Monthly Archives: May 2014

25% done with They Were Counted

I absolutely love the scene between Fanny and Laszlo at the piano. Her hand on his shoulder to help him keep the time, the two of them becoming one is so beautiful. And Banffy does not make this some silly romance, because Laszlo only wants to be with Klara, relives her on the shoot kissing that dead bird.

“After all, what foreigners understand Hungarian?”

That image of the curling smoke around the old general!

The Sound and the Fury: Read from May 24 to 31, 2014

My God, this is a depressing novel. Every word Faulkner writes, every memory that is explored, every action in the novel is distilled into a lingering, oppressive, sadness that is as omnipresent as the honeysuckle Quentin so hated.

I started off enjoying the novel; I liked the experimental way Faulkner tries to convey the confused mind of Benjy. As someone who grew up with and spent years working with severely mentally disabled adults, I felt Faulkner honestly captured the state of mind of someone who is almost totally unable to experience rational and unselfish thought.

The second chapter, too, was quite beautiful but at times was nearly impenetrable. Pretty much only the scene with the little girl, when his mind stops wandering and he focuses only on finding her home, really seemed to have much of an impact for me. Everything else – the broken watch, his drunken father’s philosophical ramblings, his time with Caddy – seemed … distant. Distant is the best way I can describe it from a reader’s point of view. I never felt like I was part of Quentin’s experiences even though we spend so much time in his mind. He was no Bloom.

The final two chapters were straightforward enough. We learn many of the previously mysterious details that Benjy’s and Quentin’s minds could not clearly articulate (or were unwilling to articulate). And Jason was a wonderful character – the best in the book. Faulkner certainly has created one of the great characters in literature with Jason.

But what does this all add up to? Yes, the novel is about the south and the south’s decline, but what South? Was there a time when people did not behave badly, were devious, cheats, liars, manipulators, and every other sin you can imagine? Maybe there were times in the Compson family when they were more outwardly respectable, but how do we really know those “better” people were actually any better? Is Faulkner so nostalgic for a long forgotten time that he actually believes we’ve all degenerated in our time?

I doubt Faulkner was so naive or sentimental. He write a book in which the main characters are all flawed and fallen ne’er–do–wells, who all long for a time when things were better and resent the present because it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it too. Adults who haven’t really ever grown up. In a way he wrote a warning against nostalgia, against seeing the past with thick rose colored glasses because if you keep trying to compare yourself against an impossible standard you will only disappoint yourself or, if you’re smart, just run away from your entire family.

From that point of view, then, this isn’t a “southern” novel bemoaning the end of one specfic time and culture of Faulkner’s love that will unfortunately never return, he’s trying to warn us from falling into the cycle of always going back to the past. If your mind is always full of how things were and how things used to be then you will miss every opportunity to better yourself tomorrow. The Compson’s totally fell apart because they could not come to terms with reality.

Yet even with such an analysis, I just could not get into this novel. I really wanted to, but you have to approach every work of art from the perspective of how it effects you personally and this novel just made me feel sad after having witnessed so much misery on every page.

21% done with They Were Counted

While the political situation is falling apart, most everyone is more concerned with what vintage wine they should choose with dinner.

Laszlo’s and Abady’s insecurity must be what makes them friends – neither feel as if they belong the the world they live in – outsiders each.

István Tisza = real political figure

The best Hungarian officer barely speaks Hungarian because he’s always with the Germans.

50% done with The Sound and the Fury

Maybe I’m off base, but I imagine Quentin as being a bit cowardly and weak. And not just physically- though I do imagine him as physically small and frail – but mentally, too. He’s hanging onto some odd ideas about how he thinks people should behave but he has no idea how people really behave. Doesn’t occur to him a father would think he was trying to kidnap the girl, or get punched. Harvard has been a waste of his $

17% done with They Were Counted

Were I younger I would have thought Adrienne was being a jerk, however, when you tell an unhappily married woman who is also your friend that you’ve loved her for a long time and then try to kiss her, her anger and accusations are not at all unjustified.

I love the image of the old draft horse scared that it all of a sudden is alone and free and so it runs back to its stall where its safe.

Everyone’s yelling!

41% done with The Sound and the Fury

The image of the three boys swimming is, for me, the key to the whole book. Faulkner describes their wet heads, the way hair gets wet when you go swimming. It’s a completely mundane detail, and that’s why it’s brilliant. Faulkner gets you to think about something you never bothered to think about before but have seen a thousand times. He’s physically poking around in your own mind & memory to see what makes you tick

13% done with They Were Counted

The party scene was incredible, especially as Balint and Adrienne are on the balcony as the sun is about to come up and in that perfect moment the whole group of dancers come crashing out onto the patio, all stumbling around, and then disappear back in. There is a sadness, too. The fish with no bones, Uncle Dani with the books and passing out, the Valse Macabre nobody liked – “not all memories can be wished back”

25% done with The Sound and the Fury

The question I kept asking myself was why are we getting these chapters? Why is it in this strange style with this sort of character who has no concept of time or even self? My opinion is that Faulkner is showing us how memory breaks down, how fragmented the past becomes even in our own lives, how many small moments add up to who we are now and how now is a mix of thens. Also because we don’t have answers; we fools.

4% done with They Were Counted

It’s clear right from the beginning how splintered off everyone is politically speaking. Even families have become splintered as they married off and estates dwindled in size. Everyone must feel like they have to fight harder just to stay put. No wonder a small political group can be so disruptive.

Meanwhile there are tiny signs of neglect, barefoot and rude servants, dirty towels, millstones turned into tables.

12% done with The Sound and the Fury

It’s interesting that even though Benjy is mentally disabled, how much more closely Faulkner is able to explore memory as it happens to us. How many times can a smell trigger a memory and that leads to another and another. And there’s no sense to it except that it makes sense to us. A sense of sense.

I like narrators who don’t have the full picture; I like piecing together the story of a skillful writer.

At Play in the Fields of the Lord: Read from May 10 to 23, 2014

I never was able to shake the feeling that there was something missing in this novel. Maybe it was a soul or heart that it lacked? Hard to say because it was, at times, quite beautiful, and the ending was very well done, but I felt empty after I was done with the book.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was that the characters felt very thin. Even Moon, who was written as a ‘complicated man’ never jumped off of the page and no amount of discussion between Wolf and Andy at the end about his mysteriousness was going to change that. And Moon was probably the biggest issue I had here; he seemed just too damn convenient as a character. His Plains Indian background never felt like more than an excuse to talk about how bad the native peoples of the Americas have been treated and how poorly we ever understood their cultures.

I would have been much more interested had the book been about his back story only.

I did, however, like Wolf, though I have to admit to always imagining him in my mind as played by Tom Waits from the film. Still, he was the only real character in the book and I really felt for him. He really was a very lonely man who acted tough (and could be tough, too) but he loved the people he let in.

Hazel would have been a great character, too but she was a serious missed opportunity. I could almost feel Matthiessen’s hatred and judgment of a certain type of American mid-western Christian woman. She got off to a great start and seemed like she was going to be worth exploring, but she nearly ruined the entire book. The only thing I enjoyed her doing was when she hated her husband for being so good, for being so much like Jesus. That was a great thing for a missionary to say.

As for everyone else: Martin was painfully dull and boring, Leslie was thinner than water, and while Andy had the most potential, she never went anywhere. Even Matthiessen just leaves her sitting at a table staring into nothing at the end. Uyuyu, I’ll admit was rather good, but he wasn’t used enough and Father Xantes was just never tied down to anything I felt was relevant beyond an allegory for the Catholic Church in this part of the world.

The novel is well written and some passages are very beautiful – the opening scene of the airplane is stunning – but it never adds up to much more than a story that is supposed to be sad but just winds up being sort of flat.

And it’s a shame, too because there was a real opportunity to explore some very interesting ideas, but perhaps this is material only Joseph Conrad would have known what to do with. And this novel does feel very often as if Conrad is standing over Matthiessen as he wrote it – the subject matter, the rough men as outlaws, the (sometimes here) very beautiful language, though Matthiessen’s language never reaches the same depth as Conrad; he’s no master wordsmith, but rather just a good putter-togetherer-of-words.

In the end I do not feel as if I learned anything insightful about Christian missionaries, about native Amazon Indians, about South American politics (the parallel story of Guzman reads like a bad Hollywood movie), nor about the larger issues of faith and acceptance. I felt like we never really left that plane in the beginning and we only ever saw glimpses through the jungle canopy.

90% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

I love how so much of the misunderstanding lay with a single lazy translation of the word for a god. This double meaning parallels well with the endless, unwinable theological debate between Xantes and Leslie.

More subtle was the vision Moon had from the drink and the vision we only hear about from Aeore. Both lead them on a journey that pretty much turns them into an outcast and their people (Wolf, too) wanting.

81% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

To save his ass, Moon does the one good thing he’s ever done – give the Indians medicine.

Of course giving them medicine will keep them alive to have to continue dealing with missionaries. And it was the missionaries getting them sick in the first place.

Christians believe the unsaved can’t know God and therefore can’t be saved, but are they damned if they also don’t know the Devil? Seems one-sided for heaven

67% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

Matthieson illustrates a very important dilemma that helps understand the Indian’s frustration with the missionaries. When they demand to know who Billy’s enemy is so they can kill it, they are refused. This is totally baffling to them because only your enemy can kill you, so you must kill them. This is central to how they see the world but it’s foreign to us and frustrating, too.

The church scene was nice.

50% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

I keep struggling between feeling like it’s a bit convenient that Lewis is half (American) Indian with that of it being also being a good thematic choice that brings up some very interesting ideas. At the very least, we get half the book devoted to his character so at least we can explore his unique arc.

Martin Quarrier is so totally unfit for being missionaries that he almost perfect for it. His wife … not much

Pedro Páramo: Read from May 11 to 15, 2014

“Nothing can last forever; there is no memory, however intense, that does not fade.”

One of the most enjoyable things about experiencing a great work of art is discovering something you had never known before. Usually these discoveries are personal when you learn something about yourself, but sometimes you learn about things that actually existed you had been previously unaware of. And Juan Rulfo’s almost seems to know before you’ve ever picked it up that what is inside will be unknown to you, that the events for which the book is allegorical of will have been largely forgotten or unknown to the reader. In a way, Pedro Páramo is a book about Mexico for people who know nothing about Mexico or have forgotten so much about their own country that it’s like a foreign land.

The first thing I learned about, and most importantly, was the Cristero War, an aftermath to the Mexican Revolution fought in the late 1920’s in western Mexico (where the book takes place) and involving revolutionaries who were angry with the government’s constitution of limiting the role of the Catholic Church’s power in the country and their persecution (mass killings even) of Catholics. Before picking up the novel I had only been vaguely aware of the Mexican Revolution as taught to me in school and largely focusing on Pancho Villa and his cat and mouse game with General Pershing – a thoroughly American-centric point of view. The Cristero War, then, was absolutely unknown to me.

Yet this lack of knowledge on my part actually seemed to be part of the plan for the novel. I kept thinking that if I had a better understanding of early 20th century Mexican politics that I would in some way be missing out on the greater point Juan Rulfo is trying to make: memory. Everything about Pedro Páramo is based on memory – memory of the past, of being alive, of who we are, even of what the land we live on is. And so while the novel is a allegory for the Mexican Revolution and the modernization of Mexico from old superstition to 20th century secular society, Pedro Páramo is also about remembering and what happens when we begin to forget or forget completely.

One of the most famous images in the novel is when Pedro Páramo crosses his arms at the end of the novel thus turning his back on the land to let it die. His choosing to forget Comala causes the town to literally die and all the ghosts who still live their because they have been forgotten, even by God, either wander about unaware of each other or ever faintly murmuring underground in their graves so that even their grave neighbors can barely hear them anymore. And when Juan comes to the town everything is all a mystery, he doesn’t even realize the people there are all long since dead, he has no idea who his father is, or what happened in the years since him mother told him of stories of how beautiful the town had once been. Nearly everything has been lost.

And so what does this forgetting mean? What does it say about us, about our lives, about our wars and revolutions and our sacrifices? Is Juan Rulfo saying that in the end all will be forgotten but not forgiven? The novel does not feel pessimistic, despite its underlying morbidity, yet there is a feeling of futility in everything, a futility to tame the land, to even tame ourselves and our vices – alcohol is a reoccurring image in the novel and plays a major role in the finale. In fact alcohol is even confused with milk when he mentions Pulque.

Yet this forgetting also explores something deeper about humanity: our imagination.

There’s a wonderful image where Susana San Juan sees “a blurred image” where a “diffuse light burns in the place of its heart” and then just a few sentences later we learn that “blurred image” is actually Father Renteria and he’s holding a candle in front of him with cupped hands. This mixing and blending of images, of the real and fantastic, of time distorting continually through the story, of sentences that read “The rusty gears of the earth are almost audible: the vibration of this ancient earth overturns darkness.” are followed a little later with “A humming like wings sounded above her. And the creaking of the pulley in the well. The sound of people waking up” that gives us a magical image of the sun slowly rising in the sky, a sun controlled by both the laws of nature and science but also by unknown supernatural forces.

And that is what human understanding is all about, too. We spend our time in darkness until we learn just enough to light the room but then everything we knew and feared and loved in the dark goes away forever. We forget the dark, the pain and misery – the pain and misery of a war, for example, is lost to us because we now live on the other side of the dark / light boundary. The dead can barely speak to us anymore and we can hardly hear them.

That leads me to something I else I learned about, the poem by Edgar Lee Masters titled ‘Spoon River Anthology’. Like Pedro Páramo the dead in Spoon River Anthology also speak and through them we learn the secrets of their lives and of the town. It’s a wonderful story but here the truth is laid bare because the dead no longer have any reason to hide and so unlike the novel which is filled with magic and mystery, these dead will not let us forget their lives and events that happened to them. It’s an interesting juxtaposition because where Spoon River Anthology is matter-of-fact and does not indulge in mysticism, just over the border in Mexico and entirely different way of looking at life and death is present. Over just one border lies such an incredibly different world.

I’m not one to mark up my books very much; I might underline a passage here and there, but in only two books have I ever so defaced the book with pencil: Ulysses and now Pedro Páramo. And unlike Ulysses, I didn’t even have a book for Pedro Páramo, I found a .pdf of the novel and secretly printed it out at work on regular office paper, three-holed punched it, and read it from a three-ring binder I keep some old drawings in. This was I was able to underline passages, take notes, look up Spanish, draw lines to connect text, and scribble down by impressions and thoughts. For me this was the perfect way to experience the novel – to become engrossed in it and fully explore it – like being lowered down into the Andromeda mine with a rope and lantern and slowly pull up each skeleton at a time into the light to observe them all one by one.

As a work of art, Pedro Páramo is a masterpiece. This is an achingly beautiful novel and I can see how this inspired Gabriel García Márquez. The world is a richer place because of Juan Rulfo; let’s never forget him.

85% done with Pedro Páramo

Susana sees Father Renteria as if in a vision, “A diffuse light burns in the place of its heart, a tiny heart pulsing like a flickering flame”, then when she can see more clearly we learn he is holding a candle with cupped hands in front of him.

This blending of real and unreal is in everything: San Pascual, the King of the Graveyard, the Pulque as milk-like but alcoholic.

Everything’s mystical perception.

38% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

How dare they put it on a map!

I love the image of the short wave radio as they travel up the river and the American music playing, as if like a voice from heaven, and them saying ‘Praise the Lord’ into the overgrowth and stinking rottenness of the jungle.

Then they see the overgrown cross but refuse to clean it because it’s a Catholic cross. Same god, different cross, apparently.

They really hate the jungle

42% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

Women are blamed for all the evil in the world, mercenaries roam the countryside with thieving impunity, and the rich are so extravagant as to be absurd. And in 700 years we’ve only managed to solve the problem of mercenaries.

A great personal library at the time consisted of fewer than 100 books – I have twice that on my Kindle at the moment with room for 10X that amount still.

34% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

One thing I enjoy is how Matthieson will give a detail that has no explanation and then revisit that same detail from another pov (Lewis’), it gives us an understanding into how things are working out in the irrational jungle.

I like the scenes with Hazel; she’s well written. She not the shrill, uppity shrew you’d think at first, she’s more complicated.

Father Xantes is a total mystery; he knows something.

65% done with Pedro Páramo

I’ve never heard of the 1926-1929 Cristero War before; much of this book deals with that war in one way or another.

Basically the war was fought because the constitution of Mexico tried to limit the control the Catholic church had in Mexico. The church previously had not supported the Mexican revolution because it threatened property rights.

Boundaries, the dead not forgiven but still speaking, barren land …

28% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

I’m conflicted. On the one hand I really am not a fan of drugged out freak out scenes in books (nor dreams). I also don’t really like we learn so much about Lewis via this method. However, it is well written – I love the bit about describing the fat lady as a dinner feast dumped into a bag – and there is a feverish to everything (the heat), so I’ll leave it.

“How long can a man hold his heart in silence?”

35% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

It’s funny how French never really became the global language like English or Spanish. Every court in Europe spoke French from medieval days right up into the days of Tolstoy in Russia. But this class based language meant it never trickled down to regular people and here Tuchman points to another interesting twist of linguistics: the Black Death itself. Teachers in French outside of France died; the vernacular lived

43% done with Pedro Páramo

This is amazing!

Basically this is the story of a town and some of the events that happened before the town fell. However, time is meaningless here; everything is memory and sadness and violence and sin and shame.

I love the notion of ‘falsifying boundaries’: here the living and the dead intermix (in fact couplets are common in this story), there are holes in the roof to heaven – no boundaries: all flat plains.

31% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

It’s funny that while all through history there is the so very common and repeated story of the poor and exploited rising up against those in power and killing them that you’d think, after all these centuries people would, you know, ‘get it’. Right now we live in a time where even the slightest hiccup in economics could spiral dangerously out of control in all parts of the world. Why can’t we EVER LEARN!

18% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

This is quite the assembled cast of characters, each with their own serious issues.

I like how squalid everything is; nothing is good in this jungle – it contrasts nicely with the jungle Indians who are living, for the moment, in relative peace and happiness. No wonder they’re about to have some bombs dropped on them.

The image of things falling from the sky is continually repeated, too. Falling and the fallen.

20% done with Pedro Páramo

While this is a short book, there is so much going on in every paragraph that I thought it would be fun to do a close reading of it and look up every word and name and place in Spanish.

The writing is beautiful; beyond beautiful. This is about as magical as it gets, really.

Time flows in every direction, memories float in and out, the dead speak but don’t know they are dead. One prayer against thousands.

26% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

It’s amazing the perfect storm of bad luck that was the 14th century: plague (the Black Death) being carried by both rats AND fleas, famine and its associated economic implications, and really bad leadership made up of a lot of teenagers. It’s almost a wonder Western Civilization didn’t just dry up.

Tuchman falls victim to telling so much history that it gets hard to follow one strand very long – too many people.

7% done with At Play in the Fields of the Lord

That opening image of the shining airplane against the blue sky and above the peaks of the Andes mountains is so beautiful. In fact Matthieson reminds me of Conrad; his language is beautiful and filled with little poetic beats – such as the image of men leaping from an airplane into the jungle before the plane even comes to a stop, and the white sun in a white sky like a fried egg.

This is off to a great start.

21% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

There’s a memorable scene in the Seventh Seal where, during a theatrical show, the Flagellants arrive in town burdened with heavy wooden crosses, dressed in rags, burning incense, and whipping themselves bloody. It seems almost over-the-top, but to know it really happened speaks a lot about human nature in the face of total devastation. Men are not always ennobled in crisis; men can turn animal, too.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale: Read from April 19 to May 09, 2014

Samurai films are my favorite genre pictures. Mainly what attracts me to them isn’t so much that I love Japanese history or ever wanted to be a samurai, it’s that I love how a good, proper samurai film teases out the action until the finale. Samurai films are about patience; the slow burn. Shots might linger on the rain, or cherry blossoms, or footprints in the snow, or the sounds of cicadas in the summer heat but the ‘action’ isn’t until after two hours of build up.

For me anticipation is what I love, perhaps more than the resolution itself. I love waiting for something to happen but I never really was that excited for the thing itself. I suppose I just like having something to look forward to. Expectation and imagination is, typically, far more interesting than reality.

A samurai would spend his entire life training for battle yet, like the samurai in Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ not be victorious even once. There would be very little glory in a war; only the young and inexperienced would find it romantic while the old veterans would know there is never really any winning a war.

And that is what Moby Dick is for me: a samurai film set at sea where the warriors are all Nantucket whalers and the villain is a fish.

Melville, too, must have felt similar about anticipation as I do. His whole novel – though this is not a novel, it’s really an epic poem – is imagination and anticipation and beautiful images of the sea and of death and of the whaling life. Yet in the end it’s all so futile.

“Great God, where is the ship?”

One thing I hadn’t counted on about Moby Dick is how even though everyone who hasn’t read the novel is well aware of it and the events within, it’s not a book you can really know anything about without reading. This is a book, like Ulysses you have to experience. You have to live through this novel; it has to happen to you. This isn’t a story to be told in the normal sense – in fact the book is almost everything but a normal novel after we set sail – this is a book whose art is in forcing you to live the events of the book as if you are on that cursed ship.

Something that really struck me is that our narrator who is so famously introduced to us in one of the great first lines in a book – ‘Call me Ishmael’ – slowly ghosts away as the novel goes on. What starts as a book about Ishmael’s experience getting on the ship and learning about whaling (and the entire science of whales), he lets go of our hand and we begin floating about the Pequod like a disembodied spirit. We overhear everyone’s conversations, even their private mutterings, and the point of view expands out to be in all places at all times. It’s an unsettling sensation because Melville is physically enlisting each of us onto that ship as a shipmate and after our initial training we are forced to watch the events unfold to their conclusion.

I also had no idea that the novel is not really a novel – not in the traditional sense. Moby Dick is, basically, postmodern but from the 1850’s. I had expected a somewhat straightforward novel about the grappling with a whale, not 209,117 words of epic poetry. I had not expected the novel to still feel so fresh as it must have been when it was written nearing on 200 years ago.

One last thing that I have to confess is that I don’t believe Ahab was mad. Obsessed? yes, but not insane. He was a salty captain with 40 years of experience at sea and he knew what he was doing. I don’t even think he had a death wish, I just think he saw an opportunity to be truly great and flew at it with everything he had. He was already a great whaler (how else would he have lasted so long?) so he knew he could defeat that fish if he really tried. And I don’t see anything wrong with that, too. All those men knew what they were in for and if Starbuck was more of a man he might have stopped Ahab, but Ahab is the sort of person who winds up wither being great or being killed; he is no ordinary person.

He’s very American in that way – he’ll damn everything to get what he wants.

Overall and beyond all the great themes of the novel is just how damn well it’s written. There is nothing like this book. The language is so seductive, the imagery so vivid, everything on that ship and the sea so perfectly realized that there were times I had to pinch myself that this was real. Some of the writing is so good that it almost doesn’t even seem possible, as if it were written by some God.

Now that I’m done with the book I’m sad. I’ve now read Moby Dick and there are only so many great novels in the world worth throwing a harpoon at. But what a voyage getting there!

page 594 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

“Oh God! that a man should be a thing for immortal souls to sieve through!”

All Delight behind them, Moby Dick is finally spotted and they do battle with him! He really is like a ghost from the deep rising up as if shot from hell for their troubles.

I don’t really find Ahab to be mad. He’s a successful whaling captain (40 years) who sees a chance at greatness, if for dubious reasons. He’s very alive and awake.

page 572 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Harnessing the power of nature with the turned compass needle, converting a coffin into a life preserver to drag behind the ship, the image of a man first falling from the mast then into a soap of white bubbles and disappearing forever. The Rachael with her grieving captain and Ahab’s terrible reply. Pip gone mad, Ishmael as narrator a ghost now and hardly heard from as he drifts aboard the ship and into their minds.

15% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

I might have to re-read this section because I’m still a little unclear as the cause of 14th century hostilities between England and France. However, Flanders does play a role and in the burgeoning economic climate of the times, whoever controls Flanders is going to be quite rich.

The long bow is well documented in its importance to war. Must have been terrifying. Foot-soldiers were just fodder; class mistake.

page 533 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

It’s all doom and gloom on the poor Pequod. Queequeg getting measured for a coffin, old whale bones covered in moss, Ahab forging his own harpoon, the jolly Bachelor making her way (funny name for a ship) back home full of cargo in every hold and a captain as happy as Ahab is mad.

You can feel the whale now, feel it just over the horizon, waiting, maybe even watching. Death speeding to more death.


12% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

It really is quite odd the attitude towards children (under 6-7) in medieval times. Life was so difficult and children dying common but human nature seems counter towards social norms towards children.

Chivalry makes more sense in that it does present a civilizing force upon warlike men, even if it manages to encourage more violence at times.

I like how medicine fell under the sphere of music = harmony of body

page 507 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

It’s sad how wrong Melville was about the sustainability of whale hunting. His view was so romantic, from an artistic point of view, that he assumed the whale to be nearly immortal and a theme greater than all of man’s endeavors. Yet at the same time he ships with a mad captain hell-bent on killing one whale who took a leg – imagine a thousand such investors all mad for the whole see of whales?! So very complex man

9% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

Like now, when we look at powerful institutions (government, church) we remember and focus on the scandals yet never mind at all the majority of boring people who are trying to do their best. We think of the medieval church as a gang on lecherous thugs squeezing money from filthy dirt farmers, yet the truth is far more complicated.

I like how their was a code of dress for fine clothing; a rich person’s uniform.

page 478 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

This book wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for how beautifully written it is because he teases out the white whale for so long that you feel just as insane to get to him as Ahab does.

And that’s the art here. While we SHOULD be reveling in the beautiful sea, the glory of the biology of the whale, the wonder of sailing, all we can think about is “get on with it, man! To the white whale and slay him already!”

5% done with A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

This is the second book by Tuchman I’ve read – The Guns of August being the other.

I like her no-nonsense methodology; she cuts straight to the facts, dismisses pedantry, is interested in the unusual and is people oriented. She can be very dense at times but she expects a lot from her reader.

I like that she looks at the century through the eyes of one central figure (a unique approach).

page 456 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

I love his description of the herds of whales, especially the scene describing the newborn calf, its tail still folded from having been so long gestating. There is a beautiful tenderness to all this and it’s very human-like. The large males with their harems, the riotous young males like collegiate hooligans, the old, wise, lone men.

All that juxtaposed with Pip alone at sea, shapes moving below him; helpless.

page 407 of 615 of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Obsessed with something you cannot understand, a monster with no face, who presents only his backside to you in anger, a beast of pyramidical silence.

Though we get nearly nothing of Ahab, we feel this obsession through Ishmael’s scientific and philosophic wanderings. But what is Ahab pondering all this time?

Melville knows full well the mythic of the tale and links it to the great legends of old.