15 February 2013

Taking On Water

At the end of the last post I pulled a bit out of the Lawrence essay on Dana's Two Years Before the Mast.

The Greatness of Lawrence's "weird little book" (as I've seen it described) is its interconnectedness from chapter to chapter.  Here is a point in illustration.

The Poe chapter stresses the mechanistic and material search for "KNOWING" as a final truth.  The Dana chapter offered this:

We know enough. We know too much. We know nothing. 
Let us smash something. Ourselves included. But the machine above all. 
Dana's small book is a very great book: contains a great extreme of knowledge, knowledge of the great element. 
And after all, we have to know all before we can know that knowing is nothing. 
Imaginatively, we have to know all: even the elemental waters. And know and know on, until knowledge suddenly shrivels and we know that forever we don't know.
I have put in bold the KEY point made in the book.  The men among us who are in charge of us, who rule us, who order us, who demand our fealty to commerce and an unjust application of laws (yes, I said "men"), do all this PRACTICALLY and PHYSICALLY.  The artists in Lawrence's estimation are GREAT...The MEN are decidedly not.

So, to the "advance" in the man who is Melville.  As an artist, the author of perhaps our greatest and deepest book.  As a man, like all men, much, much smaller.  BUT not a slithering liar, NOT a reformer, not an American such as Franklin.  No programs for improvement...except for imagination...

In the "Typee, Omoo" chapter in Studies, Lawrence declares the Melvillean Difference :

And once he has escaped, immediately he begins to sigh and pine for the 'Paradise' - Home and Mother being at the other end even of a whaling voyage. 
When he really was Home with Mother, he found it Purgatory. But Typee must have been even worse than Purgatory, a soft hell, judging from the murderous frenzy which possessed him to escape. 
But once aboard the whaler that carried him off from Nukuheva, he looked back and sighed for the Paradise he had just escaped from in such a fever. 
Poor Melville! He was determined Paradise existed. So he was always in Purgatory.

He was born for Purgatory. Some souls are purgatorial by destiny. 
The very freedom of his Typee was a torture to him. Its ease was slowly horrible to him. This time be was the fly in the odorous tropical ointment. 
He needed to fight. It was no good to him, the relaxation of the non-moral tropics. He didn't really want Eden. He wanted to fight. Like every American. To fight. But with weapons of the spirit, not the flesh.
This has always been my position.  The drive to make, to destroy, to dissect, to see further both out and in, to KNOW, via the one sense, sight, and the one mind, intellect, is going to destroy humanity.

We can't seem to help ourselves.

Take a break, take a beat, stop listening to the programmatic managers--that is everyone "in charge" of your life and livelihood--and read a book.  Preferably one printed on paper, preferably from a library, preferably at least 100 years old, preferably Moby Dick.  But nearly anything out of the 19th Century holds far more depth and wisdom than anything written since.  It was the century wherein the metaphorical iceberg was struck and we have done nothing but take on water in the aftermath.

A book can be a buoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment