Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Super Mario Mural and the Harpooners of the Pequod
(Decay over the last year of the Super Mario duct tape mural outside Gongzheng Temple in Taichung, Taiwan)
Speaking of White Whales, I spent a fortnight in February re-discovering Herman Melville. Typee…Omoo…Mardi…His books on the South Seas are like Eskimo roll call at a Nintendo convention.. Mario & Luigi anyone? Then the grand one itself, Moby Dick… to re-read Moby Dick is like being trapped at a catholic family reunion in an inescapable ring of hell. All that guilt and shame and bad casserole binge eating… all the latent bunk grunting in the dark at the… Inn of the Blowhole? Yes, strange bedfellows indeed, the deeper in you get, the harder it is to pull out. Grumpy Ahab. Stern faced Quaker Starbuck. And wide-eyed Ishmael (Hey, the kid liked his sperm whales…) what can I say, like characters on a hunt for a leviathan ghost, attempting to read the 1,500 page narrative tome is a descent into madness itself.
Of course, the best characters in Moby Dick are the harpooners. Queequeg, the face tattooed son of an island king with his enormous harpoon and tiny pagan god Yojo…Deggu, the giant negro savage, and Tashtego, the warrior-hunter, who falls into the bed of sperm (told you it was latent…)
These were rough men who needed to be driven, flogged, beaten, and dragged kicking and screaming aboard the Pequod to the ends of the Earth. Naturally, this got me thinking…
These men have always existed. In fact, they exist today just of a different pay scale. For the men of the Pequod were ignorant brutes, harsh and unyielding. They wanted to see the world. They gathered their Bibles and harpoons and demon gods and set sail upon a steady wind toward fortune and adventure. If I had lived 150 years ago, I would have been one of them. How else would I have sailed these seven seas?
Ironically, they are the same men I have met on my travels today…men that throw on a white collared shirt and flash a marginal diploma… just enough to gain employment at a school or an office, just enough to stand with a book in their hand and look the part… but they are the same savage rough men…save the tidy clippings, moving from rowing oars to office water coolers…but they are the same.
Men who must be driven…who must be taught lessons… who must be told what to do… shown… forced to follow and obey. Re-reading Melville after all these years, I have come to understand this now in ways I couldn’t have possibly understood twenty years ago. How weak men are, base, trivial, lazy… begging for someone to lead them toward a madness masked as salvation.