Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Rolling Reflection on the Sea

In math class, I kind of feel like Ishmael in Moby Dick; I'm there, but from the level of my participation in class discussion, you wouldn't know it. It's one of the two things I really like about the class.

So afterwards, I went to Starbuck's to-day, appropriately enough, and finished reading Moby Dick. It's a great book. I last wrote about it here on March 23, when I was 75% through, at which point I wrote;

Stayed up too late reading Moby Dick, in which I hit the seventy five percent mark. I have to say, I didn't expect there to be so much sperm in this book. At the time Moby Dick was written, people thought a large quantity of white substance found in a sperm whale's head was in fact semen--thus the name "sperm whale". Melville spends so much time going into detail, revelling in the stuff, talking about men falling in it, getting oddly drunk from the fumes of it. Then one considers they're after a whale that's actually white, who physically reduced Captain Ahab, one could say the book is about the fundamental dick measuring contest of mythologised manhood.

This interpretation holds true for me to the end, though it becomes more solemn and beautiful. It's like a joke retold enough times it becomes an opera. The "mythologised manhood" is indeed the ghost pursued by Ahab, more than the whale. As Starbuck points out, the whale doesn't seek Ahab, Ahab seeks the whale, more importantly Ahab seeks the meaningful relationship between himself and the whale. He's committed to a point of view, and it's important to him to make his perspective everyone's reality, most especially the whale's. Otherwise he fears he can't respect himself.

Stubb speaks in third person, too, but there's more significance in how Ahab does it--he's constantly describing himself, defining himself;

"Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.—Stand round me, men. Ye see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered lance; propped up on a lonely foot. 'Tis Ahab—his body's part; but Ahab's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. I feel strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale; and I may look so. But ere I break, yell hear me crack; and till ye hear THAT, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet. Believe ye, men, in the things called omens? Then laugh aloud, and cry encore! For ere they drown, drowning things will twice rise to the surface; then rise again, to sink for evermore. So with Moby Dick—two days he's floated—tomorrow will be the third. Aye, men, he'll rise once more,—but only to spout his last!"

Ahab goes on to say in the next chapter that "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." But it is against God, and the omens Ahab mentions above, that Ahab strives. He can't think because that would suggest he has free will; he can only react, he can only be a scripted character in the play he's already written for himself. The God Ahab speaks of is really his own dislocated ego.

Like Macbeth, Ahab has the words of a prophet, too, about the exact conditions of his death, and as in Macbeth, even the fair sounding prophesy winds up being the man's doom when he places his complete faith in it.

It is strange that Ishmael gradually disappears entirely until the very end. We can presume he's still narrating the whole thing, though Melville frequently goes to vantage points and conversations Ishmael can't possibly have access to. Ishmael is so affable early in the book and the end is so much about intractable madmen that Ishmael's voice fading out adds to the impression of approaching, self-made doom.

Twitter Sonnet #498

Melting fibre glass bedposts bend, silent.
Glue air filling from the ink pool, opaque.
Gold paint on the wheat field, begins ascent;
Greying wing veins warm for the static's sake.
Infinity bumpers connect on tracks.
Levers squeak as the clouds compel motion.
Ubiquitous pages whiten, unpacked.
Abrupt rocks trace the ground's broken notion.
Pipes curve in a treacherous taunting spit.
Backwards laughter cracks walls with its echo.
Hollow rollbars block release from the pit.
Glazed clumps of ash jitter on the plateau.
The unsplintered glass calmly rejects type.
Sculpted ice galaxies are warm when ripe.

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