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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in Moby Dick (3)

Tuesday
Jul132010

In Which We Neaten Each Crease

Those Marble Composition Books

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

On that first date we fell asleep watching Bottle Rocket. The poem ended one line after as I described his tissue paper thin t-shirt that I borrowed for the night.

I was twenty-two and high the first and only time I have ever written a love poem. With perceived eloquence I sat on my bed and remembered a first date from years ago, detailing each bit chronologically on a piece of paper I have now lost. Using the kind of scrutiny one might assume when proving a point, I produced a poem that offered little attention to feelings or the fumbling beginnings of closeness: shaky eye contact, commonalities, taut and clumsy flirtation, cool smiles, heartbeat. Instead, I rattled off a joyless inventory of the night; a tally of what I had ordered, what he had worn, which album we had argued about, and on what street we shared a kiss. My bias for pragmatic writing outdid my hope for something more sentimental (!) and meaningful. This was a list disguised as a poem, and worst of all, I took pleasure in its accuracy, persuaded that precise recollection might yield more tenderness than dopey hearts and shooting teenage inclinations.

My habit for list keeping could be isolated to a single memory, like connecting someone’s command and sway to that first group exercise in the fourth grade in which there was a time keeper, a secretary, and a leader, and where we were taught the verb to delegate, or, like tracing versatility to resourceful, creative parents who despite moving the family numerous times in earlier years, were quick to design the notion of home around a single and consistent possession or tradition; the giant Dieffenbachia plant, banana fritters after school, or sandalwood soap in all of the bathrooms. In my case, I’m sure there was an adult—a friend’s mother, a piano teacher, most likely a woman who could French braid and who kept curative distractions and snacks in her purse, and that I ruefully wished was my own mother—this same woman, hoping to quiet whatever anxiety was overpowering me at the time, handed me a pad and pencil and said, Here, Durga. Make a list.

I am unclear if this likely compounded memory mushroomed into a character trait, though part of me believes that my impulse is largely intuitive and present in those who, from very early on are bound by some need to record and restore, and seek pattern, as if preoccupied with some expectation of defeat.

As a kid, I often spied on everyday happenings, assuming a Harriet Welsch compulsion to fabricate intrigue in nominal things: decoding neighbors' license plates, perceiving foreign accents, supposing ulterior purpose from things that unscrewed, appeared fancy, or were unmarked. I collected long lists of notes that shared zero relation but were somehow kindred because I had decided on that day to collect them in a blue spiral notebook on a page marked Thursday, June 5th, 1995.

I was nine and couldn't steady the length of our aluminum pool skimmer. I remember the feeling of cold water running down my arms as I tried to navigate the net before giving up and asking my brother for help. I sat and watched as he scooped and cleaned the leaves that had fallen from our neighbor’s Maple tree. The sound of the pole’s metal din as it scraped the sides of our pool was very specific and I haven’t heard it since. Years later as I scrambled to find a half-filled notebook and recycle it for a new class, I discovered the page on which I had seemingly indexed our entire backyard. I had accounted for everything: the chipped shed door that revealed an old coat of aquamarine, the fat azalea bush, the smell of chlorine, the feel of wet cement under my bare feet, and the sound of the skimmer as it shaved the side our pool. Matching that uniquely stark shift of entering a place where quiet is obliged — the library, a museum, a church — I read the list over.

Though I was happy to find this anecdote from my childhood, I was troubled by its judicious and ordinary range, but more so by its delusive expectation of custody...and loss? Still, these concerns pass just as easily as they present themselves. Our childhood, a maudlin alloy of lapse memory and possession: my cursive handwriting was once bulky, round and sweet; the bottom corner of the page still curls where I pressed hard on my palm and wrote in black ballpoint.

Sometimes hidden among my lists were a build-up of details that hinted at change — notes on a distracted family dinner, unusual pairing-offs of parent with child; splitting up to park the car, buy the tickets, save the seats — and by and by, clear signs of my mother and father’s eventual divorce.

Children list-keepers expect filigree from collected facts. They care deeply about their first family tree assignment in school, and though their T-shaped diagrams might pile awkwardly to one side of the page, lopsided with a wing of extended cousins or half-siblings, its carefulness and fidelity to specifics embodies the kind of exhaustive design that inhabits their everyday. Baited by Haeckel's lithographs, by grandparent stuff, and by cutaways in DK Eyewitness travel guides, children list-keepers are yanked by asides, labyrinths, and stories of missing kids and mysterious abductions. Envious of those with photographic memory, children list-keepers will anxiously store incidentals that might later guild together. Their minds: a cherry wood curio cabinet filled with doodads and trinkets, invaluable for future analogies, and called upon years later in college when a professor assigns the ratios and ornament amid expanse of Moby Dick.

It was in my literature classes that my hankering for cataloguing was put to use. I would copy a novel's first sentence only to hear its echo in Part IV or Part V. I would predict romantic pairings based on how a woman's dress was depicted — not its cloth nor its color — but how it moved at her feet or sat on her shoulders. I kept notes on recurring characters, peculiar posture, food pageantry, and individuals who never removed their gloves or their hats. I especially took to narratives where childhood was imparted with an overture-type clairvoyance. Those were my favorite.

Instead of flagging pages with post-its, I dutifully copied entire passages into notebooks that I would return to when writing a paper or when trying hopelessly to retrieve whatever it was in that particular sentence or pair of words that had originally wooed me. Sometimes my reason was far less calculated: a Dickens character that I imagined as a Tintin character, and that I'd share with my friend, Tait, via text message on my walk back to the dorm. Studying literature paired the utility with the coincidence of list keeping; something I had seldom enjoyed before. Because my first impulse has always been to write it down, whatever it is, immediate function has been a rarity and meaning has presented itself in belated, sometimes confused, bounty.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about Daddy Longlegs. She twitters here and tumbls here.

"Our Composition Book" - Wild Nothing (mp3)

"My Angel Lonely" - Wild Nothing (mp3)

"Chinatown" - Wild Nothing (mp3)

Wednesday
Apr282010

In Which We Really Hope It Doesn't Come To This

First Fact

by CHARLES OLSON

Herman Melville was born in New York August 1, 1819, and on the 12th of that month the Essex, a well-found whaler of 238 tons, sailed from Nantucket with George Pollard, Jr. as captain, Owen Chase and Matthew Joy mates, 6 of her complement of 20 men Negroes, bound for the Pacific Ocean, victualled and provided for two years and a half.

A year and three months later, on November 20, 1820, just south of the equator in longitude 119 West, this ship, on a calm day, with the sun at ease, was struck head on twice by a bull whale, a spermeceti about 80 feet long, and with her bows stove in, filled and sank.

Her twenty men set out in three open whaleboats for the coast of South America 2000 miles away. They had bread (200 lb a boat), water (65 gallons), and some Galapagos turtles. Although they were at the time no great distance from Tahiti, they were ignorant of the temper of the natives and feared cannibalism.

Their first extreme sufferings commenced a week later when they made the mistake of eating, in order to make their supply last, some bread which had got soaked by the sea's wash. To alleviate the thirst which followed, they killed a turtle for its blood. The sight revolted the stomachs of the men.

In the first weeks of December their lips began to crack and swell, and a glutinous saliva collected in the mouth, intolerable to the taste.

Their bodies commenced to waste away, and possessed so little strength they had to assist each other in peforming some of the body's weakest functions. Barnacles collected on the boats' bottoms, and they tore them off for food. A few flying fish struck their sails, fell into the boats, and were swallowed raw.

After a month of the open sea they were gladdened at the sight of a small island which they took to be Ducie but was Elizabeth Isle. Currents and storm had taken them a thousand miles off their course.

They found water on the island after a futile search for it from rocks which they picked at, where moisture was, with their hatchets. It was discovered in a small spring in the sand at the extreme verge of ebbtide. They could gather it only at low water. The rest of the time the sea flowed over the spring to the depth of six feet.

Twenty men could not survive on the island and, to give themselves the chance to reach the mainlan before the supplies they had from the ship should be gone, sixteen of them put back to sea December 27th.

The three who stayed, Thomas Chapple of Plymouth, England and Williams Wright and Seth Weeks of Barnstable, Mass., took shelter in caves among the rocks. In one they found eight human skeletons, side by side as though they had lain down and died together.

The only food the three had was a sort of blackbird which they caught when at roost in trees and whose blood they sucked. With the meat of the bird, and a few eggs, they chewed a plant tasting like peppergrass which they found in the crevices of the rocks. They survived.

 

The three boats, with the seventeen men divided among them, moved under the sun across ocean together until the 12th of January when, during the night, the one under the command of Owen Chase, First Mate, became separated from the other two.

Already one of the seventeen had died, Matthew Joy, Second Mate. He had been buried January 10th. When Charles Shorter, Negro, out of the same boat as Joy, died on January 23rd, his body was shared among the men of that boat and the Captain's, and eaten.

Two days more and Lawson Thomas, Negro, died and was eaten. Again two days and Isaac Shepherd, Negro, died and was eaten. The bodies were roasted to dryness by means of fires kindled on the ballast sand at the bottom of the boats.

Two days later, the 29th, during the night, the boat which had been Matthew Joy's got separated from the captain and was never heard of again. When she disappeared three men still lived, William Bond, Negro, Obed Hendricks, and Joseph West.

In the Captain's boat now alone on the sea, four men kept on. The fifth, Samuel Reed, Negro, had been eaten for strength at his death the day before. Within three days these four men, calculating the miles they had to go, decided to draw two lots, one to choose who should die that the others might live, and one to choose who should kill him. The youngest, Owen Coffin, serving on his first voyage as a cabin boy to learn his family's trade, lost. It became the duty of Charles Ramsdale, also of Nantucket, to shoot him. He did, and he, the Captain and Brazilla Ray, Nantucket, ate him.

That was February 1, 1821. On February 11th, Ray died himself, and was eaten. On February 23rd, the Captain and Ramsdale were picked up by the Nantucket whaleship Dauphin, Captain Zimri Coffin.

The men in the third boat, under the command of Owen Chase, the first mate, held out the longest. They had become separated from the other two boats before hunger and thirst had riven any of the Essex's men to extremity. Owen Chase's crew had buried their first death, Richard Peterson, Negro, on January 20th.

It was not until February 8th, when Isaac Cole died in convulsions, that Owen Chase was forced, some two weeks later than in the other boats, to propose to his two men, Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson, that they should eat of their own flesh. It happened to them this once, in this way: they separated the limbs from the body and cut all the flesh from the bones, after which they opened up the body, took out the heart, closed the body again, sewed it up as well as they could, and committed it to the sea.

They drank of the heart and ate it. They ate a few pieces of the flesh and hung the rest, cut in thin strips, to dry in the sun. They made a fire, as the Captain had, and roasted some to serve them the next day.

The next morning they found that the flesh in the sun had spoiled, had turned green. They made another fire to cook it to prevent its being wholly lost. For five days, they lived on it, not using of their remnant of bread.

They recruited their strength on the flesh, eating it in small peices with salt water. By the 14th they were able to make a few attempts at guiding the boat with an oar.

On the 15th the flesh was all comsumed and they had left the last of their bread, two sea biscuits. Their limbs had swelled during the last two days and now began to pain them excessively. They judged they still had 300 miles to go.

On the the 17th the settling of a cloud led Chase to think land was near. Notwithstanding, the next morning, Nickerson, 17 years of age, after having bailed the boat, lay down, drew a piece of canvas up over him, and said that he wished to die immediately. On the 19th, at 7 in the mornning, Lawrence saw a sail at seven miles, and the three of them were taken up by the brig Indian of London, Captain William Crozier.

It is not known what happened in later years to the three men who survived the island. But the four Nantucket men, who, with the Captain, survived the sea, all became captains themselves. They died old, Nickerson at 77, Ramsdale, who was 19 on the Essex, at 75, Chase who was 24, at 73, Lawrence who was 30, at 80, and Pollard, the captain, who had been 31 at the time, lived until 1870, age 81.

The Captain, on his return to Nantucket, took charge of the ship Two Brothers, another whaler, and five months from home struck a reef to the westward of the Sandwich Islands. The ship was a total loss, and Pollard never went to sea again. At the time of the second wreck he said: "Now I am utterly ruined. No owner will ever trust me with a whaler again, for all will say I am an unlucky man." He ended his life as the night watch of Nantucket town, protecting the houses and people in the dark.

Owen Chase was always fortunate. In 1832 the Charles Carrol was built for him on Brant Point, Nantucket, and he filled her twice, each time with 2600 barrels of sperm oil. In his last years he took to hiding food in the attic of his house.

Charles Olson died in 1970. The preceding text is excerpted from Call Me Ishmael, Olson's great study on Melville.

"Huibuh" - Ellen Allien (mp3)

"Dream" - Ellen Allien (mp3)

"You" - Ellen Allien (mp3)

The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale's heart.

—Paley's Theology (one of Melville's 80 epigraphs for Moby Dick)

Friday
Apr032009

In Which 20 Men Set Out On The Essex

sperm-whale"The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale's heart. —Paley's Theology" (one of Melville's 80 epigraphs for Moby Dick)

First Fact

by CHARLES OLSON

Herman Melville was born in New York August 1, 1819, and on the 12th of that month the Essex, a well-found whaler of 238 tons, sailed from Nantucket with George Pollard, Jr. as captain, Owen Chase and Matthew Joy mates, 6 of her complement of 20 men Negroes, bound for the Pacific Ocean, victualled and provided for two years and a half.

charles-olsonOlson, bird, and wife

A year and three months later, on November 20, 1820, just south of the equator in longitude 119 West, this ship, on a calm day, with the sun at ease, was struck head on twice by a bull whale, a spermeceti about 80 feet long, and with her bows stove in, filled and sank.

whale-sinks-ship

Her twenty men set out in three open whaleboats for the coast of South America 2000 miles away. They had bread (200 lb a boat), water (65 gallons), and some Galapagos turtles. Although they were at the time no great distance from Tahiti, they were ignorant of the temper of the natives and feared cannibalism.

galapagos-turtle

Their first extreme sufferings commenced a week later when they made the mistake of eating, in order to make their supply last, some bread which had got soaked by the sea's wash. To alleviate the thirst which followed, they killed a turtle for its blood. The sight revolted the stomachs of the men.

turtle-blood

In the first weeks of December their lips began to crack and swell, and a glutinous saliva collected in the mouth, intolerable to the taste.

Their bodies commenced to waste away, and possessed so little strength they had to assist each other in peforming some of the body's weakest functions. Barnacles collected on the boats' bottoms, and they tore them off for food. A few flying fish struck their sails, fell into the boats, and were swallowed raw.

After a month of the open sea they were gladdened at the sight of a small island which they took to be Ducie but was Elizabeth Isle. Currents and storm had taken them a thousand miles off their course.

They found water on the island after a futile search for it from rocks which they picked at, where moisture was, with their hatchets. It was discovered in a small spring in the sand at the extreme verge of ebbtide. They could gather it only at low water. The rest of the time the sea flowed over the spring to the depth of six feet.

Twenty men could not survive on the island and, to give themselves the chance to reach the mainlan before the supplies they had from the ship should be gone, sixteen of them put back to sea December 27th.

The three who stayed, Thomas Chapple of Plymouth, England and Williams Wright and Seth Weeks of Barnstable, Mass., took shelter in caves among the rocks. In one they found eight human skeletons, side by side as though they had lain down and died together.skeletons-embracing

The only food the three had was a sort of blackbird which they caught when at roost in trees and whose blood they sucked. With the meat of the bird, and a few eggs, they chewed a plant tasting like peppergrass which they found in the crevices of the rocks. They survived.

The three boats, with the seventeen men divided among them, moved under the sun across ocean together until the 12th of January when, during the night, the one under the command of Owen Chase, First Mate, became separated from the other two.

Already one of the seventeen had died, Matthew Joy, Second Mate. He had been buried January 10th. When Charles Shorter, Negro, out of the same boat as Joy, died on January 23rd, his body was shared among the men of that boat and the Captain's, and eaten.

Two days more and Lawson Thomas, Negro, died and was eaten. Again two days and Isaac Shepherd, Negro, died and was eaten. The bodies were roasted to dryness by means of fires kindled on the ballast sand at the bottom of the boats.

Two days later, the 29th, during the night, the boat which had been Matthew Joy's got separated from the captain and was never heard of again. When she disappeared three men still lived, William Bond, Negro, Obed Hendricks, and Joseph West.

In the Captain's boat now alone on the sea, four men kept on. The fifth, Samuel Reed, Negro, had been eaten for strength at his death the day before. Within three days these four men, calculating the miles they had to go, decided to draw two lots, one to choose who should die that the others might live, and one to choose who should kill him. The youngest, Owen Coffin, serving on his first voyage as a cabin boy to learn his family's trade, lost. It became the duty of Charles Ramsdale, also of Nantucket, to shoot him. He did, and he, the Captain and Brazilla Ray, Nantucket, ate him.

whales

That was February 1, 1821. On February 11th, Ray died himself, and was eaten. On February 23rd, the Captain and Ramsdale were picked up by the Nantucket whaleship Dauphin, Captain Zimri Coffin.

The men in the third boat, under the command of Owen Chase, the first mate, held out the longest. They had become separated from the other two boats before hunger and thirst had riven any of the Essex's men to extremity. Owen Chase's crew had buried their first death, Richard Peterson, Negro, on January 20th.

It was not until February 8th, when Isaac Cole died in convulsions, that Owen Chase was forced, some two weeks later than in the other boats, to propose to his two men, Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson, that they should eat of their own flesh. It happened to them this once, in this way: they separated the limbs from the body and cut all the flesh from the bones, after which they opened up the body, took out the heart, closed the body again, sewed it up as well as they could, and committed it to the sea.

They drank of the heart and ate it. They ate a few pieces of the flesh and hung the rest, cut in thin strips, to dry in the sun. They made a fire, as the Captain had, and roasted some to serve them the next day.

The next morning they found that the flesh in the sun had spoiled, had turned green. They made another fire to cook it to prevent its being wholly lost. For five days, they lived on it, not using of their remnant of bread.

They recruited their strength on the flesh, eating it in small peices with salt water. By the 14th they were able to make a few attempts at guiding the boat with an oar.

On the 15th the flesh was all comsumed and they had left the last of their bread, two sea biscuits. Their limbs had swelled during the last two days and now began to pain them excessively. They judged they still had 300 miles to go.

raft-of-the-medusa

On the the 17th the settling of a cloud led Chase to think land was near. Notwithstanding, the next morning, Nickerson, 17 years of age, after having bailed the boat, lay down, drew a piece of canvas up over him, and said that he wished to die immediately. On the 19th, at 7 in the mornning, Lawrence saw a sail at seven miles, and the three of them were taken up by the brig Indian of London, Captain William Crozier.

It is not known what happened in later years to the three men who survived the island. But the four Nantucket men, who, with the Captain, survived the sea, all became captains themselves. They died old, Nickerson at 77, Ramsdale, who was 19 on the Essex, at 75, Chase who was 24, at 73, Lawrence who was 30, at 80, and Pollard, the captain, who had been 31 at the time, lived until 1870, age 81.

The Captain, on his return to Nantucket, took charge of the ship Two Brothers, another whaler, and five months from home struck a reef to the westward of the Sandwich Islands. The ship was a total loss, and Pollard never went to sea again. At the time of the second wreck he said: "Now I am utterly ruined. No owner will ever trust me with a whaler again, for all will say I am an unlucky man." He ended his life as the night watch of Nantucket town, protecting the houses and people in the dark.

night-watchman

Owen Chase was always fortunate. In 1832 the Charles Carrol was built for him on Brant Point, Nantucket, and he filled her twice, each time with 2600 barrels of sperm oil. In his last years he took to hiding food in the attic of his house.

Charles Olson died in 1970. The preceding text is excerpted from Call me Ishmael, Olson's great study on Melville.

AFTERNOON TUNES FOR CASTAWAYS

"Islands" - Cat Power (mp3)

"West Palm Beach" - Bonnie "Prince" Billy - (mp3)

"Blueberry Boat" - Fiery Furnaces (mp3)

"Boat Drinks" - Jimmy Buffet (mp3)