Chapter 130: The Hat

. . . all [Ahab’s] successive meetings with various ships contrastingly concurred to show the demonaic indifference with which the white whale tore his hunters, whether sinning or sinned against . . .

I recently passed a man and his son on the street. As we passed, I overheard the man tell the son in his arms that “he used to be a baby, too.” It took me half of a block to realize that he was talking about me, at which point I launched into a not-so-deep rumination: “I did use to be a baby,” I thought, “How strange.” It was afternoon rush-hour and suddenly I became acutely aware of my place in the great trails of people walking geometrically home from work. My vantage swung upward, abstracting myself into the grids and patterns of my neighbors — I realize this is a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — and I was reminded that I am an animal, and as such, I am random. The story of me doesn’t really exist. And then I remembered how me thinking I have no story is a story in itself, and there’s really no getting away from narrative if you are a conscious human being. Perhaps narrative and consciousness are one and the same.

In “The Hat,” Melville uses elements of legend that are immediately, and misleadingly familiar to readers. Ishmael’s characterization of Fedallah as the devil allows readers to frame the story in a comfortable narrative: god vs. devil with man in between. But Melville disdains to let us off the hook that easily. The “symbols” of Fedallah and the bird that grasps the hat off Ahab’s head may stand for something . . . or they may not. This is the kind of uncertainty that make critics look to Melville as the first of the Modernist writers. Even as Ishmael refers to Moby-Dick’s “indifference”, he also qualifies that indifference as being “demoniac,” as if chaos must result from the influence of evil, not the absence of influence itself.

We suddenly find ourselves in Medieval dragon mythologies — God versus nature, rather than God as nature. As readers, we find comfort in this narrative, but Melville more than hints that we may be fooling ourselves by seeking interpretation for contradictory and dead-end symbols.

For me, legend and omen (and, come to think of it, Medieval dragon mythology*) come together in one man: David Bowie. And so I let my inner Bowie guide me ever-so-slightly with this week’s song. Or so the story goes.

*Sadly, you will find no reference to Medieval dragon mythology in this week’s song. Chalk it up to lack of foresight rather than red-herring.

Chapter 130: The Hat

Intents and purposes are clear —
Hoist you up into the stratosphere.
A sycophantic sort of sight —
The greater vantage offered less, perspective-wise.

You cast a shadow on the deck;
It’s staring out into the infinite,
And though you’re perched above a mirror,
You’ll never see your own reflection any clearer.

Depended on your opposition
To leverage you into a god’s position,
And then protect you in your nest.
A cunning ruler to enfranchise your enemies.

A bird of omen!
A bird of omen!
A bird of the seas!

A bird of omen!
A bird of omen!

Took the curtains off the windows of the castle of your soul,
The obfuscation of the dark below,
And flew into the current of time,
And dropped your crown
Into the fertile ground

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 14, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea March 8, 2009

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