The trip through the wretched ocean continues. We’ve journeyed through a few of the more famous chapters, including “Moby Dick” and “The Whiteness of the Whale”– Melville notes a few things here.. the whale isn’t supernatural, but it gains supernatural powers as the crew talk about him. “The Whiteness of the Whale” spends it’s time discussing the horror of the blank– noting that Death rides a white horse:
“And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog—Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horse.”
It’s some of the most powerful imagery in the book. Ishmael also strangely counts himself as one of the people who swore revenge, odd given his overall role in the work… then again, Ishmael also has no fixed role. He’s ostensibly the narrator, except when he isn’t, the conscience of the story, except when he isn’t, etc. He moves through the book sort of like a ghost, fading in and out.
The remaining chapters I read advance the action, and I took my favorite note of all time for the chapter “Hark”:
Two sailors complain about a noise.
“The Chart” contains a reference to the Whaleship Essex, which partially inspired Melville. There’s an excellent book about it: “In the Heart of the Sea” which I strongly recommend. YouTuber Caitlin Doughty also has a video about it. The actual story of the Essex is fairly intense, and Melville provides stories of other famous whales to give the tale of Moby Dick a sense of truth:
“So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.”
We get more of a measure of Ahab, as both intensely shrewd and powerful. And “The Chart” shows something more of his mania.
As I left, the crew of the Peaquod was going on its first whale hunt. More to come.
I finished Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves”, and it retains its beauty. Oddly, I don’t think I’ll get a ‘long’ entry out of it, and that’s fine… I’d just end up going “that was beautiful”– recounting the plot is largely pointless; there are seven people, six of whom take turns speaking, who recount their lives from a variety of perspectives. That’s kinda it. However, I have fallen down a Virginia Woolf hole, and have a couple of biographies about her on deck, which I’ll probably read after a re-read of “To the Lighthouse”.
I stopped taking notes about 1/4 of the way through, realizing that they were kind of pointless– my notes generally consist of broad plot points and character names with the occasional quote or reminder of a quote. I’d just want to quote the entire book at you, and almost any paragraph is a slice of fried gold. It’s a tapestry, where each thread is wonderful, but the whole is somehow moreso; and you almost experience it all at once, if you’re in the right frame of mind. A friend said Woolf’s writing makes them feel held, and while I don’t entirely agree, I see where they are coming from.
If this comes across as hyperbole, I get it. But I haven’t been completely floored in this manner in ages. If you have any tolerance for literary fiction, and haven’t read this, you know what to do next.
Let’s try a little interaction, which may result in no interaction, given this blog’s tiny audience. I have a few things to consider as a next read. I’ll describe them as best as I know them. One is Patrick McCabe’s “Poguemahone” which is a book length poem about someone with dementia. One is “The Instructions” which is a long book apparently partially about Jewish theology, and partially about four days in the life of middle schoolers. One is “Lapvona”, this year’s sensation, mostly about a horrible time in the middle ages, and the last is “You Can’t Win”, which is by a 1920s hobo, detailing his crimes and life on the road.– allegedly this was a huge influence on William Burroughs. Want to pick something for me? Drop it in the comments. Or go for the wild vote and choose “TheMystery.doc” which I started a bit ago and didn’t get very far in. Maybe go rogue and suggest something else, but if you do that, suggest why I should read it, and also read some of my entries and try and figure out if it will be something I actually would like.
I’ve got a big backlog, as do most people who read regularly. It’s part of the joy. And a false promise we make to ourselves that we will always be around to finish it all.
Where I live, it’s the height of summer, which is really a kind of winter as it gets so warm and perpetually humid that going outside is something best done briefly, but I can feel the changes beginning in the air. Soon it will be fall, and here that means the slightest of chills in the air and a glorious feeling that it will soon be time for king cakes and Mardi Gras. It happens quicker every year, and there’s never enough time for everything. But it’s the time we have. Gonna spend some of it reading, some of it playing the ukulele, and some of it drinking with friends. There’s no better uses of time I have found. I’m going to finish this off with a quote from “The Waves”:
“‘With infinite time before us,’ said Neville, ‘we ask what shall we do? Shall we loiter down Bond Street, looking here and there, and buying perhaps a fountain-pen because it is green, or asking how much is the ring with the blue stone? Or shall we sit indoors and watch the coals turn crimson? Shall we stretch our hands for books and read here a passage and there a passage? Shall we shout with laughter for no reason? Shall we push through flowering meadows and make daisy chains? Shall we find out when the next train starts for the Hebrides and engage a reserved compartment? All is to come.’”