale’s flukes is perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature.

The “somewhere else” to which Ishmael refers is this chapter, “The Chase – Second Day.” The captain of the Samuel Enderby has described Moby Dick breaching, but here the crew of the Pequod sees it first-hand:

The triumphant halloo of thirty buckskin lungs was heard, as — much nearer to the ship than the place of the imaginary jet, less than a mile ahead — Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.

“There she breaches! there she breaches!” was the cry, as in his immeasureable bravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to Heaven. So suddenly seen in the blue plain of the sea, and relieved against the still bluer margin of the sky, the spray that he raised, for the moment, intolerably glittered and glared like a glacier; and stood there gradually fading and fading away from its first sparkling intensity, to the dim mistiness of an advancing shower in a vale.

Sperm whales, apparently, breach by swimming straight up from the depths and jumping out of the water, whereas humpback whales swim just below the surface and then pull themselves upward.

Why do whales breach? Here’s an answer given by Hal Whitehead, Research Scientist at the University of Dalhousie, Canada:

So, why do whales breach? Young whales likely breach as a form of play or to develop their muscles. Adults likely breach in certain circumstances to transmit a message to members of their group. In fact, as breaching requires a significant amount of energy, a whale may breach to demonstrate its physical abilities; a very convincing signal. Less often, it seems that there are other explanations for breaching. It could be a technique to help cetaceans feed by stunning or scaring prey. It could be a good way of getting rid of external parasites. It could also be a method for inhaling water-free air in rough weather. Who knows? What is certain is that this behaviour is spectacular for those observing it from the surface!

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[Source]

In the chapter on “monstrous pictures of whales,” Ishmael tells us that “there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like” (scuba diving and video not having been invented yet). As a result, “the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him.” This chapter vividly dramatizes those dangers. Ahab’s whaleboat is wrecked, his artificial leg broken again, and Fedallah disappears. Not good.

Starbuck once again renews the arguments that he first made in “The Quarter-Deck“:

“In Jesus’ name no more of this, that’s worse than devil’s madness. Two days chased; twice stove to splinters; thy very leg once more snatched from under thee; thy evil shadow gone — all good angels mobbing thee with warnings: — what more wouldst thou have? — Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish till he swamps the last man? Shall we be dragged by him to the bottom of the sea? Shall we be towed by him to the infernal world? Oh, oh, — Impiety and blasphemy to hunt him more!”

But Ahab has full embraced predestination and fatalism, and his response swats aside Starbuck’s appeals to piety and domesticity and brings together the languages of agency and drama that are woven throughout the book:

“Starbuck, of late I’ve felt strangely moved to thee; ever since that hour we both saw — thou know’st what, in one another’s eyes. But in this matter of the whale, be the front of thy face to me as the palm of this hand — a lipless, unfeatured blank. Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.”

It’s time for the final act in the drama.

“The Chase – Second Day” is read by English actor Roger Allam, whom my kids known as the villain Royalton in the Wachoski Brothers’ Speed Racer, in my opinion an underrated film. It is accompanied by the marvelous painting Around the World Alone (The Gloucesterman) (2011; oil on linen; 80 x 54 in.; 203.2 x 137.2 cm) by Sean Landers. It was photographed by Jason Mandella. The image is © Sean Landers and is used courtesy the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.

 

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

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It’s the Pequod‘s final gam, and it’s a bleak one. The “most miserably named” whaleship Delight has, like the Rachel, encountered Moby Dick, and the encounter has brought death. Ishmael gives us this striking image of the destroyed whale-boat that the Delight is carrying:

As she drew nigh, all eyes were fixed upon her broad beams, called shears, which, in some whaling-ships, cross the quarter-deck at the height of eight or nine feet; serving to carry the spare, unrigged, or disabled boats.

Upon the stranger’s shears were beheld the shattered, white ribs, and some few splintered planks, of what had once been a whale-boat; but you now saw through this wreck, as plainly as you see through the peeled, half-unhinged, and bleaching skeleton of a horse.

Ahab worries that the Delight has killed Moby Dick, but that ship’s captain declares, “The harpoon is not yet forged that will do that.” Ahab swears that he has one — “tempered in blood, and tempered by lightning” — that will. As the Pequod turns away to resume its course, the Delight buries one of its crewmen at sea — the only one of five killed by the white whale whose body was discovered. Might “some of the flying bubbles” from the corpse’s entry into the water “have sprinkled [the Pequod‘s] hull with their ghostly baptism.”

Ahab’s ship turns away, “its life buoy-coffin” clearly visible to the crew of the Delight. Intended to be a life-buoy, there’s no disguising what it once was:

“Ha! yonder! look yonder, men!” cried a foreboding voice in her wake. “In vain, oh, ye strangers, ye fly our sad burial; ye but turn us your taffrail to show us your coffin!”

“The Pequod Meets the Delight” is read by Daniel Allen. The accompanying image, 80deg north, is by Alex Hartley.

 

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

 

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Those of you who were inclined to doubt whether Ishmael’s depiction of Ahab and Pip is meant to evoke the relationship between King Lear and his fool will be pleased to find that “The Hat” opens with an actual allusion to Shakespeare’s great play:

And now that at the proper time and place, after so long and wide a preliminary cruise, Ahab, — all other whaling waters swept — seemed to have chased his foe into an ocean-fold, to slay him the more securely there; now, that he found himself hard by the very latitude and longitude where his tormenting wound had been inflicted; now that a vessel had been spoken which on the very day preceding had actually encountered Moby Dick; — and now that all his successive meetings with various ships contrastingly concurred to show the demoniac indifference with which the white whale tore his hunters, whether sinning or sinned against; now it was that there lurked a something in the old man’s eyes, which it was hardly sufferable for feeble souls to see. As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months’ night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab’s purpose now fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew. It domineered above them so, that all their bodings, doubts, misgivings, fears, were fain to hide beneath their souls, and not sprout forth a single spear or leaf. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s the relevant passage from the great storm scene in Lear (Act III, Scene ii); the speaker is Lear:

Let the great gods,
That keep this dreadful pother o’er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipp’d of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue
That art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practised on man’s life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man
More sinn’d against than sinning.

Shakespeare’s scene depicts Lear at the moment in which he becomes mad; “The Hat” depicts Ahab at the moment when Ahab’s point of view completely takes over the narrative. It’s often said that one of the things that is distinctive about the novel’s narration is its alternation between the comic digressions of Ishmael and the tragic-epic mode of the chapters devoted to depicting Ahab’s subjectivity. Now it is that latter mode that takes over. Ishmael reports that “all humor, forced or natural, vanished. Stubb no more strove to raise a smile; Starbuck no more strove to check one. Alike, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, seemed ground to finest dust, and powdered, for the time, in the clamped mortar of Ahab’s iron soul.”

Things are coming to a climax.

Fedallah too is transformed: “an added, gliding strangeness began to invest the thin Fedallah now; such ceaseless shudderings shook him; that the men looked dubious at him; half uncertain, as it seemed, whether indeed he were a mortal substance, or else a tremulous shadow cast upon the deck by some unseen being’s body.” Fedallah, you’ll remember, has made some prophecies. Is his “shuddering” due to their imminent fulfillment? Ahab and “the Parsee” are always on deck, always watching:

Though such a potent spell seemed secretly to join the twain; openly, and to the awe-struck crew, they seemed pole-like asunder. If by day they chanced to speak one word; by night, dumb men were both, so far as concerned the slightest verbal interchange. At times, for longest hours, without a single hail, they stood far parted in the starlight; Ahab in his scuttle, the Parsee by the mainmast; but still fixedly gazing upon each other; as if in the Parsee Ahab saw his forethrown shadow, in Ahab the Parsee his abandoned substance.

it is clear to the crew that the Parsee is in Ahab’s thrall, but it also becomes evident that Ahab ceases to trust the crew to be sufficient watchful, after a few days elapse without a sighting of Moby Dick. So Ahab decides that he will be the one to see the white whale first — “Aye! Ahab must have the doubloon!” — and a contraption is rigged that raises him to the top of the royal mast. Pointedly, Ahab assigns to Starbuck the task of raising him and securing the rope, as Ishmael puts it, “freely giving his whole life into such an otherwise distrusted person’s hands.” But perhaps it is a sign of Ahab’s final domination of Starbuck: both men know that Starbuck will execute the task he has been assigned, and there will be no mishap.

And then another portent: the “first time Ahab was perched aloft,” he is pestered by” one of those red-billed savage sea-hawks which so often fly incommodiously close around the manned mast-heads of whalemen in these latitudes.” It’s a common enough occurrence, but now nothing that occurs can be seen as simply “common”: “But with his gaze fixed upon the dim and distant horizon, Ahab seemed not to mark this wild bird; nor, indeed, would any one else have marked it much, it being no uncommon circumstance; only now almost the least heedful eye seemed to see some sort of cunning meaning in almost every sight.”

But then the bird steals Ahab’s hat and far in the distance, in what can only be taken to be an ill omen, drops it into the sea …

“The Hat” is read by BBC4 announcer Diana Speed. The accompanying image, Come you lost atoms to your centre draw is by Graham Day. It is a work-in-progress collage of xeroxed paper of 18th century engravings, metallic paint, watercolour on fibreboard (size: 105 x 60 cm), which is used courtesy of Rose Issa Projects.

 

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

 

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“The Cabin” is another dramatic chapter, and it develops further the relationship between mad Ahab and the mad cabin-boy Pip. Ahab now spends all of his time on deck watching for Moby Dick, but tells Pip to stay in the cabin, “where they shall serve thee, as if thou wert the captain.” Pip refuses: he wants to stay by Ahab’s side, refusing to desert Ahab, having experienced being abandoned once by Stubb.

Captain Gardiner’s appeal did not move Ahab, but something in Pip’s fidelity seems to strike a chord that Ahab cannot afford to hear: “If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab’s purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be.”

In “The Doubloon,” Pip seemed to reduce language to the bare bones of conjugation, deflating the chapter’s examination of the ways in which perception and interpretation are marked by individual personality and ideology. Here, communication becomes wordless, as Ahab tells Pip, “Listen, and thou wilt often hear my ivory foot upon the deck, and still know that I am there.” Like “The Doubloon,” this chapter ends with a monologue by Pip, who meditates in his mad but sane way about the reversal that has taken place — implicit in Ahab’s ritual on “The Quarter-Deck” — in which Pip can now play the captain:

Here, our old sailors say, in their black seventy-fours great admirals sometimes sit at table, and lord it over rows of captains and lieutenants. Ha! what’s this? epaulets! epaulets! the epaulets all come crowding! Pass round the decanters; glad to see ye; fill up, monsieurs! What an odd feeling, now, when a black boy’s host to white men with gold lace upon their coats!

“Pip” is lost at sea and now engages in mad role-playing, pretending to be the captain in the captain’s cabin. Meanwhile, the Pequod‘s “captain” is also lost, and there is only Ahab on the deck, pursuing a purpose that seems to have nothing to do with being a captain of men.

“The Cabin” is read by the RIght Reverend Nick McKinnel, the former rector of the Minster Church of St Andrew in Plymouth, who was ordained last December as the Anglican Bishop of Crediton at Southwark Cathedral. The accompanying image depicts by Darren Lago‘s Large Glass (2006; mirror, steel and electrical motors, 5 parts, each: 175 x 183 x 155 cm). The image is copyright Darren Lago and used courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art, London.

 

 

The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

 

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Of all the gams that Ishmael describes in the novel, this meeting with the Rachel is the most fraught — with emotion for the characters and with significance for the narrative. Here the Pequod encounters a ship that, the day before, encountered Moby Dick and suffered terrible losses as a result. Missing is a whaleboat containing the twelve-year-old son of Gardiner, the Rachel‘s captain, who begs Ahab to join him in the search. It is an unusual request — “Who ever heard of two pious whale-ships cruising after one missing whale-boat in the height of the whaling season?” Stubb asks Flask as they overhear the captains’ conversation. When the reason is revealed, Stubb exclaims, “We must save that boy,” though the old Manxman has already proclaimed the boy and all the rest of the missing sailors drowned — that’s his explanation for the eerie sounds that the Pequod heard in “The Life-Buoy.”

Knowing that his quarry is so close, Ahab –  heartlessly and predictably, though, as Ishmael describes it, perhaps not without remorse — refuses, and the Pequod continues on its course.

In the final line of the chapter, Ishmael gives the name of Gardiner’s ship an allegorical meaning, drawn from the Bible: “But by her still halting course and winding, woful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.” For Ishmael, the ship’s name brings to mind these verses from chapter 31 of the Book of Jeremiah:

15: Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
16: Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.

Rachel (“Rahel” in the King James Version) is traditional interpreted within the Judaic tradition to stand in for the mother of the Hebrew people. This moment is invoked in the New Testament in Matthew 2:16-18:

16: Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
17: Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
18: In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Ishmael had invoked Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in “The Life-Buoy” to describe the sounds that the Pequod hears across the water. Captain Gardiner himself evokes the New Testament, the “Golden Rule” that Jesus describes in Matthew 7:12 — “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” — and Luke 6:31 — “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

Gardiner appeals to Ahab: “Do to me as you would have me do to you in the like case. For you too have a boy, Captain Ahab — though but a child, and nestling safely at home now — a child of your old age too — Yes, yes, you relent; I see it — run, run, men, now, and stand by to square in the yards.” But he’s wrong: Ahab does not relent. Biblical reasoning has no effect on him — no surprise to us by now — nor, apparently, does the invocation of his wife and child, though we will see Starbuck try one more time to appeal to Ahab’s family feeling in the wonderful chapter called “The Symphony.”

“The Pequod Meets the Rachel” is read by the artist Alice Herrick. The accompanying image, Melancholia (2008) is by Gavin Turk.

 

 

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[Cross-posted with patell dot org]

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