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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Moby-Dick's Ishmael on the Pandemic

Stymied the past few days (a problem with WORD), I spent more time than usual on the internet and came across something to post today: a pandemic version of Ishmael's opening words in Moby-Dick, written by Alexander Atkins in his series, "Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus."


First, Melville's famous opening in chapter one, "Loomings," then Alexander's.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.


Call me Ishmael, my pronoun is "he," my Twitter handle is #ishmael_i'm_still_standing.


Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse due to the economic collapse following the coronavirus pandemic, and nothing particular to interest me on shore after months of sheltering in place at the Spouter-Inn, I thought I would sail about a little, avoiding the perpetually virus-stricken cruise ships, and see the watery part of the world which is expanding exponentially due to the climate crisis. It is a way of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself unhappy; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before respirator and PPE warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral - burying the latest pandemic victim - I meet; and especially whenever my feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically ripping people's masks off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for repeatedly touching my face after touching highly infected surfaces. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all my Facebook friends in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me, based on all their "likes."


Next week, as promised this week, Melville in Love, Michael Shelden's recent book about Sarah Anne Morewood, Herman's lover and muse for Moby-Dick.



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