Sunday, February 13, 2011

Open Thread for Melville, Day 1

Reminder 1:  Since we delayed the revision for a week, we're doing the open thread as usual.

Reminder 2:  If you would like me to discuss one of your essays in class Tuesday, send me an email to that effect, and make my life easy by including a link to the exact essay.

Reminder 3:  You're reading up to page 144 (up to but not including the chapter "Cetology") in Moby-Dick for Tuesday.  Remember to bring all of your books except Parable of the Sower; we're going to work briefly with Eliot and Whitman before moving on to Melville.

Note 1:  We'll be talking about citation and research in class, in case anyone needs assistance in that department.


  1. I've noticed that Melville uses sentences that have powerful messages but could easily be skimmed over by a reader.

    There were two sentences, in particular, that really sparked my interest.

    "Because no man can ever feel his own identity aright except his eyes be closed; as if darkness were indeed the proper element of our resources, though light be more congenial to our clayey part" (60).

    Is Melville arguing the debate of whether mankind is born good or bad? If so, I'm curious as to why he thinks that the essence of mankind is darkness. I've always found this question peculiar and maybe unanswerable: Are humans born bad and socialized to be good, or vice versa?

    The other sentence is, "It is not down in any map; true places never are" (61). This reminded me of Marcuse. In this context, Marcuse could consider "true places" as those who are isolated and not yet victims of industrialization, just like Queequeg's island.

  2. While I was reading chapter 9 “The Sermon” starting on page 46, I found this part of the book to be very weird and uncommon. When Father Mapple kept calling the audience his “shipmates,” I was confused as to whether they were on a ship because I thought everyone was still on land. Only at the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next when Ishmael said everyone left the Chapel and he returned to the Spouter-Inn was I completely sure they were on land the entire time.

    Continuing with Father Mapple’s sermon, I felt like this was more a story being told by a grandfather to his grandchildren than something to be preached in the church. Sure there were some hymns being song about God and the sea, but then tells the tale of Jonah the Prophet being swallowed by a whale. Father Mapple says that after he is swallowed, Jonah continues to pray, and “for sinful as he is, Jonah does not week and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just” (52). I’ll admit I am not an adamant church-goer myself, but it seems to me that teaching morals such as the wrongness of sin and disobeying God are not usually taught in this manner, such as being swallowed by a giant whale. Father Mapple wants his listeners to learn to be truthful and respect and please God, yet this method seems quite peculiar to me.

  3. Having no familiarity whatsoever with Herman Melville or his novel, Moby Dick, and knowing only that it was considered a “classic” I was daunted, to say the least, by the task of reading it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself not only understanding the language but also enjoying it. I’ve also been continually surprised by how frequently the topic of religion seems to find its way into our readings. Melville’s references are a bit more obvious throughout his work as Ishmael speaks heavily of the “proper” conduct of a Christian and the reader encounters a handful of Bible reading and preaching characters. But for all of the preaching that Melville himself may seem to be doing he also presents ideas that call to question the rationality of a few of these typical Christian morals.
    The most evident example of this may be in chapter 7, “The Chapel,” wherein Ishmael ponders the undocumented deaths of whalers past before the arrival of Father Mapple. What initially struck me during this moment in the novel was the beautiful use of language surrounding a discussion of death: “But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tomb…” (39). I found myself going back and reading the passage again just to soak in all of the words and imagery but I then realized just how much negation of (if not Christianity at its core) at the very least typical, Western views of death was going on. I could quote an entire half a page but I think the most thought-provoking question of all is “how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss.” This begins to tread into the territory of religion used merely as an object of comfort but how interesting that, if this statement rings true for many (which I think it does), our commonly sought source of comfort doesn’t seem to function even in the ways we have created it to function.

  4. The first thing I noticed as I began to read Moby Dick was that Mellville uses a lot of metaphorical language. Some of this language really caught my attention. Here are my favorites: 1)"Whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul...I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can" (3). 2) "It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all" (5).
    Does Mellville's metaphorical language serve some purpose? If so, what is that purpose?
    Also, religious/biblical references are used throughout. The narrator's name is Ishmael, and just as the biblical figure he is fond of the wild/nature-his personality is very similar to the biblical Ishmael.
    Question: Is the following quote a biblical reference of the garden of Eden?
    "The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us" (6).
    Finally, I found it difficult to ignore that several chapters in this book have religious significance: "The Pulpit", "The Sermon", "The Prophet" etc.

  5. I found myself thinking about the same thing as Chelsea, regarding darkness being "indeed the proper element of our resources" (60).

    I find this to be especially interesting when we consider the religious nature of the book, which Tamara pointed out. While not all Christian denominations are humanistic and believe in man's inherent goodness, this is still a large part of the Christian tradition. It leads me to wonder whether Melville's belief in the darkness of man means the religious references are satirical or purely referential.

  6. The more I read, the more I really like Moby Dick. It seems like there is a lot of religion hidden in the work and also a lot of great messages for the reader. I catch my self re-reading some of the passages just because I liked it so much and wanted to really understand what Melville is trying to portray. I love the relationship transition between Ishmael and Queequeg. It's a perfect example of "Don't judge the book by its cover." I really like how Ishmael was more or less deathly afraid of Queequeg and then they formed a really special bond. Also one of the many quotes that I enjoyed was on page 59 "Nothing exists in itself." I think its a completely fair statement to make and the whole rest of that chapter shows examples of it, and really makes you think about different issues in life.

  7. Why Queequeg?

    It is interesting to me that the first significant character Ishmael encounters is the rugged, untamed Queequeg. He is the stark opposite of Ishmael, who through his speech and apparent education exudes an upperclass esteem. Yet, he encounters this dark-complexioned cannibal. I found myself asking why?
    Queequeq represents the internal adventurer that Ishmael is seeking. Ishmael says that he wants to travel as a sailor on the seas rather than a passenger; he wants a more authentic (less tourist) perspective of ocean life. But he is still afraid, and their first encounter causes him to express that great fear of the unknown.
    It also displays his elite attitude, but his willingness to learn from those around him and accept natural changes or diversities. In the trip he is bound for, those are skills that will be necessary. I am interested to see how Queequeg's role will continue further into the novel.

  8. One of the first passages of Moby Dick that caught my attention came in the first chapter. I don’t have page numbers, but the passage starts with “Who ain’t a slave?” and continues to the end of the paragraph. What really caught my attention was some of the similarities between this passage and certain parts of Marcuse. The narrator in Moby Dick seems to be content with the order of the world. The narrator is ok with the fact he has to be “thumped” around because he knows that the order of the world dictates that everyone has to take orders from someone else. In fact, he uses this a way to justify his choice to be a sailor instead of trying to become a captain. This seems to be the opposite of what Marcuse would say. Marcuse states multiple times that he feels the order of the world makes everyone a slave, but he is not content with this and feels that the best thing would be to change the order. I thought this was an interesting contrast between the two works.

  9. Melville's language in Moby Dick is very reminiscent of Whitman's. Description of even the most mundane of objects, such as the glasses used by the landlord, are painstakingly developed within the novel.

    One of the most interesting descriptions I have come across in the novel is of the painting hung within the inn. It is an excellent description, but begs the question: is this too much? Clearly the novel is filled with such detailed descriptions, as it is very difficult to imagine such a thickness that merely builds a plot line. Much like Whitman's poetry, descriptions become crucial in relaying the intended message. The picture, so intimately described, will obviously resonate in the minds of the readers when an encounter with the whale finally comes.

  10. I've always wondered why people make such a big deal about the first sentence in Moby Dick, "Call me Ishmael." I tried looking into the biblical reference for Ishmael and his story. According to the Christianity Melville would have been familiar, he was the illegitimate child of Abraham. He was Hagard's son and was born before Isaac so he was technically Abraham's first son which Sarah wasn’t too happy about. I'm not really sure how this will be reflected through the book, but I'm sure it has some important meaning considering it is the first sentence. I just haven't stumble upon the significance yet.

    At the end of The Pulpit chapter another reference to the Christian religion is made when Ishmael thinks, “Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow” (45). Ishmael seems to think the world is just at its birth, just leaving the harbor with Christianity guiding its travels. He thinks that god is guiding humanity through the nature of the earth.

    I think this text will be rich with allegories that will unfold the deeper meaning, and hopefully divulge a better gist for what Melville is really thinking.

  11. During the opening Melville uses a lot of questions. Some questions are hypothedical and some are actually answered in the text to expand a thought. I was interested on page 5 when Water came up followed by a list of hypothedical questions about water and why different people worship it. Now this is where I get confused because I don't understand his explanation of why. I can see the answer right after the questions but I do not get the drowning and image explanation. I see water as the force thats keeps human life going and I not as a sailors outlook like I feel the story teller is. I'm not 100 percent sure I'm reading into enough or maybe to much.

  12. I found reading the Wasteland really fun. There was a lot to take in – a lot. For starters, as we discussed in class, there is a massive amount of references within the poems. Looking up, or even catching them all for that matter, would be a thesis paper in itself. I imagine Eliot wrote the poems over a long time, mulling over plugs for his most favorite pieces of history. I wonder, still, if in 1921 he imagined the extent to which the pieces would apply. I liked the idea of linking Marcuse to the Unreal City. What would Marcuse say about war? In his works, all he says is that the threat of war keeps the civilians in check and keeps them working in fear. Where do soldiers fit into his dominance of logic? Are soldiers merely the definition of submission? More importantly, what roles do soldiers returned from war play in a society that focuses on instrumentalization?
    I theorize that the system would try to create a niche for veterans – and imagine it really has. We see Veteran’s Day and relief funds for seasoned vets used as sympathy, patriotism, or monetary propaganda. The hardest thing for the system to would be to find a place for “operation” veterans. If mentally stable, some return to the work force, as seen in the Wasteland “flow[ing] over London Bridge” like zombies. Others, though, are useless to the machine. Those that were unfortunate enough to be swallowed by the draft, or be serving in war-time would tucked away into institutions for purpose of keeping the status quo.
    To illustrate this idea is the entire piece, Hollow Men; these men are hollow, stuffed, and voiceless. They lean together in a mindless way – praying to be remembered as people – not just weapons. Eliot is a treasure chest of war-time analogies and interpretations.

  13. Like Karin, I also noticed similarities between Melville's descriptions of things, and Whitman's descriptions. I have also read Typee by Melville, and have been planning to read Moby Dick for sometime because of how much I enjoyed his other book. I found a very good quote to use as comparison to Whitman came from the beginning of Chapter 19 describing a stranger Ishmael and Queequeg come across "...when the above words were put to us by a stranger, who, pausing before us, levelled his massive fore-finger at the vessel in question. He was but shabbily appareled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like the complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have been dried up." (100) Melville uses forceful imagery to help the reader create a mental image of his characters and their surroundings much like Whitman used his flowing descriptions to create emotion in his poems. I found myself thinking of Typee, and how Melville managed to keep his language very similar in both books even though they were published 5 years apart. I have enjoyed reading Moby Dick thus far and look forward to continuing.