I could never understand why Melville took a perfectly good 120 page
guide to sailor’s knots and the best use of sperm whale blubber and fucked it up with a narrative that simply gets in the way of what
this book is really about: a guide to everything whale-y.
It has chapters with titles like, “Chapter 57:
Of Whales in Paint; In Teeth; In Wood; In Sheet-Iron; In Stone; In
Mountains; In Stars.“ And then you read it and sure enough it
talk exactly about that! That’s why it is so great, it’s so ubber that post-modern critics have been mistaking it for literature ever since
1938. Ok, I won’t give away what happens in “Chapter 73: Stubb and
Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk Over Him,” but it
involves a nautical superstition that says a whaler ship with a cut-off
sperm whale’s head stuck on her starboard side and a cut-off right
whale’s head stuck on her larboard will never capsize … which has
absolutely no relevance to the rest of the story but this book is
full such (dare I say it?) red herrings.
But again, I can understand
if readers want to skip over the vague, homoerotic story in the beginning about
Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a wedding bed and jump right to “Chapter 94: A Squeeze of
the Hand,“ where Ishmael is carried away with enthusiasm for the
“sweet and unctuous” spermaceti cut out of the heads of
whales, requiring the sailors to sit on deck, all day long, squeezing
it back into liquid form. There is nothing vague about that at all.