Chapter 63: The Crotch

Every English major I know has had to suffer through “Lost in the Funhouse” at least once. Being a particularly extreme exercise in meta-fiction, professors often dig up “Lost in the Funhouse” as the even-a-freshman-can-get-it example of the device. Sadly, being so extreme an example often sours said freshmen to the story altogether, sort of like the way extreme acceleration can cause a pilot to black out.

The phrase “meta-fiction” refers to a story told about the telling of that story, laying bare all of the constructs of storytelling along the way. Moby-Dick as a whole is not a work of meta-fiction, obviously, but Ishmael often uses the device in his storytelling, allowing for a slow acceleration into his non-traditional narrative.

“The Crotch” provides a prime example of Ishmael’s meta-. Long after abandoning the sequential narrative he gives of his experience in New Bedford, long after he begins telling his story through the minutiae of whaling life, Ishmael pauses for explanation of his seeming tangents. First, he says, it’s only natural. Like branches and twigs off a larger trunk, so grow many finer details from a few “productive subjects.” Second, whether we consciously know it or not, we want these details, we would ask for them if we only knew how. As readers, we naturally tend against gaps in the world of a story — so much so that we make stuff up if we have to. In describing whaling minutiae, Ishmael gives us the raw materials with which to create the whaling world repeatedly, throughout the rest of the book.

Sadly, the process sours some to the story in a different way, analogous, perhaps, to driving across the country at one mile per hour. But that sounds interesting to me. And so with Moby-Dick. The beauty of the story lies in the way the story’s told.

Chapter 63: The Crotch

Not foreshadowing,
I take my time with the details still,
To set the stage.

No complaining!
You need to live every moment of
A whaler’s life.

Let’s not sully
The great defiance
In every action
With mere description!

Let’s prepare you
To construct
The moments as they come,
And I will step aside.

Now imagine
Two harpoons on a single line,
And tossed at sea.

The whale is struggling,
The loose harpoon flaps from side to side
With sharpened steel.

Now imagine
Every boat on a single whale
With loose harpoons.

You’re gonna use it.
The image sifts back into your mind
Until the end.

Let’s not sully
The great defiance
In every action
With mere description!

Let’s prepare you
To construct
The moments as they come,
And I will step aside.

It’s not the way
You’re used to reading —
I’m aware of it.
Now let me step aside!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 7, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 2, 2009

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