A Sub-Sub Librarian
(A cut-up text using Hermann Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’)
I promise nothing complete; A dreadful storm comes on the world, a great hurricane, typhoon, blood and thunder for what seemed ages piled on ages. Afterwards the sun shining, steam smoking, melting icebergs. People were worried to death. Oh, the world! This system would not proceed, the ruins of burnt ground were lost, worn and wrinkled to the swelling flood. What a multitude of things, both large and small, were lost beneath the green fields gone, north, east, south and west devoured. All creatures were lost, lifeless, neither the unicorn, caterpillar nor butterfly were living, and oil energy, buried. Indeed, hundreds of men had been so killed. Thus, the breaking-up of iceberg, wrapped the outer world in water. There was nothing, nothing but water. Drowning mountains became island. Thus, poverty-stricken people, with disease and little or nothing, survived the flood, found ships and mountainous island peaks to pile themselves upon. After sunset the world was now wrapped in outer darkness. People proceed to curiously carve settlement, to set down a little domestic peculiarity on highland, making wigwam and hammock upon the hill-side blue, with a view of making the world a small degree civilised. Nevertheless, ere long, the divers went down under the sea, picking up whatever they could clutch. Thus, the earth puffed out great clouds of fire among the islands, the gold brow plumbs the blue in this practical world. All the candles that burnt round concluded in technical mechanical devices. Meanwhile, imperial island King Emperors conquered the watery world. The island people had metropolitan superiority over the sea-peasant. So, life dropped in to its place, the system returning. Consider all this, the masterless ocean overruns the globe, the sea’s landlessness, no shadow of tree, the watery loneliness of life, the continual repetition of fish as food, the fresh water low and consequently death from starvation, conflict with seas or winds, to live in the open air, that wild madness was life. So, man may brag of science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment, the sea will insult and murder him. Yet we resumed business, the oil business of whaling. The Chief Harpooner reigned supreme. Civilised ocean kings and empires set up whale departments, wherein blubber-boilers, butchers and harpooners reaped harvest of spermaceti and ambergris.
After half a century of cutting up the fresh blubber, spiralising and boiling out manufactured sperm oil and eating whale-steak you will find few whales in the lawless seas. Exploring expeditions happened. People dived and discovered, at the bottom of the sea, the Tuileries beneath the yellowish incrustations overgrowing the gardens of the deep, a marble sepulchre with the silken pearl coloured membrane, glossy as bridal satins. The curious internal structure was lung-celled honeycombs. The seamen swam through libraries through the long Vatican in the subterraneous monument, avenues of books, the ancient authors Ptolemy, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Goethe, Edmund Burke… Those who have written a book, spoken a speech, poet, philosopher and artist, bethink yourself between them. There’s all sorts, an inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, amber, antique crystal goblets, a bottle of Bordeaux, old Orleans whiskey, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, a great telescope, canes, umbrella-sticks, and handles to riding-whips. There are mountains of these fine things, chambers of darkness, a hopeless, endless twinkling romantic landscape, the expression of the madness of men. Seal up any human thing supposed to be complete, retained in that reservoir of air, with all the paintings of Europe and Grecian sculptures. A gallery a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight.
All those fine things, which to me seem important, were granted to the classic scholar, the Sub-Sub, who must catalogue them, to cultivate a historical record of mankind, the sub with an elated grandeur and hard work makes the basis for a regular system of all sorts of things with departments, subdivisions and folios to attempt a clear classification of mankind and nature and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing. She lived and worked in the inglorious bowels of the earth at the bottom of the deep ocean. She penetrated far into the interior and found many a gem. Dwelling in the blackness, silent, with one candelabra soon leads to a white, silken creature whose lulled into such an opium-like listlessness. There’s no soothing touch of human being for her in the deep. Each sub remained in this situation until death. They then renewed their sub – one is subsequently brought down and adieu to you.
Meanwhile, the whale fishery was near out of oil and ambergris. The intense greenness of the sea, empty of whales, the fire burning low, tormented to madness, the whalemen, violently hunted the highly prized spermaceti, the universal commotion to secure the whale oil by every boat in hot chase was riotous. Thus, human bloodshed, was to take hold of the world, as people had the fear of death, as oil and bloodthirsty pirates chased, seemed only intent on annihilating. Every boat continued her cruising, but that common decency of human kind was almost wholly gone. While Imperial Emperor and King had ships of floating furniture, had their customary dinner of Persian sherbet, their ivory-inlaid table and Ottoman, could take a glass of wine, had gold and silver, royalty, grandeur, for some there is no life, except that rocking life imparted by the sea. To have whale-bone den, cod and mackerel, a candle, boat-knife, sea charts, compasses, rifles, to be alive at all events was great and suicides a not uncommon thing. Inward they turned upon the soul, to lose oneself in such inhuman solitude.
Threading its way out from among battle came the poet Star, sailing in the old craft, nimble as a cat, she is amphibious. She did not use whale oil, but blazes fire out of the branches she grows from the odorous cedar on her island, a few green sprouts, full of hope and fruition. With concern for the great whales of the sea, keeping them living and breathing was her business. A poetical Pagan, purposely living green, and the soft feeling of the human sprawling about, sailing out, out, off from mankind to all the ends of the earth. Star would take care of earth and whale and endeavoured to prevail upon this system of the wolfish world. Thus, by day to be sailing through boundless fields of blue water in a new-made world, and when dusk descended, the starred and stately nights seemed the warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing ball-room of the whole world. After several years dancing through a calm tropical sea, her boat and whales, tranquilly swimming through the water, she had explored seas and archipelagos. In representing the whale, Star was enemy of the harpooner. The evil-blazing continued more savage on a fierce run. Star sailing away, from the chase with the herd, the small tame cows and calves to the old South Sea. Every year she went to the lovely island, her Aoraki, by the vivid green of old Cockatoo Point. Star took care, planting a great tree or two, while taking wood. The harpooners, they were running, rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping towards her on the old Zealand sea. Star parts eastward from the islands one transparent blue morning. I take it from the books, she kept account of sea-life. But ere long from the vivid sunlight, sat Star rocking beneath the counterpane lounging on the chair in her South American poncho she slid to a grand snoozing dream, ornamented at the edges with little tingling waves. The counterpane was of patch-work, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles and this gown on Star, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt, you could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together. Thus, temporarily blurred, unseen, but this ignorant infernal harpooner, suddenly he came upon the boat full of the fire of the hunt. She saw and lightening-like in movements, swings the rifle from the wall. Still, she’s over-manned. Those butchers killed lifeless the only starry dream, quickly they toss Star overboard in that mid-day sea azure. These harpooners found log-books, they were submerged with me, the last person down, a sub-sub trapped, in this darkened labyrinth. They killed the herd of whales to yield good oil. But sooner or later inevitably the last drop was gone, and without any oil battle kept kicking at this world. Man was doomed and made mad, and cannibalistically developed.
The end of it, I do not know. As bubbles that swim on the beaker’s brim, a powerless panic methinks, the round watery world has become white, and that great mass of human death floats on and on. I say I, myself, will slid off into death. So, fare thee well and adieu to you.
Róisín Power Hackett is an Irish visual artist, poet and art writer. She has a BA History of Art and Fine Art (Paint) and an MA in Art in the Contemporary World, an art writing masters, both from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She has been published in The Runt, The Bohemyth, Rise and Repeal (Abortion Rights Campaign) Magazine, The Weary Blues, Glitter Stump, Pamphlet Magazine (Netherlands), Skylight 47, Mama Grande Press, Word Legs, Minus 9 Squared‘s Anthology, Minus Nine Squared. Róisín has also published essays, articles and reviews on contemporary art. More of her work can be found here https://roisinphackett.wordpress.com/