CR Episode 182: Moby Dick, Part VIII

Moby Dick: The Whale as a Dish, by Rockwell Kent
Moby Dick: The Whale as a Dish, by Rockwell Kent

Download Link: Released on 3 July 2023

The panel reads some excellent listener questions, and then discusses chapters 60–71, with special attention to the studied ambiguity of the text, Ahab’s identification and contrast with Moby Dick, and the ‘problematisation of the hierarchy’ (ding-ding).


  1. Not finished with the episode yet, just some thoughts before I forget.

    It’s an interesting note: the out of mind out of sight. People needed the oil for their comforts. And we are still the same. I’m also reading Never Let Me Go beside this, which brings up the theme too and takes it further.

  2. Hi Dr. C and Dr. K,

    It is delightful to have two English professors willing to ponder some of my many questions about Moby Dick. Thank you for this opportunity!

    In “The Whale as a Dish”, Ishmael makes several provocative comments about the relationship between humans and animals that I have been puzzling over –

    “That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp and, like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and philosophy of it.” He then says that eating beef with a bone knife and writing a letter about suppressing cruelty to ganders with a quill pen are similar activities.

    “But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if had been put on trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does.”

    “I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgement, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in they pate-de-foie-gras.”

    Is Ishmael making an argument that we should be vegetarians because animals are equivalent to humans? And – if we eat meat – that it would be morally superior to eat a human than an animal?

    Or – does he assume that his readers will think these statements are ludicrous because Ishmael thinks most people would not equate animals to humans? Is his point that we should just all acknowledge our sharkish nature and not judge others for what types of meat we eat?

    I am thinking the latter because Ishmael later says he finds it pleasant to read about whales by using their skin as a magnifying glass and as bookmarks. If he really thought whales were equivalent to humans, using their skin in that way would be outlandish and adding insult to injury!

    Another comment on Ahab’s name

    You brought up the interesting possibility that Ahab is his last name. In The Ship, Captain Peleg says – “Captain Ahab did not name himself. ‘Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelve-month old.” This doesn’t really make sense if Ahab was his last name. Or – if she was giving him a last name and his father was unknown – it seems this would be part of his mystique.

    Other comments on comments

    Surprised that English professors are not supposed to speculate – that’s such a fun part of reading!

    Sad that publishers would likely not be eager to right a 150+ year slander against Queequeg by changing his mark to a more appropriate “queer roundish figure”.

    Very enthusiastic about a Wrath of Khan episode!

    O< O< O<


  3. Still 98% jargon-free, with Jeroboams, Balthazars, GOLIATHS of refreshment in store for the most devoted listeners. We may need it after Melville’s graphic depictions of butchery at sea that (as our guides observe) evoke the horrors of war–ahead for America in the Civil War and just behind in the 1846-8 war with Mexico. Some of the language and images of war in these central chapters, especially The Shark Massacre and Funeral, remind me of the “beasts of battle” topos (ding ding?!) in heroic poetry. It’s usually more of a formula there–omen, boast, threat, taunt–whereas Melville details the hellish feast of carrion-eaters on the slain whale (and each other), having transferred the “field” or “ground” of battle from land to sea. For a famous example, the ILIAD begins with a comprehensive glance at corpses of Greek warriors, “mighty chiefs untimely slain” in Pope’s translation,

    “Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
    Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.”

    The Old English BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH (as summarized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the North American Review for July 1838) vividly depicts

    “the retreat of the Northmen, in nailed ships, over the stormy sea; and the deserted dead, on the battleground, left to the swart raven, the war-hawk, and the wolf.”

    As Longfellow justly comments, “all these images appeal strongly to the imagination.”

    Well I don’t really know if Melville ever read Longfellow’s article on Anglo-Saxon Lit. But if you ever want to indulge in a little speculation over a Jeroboam, it’s kinda nice to know he could have.

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