Ambergris

March 3, 2009

I have resisted blogging.  It’s too popular.  The internet has enough mush without my awkward starts and stops.  I put up a few posts on my now weed-choked Myspace account, but too many recovering sorostitutes with web-cams wanting to be my friend milked my patience and my checkbook.  Just kidding.

Obviously, I caved.  I need a writing rhythm.  I don’t want to look back two years from now and realize I’ve neglected my passion.  My Myers-Briggs profile is ENFP.  Apparently, I get very excited about dreaming up projects but leave them half-finished on a hardrive or dusty in a journal at my parents’ house.  Mr. Myers and Mrs. Briggs also informed me that if I follow through, the results can be spectacular.  So, here’s to spectacle.

I hope people will read what I write.  Why put writing on the World Wide Web if I don’t intend for strangers to read it?  I hope my writing will be worth their time.  

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 92 in Moby Dick, which I read for the first time this past summer:

“Ambergris is soft, waxy, and so highly fragrant and spicy, that it is largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious candles, hair-powders, and pomatum.  The Turks use it in cooking, and also carry it to Mecca, for the same purpose that frankincense is carried to St. Peter’s in Rome.  Some wine merchants drop a few grains into claret, to flavor it.

Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is. By some, ambergris is supposed to be the cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale.

…Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.”

Melville can be a bit long-winded.  Let me recap.  Either as a result of indigestion or to aid in digestion, sperm whales develop a substance called ambergris that some enterprising dandies in Europe and beyond began using as a fixative in perfume to make the fragrance last longer.  

What does this have to do with anything? Ambergris is to sperm whales what belching is to college-age males.  Yet, ambergris sells for $10 or more per gram, and may be in lumps of 50kg (100lbs.) or more.  Do the math.  Ambergris is precious.  Reread the last sentence of the Melville passage.  Our suffering becomes our glory.  Our suffering is precious because of what it becomes, what we become if we cling, as I do,  to the belief that suffering can be redemptive.

I don’t want to suggest that I have the answer to the problem of suffering in the world.  “Why?” I have asked God.  He met me with silence.  We have two responses.  We can dismiss God entirely, or we can cling to Him as Job did.

russ1

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5 Responses to “Ambergris”

  1. Austin L. Church Says:

    I love Ahab, but I was disappointed by the book as a whole. Maybe I was the victim of my own expectations.

  2. Erin Says:

    I have no deep thoughts to add, but I thought it was interesting that Noah is about to finish Moby Dick, his first read of it too.

  3. Austin L. Church Says:

    I’m glad you’ve gained something by reading my writing, Rebecca. Thank you for saying something. Levon and I are friends. I took that picture of him one Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.

  4. Rebekah Says:

    I enjoy reading your blog daily. I find your perspectives thought provoking and enlightening. I found it through Levon’s blog…and I notice his picture included.

  5. Will Rucker Says:

    Hey Austin, this is a really profound post. It really provoked some thoughts for me,

    things that I have thought before

    but this time more intensely I suppose.

    After reading the Moby Dick passage, I couldn’t help picture Christ on a donkey even before reading what you wrote following that passage. I just pictured Christ as the worthless carpenter that so many people perceived him as, riding in to town on his donkey, and I thought about how I would view ambergris that way if I was told it was found in the belly of a whale without being told it helps perfume last longer.

    I’ve been keeping up with your blog ever since Ethan showed it to me a few weeks ago. I am always impressed with the way you write man. Hey, I just put up a painting I somewhat finished if you wanna see: http://truthfulmood.blogspot.com/2009/03/painting-1.html


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