The Spirit-Spout

(chapters 35–51), painting


The painting presents itself as a stage with wings. To the right, Nelson’s statue, an Egyptian obelisk, a minaret, a whaleboat, and the Atlas-Agena rocket with the Apollo capsule like a crow’s nest on top of it. In front, Osiris, a white monk and a shark. On the left, from the back to the front, the mast-head, the statues of Baal and Perseus, a boxer and – together with the ibis in the middle – a second shark, constituting a symmetrical repoussoir. The three-dimensional effect is reinforced by the window in the middle with an erect penis underneath an arc of stars and the summer constellations, which are depicted on the golden doubloon. The dark background is formed by the global whaling map.

Happiness resides here

‘Hic habitat felicitas’, the text and image of a gable stone of a brothel in Pompeii is a reference to the ship’s forecastle and the myth of Osiris. Across from that, we see the tarot card of Moby Dick, The Female Pope. On top, the anaconda refers to Ahab, just like the statues of Baal with the club and Perseus with the head of Medusa, both with their arms raised in a pose typical of Ahab. In the top left, we notice the contours of the island of Mocha, which gave Moby Dick its name.

The whole and the parts

The myth of Osiris is one of the underlying stories of Moby Dick. Osiris, depicted to the right in the painting, was cut up into pieces and his body parts were scattered all over the world. His sisters, Nephthys and Isis, succeeded in retrieving all his body parts, apart from his prick. It was untraceable. When the sisters reassembled Osiris’ body, they gave him a wooden dick, and then blew the breath of life into him.
Just as the comparison of the crew of The Pequod with the Anacharsis Clootz deputation and the image of a patchwork quilt, the story of Osiris refers to Melville’s view of the world as a collage of widely divergent, split-up fragments. Reuvers and Melville share a passion for peculiar details. Take for example Reuvers’ choice for the ibis, a symbol of Thot, the god of writing. According to Herodotus, Thot is a bird that likes to fiddle with his beak around his own rear end. Or take the Carmelite with the white habit, a reference to the white monks of Ghent in Melville’s discourse on the whiteness of the whale. Or the small image from the Larousse, in the bottom right, of the French union leader, Louis Blanc (what is in a name?), and the image of Johan de Wit (idem) in the centre left. No wonder that Charley Reuvers’ oeuvre brims with images from Larousse. An encyclopaedia, after all, is a collection of heterogeneous fragments just as well.

Angels and gods

The sharks swimming around The Pequod and scavenging from the whale carcases that are tied to its bow are called, rather morbidly, angels by Melville. The horizontal strip of shells above the ibis, is a wampum, an object that Indians use to lay down a treaty. Melville compares the boxers Deaf Burke, seen to the left, and Blind Bendigo to gods because they get completely absorbed in the fight with no thought for the audience.