Thursday, July 6

The White Whale

Finally finished reading Moby Dick. It took some effort but, ultimately, was rewarding. It's important to read the major works of the canon; otherwise how are you going to pick up all the references in The Simpsons?

Case in point - one of Ahab's last lines in Moby Dick: "From Hell's heart, I stab at thee."

The line is also uttered by Mr Burns in the classic strike episode (the one where Homer becomes union boss) as he cuts the town's power. I had always assumed it was from Shakespeare but no, it's Melville.

Moby Dick is very heavy going at times (for example, an entire chapter titled 'The Crotch' devoted to describing the crotch, which, as best as I can tell from the dense text is just a harpoon stand) but then you encounter pure gold like the following passage:

Nor, at the time, had it failed to enter his monomaniac mind, that all the anguish of that then present suffering was but the direct issue of a former woe; and he too plainly seemed to see, that as the most poisonous reptile of the marsh perpetuates his kind as inevitably as the sweetest songster of the grove; so, equally with every felicity, all miserable events do naturally beget their like. Yea, more than equally, thought Ahab; since both the ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than the ancestry and posterity of Joy. For, not to hint of this: that it is an inference from certain canonic teachings, that while some natural enjoyments here shall have no children born to them for the other world, but, on the contrary, shall be followed by the joy-childlessness of all hell's despair; whereas, some guilty mortal miseries shall still fertilely beget to themselves an eternally progressive progeny of griefs beyond the grave; not at all to hint of this, there still seems an inequality in the deeper analysis of the thing. For, thought Ahab, while even the highest earthly felicities ever have a certain unsignifying pettiness lurking in them, but, at bottom, all heart-woes, a mystic significance, and, in some men, an archangelic grandeur; so do their diligent tracings-out not belie the obvious deduction. To trail the genealogies of these high mortal miseries, carries us at last among the sourceless primogenitures of the gods; so that, in the face of all the glad, hay-making suns, and soft-cymballing, round harvest- moons, we must needs give in to this: that the gods themselves are not for ever glad. The ineffaceable, sad birth-mark in the brow of man, is but the stamp of sorrow in the signers.




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