Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sermons and Stuff

now reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

In my head this post has a slightly more PG-13 rated title (in which the last word starts with the same letter, but is a wee bit shorter) but I try to keep it family friendly in case my sister ever decides to read it someday.... no just kidding, that's not why. Because she probably never will. I've never used vulgar words in an entry title, though, have I? Anyway, on with the show. I suppose I'm duty bound to write about the sermon. Don't we all love the sermon? I refer, of course, to Chapter 9, in which Father Mapple prattles on about Jonah. This contains all sorts of exciting talk about whales, foreboding, God, sin, doom, and the like, plus it makes modern day readers wonder why their preachers aren't half as cool as Father Mapple.

But I guess I just don't know what to say about it. Thoughts, oh ye who are reading along? I mean, Herman keeps giving lots of little jabs to religion ("I'll try a pagan friend," Ishmael thinks a few pages later, about Queequeg, "since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy.") But this sermon chapter is not so much of a jab. It's kind of an admiring mocking of preacher fervor, and congregation ("shipmates!") fervor, but without really mocking. It mostly mocks those who think they've got it all figured out, I suppose.

I even remember reading the sermon when I "read" Moby Dick in college, so I know I got at least this far before quitting. And there's a bunch of stuff underlined in these few chapters in my copy...

Meanwhile, there's a great phrase on page 62 that could slip right by you if you're not paying attention: for the nonce. It means "temporarily." Queequeg feels like he can't go back home to claim his place as a pagan king yet because he's been defiled by hanging out with all these Christians (another jab from Herman! love it!) but he'll go back eventually once he feels baptized again. "For the nonce, however, he proposed to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans."

"Sowing wild oats" lasted. Where did "for the nonce" go? I want to find this phrase. I want to read more 19th-century or 18th-century literature just to find this phrase. I want to see where I have missed it in things I have read before. I am newly in love with it. Nonce - the particular, present occasion, says Merriam-Webster, the time being. I hereby resolve to use "for the nonce" somewhere, somehow, sometime soon.

Like we didn't already know this, but everyone should read this book.

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