Re-reading this incredible work always leaves me rejuvenated and wanting more. It’s been several years since my last perusal, and I picked up some things this time that I hadn’t before. Such as, I hadn’t seen Jaws yet during my previous readings, so missed the homage to Moby in the movie with the singing of “Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies” (chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle). And though it might be obvious, the overtly Shakespearean references were something I had forgotten about, along with the enormous amount of homosexual references. Reading this book alongside Ulysses leaves me thinking that Joyce was significantly inspired by Moby-Dick. I might try a companion book with this next time to glean even more from it.
A friend of mine asked me why I read this book so often, don’t I know how the story goes? With this book, the story is not the point. We all know the ship goes down, Moby-Dick swims away victorious. The journey is through the mind of Melville, as he writes prose that continue to delight and soothe no matter how many times you read it.
Chapter 94 has Ishmael squeezing sperm:
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, – Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all around; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
I’ve marked passages in nearly every chapter that have delighted me across several readings, but what other book starts out so strongly as this?
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Melville’s words continue to soothe me, and it is a joy that this book must needs comfort me throughout my life.