Chapter 44: The Chart

Most people I’ve asked will admit to having thought about their lives as a movie. Part of the life-as-movie experience involves watching yourself as the protagonist. I think a more subtle aspect of the same experience involves the chance to “write” the other characters in your life; i.e., construct their motivations, personalities, and histories. In “The Chart,” we see Ahab having just such a moment.

The bulk of the chapter follows Ahab’s — and all whaling captains’ — process of creating and interpreting sea charts in order to find relatively small whales in a relatively immense ocean. As all creatures, whales behave according to certain patterns — seasonal feeding grounds, and preferred routes of travel, for example — but Ishmael constantly reminds us that there’s no certainty in the patterns. For Ishmael, whales “may with great confidence be looked for,” and one “could arrive at reasonable surmises,” but only to Ahab is “probability the next thing to a certainty.” For most, the task of charting these patterns seems interpretive more than descriptive. Ahab, on the other hand, thinks he’s writing the story of hunter and hunted.

The act of viewing your life as a movie is a reflexive version of a recurring idea in Moby-Dick. Throughout Moby-Dick, we see that objects in themselves do not have a meaning. Rather, an object’s meaning comes from the viewer’s process of interpretation. Viewing your own life as a movie is a process of making meaning of yourself — imposing a narrative onto your world. Because of Ahab’s bent, it can be hard to remember that Moby-Dick is just a whale. He’s a mean whale, for sure, but all his seeming intents — a purposeful maiming, a vengeful sinking of a ship — are imposed on him by Ahab. As Ahab distills the world down to a singularity, reality begins to distort — a whale becomes a monster; a man becomes a savior.

Chapter 44, The Chart

Reshape the tides and eddies,
Harpoon standing at the ready.

A single intent and purpose,
A point of such gravity,
Bends light, and so perception.
The real world is just perception.

So I’ll say what I say,
And you do what you do,
‘Cause I’ve charted the patterns of me and you,
And it’s all going to come back to a point of truth.

I dreamed the very moment —
A point of such gravity.

So I’ll say what I say,
And you do what you do,
‘Cause I’ve charted the patterns of me and you,
And it’s all going to come back to a point of truth.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 31, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea January 11, 2009

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