Ishmael opens “The Honor and Glory of Whaling” with a curious sentence: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” I take Ishmael to be speaking of storytelling, not whaling, when he says this, but two questions remain: what is a “careful disorderliness,” and why is it “the true method” of storytelling?
“The Honor and Glory of Whaling” largely addresses the body of myth underlying all modern stories. As Ishmael discusses stories of Perseus and St. George, he subverts various details to better fit his purpose. Some such revisions are subtle, but some are outright ridiculous, such as the image of St. George riding a seal to spear a beached whale. In the process, Ishmael suggests that the original details of myth are a disorderly mash of fantasy and reality, carefully pulled together by storytellers to embody common underlying themes.
These themes become especially apparent as Ishmael incorporates Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Jonah, and Vishnoo into the same scheme as Perseus and St. George. By doing so, Ishmael creates an image of whalemen that goes far beyond the role of slayer. Whalemen instead become tamers of nature, prophets, and creators of worlds in story. Like Vishnoo, Ishmael dives to the ocean depths for stories from “before the beginning of creation . . . which therefore must have contained something in the shape of practical hints to young architects,” and resurfaces with a modern embodiment of worlds long since dissolved, but never entirely forgotten.
Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling
We’re a fraternity,
And the last common-beautiful in a long line
Who trace paternity
To the regal and dutiful, both alike
In their dominance
Over nature’s providence!
Now take the Greeks —
They had offered Andromeda to appease
A great leviathan,
But then Perseus did slay it to save her life,
And they sang, “All ye virgins of the Mediterranean Sea,
Raise your bosoms to the future you’ll get to be!”
We’re a fraternity,
Even Jonah and Hercules do comprise
We captains of decease,
Though their victory was endurance, it’s still a fight.
And Vishnoo; god of all creation, social elite;
Heads our roster with a fluke in place of his feet!
And we sing, “Na na na na na na na, na na na na na,
Na na na na na na na, na na na na na!”
(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea June 30, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea November 20, 2010