Friday, June 11, 2010

One Did Survive the Wreck

now finished: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Hurrah! I am so happy to have done it. I have conquered The Whale. I do not know what my problem was in high-school and twice in college. I would also say I don't know what my problem was when I originally launched my re-re-reading this past March/April, but I kind of do know: a)I had way too much reading and research to do for way too many things, including some time-sensitive work deadlines and b)I clearly was meant to pick it up after returning from Tajikistan instead. I mean, you know, if you're into the whole fate thing and all that.

Herman, my buddy, you rock. Think of me as putting my hand over my heart while I talk to you this way, Herman. You rock and delight my soul and I am sorry I couldn't find it in my stupid self to appreciate you sooner.

"Here's food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that's tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege." - p. 613

I love Ishmael's whimsical rants. I love the philosophy. I love his traveling soul and I love, love, love that the world eventually came to see - as it so often does, after they leave us - the brilliant piece of art this Herman person created.

Why we can't recognize artists' genius during their lifetimes (hi, Vincent!) remains unknown. Another thing we can't seem to recognize in our or anyone's lifetimes is the damage we are doing to our planet. Melville-as-Ishmael has many Moby Dick moments in which he waxes philosophical about the ocean, and in the wake of the gulf oil gushing tragedy, some of it was quite striking. The sea is a "terra incognita," he writes. "Columbus sailed over numberless unknown worlds to discover his one superficial western one." (p. 298) He also notes that many disasters befall us mortals when we take to the sea, and yet we continue to do so. I loved that:

"...however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it." -p.298

Oh, prophet Herman. However much in the future our science and skill may have augmented, you're right - we're all just pretty pathetic when we think we have really figured out how to conquer our planet. And why do we want to conquer it anyway? I don't know, Herman. I wish I could tell you it was all in the name of travel, fuel for flights to see this wide world, but unfortunately, Herman, I think too many people are drilling and consuming just so they can keep on going in circle in their own little insular lives, while further alienating themselves from the life in the land that gives this petroleum bounty. I don't understand it either, really.

The "great shroud of the sea rolled on," indeed.


Megan said...

The passages about the seas, the people, the whales - oh, the whales - really reminds me of how little we stop and observe what's around us. The past was not without its drama, but he makes this normal person, Ishmael, be a part time sailor and full time sociological and biological philosopher, which I love. It's like we've gotten so lost in our individual worlds that we forget how amazing the oceans are, not to mention the creatures within them, until something happens to destroy our ability to take them for granted. But he can go on for days about the personality quirks of people from Nantucket.

linda said...

Gaaaaaaahhhh.. I know! He's just amazing. Plus, he uses phrases like "the crack of doom." For ever and ever, until the crack of doom. Who puts it that way? So genius. Many people may know we are headed toward the crack of doom, but he phrased it better.