Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Return To Paradise : A Girl From The Taipai Valley, & other Melvilleanisms.. and literary interventions.

"I may succeed, perhaps, in particularizing some of the individual features of Fayaway's beauty, but that general loveliness of appearance which they all contributed to produce I will not attempt to describe."

Melville, from Typee

"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event - in the living act, the undoubted deed - there, some unknown but reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!"

Ahab to Starbuck "The Quarter-Deck"  - Moby Dick

"On  the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last.  It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan."

from  Epilogue to Moby Dick


(posted February 15th)


"This poor gambler isn't even a noun.  He is a kind of adverb.  Each sin is a result of a collaboration."          .....  from "The Blue Hotel"

There was a man with a tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of the tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing.
And with that the singer was content.

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
You can never - "

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.


(posted February 18th/19th)

"Melville...deserted the Acushnet, his first whaleship, at the Marquesas.  He was one of eleven mutineers aboard his second, a Sydney ship the Lucy Ann, at Tahiti.  Nothing is known of his conduct on the third,  except that he turned up after it, ashore, at Honolulu. ..... Like Timon Melville found only disappointment. He lost Jack Chase, and Hawthorne, shyest grape, hid from him.  In a poem of his later years Melville wrote:

'To have known him, to have loved him
After loneness long
And then to be estranged in life
And neither of us wrong
Ease me, a little ease, my song.' "

(Charles Olson, from Call Me Ishmael)

(Maybe re: Hawthorne it was for the best.  Perhaps Melville picked up the shadow of anti-semitism which does surface in his writing, from Hawthorne, who, in The Marble Faun manuscript under golden chain and lock and key in the British Museum, compares Jews to cockroaches.  In the following century, most first generation modernists shared their dislike and distrust and even hatred of Jews, from Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, to T.S. Eliot's viciousness throughout his poetry and in his unexpurgated prose essays, to Gertrude Stein, whose anti-semitism after her rejection of her inherited Judaism, and her overt support of Hitler, has been whitewashed by many contemporary feminists and poets. Not even Pound in his writings or his broadcasts in Italy ever praised Hitler to the best of my knowledge.  Of the Americans it was only Hemingway who was able to transcend his prejudices in this respect.

In England, anti-semitism seems almost to be hard-wired, and the medieval massacre of Jews at York, has been obliterated from English history as "not part of our story" as one Englishman put it to me.  Of course, in English religious education at a primary and secondary (high school) level, only Christianity and, more recently, Islam, are taught. Philip Roth in his "Christendom" chapter of his novel, The Counterlife, delineated the anti-semitism which has pervaded English culture.  You might be hard-pressed indeed to name an English writer prior to WWII who did not share and perpetuate an anti-Jewish point of view.

As Leslie Fiedler has written of encountering Shylock: "Shylock is the product of their guilt and fear, a stratagem for projecting what they must needs recognize as evil in themselves onto an alien Other....And how, after the experience of Hitlerism, is it possible not to be aware that even smoldering ashes of those myths can be blown into flame when will and circumstance conspire."

Edward Dahlberg in Can These Bones Live writes: "Melville had come to deny woman as a planetary creature.  In the brief pagan heyday in Omoo, Typee, Mardi, he believed he had moulded nude female cannibals; however, he had limmed insubstantial and aerated phantoms of sensuality, Fayaway and Yillah....In Pierre it was incest; but Isabel, the beloved of her brother Pierre, is an air-substanced leafy, bowered Yillah - only more Atlantic and fjord-like in speech and temper....What was Melville's quest?  His insatiate hunger for absolutes, for the Platonic forms of gentleness, mercy and understanding, was taking him whither?  In his pilgrimage for the "heart's virgin experience," Melville, in his last year, had conceived in Billy Budd pure Male manhood, but had drawn a vestal maiden in the likeness of one of Fra Angelico's seraphs."

Olson again, in Call Me Ishmael: "The three great creations of Melville and Moby-Dick are Ahab, The Pacific, and the White Whale."


(posted March 1st)

"Who knows what true loneliness is - not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion."

"Do you understand what I say?  Not one to go to.  Do you conceive the desolation of the thought - no one - to - go - to?  .....  'How did this old man come here' he muttered, astounded."  

Joseph Conrad,  Under Western Eyes


(posted March 7th)

"In the 'Withheld' Letter 27 he had laid out, in a resounding epistolary voice...the distinguishing thing of (his) zoe-life....The poet sees the connection between his own zoe-life and geography, which is the purchase he had needed for Maximus to address the bios-life of the citizens of Gloucester....In the congruent mapping of 'spacial nature' he had found a way to express that which to Kerenyi is inexpressible, the thing that watches you in your drunken bios-life, the intoxication of Merry as Maximus IV V VI opens."

-----Jack Clarke in intent. (vol. 2 no, 4 / vol 3. no. 1) Winter/Spring 1991.