May 20, 2015

White Clouds & White Whales

Nice day outside the office

A mint julep of an eve yesterday; a temperate temperature with a gentilic breeze. Fresh rained-upon trees and bush frond a perfect front porch. Our dog Maris, a tropical storm when she's energized, has calmed. And I am reading a book by David Maranis about the Viet Nam war written about people and geography, not battles and statistics. I may not be an extrovert, but I sure am one when it comes to war books - give me stories of people rather than shrapnel and body counts. The places alone read as fictitious as the locations of Middle Earth: Cu Chi, Lai Khe, Chon Thanh and Nui Ba Den. It's a surprisingly readable account about something I never had much interest in before but I picked it up only because it was the Kindle Deal of the Day and at $1.99 it seemed too good to pass on.

Am also slowly lushing through Moby Dick.  I find it a guilty pleasure in that I feel a vulture, feeding off the entrails of a troubled soul. From a review of a Melville biography:
Early biographies touched on the question of madness but did so lightly, noting, for instance, that at one point Melville’s family had him examined by a doctor on psychological grounds. Biographers also tiptoed around the children: Melville’s oldest son committed suicide at 18, his next son died a drifter, one daughter was a spinster, and the last daughter reportedly did not want to hear her father’s name, regarding him as a beast.

In the late 1970’s, a religious scholar named Walter Kring discovered two letters concerning Melville’s marriage. The letters, written by Melville’s wife Elizabeth and her brother, Sam Shaw, were addressed to a leading New York pastor, H.W. Bellows, in 1867, when Melville was 47.
Shaw’s letter was shocking. It rejected a plan by Bellows to end the marriage by having relatives appear to abduct Lizzie to Boston.

Shaw wrote, “I think that the safest course is to let her real position become apparent from the first, namely that of a wife, who, being convinced that her husband is insane, acts as if she were so convinced and applies for aid and assistance to her friends and acts with them. I think she would have done this long ago were it not for imaginary and groundless apprehensions of the censures of the world upon her conduct …. ”
I  find a kind of witchcraft in words, in the artistry of word play. I want to fall at the feet of the author without seeing the Author.  It's said that Melville was surely manic-depressive and the preponderance of evidence suggests he was physically violent towards his wife. The hero on the page had feet of clay. The enjoyment I feel reading his prose makes me feel that I have somehow profited from his torture, since it's unlikely he would've produced such gold without the furnace of despair. Do you get the genius without the angst? Sometimes? (Mozart?)

But perhaps that's the way of earthly life - we work for living, which means someone profits from our sweat equity, however small in comparison. And, of course, Jesus was the ultimate exemplar of a giving profit to us in his suffering and death.

2 comments:

Elena LaVictoire said...

My daughter is reading Moby Dick now for her literature course. She has not enjoyed it very much even though I also gave her the audiobook to help her out. I told her that you only have to read Moby Dick once in a lifetime, and this was her time! Wait until I tell her I know a grown up who is reading it now - on purpose!!

I like Melville, particularly Bartleby!

TS said...

Don't tell her that I hated Moby Dick the first time I tried to read it, when I was about your daughter's age!

I haven't read Bartleby - I might check that one out next!