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Topic: Moby Dick LXIV, Philosophy of Meat< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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David Yeagley Search for posts by this member.
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PostIcon Posted on: Nov. 08 2009,08:34   Ignore posts   QUOTE

Chapter 64, "Stubb's Supper."  

A rather personal, lusty moment for Stubb, the second mate.  They've just killed an enormous whale, and before they've even begun the process of slicing it up on board, Stubb want's a steak from the small (the tail end of the whale)--before he retires for the night.

By the time he's eating, herds of sharks are also eating on the carcass down along side the ship.  An interesting assessment of the frenzy:

QUOTE
About midnight that steak was cut and cooked; and lighted by two lanterns of sperm oil, Stubb stoutly stood up to his spermaceti supper at the capstan-head, as if that capstan were a sideboard. Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale's flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness. The few sleepers below in their bunks were often startled by the sharp slapping of their tails against the hull, within a few inches of the sleepers' hearts. Peering over the side you could just see them (as before you heard them) wallowing in the sullen, black waters, and turning over on their backs as they scooped out huge globular pieces of the whale of the bigness of a human head. This particular feat of the shark seems all but miraculous. How, at such an apparently unassailable surface, they contrive to gouge out such symmetrical mouthfuls, remains a part of the universal problem of all things. The mark they thus leave on the whale, may best be likened to the hollow made by a carpenter in countersinking for a screw.

  Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel- hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties; and though sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be handy in case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave to be decently buried; and though one or two other like instances might be set down, touching the set terms, places, and occasions, when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast; yet is there no conceivable time or occasion when you will find them in such countless numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits, than around a dead sperm whale, moored by night to a whale-ship at sea. If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.

  But, as yet, Stubb heeded not the mumblings of the banquet that was going on so nigh him, no more than the sharks heeded the smacking of his own epicurean lips.


Typically, Melville contrasts every subject which he addresses.  A man enjoying a whale steak, if comprising any natural dignity at all, is compared to nature's galling feasters of the deep.

But then Stubb complains that his steak is overdone, as if that is the difference between the man and the shark animal, as if the raw and the cooked (as Levi-Strauss would observe) is the only difference between man and beast.  

Stubb complains that the sharks eat too rare a meat, while himself suffers the overdone!  

Melville then imitates old southern Negro dialect in the person of the cook, Fleece (--ironic name for the old Negro.  Fleece rebukes the sharks:

QUOTE
'Fellow-critters: I'se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat dam noise dare. you hear? stop dat dam smackin' ob de lip! massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!'


In a fascinating chapter, Melville drags the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant religion all around the world, comparing it to all other cultures and circumstances, and now, even into the mouths of sharks.  In a way, Moby Dick is a study in comparative religion.  An early text in the primitive structuralism, the precursor of Levi-Strauss.  

As to be anticipated in the wranglings of the doubter, Melville puts an intuitive religious wording in the mouth of the old uneducated, illiterate Negro cook, whilst the 'raw' and natural passions of man are expressed by the high second mate, Stubb.  It's all a continuum of delicious irony, I'd say, medium rare.
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