Chapter 67: Cutting In

“Cutting In” offers up some great descriptions of the crew stripping blubber off of a whale. I clearly remember the first time I read Moby-Dick, waiting impatiently on burning questions of whaling process — how did they kill whales? how did they keep a whale from sinking? how did they get the blubber off? how did they turn it into oil? did they eat the whale? and so on. Ishmael answers these questions in chapters sprinkled almost suspensefully throughout the book as a whole — if you’re as curious as me, the Ahab story almost gets in the way at times.

In the hands of a lesser storyteller, chapters about process would read as a dry encyclopedia, but Ishmael expertly weaves these descriptions into a greater — and in my opinion, dominant — nontraditional narrative of America.

In “Cutting In,” Ishmael cleverly presents industry as Pantheistic ritual. Whalemen, “professors of Sabbath breaking” that they are, lead the ship in song as they adorn it with all manner of complicated tackles and cables. After hooking one such cable in the whale’s blubber, the crew heaves, and the ship “trembles, quivers, and nods her frighted mast-heads to the sky,” as in worship. After a successful run, a bloody piece of blubber hangs, “as if let down from the sky.” The blubber is coiled below decks, and Ishmael leaves us with the repeated ritual — singing, heaving, bowing, bleeding, coiling. If god is not the creator of all things, but rather the sum of all things, than god must encompass industry, a new nature coming to dominate the American landscape.

Chapter 67: Cutting In

Hey! You couldn’t find me a better way.
It’s modern ingenuity!
And with the strength that we get from science,
Bend we to the gods.

You couldn’t find me a better way!
You couldn’t find me a better way!

Hey! So with a pulley we move a mountain,
But there’s a ritual involved,
So in a circle we worship nature,
The gift that made us gods!

You couldn’t find me a better way!
You couldn’t find me a better way!

Hey! And so lift up our voice in song,
And bow before the harvest sung,
And for machines making us efficient,
Bend we to the gods!
Bend we to the gods!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea November 2, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 14, 2010

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