Chapter 7: Day 10: The Chapel
“Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.”
Ishmael is still in the Chapel and tries to break free from the gloom the names of the dead on the wall have created and reflect instead on what death really is. So many Platonic allusions in this section of M-D that I am going to have to consider this passage more critically over time.
I remember this passage from previous readings. I remember it because I am frightened of death – of the jackals. It is hard enough for humans to imagine what our place in this world looks like. As for the next world? Ishmael sums things up by saying we humans can only look at the world in one way, but it is most likely that after we die, a whole new reality will dawn on us. The human brain can’t possibly grasp the secrets of existence. The best we can ever do is see reality the only way our minds allow us – like through the water. Thick water.
We are limited in our vision. Like the oyster we see through a filmy version of truth. So instead of dwelling on Death, Ish decides to leave his future to fate. Like the other seamen, some who have gone to a watery grave, Ishmael will let those thoughts go and do the best he can with his ‘true substance.’
Philosophical Ishmael makes my head hurt, but I also think he has some points. I’m still with you, Ish.