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#209 :: Harpoon

September 5, 2004

You can take the hard route as I did, and slog through Melville’s brilliant, infuriatingly turgid and ultimately genius Moby-Dick twice, (once in college, and once during the go-go days of the dotcom era entirely in airport lounges on a PDA). Or you can understand man’s conquest and slaughter of whales by hefting this harpoon in your hand. The coating of rust adds a rasping edge to its lone great fang, undulled by time or use or neglect. The shaft and binding are gone, but the tip remains – about three and a half pounds of hard, dense iron, with a spring-metal barb meant to slip past bone, flip open and lodge until the great beast could be brought alongside. My home state was built on the blood and bones of leviathans, the craft of Yankee smiths who turned out cold, hard tools like this. Read the book. It’s worth your time to get knee-deep in blood and blubber and histrionic prose, to understand how hard people once lived.

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