That boar was a pig

I want a porkchop, real bad. And an assault rifle to defend myself against these unruly giant pigs that keep terrorizing the world. Sows like this one. A nine-foot-hog the shape of a sperm whale, minus the flukes and the sperm, and minus the size.

I can’t point out exactly just what is unnerving me about the story – maybe it is that innocent but ham-handed trophy picture and the size chart it contains.

Once the origin of the sow is accounted for, the case pops into banality in a way – the monster hog was bought only a few years ago, raised to an abnormally fat greatness, and finally killed by that brave, good, and 11-year-old boy, Jamison. And, so the story goes as narrated by the proud father, this Alabama pig was a ferocious fighter –

The pig that Jamison killed did not act like a family pet. It was a very aggressive animal.

I’m just trying to follow the drift into fable that goes with this piggish adventure. Let’s see – the pig – going by the name of Fred – is characterized thus –

He [that is, Fred’s owner] said all of their pigs had just recently been sold for slaughter and the big boar was too big to be a breeder because of his massive weight and stature and would certainly be unsuitable for slaughter, referring to him being an uncut boar hog.

[uncut, that is not castrated, I take it – and therefore more overtly aggressive in its behavior in the pen and more boar&musk-like on the plate]

He said that on several occasions, he had seen this massive pig throw other pigs around, once even over the fence. Mr. Blissitt also told of building the pig a large shelter that was big enough to cover him and keep him out of the weather but he said the pig tore it to bits in less than 40 minutes.

The pig had to die – for? Its excessive strength? Because its masquerade was so successful? A domestic pig going all the way to a feral juggernaut, whose only acceptable end is necessarily violent, if end there be?

The episode, clumsy as it is, dotes on a rhetoric that Melville is spinning out at great length in Moby Dick, and hence the earlier reference to sperm whales – that peculiar predatory rhetoric that abstracts the beast to transform it into a sort of spiritual entity that is is easier to connect to than, say, a breathing animal whose veins will spill blood when knives or bullets are being sunk into them: Moby Dick, of course, goes one step further than Bigger than Hogzilla!and then some thousand steps more. Melville makes the effort to go beyond predatory rhetoric: the Leviathan by-name is never used on Moby Dick exclusively, but on all whales. Moby Dick becomes THE whale exactly when he drops out of the biblical-epical pattern of the demoniac and unapproachable super-beast to chew Ahab’s leg off.

It is Ahab who fights for the distance between himself, the Pequod’s crew, and the whale, in order to swear in the crew on the fight – in a way, he is de-whaling the whale and whips his crew into frenzy with his appeal to the threat the white whale carries. The crew take it enthusiastically –

I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge. (chapter 41)

When I tried to teach that passage last week, as part of an overall not so very successful shot at reading the novel as an apocalyptic epic, I originally thought about bringing in Shakespeare, for the heck of it, and for Mark Anthony’s grandiose necrologue on C.I. Caesar (Act 3, Scene 2) –

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

[Sailors, Mates, Polynesians, lend me your ears!]

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

[I come to kill Moby Dick, but you may also praise him.]

The evil that men do lives after them;

[The evil that whales do lives after them;]

The good is oft interred with their bones;

[Their bones are oft interred into Nantucket soil;]

So let it be with Caesar. […]

[So let it be with Moby Dick]

Ishmael, despite his hearty embrace of Ahab’s end, see above, has other plans and spends a great deal of his narrative to counteract the captain’s will-bent intention: Ishmael chips off facet by facet and applies details in an abundance that, I remember, simply got me skipping all these beautiful chapters on “Brit“, “Squid“, and “The Sperm Whale’s Head“, when I first read the book as a teenager. With every detail added, he pulls the whale in general, and Moby Dick by implication, into the concrete, shaves off all demonology and Leviathanity and connects to its physical body. That culminates in a scene late in the Pequod’s voyage: a whale is lying on deck, dead, and Ishmael’s hands dive into its head to extricate the precious sperm

As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, wove almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as. I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,- literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger; while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! [chapter 94; emphasis so mine]

Naturally, Ishmael will be the lone survivor: he is the only man on board to have eroticized the whale & to have endorsed it as a spiritual, in fact: beautiful being. He has absorbed its beauty and also – its substance. There is that passage, and I won’t look that up now, where he confides that he occasionally hides on deck to gulp some of the spermacetti-wax – in an act of transference, he assumes the stance of the noble savage toward his prey (while Queequeg is all harpoon-darting business) and experiences his fellow creature only when he gets as close to it, physically, as possible, then to finally swallow it.

Lovecraft never wrote about whales, and I say that not from the vantage point of empirical certitude: in that legion of letters he mustered whales may have their role, or not: who can tell? My next post will look into the human-monster-interrelations in Lovecraft’s fiction, and how it relates to Moby Dick and other stories pitching their characters against apocalyptic beasts.


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