Friday, July 6, 2018

July 6: Expansive Monster, "The Truman Show," Medical Procedure

Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale's head, I would have you, as a sensible physiologist, simply- particularly remark its front aspect, in all its compacted collectedness. I would have you investigate it now with the sole view of forming to yourself some unexaggerated, intelligent estimate of whatever battering-ram power may be lodged there. Here is a vital point; for you must either satisfactorily settle this matter with yourself, or for ever remain an infidel as to one of the most appalling, but not the less true events, perhaps anywhere to be found in all recorded history.

You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale, the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the water; you observe that the lower part of that front slopes considerably backwards, so as to furnish more of a retreat for the long socket which receives the boom-like lower jaw; you observe that the mouth is entirely under the head, much in the same way, indeed, as though your own mouth were entirely under your chin. Moreover you observe that the whale has no external nose; and that what nose he has- his spout hole- is on the top of his head; you observe that his eyes and ears are at the sides of his head; nearly one third of his entire length from the front. Wherefore, you must now have perceived that the front of the Sperm Whale's head is a dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender prominence of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you are now to consider that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping part of the front of the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; and not till you get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come to the full cranial development. So that this whole enormous boneless mass is as one wad. Finally, though, as will soon be revealed, its contents partly comprise the most delicate oil; yet, you are now to be apprised of the nature of the substance which so impregnably invests all that apparent effeminacy. In some previous place I have described to you how the blubber wraps the body of the whale, as the rind wraps an orange. Just so with the head; but with this difference: about the head this envelope, though not so thick is of a boneless toughness, inestimable by any man who has not handled it. The severest pointed harpoon, the sharpest lance darted by the strongest human arm, impotently rebounds from it. It is as though the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with horses' hoofs. I do not think that any sensation lurks in it.

Bethink yourself also of another thing. When two large, loaded Indian-men chance to crowd and crush towards each other in the docks, what do the sailors do? They do not suspend between them, at the point of coming contact, any merely hard substance, like iron or wood. No, they hold there a large, round wad of tow and cork, enveloped in the thickest and toughest of ox-hide. That bravely and uninjured takes the jam which would have snapped all their oaken handspikes and iron crow-bars. By itself this sufficiently illustrates the obvious fact I drive at. But supplementary to this, it has hypothetically occurred to me, that as ordinary fish possess what is called a swimming bladder in them, capable, at will, of distension or contraction; and as the Sperm Whale, as far as I know, has no such provision in him; considering, too, the otherwise inexplicable manner in which he now depresses his head altogether beneath the surface, and anon swims with it high elevated out of the water; considering the unobstructed elasticity of its envelope; considering the unique interior of his head; it has hypothetically occurred to me, I say, that those mystical lung-celled honeycombs there may possibly have some hitherto unknown and unsuspected connexion with the outer air, so as to be susceptible to atmospheric distension and contraction. If this be so, fancy the irresistibleness of that might, to which the most impalpable and destructive of all elements contributes.

Now, mark. Unerringly impelling this dead, impregnable, uninjurable wall, and this most buoyant thing within; there swims behind it all a mass of tremendous life, only to be adequately estimated as piled wood is- by the cord; and all obedient to one volition, as the smallest insect. So that when I shall hereafter detail to you all the specialities and concentrations of potency everywhere lurking in this expansive monster; when I shall show you some of his more inconsiderable braining feats; I trust you will have renounced all ignorant incredulity, and be ready to abide by this; that though the Sperm Whale stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixed the Atlantic with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of your eye-brow. For unless you own the whale, you are but a provincial and sentimentalist in Truth. But clear Truth is a thing for salamander giants only to encounter; how small the chances for the provincials then? What befell the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Lais?

This is one of those chapters that I find a little confounding.  Melville is striving to catalog and anatomize every inch of the sperm whale, tail to head.  Now, he has reached the "battering ram" of its head and its brain.  He's laying the framework for the rest of his tale, trying to counteract any disbelief that may arise as he finishes the story of Ahab and the White Whale.  It's called a willing suspension of disbelief.  It's sort of a contract between an author and his/her audience.

This morning, I had a medical procedure.  Nothing major.  However, as I was being poked and hooked up to monitors, I was thinking about the kind of trust that is exchanged between medical professionals and their patients.  It helped this morning that I've known many of the people taking care of me for some time.  Plus, I've had this procedure before, so there wasn't a whole lot of anxiety on my part.

Everything turned out fine.  The doctor was pleased with the results, although he took a few biopsies to be safe.  I'm not concerned at all.  I have a willing suspension of disbelief that this story is going to have a happy ending.  I went home, slept for a while longer because of the anesthesia.  Did nothing else of consequence, aside from helping my daughter and her boyfriend return some cans and bottles at the grocery store.

I often think of the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey.  He plays a man whose whole life has been scripted for him.  From birth to school to puberty to job to girlfriend to marriage and children, Truman is the unwitting star of his own reality TV show.  So, if anything bad happens to Truman, someone already knows what's going to happen.  His whole life is art.

Now, as social commentary, The Truman Show really strikes home in this social media age.  If it doesn't happen on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, it simply doesn't exist anymore.  The first thing that people do when they hear about somebody dying or getting engaged or having a child is to check some social media outlet or text.  At the moment, even the United States of America is being run by a reality TV star (and I use the term "star" ironically).  Donald Trump lives by the Tweet.

It's an interesting idea to think that my life is somehow all laid out in a script, like Truman's.  That God is some kind of television producer/director, and I am the star of his show.  So, today's episode of the Saint Marty Show was titled "The EGD Part Two:  The Acid Reflux Redux."  It was brought to you by Prilosec, for 24-hour relief from your heartburn.  Stay tuned for coming attractions from tomorrow's episode titled "The Lawnmower Man."

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for nurses and doctors and good results.

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