Monday, October 11, 2010

MOBY-DICK, Page 403

Title: 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...

6.25 inches by 9.25 inches
acrylic paint, ink and pencil on found paper
October 10, 2010


  1. So very many things went through my head with this that in the end this proved to me one of the hardest of all these illustrations to create. In the end, I just went with what came to my mind first and most strongly. And you can see the rather thinly-veiled symbolism right there on the page.

    This chapter is just so amazingly homoerotic that it reads better than most erotica. I can't imagine how a high school teacher deals with this one.

  2. And yes, I do realize that when Melville uses the word "sperm" here that he does not mean whale (or human) ejaculate, but instead means spermaceti, the white waxy substance from the sperm whale's head. It's not the constant mentioning of the creamy, white sperm oil that calls these images to mind, it is...well, the rest of this passage. Just read it and you'll see.

  3. Yep. Here it is.

    According to Nathaniel Philbrick's "In The Heart of the Sea," the reason the Sperm Whale is called the Sperm Whale is that its oil... resembles human semen.

    If I hadn't been lying down when I read that, I would have fallen over. I always thought the name "Sperm Whale" was just a coincidence that led to a lot of juvenile humor.

    Something about this illustration makes me think about the Mugwump Jism in the David Cronenberg version of William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch."

    A quick google search on that movie (which I haven't seen in 15 years) brought up this quote:

    "In fact, Mugwump Jism actually comes in two finely distinguished varieties, with similar effects. Strangely, what excites the Mugwumps (who are sentient bipeds of about the same size as humans, and appear to be some form of amphibian) to produce this drug is artistic creation, especially of a literary variety.

    "However, they do produce it even without this inspiration, albeit at a slower rate, and it is a sad but not uncommon sight in Interzone to see a chained Mugwump surrounded by a small circle of addicts sucking upon its excretions."

    Hmm... Not so different from the sperm oil, extracted through the violent and erotic process of whaling, bringing light to the lamps of land-dwelling authors, and inspiration to Melville for this very novel. Without the whale's "midnight oil" to burn, there'd have been a lot less literary creation in the 19th century.

    Of course, Burroughs was a drug-addled and pretentious git, so I wouldn't like to go comparing his work to Melville's too closely.

  4. Winston, thank you for the excellent and extremely well-written comment. There's a lot to address there.

    I had no idea that the Sperm Whale was named that way due to the resemblance of spermaceti to human semen. It's kind of fascinating in a rather juvenile way, and I think a lot of people would be quite shocked that what they joked about all through high school biology (and later...well into adulthood, at least for me) turned out to have some basis in truth. I've got Philbrick's book sitting on my shelf but I won't have time to read it until I finish this project. I suspect I will learn a great deal while reading it, and in a sense, deciding to postpone that reading until I am done here is a way of maintaining the often inaccurate but still deeply personal reaction to the novel that all of my illustrations represent.

    That bit about the Mugwump jism was truly bizarre. I remember seeing "Naked Lunch" once, in college, shortly after it came out. I was apparently just not intellectually ready for the film and I had never read the book because I marveled at the visuals but felt absolutely lost in terms of narrative. I do vividly remember the appearance of the Mugwumps though.

    You draw an extremely intriguing parallel between the pleasurable climax associated with jism - Mugwump or otherwise - and the violently erotic (homoerotic, perhaps?) act of killing and processing whales. I'm going to have to spend some time thinking about that. I've read "Moby-Dick" quite a few times, and mentioned that each reading revealed more and more to me. But here I feel I am delving into quite a bit of new territory. Seeing how the novel extends from Melville and beyond a complex, multi-layered narrative into an exploration of the author's psyche. I've read (and never been sure if I believed) that Melville was a closeted homosexual or bisexual man and that, later in life, he slipped in and out of sanity. Perhaps as an effect of this violent wrestling with his own sexual identity. But I've not read enough to really be able to separate the real research from the sensationalistic chaff.

    Again, thank you for what was certainly the most thought-provoking comment I've gotten on this blog, and in response to my own art. I've got a lot of mulling to do now.

  5. Thanks and, gosh. Careful. If you keep flattering me like this, I may never go away!

  6. Winston, your comments, brilliantly perceptive or otherwise, are always welcome here!


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