Queequeg

I had been ill and disjointed for many weeks and that can be quite an assault on the mind. I am writing in the year of coronavirus and the beginning days of what is quite properly being called an uprising and it’s worldwide. My illness carried with it all the signs of coronavirus covid-19 SARS-CoV-2, but with a powerful preponderant emphasis on gastric turmoil and effluvium. Those symptoms would rise up and then subside every few weeks beginning in late April. This ebb and flow went on for three months until we realized it was all due to my handling a cardboard large trunk of old correspondence brought up from twenty years of basement storage. Letters, cards, drawings, and photographs were fully populated with mouse droppings, fur, and urine scented nestings. Likewise, I am sure that every packet or two of memories that I took up to sort through emitted strange, ephemeral mixes of old dead rodent bacteria and virus along with mold and mildew spores and the very dried saliva of death itself.

You must, I hope, give us credit for discerning in this weird and crisis-laden era that I was not being poisoned by the lick-spittle miasma plaguing all mankind, but, rather, simply suffering the effects of my own ignorance and wayward negligence.

The effect of it all was to make getting back to my seated morning readings of Moby Dick or, the Whale. Today, finally, I returned. And none too late for, indeed, I was able to read the several pages describing Queequeg climbing into bed with the narrator, Ishmael, and the subsequent hullabaloo and hoohah that resulted until the landlord of the Spouter-Inn arrived to calm things down on both sides and we learn that Quee himself is more than a decent fellow but a total sweetheart no matter his outward appearance as a heathen savage (quote-unquote) and that Ishmael himself is essentially on that same wavelength and so much of the human spectacle of fear and hate and ignorance and foolish pre-judgmental bias is at least to be held at bay or mitigated by these two.

Once again, then, I admit to being charmed and surprised at the goodwill somehow passing from Melville’s story and writing into my reader’s mind — good humor, easy important faith in other people, surprising quantities of friendliness, and a gentle gaze so far of life itself … even if Queequeg has been out trying to sell a shrunken head and happens to be covered in geometrically patterned tattoos.

I admit here that while I was sick, although I was not reading Moby Dick, I was thinking about the story and considering the question of the white whale and Ahab’s obsession with finding it. The common simple wisdom of the symbolism with old Moby is that he represents the obsessive, obscure object quest. Much has been made of the obscurity of the symbolism and the whale’s universally open-ended connections to everything from God to Nature to Leviathan and a whole lot more. (If you want to read a great and essential essay on this, check out David Gilbert’s 2013 By Heart piece in The Atlantic, “The Endless Depths of Moby-Dick Symbolism.” ).

I’m just wondering because I think about it a lot these days about the obsessive connection of this mythical white whale and the odd and cx-razy obsession some people have in this country for “Christian White America.” That’s just a thought, and I’m guessing enough theses and term papers have been written in that section of the English literature map that I shouldn’t even be bringing this up. I do anyway. How many ways does this country need before it truly faces it’s stupidity and evil before we can move on into a better world? Some call our racism an “original sin.” It is not. Each person creates their own morality. It is clear to me, however, that the notion of hegemony of any kind is to the root of human violence and the cause of so much that is unnecessary and pointless and cruel.

And so, I worry about meeting Ahab, as I worry about all the Ahabs that make up my neighborhood and my city and my country. But I will continue reading.

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