Sunday, November 4, 2012

Midwifery and Boxing

Reading Moby Dick the other night, I came across a passage that I had to share with Tricia, Evan's wife. She's a doula (like a midwife), and she was also a coxswain on her undergraduate crew team. I thought you all might like it too. The scene is that Tashtego, a harpooner, has fallen into the cleaned out head of a whale. The head falls from the side of the ship and begins to sink into the ocean. Queequeg, another harpooner, jumps in after him:

"Now, how had this noble rescue been accomplished? Why, diving after the slowly descending head, Queequeg with his keen sword had made side lunges near its bottom, so as to scuttle a large hole there; then dropping his sword, had thrust his long arm far inwards and upwards, and so hauled out our poor Tash by the head. He averred, that upon first thrusting in for him, a leg was presented; but well knowing that that was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great trouble; - he had thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and toss, had wrought a somerset upon the Indian [Tashtego]; so that with the next trial, he came forth in the good old way - head foremost. As for the great head itself, that was doing as well as could be expected.

And thus, through the courage and great skill in obstetrics of Queequeg, the deliverance, or rather, delivery of Tashtego, was successfully accomplished, in the teeth, too, of the most untoward and apparently hopeless impediments; which is a lesson by no means to be forgotten. Midwifery should be taught in the same course with fencing and boxing, riding and rowing."


  1. I have a long-standing reading "competition" with a friend. In short, we have to read a number of literary classics before the other guy. To the victor go the usual spoils of eternal bragging rights.

    Moby Dick is on the list, but it's one that we've both been putting off... for fear that it is mind-numbingly boring. My sources tell me that it contains 90-page descriptions of whaling ships. Are you in a position to disabuse me of these prejudices?

    1. I remember your competition, yes. I've been working on it all summer although I'm about two thirds through. I'm a pretty slow reader, but my additional excuses are the start of school and that I've finished two other books over the same period.

      Yes, lots of background. I found that interesting, and he intersperses it with other discussions. It's not like reading an encyclopedia. I read it (or at least a lot of it... I don't remember if I finished it) back in high school, and what I've been impressed with is how funny Melville is, and also the interesting little observations on life that I didn't appreciate as much. I like it a lot.

      I also have been terrible about reading fiction - the fact that I've kept with this through 450 pages in and of itself says something.


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