Monday, September 15, 2008

Moby Dick

I am half-way through Moby Dick. It is my third time this far into the novel, though this is just about where I have always stopped reading. Under no circumstances will I not make it through to the end this time. The book means too much to me now. I have always loved the language, but the speed always belonged to another world. I think now I am a part of that other world, operating at a different speed than, for instance, the office worker, sitting long hours in the library, that vessel of boredom, waiting for the next mammal to upset my evening, but until then, just reading. Slowly reading. The book is slow because it is so beautiful. Or, technically, sublime. One cannot have enough adequate thoughts for each sentence, and yet, one must read on. Luckily, this time I am in a melancholic mood that allows me to read with a teenage feeling, which, in some ways, is the most satisfying of reading styles. The sentences matter then. I can't help but want to use each clause for myself, as if Melville could help me feel differently. It opens me up to the book, at the same time that I distort it for my own emotional ends. It turns Moby Dick into an experience not unlike the one described in the first few pages of Proust where the book and the dream and the dreamer are all confused. Perhaps this kind of reading is the experience I am best at initiating, though I am still not sure if reading is an experience or what one does until one can have experience. In any case, my favorite sentences thus far are pasted below:

“The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise.” – King Henry

“Look ye now, young man, thy lungs are a sort of soft, d’ye see, thou does not talk shark a bit. Sure, ye’ve been at sea before now; sure of that?”

“But I am one of those that never take on about princely fortunes, and am quite content if the world is ready to board and lodge me, while I am putting up at this grim sign of the Thunder Cloud.”

“Hear him, hear him now,” cried Peleg, marching across the cabin, and thrusting his hands far down into his pockets,--“hear him, all of ye. Think of that! When every moment we thought the ship would sink! Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands—how to rig jury-masts—how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of.”

“A soul’s a sort of fifth wheel to a wagon.”

“But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

“Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store; and meads and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by the spring, untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.”

“But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

“For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

“For what he ate did not so much relieve his hunger, as keep it immortal in him.”

“For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner—for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”

“And it is much to be deplored that the place to which you devote so considerable a portion of the whole term of your natural life, should be so sadly destitute of anything approaching to a cozy inhabitiveness, or adapted to breed a comfortable localness of feeling, such as pertains to a bed, a hammock, a hearse, a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or any other of those small and snug contrivances in which men temporarily isolate themselves.”

“With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how could I—being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude,--how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whaleships’ standing orders, ‘Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time.’”

“For nowadays, the whale fishery furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the carking cares of earth, and seeking sentiment in tar and blubber.”

“There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch, slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at midday, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!”


WriteOn.LA said...

Why are all the quotes you picked about penises?

rodney k said...

I love MOBY DICK; just knowing you're reading it--SOMEONE's reading it--is a pleasure, because it reminds me of how fun it was to discover the sort of passages you share here.

Also, it's got that 19th-century, hand-wringing & provisional "Can Americans really write a great literature?" angsty feel, which make its awkwardness, for me anyway, kind of endearing.

Minor American said...

Rodney, I'm taking a whole class on Melville, which is totally great. But now I have that angsty feeling of "Can an American in the 21st Century write something as great as Moby Dick?"

Anne Boyer said...

Oh Maggie that *kills* me that you get to take an entire class on Melville. Melville and Defoe -- your education *kills* me. Are you reading Confidence Man, too?

Minor American said...

Anne, I can't tell you how awesome this semester is. Melville (with Confidence Man), Milton (Politics & Theology) which is difficult because it is another world for me, but sheds a lot of light on 19th Century America and on Spicer, and Darwin and the Victorian Novel. Right now (this week) I am reading Daniel Deronda and Moby Dick. I feel like fireworks are going off in my head all day. It's awesome.

It looks like I will see you in Kansas in March!! Aaron and I are trying to bring Conrad with us!

-- M

Magister Dies said...

It took me exactly a year to read Moby-Dick. (I'd like to think to the day.) I'd pick it up again after weeks or months and instantly be transported. It is the only book I've ever been able to read like this.

Jacob Russell said...

Your last quoted is one my favorites... here's another:

For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

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