Moby-Dick, Chapters 29-33

Chapters read: xxix. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb, xxx. The Pipe, xxxi. Queen Mab, xxxii. Cetology, xxxiii. The Specksnyder

Page reached: 140 of 522 (26.82%)

Status Report: Oh, man. Chapter 32. This is probably a strong contender for the title of Most Skimmed Chapter In Classic American Literature. I would have skipped it myself if I hadn’t resolved to read this book in its entirety.

Thirteen pages long — about three times the length of the average chapter — “Cetology” has the narrator giving an impromptu lecture on the nature of the whale, grouping the beasts into fourteen categories and offering lengthy descriptions of each. Here, Melville uses a literary technique known as OMG BORING! In some other context I might have found this engrossing, but here it’s like, “Dude, you got your marine biology lecture in my adventure story!”

I wonder how many people have quit reading Moby-Dick at “Cetology”. I bet this chapter is a veritable Goodwin Sands, with a thousand shipwrecked readers littering its shore.

I could have been one of them, as Moby-Dick is perilously close to violating my One-Third Reading Policy, which states that I shall abandon any book that I am not enjoying when I am a third of the way through it. Unfortunately I am determined to finish this thing, so quitting on page 174 isn’t an option. But Cetology has sapped my of all momentum. Chapter 32 is a disabled vehicle in the center lane of this book’s narrative.

Words looked up::

  • Ferrule: A metal ring or cap placed around a pole or shaft for reinforcement or to prevent splitting.
  • Hone (“Sailors put [the oil] on their hones”): Whetstone
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6 comments.

  1. cetology was indeed the chapter that killed the book for me when i tried to read it.

  2. Wikipedia says:

    His intention was to write a book that was compelling, emotionally and poetically vivid in the style of Romanticism, but also educational and “true of the thing” — indeed it was believed among Romanticists of this period that fiction was the ultimate vehicle for describing and recording history, such as many see film or photos today.

    Think of it like Schoolhouse Rock or The More You Know.

  3. I actually liked Cetology. It is so extreme. How can you not love it?

    My favorite though is the one in which he talks about all the misconceptions about whalers. I can just picture him pounding his fist and shouting with each “But no! They’re not like that at all!!” each time getting more and more hysterical.

    Oh, and I don’t think you’ve gotten to The Whiteness of the Whale yet. Man, that is some good stuff right there. I actually started feeling cold while reading. The evil whiteness started to seep into my bones.

  4. —Here, Melville uses a literary technique known as OMG BORING! In some other context I might have found this engrossing, but here it’s like, “Dude, you got your marine biology lecture in my adventure story!”—

    Don’t know how to do the quote thingy, but this made me “LOL” so much someone came into my office to make sure I was okay. OMG Boring literary device, I will have to steal that sometime, well coined, sir, well coined.

  5. it’s one of my favorites, actually

  6. Cetology: the “begats” of Moby Dick.

    This, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, from accounts by people I know of their attempts to read the Bible “cover to cover”. They typically fail when they get to what they refer to as “the begats”: i.e. the place where “Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu: And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters. And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug” etc. for, like, 10 chapters. And all of this in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

    I think it’s a test: if you can get past the begats, then they doubt anything they do to you after that will bore you enough to make you give it up. If not, well, you haven’t wasted that much time getting to that point.