This week Moby-Dick um…. suddenly became a play? We had Shakespearean soliloquies from Ahab, Starbuck, and Stubb (I guess Flask, who in addition to never getting to butter his bread, won’t be getting his own soliloquy either). Then we get a fully scripted scene—stage directions and all—featuring the harpooners and crew. Next comes the title chapter “Moby Dick,” in which we get the villainous back story of the legendary whale, as well as the tale of how he drove Ahab mad, followed by a very obsessive meditation on the color white. In fact, the word “white” or “whiteness” appears 73 times in “The Whiteness of the Whale.” I discussed this chapter with writer and artist Sadie Rebecca Starnes in this week’s episode of the Moby-Dick MiniPod.
Other topics discussed in this episode: reading Moby-Dick on a bullet train in Tokyo — the sublime — the terrifying nature of whiteness — lead white, a poisonous paint — When We Cease to Understand the World — the void — Typee — Americans’ inability to define themselves — Jack London — Top Gun — the soliloquy chapters.
I was excited that Sadie chose “The Whiteness of the Whale” to discuss because it’s one of my favorite chapters so far. I first heard about this chapter a couple years ago, in the Esmé Weijun Wang episode of Yahdon Israel’s show LIT, and it’s what piqued my interest in reading Moby-Dick. Yahdon and Esmé discuss Moby-Dick in such a conversational, fun way that something clicked for me. Suddenly, the book felt fresh and modern, something you could laugh about, and I especially remember the way they share a laugh about “the chapter about whiteness.” It still took me a few more years to get around to actually reading the novel, lol, but that moment made an impression on me, and I've tried to bring that same spirit to my Moby Dick Summer recaps.
Anyway, what “The Whiteness of the Whale” was to me, has been hinted; what, at times, it was to you, as yet remains unsaid. So let’s hear it: what did you think about this chapter? As Sadie mentioned, we can read it in a thousand different ways. What did it mean to you?