Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 42-47

Have I mentioned how much I like my pop-up book? It makes me want to get more of Sam Ita's Pop-ups, or other pop-ups adults might like, such as Lighthouses: A POP-UP Gallery of America's Most Beloved Beacons.

If you missed it in the comments, Meg pointed out another reader-blogger that had a good hypothesis regarding Amsterdam butter. hoo, yeah. Their blog is Reading Moby-Dick Is Not Teh Ghey. So then I had to look up Teh. It's not just a typo anymore. (I can just hear Margaret Cho saying that. Moby Dick is not tehhhh gheeeeeeeyyyyyy.) The sailor is Dutch, copper pump, kiss, throat not too sore? How did I miss that? (Duh, I don't have a brain for riddles.) I'm going to have to read that blog, but first:

Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale

Ishmael is fascinated with and scared of white, long expatiation ensues. Imperial garments*, the bear, the shark, the albatross, the Albino. And oh, yes. Death.

And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. ...

Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul.
Still more elaboration on the white found in the myths, then...
But thou sayest, methinks this white-lead chapter about whiteness is but a white flag hung out from a craven soul; thou surrenderest to a hypo, Ishmael.
...Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.
I wonder who he is trying to convince. I suppose the reader who wonders where the drama is in following a white whale.
And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues...are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances,...and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself...pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper.... And of all these things the Albino Whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?
So, is he saying the world is really without substance, which is symbolized by white? And that is scary. Ahab wants to create his world they way he would have it, not the way the white would have it.

*He missed asking why regarding the imperial garments...it's because it shows wealth. No matter how dirty your country, if your white is spotless, it shows you don't have to do menial labor and someone keeps your clothes clean. I learned that from Three Cups of Tea.

Chapter 43: Hark!
Hark ye, Cabaco, there is somebody down in the after-hold that has not yet been seen on deck; and I suspect our old Mogul knows something of it too.
Oh yeah. Hint of this mystery has turned up before.

Chapter 44: The Chart

Ahab chases the movement of the whale's prey, and the whales with his chart.
While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.
...the Sperm Whales, guided by some infallible instinct--say, rather, secret intelligence from the Deity--mostly swim in veins, as they are called; continuing their way along a given ocean-line with such undeviating exactitude, that no ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvellous precision.
Do the whales have more control of their destiny than man?
...when, as was sometimes the case, these spiritual throes in him heaved his being up from its base, and a chasm seemed opening in him, from which forked flames and lightnings shot up, and accursed fiends beckoned him to leap down among them; when this hell in himself yawned beneath him, a wild cry would be heard through the ship; and with glaring eyes Ahab would burst from his state room, as though escaping from a bed that was on fire.
Is he in hell, or is he a messiah?:
He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.
Chapter 45: The Affidavit

You don't believe me? Well, here are some affidavits, trustworthy accounts from me and from others unconnected to me.
...most landsmen...might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.
In the course of this affidavit, we learn many die.
For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it.
Chapter 46: Surmises

Ahab is shrewd in his madness...if he doesn't pursue the commercial interest of his ship, he could have justifiable mutiny.
The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White Whale fully incites the hearts of this my savage crew...they must also have food for their more common, daily appetites.
Wait, this is still in Ishmael's voice, right? How did he gain omniscience? Is this on purpose, or just sloppy? Could a writer ever be allowed to do that today?
Having impulsively, it is probable, and perhaps somewhat prematurely revealed the prime but private purpose of the Pequod's voyage, Ahab was now entirely conscious that, in so doing, he had indirectly laid himself open to the unanswerable charge of usurpation...
Yep, justifiable mutiny...

Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

I was the attendant or page of Queequeg...
So does anybody else view the hierarchy this way, or just Ishmael?

I love his revery on his working on the Loom of Time.
...it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance--aye, chance, free will, and necessity--no wise incompatible--all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course--its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.
A whale is sighted! They all rush to do their thing. then...
But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.

The mystery of the after-hold?

Moby Dick: Chapters 35-41

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head

Ishmael is such a geek. He doesn't just want to ship on a whaler, he researches everything. I'm not sure he really wants the adventure. So the Egyptians had the first mast-head, if pyramids = mast-heads, though he tried his darndest to make it the Tower of Babel.

No crow's nest on a south sea ship. Ishmael's a bit spacey to make a good sailor.

Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me, how could I—being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude,—how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whale-ships' standing orders, "Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time."
He goes so far as to warn ship-owners:
Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness; and who offers to ship with the phaedon instead of Bowditch in his head.
He certainly is attracted to the mystical. I can relate.
...lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it.

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck
The hours wore on;--Ahab now shut up within his cabin; anon, pacing the deck, with the same intense bigotry of purpose in his aspect.
I haven't come across this use of the word bigotry in this way before. Obsessively focused?

Ahab calls them all to the quarter-deck. This is just not done unless it's an extreme matter. He's bringing the crew in on his obsessive purpose. He especially wants them to sight the white whale. They will get gold.
"Corkscrew!" cried Ahab, "aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie all twisted and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his spout is a big one, like a whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile of our Nantucket wool after the great annual sheep-shearing; aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like a split jib in a squall. Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye have seen--Moby Dick--Moby Dick!"
Starbuck protests. They are there for business, not vengeance. Ahab explains himself.
But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.
He hands out drinks.

Chapter 37: Sunset

This is now in Ahab's voice. What? So Ishmael finally meets his glorious mission, and we have to wait for his reaction?
The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!
Chapter 38: Dusk

Starbuck's reaction.
Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field! But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man!
Chapter 39: First Night-Watch
Stubb's reaction.
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!--I've been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer...
Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle

These chapters are like the ship itself is witnessing the actions and thoughts of the people post-announcement. I wonder what it is about Amsterdam butter that spoils a throat.

The sailors' reactions: drinking; singing; dancing; talking about women. Well, Tashtego and the Old Manx sailor don't dance. Old Manx sailor:
How the three pines shake! Pines are the hardest sort of tree to live when shifted to any other soil, and here there's none but the crew's cursed clay. Steady, helmsman! steady. This is the sort of weather when brave hearts snap ashore, and keeled hulls split at sea. Our captain has his birth-mark; look yonder, boys, there's another in the sky--lurid-like, ye see, all else pitch black.
Chapter 41: Moby Dick

Aha! Now we get Ishmael's response.
...my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine.
Ishmael draws from his research. I wonder if this is true. I imagine if an animal knows he is hunted, he may be justifiably ferocious.
...we find some book naturalists--Olassen and Povelson--declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood.
I can't seem to find this in modern information about the whale. In fact, one source indicated the teeth of the sperm whale are possibly superficial.

The lore about whales seems to have a bit of myth and legend clinging to it. And it seems Stubb's dream was more prophetic than he realized, with Ahab's leg turning into a pyramid. Oh, and I wonder if that is also related to Ishmael's pyramids as mast-heads.
...it was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other Sperm Whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out--a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump.
Moby Dick has an "unexampled, intelligent malignity." These animals are completely objects for their consumption, yet at the same time fill the role of monstrous nemesis.

Well, not only is Ishmael a whaling geek, he is an amateur psychologist.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. ...for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad. That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that the final monomania seized him...
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals--morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 29-34

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb

Ahab never sleeps. Usually he was quiet.

But once, the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to mainmast
Stubb makes a joke of asking him to muffle the ivory leg.
"Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb," said Ahab, "that thou wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.—Down, dog, and kennel!"

Starting at the unforeseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, "I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir."

"Avast!" gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

Stubb catches whiff of a mystery:
He's full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what's that for, I should like to know? Who's made appointments with him in the hold? Ain't that queer, now?
Chapter 30: The Pipe

Ahab's pipe no longer soothes or calms him, so he tosses it.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

Stubb has a whopper of a dream. Ahab's peg leg becomes a pyramid. A hump-backed merman.
Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors; and on no account kick back; for you can't help yourself, wise Stubb. Don't you see that pyramid?"

"Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts! If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!"

Chapter 32: Cetology

A book within a book about all the whale types.

Chapter 33: The Specksynder
Now, the grand distinction drawn between officer and man at sea, is this—the first lives aft, the last forward.
And while the harpooneers are more like the men at sea, through the history of the Specksynder they are officers of a sort.
Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!
Is Ahab a great man, or is this what Ishmael wishes to see?

Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table
Over his ivory-inlaid table, Ahab presided like a mute, maned sea-lion on the white coral beach, surrounded by his warlike but still deferential cubs. In his own proper turn, each officer waited to be served. They were as little children before Ahab; and yet, in Ahab, there seemed not to lurk the smallest social arrogance.
Hmmm. Much like the table at the Spouter-Inn. Poor Flask. Last one in, first one out, always hungry. After the officers, the squires eat. They scare the Dough-Boy.
after seeing the harpooneers furnished with all things they demanded, he would escape from their clutches into his little pantry adjoining, and fearfully peep out at them through the blinds of its door, till all was over.
Oh, Ahab is just the sort of man to be Ishmael's hero, attracted as Ishmael is to the deathly and gloomy.
...in his inclement, howling old age, Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the sullen paws of its gloom!

Moby Dick: Chapters 24-28

Chapter 24: The Advocate

Whale ships have a dirty rep...how is this possible? They provide the world's candles, explore the world's frontiers.

...here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.
Chapter 25: Postscript

sperm oil = sweetest of all oils = oil to anoint kings

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

  • first mate: Starbuck: thinness...no more the token of wasting anxieties and cares; pure tight skin was ... embalmed with inner health and strength, like a revivified Egyptian [ha...Death warmed over] thought...courage was one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted
God is democratic.

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires

More Knights:
  • second mate: Stubb: happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; kept a whole row of pipes there ready loaded, stuck in a rack, within easy reach of his hand
  • third mate: Flask: very pugnacious concerning whales; ignorant, unconscious fearlessness...in the matter of whales; he followed these fish for the fun of it
  • Queequeg harpooneer to Starbuck
  • Tashtego to Stubb: unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men; unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the infallible arrow of the sires.
  • Daggoo to Flask: a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread; Flask looked like a chess-man beside him
...the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles. No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores.
Chapter 28: Ahab


He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze...

Upon each side of the Pequod's quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizen shrouds, there was an Auger: a drill-shaped device used for moving material or liquid along its rotating threads ">auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank. His bone leg steadied in that hole; one arm elevated, and holding by a shroud; Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow. There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance.
OK then.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 17-23

Chapter 17: The Ramadan

I suppose Melville is showing his prejudices here. He knows enough of exotic religions to know the name of Ramadan, but not that it would not apply to this cannibalistic exotic, tattooed islander who seems to have a mix of 'heathen' religious elements in his repertoire. I can't expect more from the times, I suppose. Even his narrator, Ishmael, who professes

As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical...
can't help but view these non-Christian religions as 'comical'. That's a stature of Yojo in the pop-up, Queequeg's god. I can't help but think of Indonesia, though. I do believe there's quite a mix there of animistic, Islam, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist religious roots. Poor Ishmael couldn't sleep well, thinking of his companion so uncomfortable while sitting in meditation all night. Never mind that Ishmael is the one that is uncomfortable.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him...
The only one comical or frantic here is Ishmael.

Chapter 18: His Mark

Q demonstrates harpooning, and gets the job even though they only hired Christians. For the record, the pop-up graphic novel took liberties. I didn't think the two owner-captains were frightened of him...just highly impressed at his ability to hit a mark the size of a whale's eye. For them, thrift trumps piety, or rather, thrift has a higher rung within the piety ladder. Also, it was a dab of tar, not a fish, but I can understand the difficulty in conveying a dollop of tar without also using the lengthy words of Melville.

When truly big emergencies happen:
No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands—how to rig jury-masts—how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of."
Chapter 19: The Prophet

A cryptic stranger quizzes Ishmael and Queequeg:

"Yes," said I, "we have just signed the articles."

"Anything down there about your souls?"

"About what?"

"Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,—good luck to 'em; and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."

I like that, fifth wheel. So true. Life's much easier as a Buddhist that way. What's with the silver calabash? I found an explanation here. There is more in that book's passage about Melville's admiration of Hawthorne as well. Tistig's prophecy? Don't remember...

The nutty doomsayer is named Elijah. I remember that significance. Elijah was the enemy of Ahab and Jezebel, and brought about their death.

Chapter 20: All Astir

Supplies for three years. That will cause a stir. Still no Ahab to be seen, but Ishmael tries not to know it bothers him.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

Again Elijah appears. In the Bible, he was responsible for dead priests of Baal. Here, for loss of seamen? Funny scene in which Q would use a man for a footstool.
"Holloa! Starbuck's astir," said the rigger. "He's a lively chief mate, that..."
Starbucks eh? Now I must know. [insert Jeopardy tune here.] The business does seem to get its name from this.

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas

I might have been reading this on Christmas if I'd been up to speed on my own schedule.
And here Bildad, who, with Peleg, be it known, in addition to his other offices, was one of the licensed pilots of the port—he being suspected to have got himself made a pilot in order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the ships he was concerned in...
Cold Christmas, ice as armor. That must be quite a sight.

The owner-Captains are like mother hens, sending their flock off to school or whatnot.
Be careful in the hunt, ye mates. Don't stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent. within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind that cooper don't waste the spare staves. Oh! the sail-needles are in the green locker! Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts.
Palavering = such a better word than 'talking' or 'chatting.'

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

Bulkington? Oh, he was the aloof one.
So...to parse this out...the land seems good, a refuge, but in a tempest it is bad, for a ship. The ship must head out to sea, into the tempest in order to be saved. So it is for Bulkington, Ishmael says.
Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

...For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!
So vain? Is that the same as 'in vain'?
Apotheosis = such a better word than 'glorification' or 'perfection'.

Interesting choice of phrase: slavish shore. There is a certain freedom Ishmael is looking for on the sea. Is it the freedom from thoughts of Death as he must work every moment to live? Is it the freedom from having to think and behave only in certain ways when among normal people, among women? Is it freedom from creditors?

Um. Still no glimpse of Ahab. I cannot yet turn the page of the pop-up book.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 9-16

I am so excited: I received the pop-up book for a present. (I got it the day after xmas because the weather delayed delivery.) I think Ishmael peeking out of the bedcovers is just perfect.

Chapter 9: The Sermon

The preacher sermonizes on the book of Jonah, and I find myself wondering, is this all he preaches about? Or are there other spots in the bible handy for seafarers?

Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God... And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.
It seems to me the preacher is aware of the peccadilloes of his flock, and flushing out the story of Jonah with that. I felt I had to go look at the original, as no doubt it is relevant to the rest of the book. Again I was reminded of the travails of Odysseus. Odysseus and his men are shipwrecked (often) due to the wrath of Poseidon; Jonah's shipmates are endangered due to the wrath of his God. And it is due to their willfulness. Could this be an essential koan for sailors, that somehow it is in their power to save their lives if only they could fulfill the will of God?
And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.
Woes to them: who slight the living God; who are charmed from Gospel duty (does that mean not seeking religion because life is so good?); who pour oil on God's stormy waters; who seek to please; who worry about a good name in name only; etc. Oh, and Paul is a Pilot. So there's another spot ripe for sermons.

Delights to them: oh I can't list them all. Basically, who let themselves be held by God.

Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

Oh, I believe Ishmael is falling in love with the Pagan. He can't stop talking about him. He is entranced by the man's hidden nobility. Queequeg is even phrenologically like George Washington. His uncouthness is more like uncouthiness, that is, not exactly (refer to Stephen Colbert's truthiness).
If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan's breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.
Oh my.

Thirty dollars in silver. Uh oh. That can't be good. Which is the Judas here?

Then, oh my. (Do you see my hand over my shocked mouth?) They couldn't sleep...just had to keep talking. Why, it's like, well, Ishmael says it best:
Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.
Chapter 11: Nightgown

Confabulations = such a better word than conversations.
Ishmael = definitely a bottom. 'Teach me everything, oh Socratic heathen, you. Tell me what to do.'

Chapter 12: Biographical

Kokovoko = not on any map.
There was excellent blood in his veins—royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untutored youth.
vitiated = corrupted morally; debased.

So Queequeg was quite the creative stowaway. How sad that he threw away his royal position in Kokovoko for the Christians, who "had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings before him."

Ishmael is not so smitten as to realize the skill of the harpooneer can be of use to him.

Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow

It's OK for cannibals to be seen in town, just not OK for him to be on such confidential terms with a white man about town, sharing a wheelbarrow and all. It makes me wonder if the landlord Peter Coffin had a whiff of the matchmaker about him, a wickedly gleeful matchmaker.
I asked him why he carried such a troublesome thing with him ashore, and whether all whaling ships did not find their own harpoons. To this, in substance, he replied, that though what I hinted was true enough, yet he had a particular affection for his own harpoon, because it was of assured stuff, well tried in many a mortal combat, and deeply intimate with the hearts of whales.
Oh, what a large harpoon you have, my friend. May I.....touch it?

One of the greenhorns mimicked Queequeg a bit too close to get away with it, and Queequeg gave him a little toss. While his is berated, the ship gives the greenhorn a big toss right into the water, and Queequeg single-handedly saves the day.
He only asked for water—fresh water—something to wipe the brine off; that done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying to himself—"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians."
Chapter 14: Nantucket
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it.

Lotta sand there. Plants must be imported. Nothing to support them but the sea, so Nantucketers became the kings of the sea. Oh, this must be Ishmael's holy grail.

Chapter 15: Chowder

Coffin sent the two to Try Pots in Nantucket. (Good to know from the annotations that this refers to the large pots used on whaling ships to render whale blubber.) The creative sign seems ominous to Ishmael.
The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on the other side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a gallows. Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time, but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving.
Argh. Ish keeps sending mixed messages. Does he want a glorious happenstance suicide by sea or not? If only the sea could take the decision out of his hands...

Eat seafood? Got chowder? With some smoked herring for variety?

Chapter 16: The Ship

Queequeg's god Yojo sends Ishmael to find their next job. (Why is Tit-bit obvious?) Of the three ships he sees, it seems he picks the oldest most clabbered-together rickety thing he could find, the Pequod, named after massacred Indians.
She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the Sperm Whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
What a romantic Ishmael is. He sure has a thing for cannibals, doesn't he? And nobility touched by melancholy. Ah. He is touched by melancholy, and he would like to be noble. He seeks that which he would be, if only he had that calm surety he sees in his new bosom friend. It seems from this description the ship is as much a character in the story as the people and the whale.
There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the appearance of the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most old seamen...
I can't help but think of the real live sailors I saw in Newport. It was early afternoon, and for them with their very early work day it was evening and their happy hour. They were brown and sun- and wind-scored like Captain Peleg.
...there was a fine and almost microscopic net-work of the minutest wrinkles interlacing round his eyes, which must have arisen from his continual sailings in many hard gales, and always looking to windward;—for this causes the muscles about the eyes to become pursed together. Such eye- wrinkles are very effectual in a scowl.
Marchant service. hehe. The Nantucket Quakers = sanguinary = bloodthirsty. ...but just about whales, apparently. A long back-and-forth with the other owner, Ishmael is hired...er...shipped. He hasn't yet met Ahab, named for the King who was married to Jezebel.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 5-8

Moby-Dick: A Pop-Up Book I am so behind already this week...but I expected so with the holidays. While I am enjoying the reading, I'm still doing a bit of procrastinating. I haven't felt much like sitting at my desk and typing either. Murasaki wrote in the comments about finding the chapel scenes funny, and I thought I hadn't read carefully, but I just hadn't read that far yet. Naughty Murasaki! No fair giving bits away ahead of time.

Chapter 5: Breakfast

...a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.
The annotated powermobydick explains bosky...forest-like...but not monkey-jackets. I did find my internal image of this scene funny. "Grub, ho!" The narrator sees that too, revealing the illusion of the saying that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. I have a soft spot for "bashful bears."
Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas—entire strangers to them—and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table—all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes—looking round as sheepishly at each other.

Chapter 6: The Street

Extravagance and uncouthiness mixed...sounds kinda like the gold rush, or backstage with a rock star.
And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses.
Is this bloom due to the riches, or the absences of their men?

Chapter 7: The Chapel

Memorial marble tablets are the first things to capture the attention of the congregation.
...how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
I am really taken with the image of faith as a jackal. This sets a tone for me, and I'm not yet finding this humorous. I think a jackal-like Faith has deep roots in this country, and it is not pretty. It is the kind of faith that votes for a president because he is "a man of God." It is the kind of faith that willfully puts others in harm's way to fulfill the beliefs of that faith. It is the kind of faith that will court death due to the fear of death. I wonder how this will play out, how Melville sees it.

Ishmael is merry at the thought of a dramatic valorous death.

Chapter 8: The Pulpit

The famous Father Mapple climbs into the pulpit on a ship's ladder and pulls it up after himself. Ishmael sees the pulpit as "a self-containing stronghold—a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls." Like that fortress (see link for photo), this pulpit is a place to fortify against evil. Maybe I've been reading too much from atheist bloggers, but I find that more ominous than humorous. Ishmael feels more dead than alive, it seems. His bodily substance is nothing compared to who he really is. So is this fake ship's prow more real to him than the real ship's prow?
Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Moby Dick: Chapters 1-4

Moby-Dick: A Pop-Up Book I'm so glad several people are reading along. You can find the ebook here at Project Gutenberg. You can get the free audio download at Librivox. Perhaps my buds and I can read some favorite sections at our Sunday lunches. I've been advised reading this aloud is a good thing. I received an email from the author of an online annotation of the entire book. A person could read the book there, and show or hide the notes as needed. No doubt when I'm out and about and need a definition I'll make use of the handy Google text service, using d for 'define'.

A fellow St. John's alumn who befriended me on Facebook (yes I'm now a convert to Facebook) referred me to Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. He says:

Consider the opening line of one of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "Cat's Cradle," ; "Call me Jonah..." Vonnegut simultaneously points to Moby Dick, and also to the Old Testament account of Jonah and the whale, and ALSO, to Ishmael, son of Hagar, ancestral hero of Islam.
I'll have to put that on my re-read list. He also pointed out Milton's neighbor to whom the book is dedicated...Nathaniel Hawthorne.

A co-worker who is also going to the book group said she got the Modern Library edition. It has great illustrations that help break up the lengthiness of the text. The professor leading the book group says this:
Part Shakespearean tragedy, part Miltonic epic, part homoerotic pastoral idyll: Melville's masterwork blends all kinds of literary styles to consider the position of humanity in a dangerous and threatening universe that bids to annihilate it.
Just a reminder, here is my planned schedule:

Moby Dick
  • December 21-27: Chapters 1-34
  • Dec 28-January 3: Chapters 35-68
  • January 4-10: Chapters 69-100
  • January 11-17: Chapter 101 to The End
  • January 25: the book group meets
The Aeneid
  • January 18-24: Books 1-6
  • January 25-31: Books 7-12
perhaps I'll revisit these later

Chapter 1: Loomings

"Ishmael" gets a certain suicidal itch, and relieves it by going to sea as a sailor. Interesting name this erstwhile teacher would use for his possibly secret double life. He contends everybody is drawn to water. "There is magic in it."

He finds deeper significance in the water in the tale of Narcissus.
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.
Hmmm. The human propensity for water is as simple as needing it to live, and collectively, it allows us to connect to each other. I'm not sure this somewhat suicidal impulse to lose our selves in water as Narcissus did can be said to be universal, but Ishmael experiences it so...wants to experience it so. Certainly in a narcissistic way, he appears to take pride in his choice to be a common man, a sailor as opposed to a captain. It is partly the Fates (I wonder how much of Odysseus is to be found in Ishmael?) and partly his cheeky wanderlust that sends him to a whaling ship, when he had previously signed on to merchant ships.

Chapter 2: The Carpet Bag

He's from Manhattan? City boy goes on a junket, but gets paid for it, or so he makes it sound. But then, he gets to New Bedford, and we find out he has little money left and patched shoes. Has he just allowed his money to dwindle, or does a school teacher make little money? Is there more money in the dangerous work of the sea? Which is it, his seagoing wanderlust: a narcissistic death wish, or a need to make more money? He passes by several inns and taverns as too expensive and jolly, until he comes to the cheapest, Spouter-Inn.
It was a queer sort of place--a gable-ended old house, one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly. It stood on a sharp bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling then ever it did about poor Paul's tossed craft.
What is this all about?: Yet Dives himself, he too lives like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sights, and being a president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.

Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn

Ishmael is fascinated by a painting so spoiled with smoke and defacement that you can't tell what it depicts. It sounds like a whaler's rorschach test. He sees in it a whale jumping over a ship and about to be impaled on it's three masts. All would be doomed.
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish array of monstrous clubs and spears.
Again I think of Odysseus and the weapons in his home hall. With him, I wondered how much of his wanderings were really due to fate decreed by the gods, and how much due to wanderlust. It seems Ishmael likes to toy with the idea that the Fates send him on this epic voyage.

I love this little glimpse of a barkeep's pecuniary swindling:
Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though true cylinders without--within, the villanous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom.
There is no room at the Spouter-Inn, so he is offered part of a bed with a "dark-complexioned" harpooner. The fastidious city boy emerges...he really wants his own bed, even tries to sleep on benches and chairs.

When a crew arrives and gets boisterously drunk, Ishmael notices one who holds back. Could this be the notorious Ahab? We shall see.

The potential roommate takes forEVER to show up, so finally the city boy takes the landlord up on the bed. Indeed it is large, as promised. Ishmael snoops, and scares himself when he tries on a mysterious garment that is like a cross between a doormat and a poncho. When the harpooner finally arrives, Ishmael quakes in the bed.
There was no hair on his head--none to speak of at least--nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead. His bald purplish head now looked for all the world like a mildewed skull. Had not the stranger stood between me and the door, I would have bolted out of it quicker then ever I bolted a dinner.
Ishmael cannot speak and alert the man to his presence. The harpooner could kill him as an intruder. Finally he yells for the landlord, who just grins.

Chapter 4: The Counterpane

You know where a shared bed leads, don't you? Ishmael "found Queequeg's arm thrown over [him] in the most loving and affectionate manner." The patchwork tattoos all over the man blend in with the quilt. This brings up a childhood memory, perhaps a sexual one.

Ishmael was sent to bed early by his stepmother. Intense feelings follow, and he finally falls "into a nightmare of a doze."
and slowly waking from it--half steeped in dreams--I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bedside. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken.
Ah, Ishmael. No wonder you are prone to melancholy which must be remedied by life-threatening work. Of course he can't move Queequeg's arm, and he wakes him up, then brazenly watches the heathen get dressed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, finished

The Lottery: And Other StoriesLeila got sick around the time it seemed everybody was getting sick, and dropped The Big Read IV on The Lottery back in November. A couple of readers still finished. You can read Patti's posts here. When I realized Leila stopped so did I, but I took the opportunity of a day off due to snow to finish my reading before I start Moby Dick.

Pillar of Salt

A husband and wife have the unusual treat of a two week vacation in New York. I find myself wondering if leaving their home is the leaving of Sodom and Gomorrah, or if it is the leaving of New York that turns her into a pillar of salt, or just what is the leave-taking and looking back? Perhaps it is encased in the very first sentence.

For some reason a tune was running through her head when she and her husband got on the train in New Hampshire for their trip to New York;...the tune...was from the days when she was fifteen or sixteen, and had never seen New York except in movies, when the city was made up, to her, of penthouses filled with Noel Coward people; when the height and speed and luxury and gaiety that made up a city like New York were confused inextricably with the dullness of being fifteen, and beauty unreachable and far in the movies.
The thought that the whole story could be contained in this first long sentence makes me think more about the pillar of salt myth. Just what does it mean that Lot's wife turned to salt? What did she see? What was it about her that makes her turn around? Ummm, I don't think I'll use this for answers. Nor will this bit of geological history give me clues. (Funny that one of the experts is named Mr. Harris...see previous stories about that.) Exploring these questions could flush out the layers in this story. It is definitely one I felt I could read again to find the possible moment in which she turned.

You really begin to notice the wife is doomed when she's the only one who hears people on the street warning of a fire, and no one at the party, perhaps filled with now sinister Noel Coward people, listens to her. She goes to the street, in her panic leaving her husband behind, and it turns out the fire is two buildings away. After that she sees everything disintegrating. Buildings crumble like sand.

Thus begins the more sinister stories, or so I thought after picking the book up after a long break. In the previous stories I looked for the environment as a metaphor of the protagonist. In this one, the protagonist sees the environment around her as what is going on in her broken mind, and she is apparently the only one who sees it that way. Scary story, and it's all in her mind.

Men With Their Big Shoes

Mrs. Hart hired Mrs. Anderson and praised the housekeeper to her New York friends before she knew just what a passive-aggressive scary person she was. She seems to be pressured into letting Mrs. Anderson move in, as Mrs. Anderson's husband is made out to be a dangerous loud drunk. Mrs. Anderson also hints that Mrs. Martin, apparently the store gossip, knows that Mrs. Hart's husband is stepping out on her. So which is it...is Mrs. Anderson to be feared, or is she simply opening Mrs. Hart's eyes to the ways of the men with their big shoes? Either way, "Mrs. Hart realized with a sudden unalterable conviction that she was lost."

The Tooth

Like The Pillar of Salt, this story was an amazing descent into the broken mind of a housewife with a controlling husband. She has a bad tooth, and he sends her on a bus in the middle of the night to a dentist in New York that he trusts. She's taken a sleeping pill, and her loopy journey leaves you wondering if she ever made it to the oral surgeon. While on the bus, she meets an intriguing stranger who tells her a lyrical anecdote about the city of Samarkand.

The way he cocoons her and watches over her, I begin to wonder if he exists at all outside her mind. It seems an awfully long bus trip...could her husband really have sent her on such a long trip just for the New York dentist?
As the bus started up again they slipped back into the darkness and only the thin thread of lights along the ceiling of the bus held them together, brought the back of the bus where she sat along with the front of the bus where the driver sat and the people sitting there so far away from her. The lights tied them together and the strange man next to her was saying, "Nothing to do all day but lie under the trees."
She makes it to the dentist. She's still always falling asleep, at the diner, at the dentist.
Her tooth, which had brought her here unerringly, seemed now the only part of her to have any identity. It seemed to have had its picture taken without her; it was the important creature which must be recorded and examined and gratified; she was only its unwilling vehicle, and only as such was she of interest to the dentist and the nurse...

"They'll take that tooth out," the dentist said testily, turning away. "Should have been done years ago."
I've stayed too long, she thought, he's tired of my tooth.
The story ends with the hint that she never made it to the oral surgeon, though there is a long passage of her being taken care of by the nurse. I think she was seduced by her tooth, which makes this a freaky horrifying psychotic break of a story. I bet there's something more going on there with Samarkand. Oh wait. Dim recollection of a fantasy novel...could Samarkand have something to do with the devil? This from World Book Online: Samarqand occupies the site of ancient Maracanda. Alexander the Great destroyed Maracanda in 329 B.C. In the 1300's, the Mongol conqueror Timur (also called Tamerlane) chose the city as his capital. WB doesn't say much because three independent sources must verify their facts. According to this wiki, not much is known about Samarkand, except that it's exotic.

Got a Letter From Jimmy

A quick little glimpse of a possible wife-beater, a possibly crazy wife sustained by fantasies of murder, and all of it held together by an unread letter from a possibly estranged son.

The Lottery

You can read this story here. I'll let it speak for itself. After many of the other stories, this one was pretty straightforward, and is apparently the one most read by kids in school.

Of all the stories, I think I like Pillar of Salt and The Tooth the best. I think there was a certain innocence in the women in these stories as their minds sent one to a bad place, one to a good place. Jackson crafted the stories as very visual at the same time she slowly reeled out the understanding to the reader that this was possibly all in the protagonist's head.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thanks on Thursday

Several things come to mind this week that I am thankful for.

This week we Mahayana Buddhists celebrated the Buddha's enlightenment, known as Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu. Some at a local temple stayed up all night chanting. I had Dharma School.

I am grateful for these clever uses of technology that find second uses for energies that are basically thrown away. This could be the wave of the future of green technology, I think. There are so many ways in which we expend energy that could be captured for reuse.

In Tokyo, the pounding of many commuters' feet will provide the power for the ticket gates and display systems. Elsewhere, the kinetic energy collected by a revolving door will send electricity back to the grid. It may not be a lot, but imagine if every single revolving door collected energy this way. I am grateful too for coffee, which gives many people the energy to get started. The used grounds make great compost and repel ants, and now there is another use: biodiesel. Better than corn or soybean oil, used coffee grounds will not take away from food sources. It also has natural components that act as a preservative, so it will last longer even than petrol diesel. With coffee shops every few blocks, Portland could be a great place for this to take off.

Speaking of Portland, we got a great write-up as a green city at InHabitat. They love our transit system, our bicyclability, the ease with which we can buy local (which they call locavorism), and our green policies. We don't just recycle...our city wants to reach a 75% recycle rate by 2015. I am looking forward to the curbside composting. I am so grateful I live in Portland. And as I told Jason, it's all because of him that I live here, so I'm grateful to and for Jason. If he hadn't got married, and if my first husband hadn't gone to Seattle to attend his wedding, and if Jason hadn't told him that Portland was a more affordable Pacific NW city, I might never have come here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reading more Classics

I intend to say more about the book groups on The Iliad and The Odyssey. Murasaki looks forward to more slow shared reads, but I wonder if she's ready for the next one. I'm not sure I am, but one thing about book groups...sometimes you read a book you wouldn't otherwise, and usually you are pleasantly surprised.

Moby-Dick: A Pop-Up BookI figure I need a month for Moby-Dick. After that, Virgil's Aeneid, also translated by Robert Fagles. I'm going to give that one two weeks, as that's about all I'll have. I seem to recall from my college days it was an easier read than Homer.

I'm kind of interested in the Pop-Up Moby Dick, cover shown here.

My planned schedule:

Moby Dick

  • December 21-27: Chapters 1-34
  • Dec 28-January 3: Chapters 35-68
  • January 4-10: Chapters 69-100
  • January 11-17: Chapter 101 to The End
The Aeneid
  • January 18-24: Books 1-6
  • January 25-31: Books 7-12
So go ahead, reserve your library books and join me. And make comments. If I know you're reading along, I'll be better at keeping to my schedule. The readings are just about the right size for an average bus commute, think about that.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Odyssey: Books 23, 24

The Odyssey The Great Rooted Bed

Penelope still won't believe. She's too depressed. She just wants to sleeeeep. The old nurse says, "He's the stranger they all manhandled in the hall. Telemachus knew he was here, for days and days." (30-31) For some reason this inspired joy in Penelope, but not for long. She still doubts. Perhaps the stranger is a god. He couldn't possibly be her long-lost husband.

She makes her approach slowly.

One moment he seemed...Odysseus, to the life--
the next, no, he was not the man she knew,
a huddled mass of rags was all she saw. (108-110)
Telemachus scolds his mother for spurning his father. Odysseus lets her be. Letting a wild thing approach you works best, don't they say? That's my metaphor. In Homer, for the most part the men get the wild animal comparisons.

Odysseus, always the tactician, makes plans to avoid avenging relatives. Let people "think it's a wedding-feast that's under way." The two will go to their country estates. Finally the wary Penelope circles closer, offhandedly offering her famous test.
Come, Eurycleia,
move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber--
that room the master built with his own hands.
Take it out now, sturdy bed that it is. (197-200)
And Odysseus gives the deeply needed correct response.
"Woman--your words, they cut me to the core!
Who could move my bed? Impossible task...
Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength,
would find it easy to prise it up and shift it, no,
a great sign, a hallmark lies in its construction.
I know, I built it myself--no one else...
There was a branching olive-tree inside our court,
grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset.
Around it I built my bedroom... (205-216)
If the tree is the female element, she is certainly quite strong and sturdy. Odysseus molded her to his marriage bed. Bed and home are melded together. His marriage was a strong marriage to survive such a long separation. Does Odysseus now have cause to wonder? Is he teasing her by turning the tables on her?
Does the bed, my lady, still stand planted firm?--
I don't know--or has someone chopped away
that olive-trunk and hauled our bedstead off?
. . Living proof--
Penelope felt her knees go slack, her heart surrender... (228-231)
Now she is convinced. Odysseus weeps. Athena holds back the night to give the two more time. Odysseus tells her of his final labor, of planting an oar where it is mistaken as a winnowing fan, and making his offerings to Poseidon. But first, that rooted bed calls....

Still feeling the afterglow, Odysseus tells her of all his travels and trials. In one night? This took me a month to read! He leaves early in the morning, to see his father.


The ghosts are making their trip to Hades, led by Hermes. Note to self: a trip to hell is always a good opportunity for a flashback, in kind of a petty way. The ghost of Achilles jabs at Agamemnon: rather than favored by Zeus as they all expected, rather than dying with honor on the battlefield, Aggie was cut down by familial traitors. Aggie says Achilles was the happy man for dying on the battlefield. A litany of the mourning rituals follows.

New ghosts meet old ghosts. Amphimedon tells a very one-sided story of Penelope's trickery with the weaving, and how "just then some wicked spirit brought Odysseus back, from god knows where," and how Odysseus cut them all down, "corpse on corpse in droves." Their bodies are untended, he whines. Agamemnon cuts through all that.
"Happy Odysseus!"
Agamemnon's ghost cried out. "Son of old Laertes--
mastermind--what a fine, faithful wife you won!
What good sense resided in your Penelope--
...The fame of her great virtue will never die.
The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind,
a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope.
A far cry from the daughter of Tyndareus, Clytemnestra--
what outrage she committed, killing the man she married once!(210 -220)
The dead sure can get caught in an endless loop of self-pity. Or is it only particular ones? How they lived they are in death? Achilles is still arrogant; Agamemnon is still self-involved; the suitor is still sees himself as blameless.

Meanwhile, Odysseus, Telemachus, and the loyal men have reached
Laertes' large, well-tended farm
that the old king himself had wrested from the wilds,
years ago, laboring long and hard. (227-229)
Odysseus approaches his old father. Now it is his turn to hold back, approach slowly.
Debating, head and heart, what should he do now?
Kiss and embrace his father, pour out the long tale--
...or probe him first and test him every way?
Why does he choose to test? What is this compulsion to verify? What is being verified? Odysseus spins another tale, but as soon as he sees Laertes' black cloud of grief he stops.
Odysseus' heart shuddered, a sudden twinge went shooting up
through his nostrils, watching his dear father struggle...
He sprang toward him, kissed him, hugged him, crying,
"Father--I am your son--myself, the man you're seeking,
home after twenty years, on native ground at last.... (356-360)
Ah, perhaps it is not until this moment that Odysseus is really home. It is through his father's love and grief that he can really reach his native ground.
And Athena stood beside him, fleshing out the limbs
of the old commander, made him taller to all eyes,
his build more massive, stepping from his bath,
so his own son gazed at him, wonderstruck--
face-to-face he seemed a deathless god...
"Father"--Odysseus' words had wings--"surely
one of the everlasting gods has made you taller, stronger,
shining in my eyes!" (408 -415)
I think I see a bit of Telemachus in Odysseus now. Like father like son. Fathers and sons.

The vengeful relatives of the suitors arrive, but Athena stops the fighting. She commands,

Break off--shed no more blood--make peace at once!" (585)
So it ends.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thanks On Thursday: Blog Anniversary

Five years ago today I began writing this blog. My intention was to keep focused on the interesting bits of my life, and not get bogged down with petty details of life that are of no interest to others. I wanted to use it as a platform to explain myself, to show how it is not contradictory to be a Buddhist and a moral person, and to be non-monogamous.

I've loosened up my expectations of myself, using it for these things, but also as a way to remember myself, and to remember what I've done, what I've read, what I've imbibed in entertainment. In that way it has become closer to a journal I suppose, but I still write hoping to keep it interesting to someone else. This technology has even introduced me to a different way to read a book, slowly while blogging with others, so that even the reading voice in my head has changed.

This week I highlight my gratitude for this technology. Email, web, and social networking platforms have allowed me to express myself and to discover some people find my thoughts valuable and wise. This technology has also allowed me and others to make connections to organize in easy streamlined ways. I couldn't take care of a local chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship so easily, nor have taken the lead on 5 years of putting together a local Buddhist Festival without this technology. All this would have moved along much more slowly, and perhaps would have fizzled. I couldn't even have rented the other side of our duplex so easily without this technology.

In the 5 years since I began, I have seen polyamory become more known to the mainstream. I think it was able to coalesce as a movement more quickly than similar ones in the past because of this technology. The wisdom of the masses could filtrate more quickly thanks to the ease of connection. The recognition of similar experiences also rose to the surface more quickly thanks to the ease of communication. Because we are not limited by geography, when we are radically different from the public face we aren't so lonely because we find others like us through this technology.

In this five years I've also learned that this blogging thing isn't just a platform to spew myself out there for others to find. It is an expansion of community, and works well when I as a writer recognize it as a dialog, not a monolog. It works well when I recognize the currency of this sphere is that of gifts. Not only do I give intimate pieces of myself for the view of others, if I give my attention to other bloggers with links and comments, they are more likely to give back to me. That is another thing about this technology that I am grateful for: the rediscovery of the currency of gifts.

The Odyssey: Books 21, 22

The Odyssey Odysseus Strings His Bow

How Odysseus got his bow:
As a young man he was sent to Messene to retrieve stolen flocks. He met Iphitus who was there for his stolen mares.

Iphitus gave him the bow his father, mighty Eurytus,
used to wield as a young man, but when he died
in his lofty house he left it to his son.
In turn, Odysseus gave his friend a sharp sword
and a rugged spear to mark the start of friendship,
treasured ties that bind. (36-41)
Heracles killed Iphitus, apparently for the horses.

Penelope announces the test of the bow, and has the swineherd set up the axes. Telemachus tries to string the bow. No go. Poor kid, trying to measure himself against his father. Man after man tries the bow. None can string it. Meanwhile Odysseus takes the loyal swine and cow herds outside. Would they fight beside Odysseus, should the man miraculously show up. Of course. So O reveals his identity, using the identifiable scars from the boar. He promises them wives and houses, and they would be comrades of Telemachus. They solidify their plans. When the time comes, Eumaeus will bring the bow to Odysseus.

There's an awful lot of suitors, and none of them can measure up to Odysseus. Eurymachus is concerned none of them will.
"Eurymachus," Euphithus' son Antinous countered,
"it will never come to that, as you well know.
Today is a feast-day up and down the island
in honor of the Archer God. Who flexes bows today?
Set it aside. Rest easy now. (286-290)
He calls for a break. Odysseus uses the moment.
For the moment
give me the polished bow now, won't you? So,
to amuse you all, I can try my hand, my strength... (313-315)
Penelope supports the beggar's bid to try the bow, accepting he would not be doing it for her hand. Telemachus, suddenly the manly one, bids her leave, he's the man of the house, he'll take care of it. Eumaeus delivers the bow, and sends the nurse and the women to their rooms as planned.
...they mocked, but Odysseus, mastermind in action,
once he'd handled the great bow and scanned every inch,
then, like an expert singer skilled at lyre and song--
...so with his virtuoso ease Odysseus strung his might bow.
Quickly his right hand plucked the string to test its pitch
and under his touch it sang out clear and sharp as a swallow's cry.
Horror swept through the suitors, faces blanching white,
and Zeus cracked the sky with a bolt, his blazing sign... (451-460)
Well it's all over now for the suitors.

Slaughter in the Hall

Antinous is the first, gruesome and dramatic. Eurymachus the second, Amphinomous the third, and the rest, named and unnamed. Just to make it interesting, the traitorous goatherd figures out where they hid the arms, and brings some out to the usurpers. Odysseus orders him strung up, which the swine and cowherds do. Athena in the form of Mentor joins them.
And now Athena, looming ou tof the rafters high above them,
brandished her man-destroying shield of thunder, terrifying
the suitors out of their minds, and down the hall they panicked--
wild, like herds stampeding, driven mad as the darting gadfly
strikes in the late spring when the long days come round.
The attackers struck like eagles, crook-clawed, hook-beaked,
swooping down from a mountain ridge to harry smaller birds
that skim across the flatland, cringing under the clouds
but the eagles plunge in fury, rip their lives out--hopeless,
never a chance of flight or rescue--and people love the sport--
so the attackers routed suitors headlong down the hall... (311-321)
Just like the portents.

Phemius the bard pleads for his life...he was forced to sing. Telemachus agrees he is innocent, as well as the herald Medon. Leodes the seer was not so blessed. Then it's time for clean-up. Odysseus puts Telemachus in charge, and has the old nurse cull out the disloyal women.
She found Odysseus in the thick of slaughtered corpses,
splattered with bloody filth like a lion that's devoured
some ox of the field and lopes home, covered with blood,
his chest streaked, both jaws glistening, dripping red--
a sight to strike terror. So Odysseus looked now... (426-430)
In the face of all that, the nurse would cheer in triumph...not faint of heart, that old girl. Once the cleanup is done, Telemachus and the men are to take the women out back and hack them with their swords. Interestingly, this is what Telemachus does:
...taking a cable used on a dark-prowed ship
he coiled it over the roundhouse, lashed it fast to a tall column,
hoisting it up so high no toes could touch the ground.
Then, as doves or thrushes beating their wings
against some snare rigged up in thickets--flying in
for a cozy nest but a grisly bed receivs them--
so the women's heads were trapped in a line,
nooses yanking their necks up, one by one
so all might die a pitiful, ghastly death...
they kicked up heels for a little--not for long (491-500)
I wonder, is that significant that he chooses a different way to kill them? Is the means of killing symbolic? Or is he just tired of cleaning up bloody messes, and this will be neater?

Finally, Odysseus cleanses the house with fire and smoke.