Every Page of Every Page of Moby-Dick, 28

9/23/21, 1:52pm

28

MK’s “M.D. Aphorism #2 is an outgrowth of his “M.D. Aphorism #1”; it maps Ishmael a bit farther on the other side of his initially fearful and prejudicial reaction to recognizing (finally) who/what Queequeg is – namely, to use Ishmael’s word, a “cannibal” – where the previous aphorism isolated him just on the other side of that experience, not quite yet making perfect sense out of it. 

The shift in perspective between these pages of MD might concern Ishmael’s relationship to Peter Coffin more directly than his relationship to Queequeg. Ishmael’s curious regard for his appointed bedfellow is well remembered, but some of his ire was directed at the landlord of the Spouter Inn – their matchmaker – upon entering the room, candle in hand, with assurances of Queequeg’s harmlessness after Ishmael shouted for Coffin (and the angels) to come save him when Queequeg finally scares him out of hiding in the bed: “‘Stop your grinning,’ shouted I, ‘and why didn’t you tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?’” Ishmael’s attitude about all Coffin’s “grinning” seems to have improved by the time he and Queeueg make their way to the bar-room of the Spouter Inn for breakfast in the light of day: “I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow. However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing…” (Mr. Ready-to-walk-the-streets-knocking-people’s-hats-off-their-heads, accosts Coffin “pleasantly.”)

The shard array graphic upon which the last sentence of that quotation is written in small black capital letters in MK’s hand – a shard per word, isolating it as Aphorism #2 – has shifted from near-center canvas to the lower left quadrant, presumably to frame on the found page a black-and-white photograph in which a solitary individual with receding and ruffled black hair, dressed in a tweed jacket, buttoned white shirt, and dark tie is releasing a half-reluctant, toothed smile.* The centerpiece of the graphic of Aphorism #1 was a small dark sphere, jaggedly inked in black toward the center, its interior shaded grey; the shard array of Aphorism #2 has an identically colored but larger and differently shaped centerpiece: it’s a triangle, the greater area of which allows for greater detail in the black ink-work forming its perimeter. Here the uneven edging has a more consistent, distinctly rounded aspect, like stalactites dripping down into the grey zone of the trigon’s middle. 

The shards of the graphic for Aphorism #2 are near in number to the ones for Aphorism #1 (26 and 24, respectively), but here the shards are broader and shorter, and there are smaller shards overlaying the larger ones in the array. The most notable difference between the two graphics, however, is the coloring of the shards themselves: whereas in the graphic for Aphorism #1 there was one lone red shard extending toward the upper right corner of the canvas, in the array for Aphorism #2 there is one predominant red shard extending at roughly the same angle from the triangle’s perimeter, but there are also five other red shards surrounding the triangular centerpiece, and six other shards colored a shade of magenta that bolsters the red and blends it into the array. Apart from the red-magenta shards which visually dominate its scheme, 8 shards of yellow, 5 shards of green, and 4 more subtle shards of brown, complete the array. 

8:55pm

The cooler, blue-green blends of the shard array of Aphorism #1 give way to a prodimently warm array of reds and yellows combined with earthy tones of brown and green for the graphic in Aphorism #2. It’s the dawn of a new day in New Bedford, and Ishmael’s been altered. His attitude toward the “skylarking” of Coffin has softened; he’s more genial, able not only to recognize the teasing for what it is but laugh it off as well. His perception of Queequeg’s physical appearance goes from shocked and awed in the halflight of the private room at night to almost proud in the bar-room after break of day: “But who could show a cheek like Queequeg?” 

The emotional energy over-invested in the fearful response to Queequeg’s physical difference as to become separated from Ishmael’s own experiential recognition of his first encounter with Queequeg – indexed in the word “cannibal” in the text of MD, and color-coded red on the MK’s illustration of Aphorism #1 – bleeds into both major components of the illustration of Aphorism #2. In the shard array it manifests as a visual predominance of red and magenta, set off by earth tones: yellow, green, brown, in MD as Ishmael’s good natured love and kinship with his fellows: not just Queequeg, but Coffin too, and all the shy sailors gathered in the bar-room. He remarks on the men’s various sun-tans, reading the seasons and ports of call written in the various legend-bands of their skins. In MD Ishmael performs a verbal social contract with his fellow man to “spend and be spent” if it means for a “good joke,” opportunities to laugh being so evidently rare in his experience. But it’s that generic love, a common recognition of shared humanity, that seems the more pitifully rare experience for Ishmael. On the canvas it’s afforded a place in Ishmael’s identification with his own experience in those diagonal bars of red and magenta, like badges, amongst bars of yellow and brown in the legend-band inked above black-and-white photograph of the shyly smiling man. Triangular forms of matching shades stand atop the band, monuments to the alteration. 

Ishmael’s suddenly altered attitude toward Queequeg the night before, upon the greater light cast by Coffin in the room, extends to every body in the place in the greater light of day. MK’s aphorisms are a means of capturing Ishmael in an instar, illustrating him in a particular relationship to himself and his environment at a moment in the text of MD. Each illustrated aphorism is a map of a particular moment in the flow of Ishmael’s emo-intellectual disclosures; as a series they generate a map of his dynamism as a character in his own story and as the narrator of it, which is predicated on a series of nondisclosures. Between Aphorism #1 and Aphorism #2 a conceptual realignment has occurred – the wound of Aphorism #1 has morphed into a still gaping but load bearing structure in Aphorism #2, the building block of some future instar. The record of fact has been realigned to accommodate a redistribution in the record of feeling, but all that the text discloses is an unsmiling man finding a rare opportunity to laugh at himself.


*“And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.” – To confirm his identity I did a Google image search for Enrico Fermi, the man pictured smiling in the black-and-white photograph on the found page, framed between the legend-band and shard array, and while in many of the scrolling images the corners of his mouth are lifted, rarely are his teeth showing as they are in the photograph of him here, expect in photographs taken of him in his later years, this developer of the atomic bomb.

Matt Kish
MOBY-DICK, Page 028

Title: However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing…
(7 inches by 9.5 inches; ink on found paper; September 3, 2009)

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