29 September 2012

Moby Dick Chapter 1

All right, all right. I checked Moby Dick out from the library* and when I got home, sat down to read the first chapter. I was expecting boredom, but find myself delighted by this narrator. He's funny, witty, observant, and a deep thinker, analyzing and thinking deeply about whatever he's doing. "Why do I do it this way? Why do we do it this way? Am I the only one that reacts in this way to this idea?"

There's rhythm in the text: what a great read-aloud this would be.

The way the narrator jumps from one deep thought to the next, staying on course but veering into tangents as needed appeals to the way I think and also feels very nautical to me, as if the text is a ship and we are headed to the destination but knocked occasionally by a wave or two.

And some quotes I love. I'd like to quote the whole chapter because it is that well-written, but I'll settle for just these.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and expecially whenever my hypos get such aupper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me fom deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off-- then, I account it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can. p. 8.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with her surf. p. 8.
There are two whole pages of philosophizing about the sacredness, holiness, beauty, mystery, gorgeousness, peacefulness of water. I would quote the whole thing, but here are the last few sentences:
Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper is the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it was was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. p. 9.

Then, in talking about the pleasure of getting a regular job aboard a ship, instead of going as a passenger or as an officer of some kind, he talks about being ordered about:
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity abount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Who is not a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about--however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satrisfaction of knowing that it is all right: that everybody else is one way or other seved in much the same way--either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and be content. p. 10.

On the pleasure of being a laborer rather than an officer:
...for the most part the commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at secondhand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaers in many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it. p. 10.

The talk about the commonalty leading the leaders flows right into a passage about Fate or Providence, and it's another good long passage I won't quote, but it dazzled me. So there you have it: I'm excited to read the rest of the book. Good job, Melville. **


*I can't believe we don't own it. We have so very many books.
**Why can't I call him Herman, or HermanMelville, or Hermie? Hmmm...

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick; or, The White Whale. Dutton, New York, 1968.

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