12 May 2014

One Cogged Circle

There are two things that strike me with Chapter 37 of Moby Dick (excerpt follows).

1. There seems a kind of Gnostic contention here. "…and what I've willed, I'll do." In the assertion of the "lack" of the "low, enjoying power" many have thought this was due to being "dismasted" by the whale and that the lost leg is rather the loss of "generative power"--an impotence. But there is in Kabbalah a will to "break down the distinction between God in Itself (God on high, set apart) and God in its appearance, in its immanence (in the low, a part). There is no separation." (Bernstein, "Reznikoff's Nearness," in Sulfur #32, p 19.) Applied to the below, Ahab lacks the sense of God as a part of himself but rather only confronts the "God on high, set apart."

2. Here Melville somewhat countermands an Emersonian trope in "Circles" that every circle admits of being outdone, a circle can be encompassed by a greater circle, an infinite expansion of the possible.

THE EYE is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose centre was everywhere and its circumference nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already deduced in considering the circular or compensatory character of every human action. Another analogy we shall now trace, that every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

In Moby Dick Ahab claims not the ability to draw the greatest circle, rather he asserts his worldly power, against the transcendental idea in Emerson, of being the small circle at the center of other circles "cogged" so that all other "circles" (his crew, their "will") are fitted to his turning.


CHAPTER 37. Sunset.


I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where'er I
sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them;
but first I pass.

Yonder, by ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine.
The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun--slow dived from noon--goes
down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then,
the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is
it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings; but
darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. 'Tis iron--that
I know--not gold. 'Tis split, too--that I feel; the jagged edge galls
me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull,
mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!

Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly spurred
me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it lights not me;
all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne'er enjoy. Gifted with
the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly
and most malignantly! damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night--good

'Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least;
but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they
revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all
stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire others, the
match itself must needs be wasting! What I've dared, I've willed; and
what I've willed, I'll do! They think me mad--Starbuck does; but I'm
demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that's only calm
to comprehend itself!

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