Moby-Dick Big Read, Day 80

Ishmael is still going on about phrenology in this chapter!

Which means that the diagrams from yesterday

 

[Source]

and from Day 76

[Source]

are still useful. As is this illustration of the whale’s skeleton:

That illustration, by the way, is from The Sperm Whale Engineering Manual; or, Building A Big Whale Skeleton, Vol. 2, which you can order here. Here’s a description of the book:

It’s not like everyone is going to run out and collect a Sperm Whale, but if you were going to, or if you have a large whale to articulate, this is a manual that documents the engineering used to assemble such a big animal. It is based on the engineering done to assemble and suspend a 41-foot Sperm Whale in the Homer High School (Homer, Alaska) as a collaborative project between the Pratt Museum and the Homer High.

Included are student illustrations of the bones and copies of the finest illustrations of sperm whale bones ever done.

The new revision includes more information about cleaning big whale skeletons as well as the engineering details used to articulate and suspend a 37-foot gray whale skeleton.

(81 pages)

$34 (plus shipping)

Yes, my copy’s on order. Meanwhile, back to the chapter …

Ishmael makes another reference to that Quebec citadel to which he compared Father Mapple’s pulpit. He discourses on the need to have a spine, literally but no doubt also figuratively: “For I believe that much of a man’s character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.”

This remark leads the editors of the Norton Critical Edition of the novel to include the following footnote:

The Melvilles took good posture seriously, and even in his last years observers commented on Melville’s erect strides, but “half out” has not been satisfactorily explicated and may not be just what he wrote.

Today’s chapter is read by Maureen Freely, writer, translator, senior lecturer at Warwick University. The illustration, Bone Texts (2011), is by “Big Read” co-curator Angela Cockayne, who reveals in an e-mail that today’s sound file is actually an aural palimpsest: “Poignantly the voice in the background of today’s recording belongs to an incredible academic and social reformer, Frank Hoover Longstreth who very sadly died last week. The recording was made very hastily, it is very pertinent to hear this now in relation to this chapter. A whale fossil vertebrae was placed in his coffin.”

The same e-mail included this wonderful illustration by Angela, “made a few years ago,” and entitled Phrenology. She suggested that it went well with yesterday’s chapter. It goes equally well with today’s.


Fans of the “Big Read” are strongly urged to read Angela’s blog, which contains interesting ideas about the novel, the project, and the whale, as well as more examples of her art.

 

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