Sunday, November 04, 2007

At last--"whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul"

And the most important thing...more important than pulling off the conference in another state, more important than seeing my mother...

I finished Moby Dick on the flight down. I almost didn't pack it, because I knew I was close to finishing it but decided I wanted to finish it, not still have it when I got back.

...whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off...

What can I say? It's Moby Dick.

The first hundred pages are funnier than I expected. The last 100 are riveting and unputdownable. In between are some fascinating bits of boat life and boat lore and an awful lot of information on the biology of whales.

...how is it is that we still refuse to be comforted for hose who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tomb, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

"...immortality is but ubiquity in time..."

Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. ....
.... If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentrated cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now posess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object.

The metaphor Melville finds within the burgeoning natural sciences intrigued me:

...that all other earthly hues--every stately or lovely emblazoning--the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtle deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without, so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

I often found myself thinking of the women waiting for these whaling men in Nantucket and other cities of the Massachusetts and New England coastline wondering when the three years had passed if the ship were late or gone forever. The babes in arms grown to children in their fathers' absence. What an agonizing life.

1 comment:

Art said...

Congrats on finishing Moby Dick.

I try to tell everybody who hasn't read it, just what you said.

Hard to get into, but then impossible to get out of...