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Bone (with a nod to Jasper Johns’s Ventriloquist) Ahab stands at the mast, ranting invective against the wind; his left-leg a whale-bone prosthesis pivoting in its notch on-deck. The creaking of bone on oak soothing and haunting the ship like the sullen rattle of an unseen snake in overgrown grass. At his desk, Ahab daydreams, wriggles his left toes, scratches his left knee, but as he swats a mosquito from his left calf, he’s jolted from his dream as his hand strikes unfeeling bone. Ahab hobbles out onto the dark deck, alone with the sea. No breeze but the ship glides along, lured by the phantom whale. While leaning against the bulwarks, searching the surface, whale-bone between flesh and oak, Ahab’s a bearded conduit for Tragicall Nature; shards of current shoot out from the gold doubloon on the mast. Omens, presentiments charge through human sinew, shoot through wood/world/oceanic membrane as the past flits up for an ungraspable second illuminating invisible whiteness impervious to surface. Within the frame: painted copies of paper American flags attached to a painting of a painted door enhanced by trompe l’oeil technique: shadow on a white vase. A black and white painting in the painting. Representations of representations riding the white whale. Foreboding jaw wide open: tungsten steel teeth. Massive might twisted, wound tight, ready to strike, speaking through mists of mind and epistemic murk that can only hope to glimpse yet never contain the vertical whale. An image is unhinged by yet another image. Ungraspable terror at the heart of the paint. C  2006 The Authors Journal compilation C  2006 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing Inc L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 85 Jasper Johns, Ventriloquist, 1983. Encaustic on canvas (196.5 × 133cm). c Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. By permission of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum purchase with funds by the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund. B O N E The whale, copied from Moser’s woodcut, copied from lithographs, words, the book Moby-Dick; copied from Melville’s life, whaling tales, encyclopedias, the Bible. Everything a copy of a copy. Voices thrown hither and thither by sources unknown. Unwilled speech of free will that cannot be found or MEAN. Till the whale comes towards us, open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides and beating the sea before him into a foam. Rick Mitchell California State University, Northridge A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 87 ...


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pp. 85-87
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