Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

In “The Grand Armada,” Ishmael presents us with two forms of opposition to colonial force. First, while traveling through a series of islands that divide the Indian Ocean from the “thickly studded oriental archipelagoes,” the Pequod encounters pirates, who give chase through the straits. The pirates exist as an Eastern counterpart to the castles and fortresses of the West, defending their territory against “the all-grasping western world” with a combination of terror, knowledge of the land, and a knowledge of the greed of their invaders.

Second, once past the islands and having outrun the pirates, the “Grand Armada” of whales that the Pequod chased through the straits turn and fight, circling a defense around a calm center of women and children. Ishmael tells us that “owing to the unwearied activity with which of late they have been hunted over all four oceans,” many whales no longer travel in individual pods, instead allying many pods into a more substantial defense.

Early in the chapter, Ishmael compares the Pequod to the sun — well-provisioned and so, self-sustaining, restlessly circling and encircling the world. Interestingly, without women aboard, neither the Pequod nor the pirates are self-generative, and so neither are truly self-sufficient. Only the whales are true nomads, not tethered by near or distant communities of women and children. Far from independent, both the Pequod and the pirates are really informal arms of civilization — nameless, infinitely replaceable agents of colonial will. And herein lies the inevitability — no amount of attacking, defending, or running will help the whales in their situation because there is an endless supply of attackers: anyone who needs the work. Though the well-provisioned Pequod may not be the sun, colonial will certainly is, in its relentless and never-ending assault.

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

The center of the tempest,
A situated bastion, a nursery.
It’s an internal escape
From the great colonial rape,
Cunning and relentless.

A league of opposition,
The grand armada, frightened and meek,
As a herd of buffalo,
From a horseman charged alone,
Scatters into ashes.

So piracy —
We’re rising up
Between the spaces
Of formality,

And, lo,
We’re coming to
Our own conclusions . . .
Death before hegemony!


The murder of cohesion,
Confusion in the waters, a panicking.
Resist the very sun,
That never needs to rest —
They’ll get you while you’re breathing.

Resist the very sun,
That never needs to rest —
They’ll get you while you’re breathing.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 17, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea March 29, 2009
Additional Vocals — Amy Mogulescu

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