Today’s chapter is “Breakfast,” in which Ishmael watches Queequeg eschew “coffee and hot rolls” in favor of rare beefsteaks, “grappling the beefsteaks towards him” across the table with his harpoon.
But, first, Ishmael tells us that he “cherishe[s] no malice towards,” Peter Coffin, even though his “grinning landlord … had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.” Ishmael here uses the rhetorical figure litotes, a form of understatement that uses the negation of a negative to create emphasis, in the phrase “skylarking with me not a little” — meaning “skylarking a lot.” The use of understatement is typical of the humor of this chapter, in which Queequeg’s outlandish behavior is rendered as if it were banal, and of the book as a whole. And the idea of affirming through negation is typical as well of Ishmael’s epistemological method in the book, often sidling up to a truth with great verbosity rather than meeting it head on. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism in a world of cannibals and predatory white whales. The chapter lightly sounds a theme that will become important as the novel progress: adopting a comic view of the world as a counterweight to Ahab’s brooding fatalism.
Today’s image is Nourish (1984) by Boyd Webb. Visit the site to see a higher resolution version. The chapter is read by Musa Okwonga, a writer, poet, broadcaster, and musician, who blogs for the Independent.
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[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman’s History of New York]