Whale!

Whale!

Whale!

Whale!

Synopsis

Startling in its originality, Whale! explores Melville's Moby Dick as a tale not of vengeance but of the search for connection and meaning, interpreting Ahab's near-pathological agitation as indicative of his refusal to accept the world as unknowable.

Excerpt

I had an odd bedfellow once, a Melville scholar (or sculler, she liked to say). I was in the Antipodes, chasing ice. When the weather didn’t turn me back I hitched rides on a Hercules Transport out of New Zealand—cavernous, no seats, mesh webbing to strap oneself into—down to Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica. Oxford had recently accepted my doctorate on glaciology, but most people found the occupation amusing. Not the Melville scholar, though. She kept asking me about friction, and the blinding white, and how to read snow. Her questions crabbed sideways: often my explanations seemed to turn up some scuttling fancy, so that she provisioned herself with material I didn’t quite believe but had somehow myself supplied. She was a queer fish among critics; her curiosity was all for ideas. Someone gave me a bookmark once with a quote from Coleridge on it: “I regard truth as a divine ventriloquist: I care not from whose mouth the sounds are supposed to proceed.” Her connections smelled of inaccuracy and invention, but they were pleasing—they pleased me and so provided their own legitimacy. This immodest manner of measurement reminded me of how temperature at the Pole could drop down and pass beyond the weather. Who’s to say what cold is.

I made her laugh by asking, after she read me the first few pages of her book on Moby Dick, “I like it. But are you allowed to put in all those fishy witticisms?” She said she hoped so. a poet I know has said in passing that scientists can seem like embarrassing, marginal figures (almost like poets) in the new corporate world. I think this is because whatever it is we do seems either to have no words or to require all of them, all the words. When I got the notice—down at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the envelope white and . . .

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