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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 81: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapters 74 and 75 The Sperm Whale’s Head—Contrasted View and The Right Whale’s Head—Contrasted View

“So long as a man’s eyes are open in the light, the act of seeing is involuntary; that is, he cannot then help mechanically seeing whatever objects are before him. Nevertheless, any one’s experience will teach him, that though he can take in an undiscriminating sweep of things at one glance, it is quite impossible for him, attentively, and completely, to examine any two things—however large or however small—at one and the same instant of time; never mind if they lie side by side and touch each other. But if you now come to separate these two objects, and surround each by a circle of profound darkness; then, in order to see one of them, in such a manner as to bring your mind to bear on it, the other will be utterly excluded from your contemporary consciousness.”




Methinks Ishmael/Melville is funning with us in this chapter! First, we are directed by Ishmael: “Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let us join them, and lay together our own.” For some reason, this is the time Ish wants us to examine the heads of the right whale and the sperm whale. So – okay? We do it.


We get comparisons of men, who can only see straight ahead of him, to the superior whales, with both eyes that “must simultaneously act; but is his brain so much more comprehensive, combining, and subtle than man’s, that he can at the same moment of time attentively examine two distinct prospects, one on one side of him, and the other in an exactly opposite direction?”


So we gaze upon both heads, are given a tour of the whale eyes and ears, and are to determine that in the respect of hearing and seeing, whales win.


Not sure what this chapter is supposed to give us except, perhaps, a reminder to man to really see what is in front of us. Smell and hear the world as well. Anyway – that’s my best guess as to the meaning of these chapters. ((Shrug))

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