Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nantucket Sushi

(From Chapter 64: Stubb's Supper) "'Cook,' said Stubb, rapidly lifting a rather reddish morsel to his mouth, 'don't you think this steak is rather overdone? You've been beating this steak too much, cook, it's too tender. Don't I always say that to be good, a whale-steak must be tough? There are those sharks now over the side, don't you see they prefer it tough and rare? . . . Well, for the future, when you cook another whale-steak for my private table here, the capstan, I'll tell you what to do so as not to spoil it by overdoing. Hold the steak in one hand, and show a live coal to it with the other; that done, dish it.'"

Also in this chapter is an incident I can only describe as queer (the Melville-era meaning of the word). "There are these sharks now over the side, don't you see they prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up! Cook, go and talk to 'em; tell 'em they are welcome to help themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet. Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver my message. Here, take this lantern,' snatching one from his sideboard; 'now then, go and preach to 'em.'" They proceed to the deck, lean over the rail, and Stubb coaches the cook through a sermon to the sharks. This can be satisfactorily read as an odd bit of character development, but I have to think Melville meant something more by it. I'm not sure what, but I'm sure it must be some kind of statement about religion.

But. But I'm not going to run out looking for commentary to find out what he was saying by it (or at least what others have thought he was saying) at this point in my reading experience. Erica has told me that her professor started by telling them the ending so they wouldn't be distracted by wondering what is going to happen but could look for the deeper meanings. That's not the experience I want with the book yet. I have the rest of my life to analyze it, to learn more about Melville, his society, and what he was trying to say about it. But once I have that knowledge I can never go back. I only have this one chance to read the book without knowing how it will end, to encounter it as a straightforward story and discover what it might mean to me in a bilateral dialogue with it without all of those other voices informing my experience. I'm very eager to start asking Professor Reynolds about the book and doing some of that literary analysis, but that discussion must wait until I complete this initial encounter.

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2 comments:

Erica Reynolds said...

You crack me up...ok, I won't comment on the ending if you don't comment on my illogical babblings... (particularly those babblings encouraged by beer and karaoke in smokey bars...)

Anyway...Ms. S reported that she had completed the M-D....I'm working on the grant right now, but I'll be free after March 6...what do you think about a get together to have an in-person discussion/chat session, sometimes the 2nd or 3rd week of March (before PLA)?

Degolar said...

I'm in. I definitely want to do some discussing and extra reading after. I'm in the high 70s on chapters now; just finished disc 12 of 20.