Chapter 12: Biographical

Thought he, it’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.

Queequeg is a prince of an unmapped island called Kokovoko, which Ishmael paints as an untouched and uncorrupted paradise. Whale ships occasionally touched land at Kokovoko, and Queequeg saw in these ships a chance to learn about the world, “whereby to make his people still happier than they were; and more than that, still better than they were.” Of course, in a story we are all too familiar with, Queequeg finds the civilized world corrupt, and himself thus corrupted, and chooses not to return home for fear of sullying his native culture.

Of course, Queequeg’s story in “Biographical” is every bit the teller’s (Ishmael’s) story as well, and when Ishmael informs Queequeg of his “intention to sail out of Nantucket, as being the most promising port for an adventurous whaleman to embark from,” Ishmael’s naivete seems to echo Queequeg’s, and this chapter seems to exist more than anything as foreshadowing. In other words, we know from the start that Ishmael will find no greater truth on this voyage, and perhaps will exit his trials changed, less innocent, and far away from a simpler concept of the world, to which he can never return. We also can apply our skepticism about simpler, better ways of life to assume that this change isn’t at all bad, but perhaps rather only less easy, more nuanced, and more comprehensive. The proof, after all, lives on in an incredibly thoughtful book — the result of Ishmael’s travels.

Chapter 12: Biographical

Oooh, Kokovoko!

Think of an island, far away (Kokovoko!),
Lavished with splendors of a bygone day (Kokovoko!).
You left it with the dreams of a child,
You thought you’d only leave for a while, but now
You’re far away from home.

Left with a purpose of high intent,
To bring every subject enlightenment,
To lift every dream of the land you hold so dear.
Corrupted in the very act,
A folly in your noble pact, and now
You’re far away from home.

Think of an island, far away (Kokovoko!),
Lavished with splendors of a bygone day (Kokovoko!).
Someday, you will leave the Christians,
And make it to your island again, but now
You’re far away from home!

Oooh, Kokovoko!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 11, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea August 11, 2010

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