Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hochman Discussion

Hochman's essay is a discussion on a common theme in all of the characters within Norris's McTeague. The article points out that each character starts out as an everyday member of society, yet is driven out of this by change in their lives. The change leads to discomfort and a development of certain habits, and further down the road it develops into something of a mania, especially in the case of the main character Mac. The original change in the lives of these characters isn't always life threatening really, but often it unsettles these simple citizens. In this upset, rather than dealing with the issue which is bothering them they return to a habit, such as drinking steamed beer in Mac's case or telling a story in Maria's case. Inevitably the habit they return to is only a temporary reprieve, and they must continue to increase the behavior in order to block out their growing concerns. To simplify it, this essay is about the many coping mechanisms used by the characters of McTeague, and the folly of  the character's retreat from their problems.

This article was actually highly informative to me and shed a great deal of light on some of the activities of the characters. It added an element of cohesion to the many characters plots developments. Furthermore, after reading this article McTeague became much less of a Shakespearean tragedy and more of an examination of human nature, as naturalism is supposed to be. This also lends credibility to the novel as a whole. The article was thorough, and backed every point it made well with examples from most of the major characters as well as some minor ones.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

He just wanted to be cool

The way "The Damnation of Theron Ware" ended playing out was no much how I imagined. As much as I sometimes moan and complain about unlikeable characters at times though, I found Theron's fall from reader's grace, as well as the grace of his friends, quite a nice development in keeping the plot interesting. To me Theron's Ware's state of mentality was perfect in it's simplicity, and his progression through the book tells about the dangers of presenting advanced ideas to simple people, that maybe sometimes the enlightenment of the world is a dangerous endeavor.
By sharing all these advanced views on the true meanings and interpretation of religion, poor simple Theron Ware's head got carried away on thoughts too big for him to fully understand and apply to his life and it ended up scrapping his moral code and causing him to lose all of his friends. These friends all the while saying "Oh jeez no I didn't mean for you to... oh why would you do that I just meant..." It rings a true chord for anybody who has ever given a child an idea and had them just get carried away with it. Within lots of amazing new ideas about philosophy and religion being expressed in this book I get the feeling that sometimes the average church going public isn't ready for an eye opening philosophical discussion, and to some extent their ignorance is bliss.

Theron Ware was sort of our everyman, not perfect, but a priestly man with a wife and a house. His ignorance of these new ideas kept him somewhere in a pious cocoon, until Ledsmar Celia and Forbes and Soulsby unbarred the gates and he ran into some train tracks really. Maybe people shouldn't be submersed in new ideas until they develop them themselves and are mature and stable enough in their life to handle them, because for Theron Ware what he understood about his God and religion was the only thing anchoring him to a decent life.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Carpenter, I hardly knew ye

Oh sweet carpenter, I feel like I barely got to know you. One minute we are introduced to your stunning woodwork in building Queequeg's coffin and the next minute you are sinking to the bottom of the sea in the crushed carcass of the Pequod. I speak for all when I say your fine woodcraft will be missed by all.Fedallah on the the other hand can shove it, good luck being a whale's necklace for the rest of your existence. Ahab, I wasn't always your biggest fan but I must say you went out with some bravado. Your delusions of grandeur became quite amusing, especially toward the end when you began to realize your final soliloquy was probably going to be titled "I'm Getting Eaten by a Freak Sonovabitch Whale God." I do have to say I was pulling for you, and don't quite feel you deserved all the bad luck. I mean really if God didn't want you to kill all those whales he probably shouldn't have filled their heads with sweet perfumes. It'd be like my parents striking me down for breaking a pinata with delicious candy in it. But I digress.

Moby Dick in it's later chapters had me wondering where this whole thing was going. I mean really I kind of thought "is this gonna end? is this gonna end?" and then four chapters later thought "...wait, it ended?" As far as content goes, it is fun to be sarcastic about Moby Dick but I really did enjoy it mostly, through fits of confusion. I have to say though, that I mostly enjoyed it for it's parallels on religion and some points it made on culture and humanity through the whaling trade, but was dissapointed with the lack of direction in the story for large chunks of the novel. When I strip the symbolism away and focus on raw story though, it seems to come down to this:

Moby Dick is a story about not quite interesting characters doing not quite boring things, on a boat, and then dying.

I don't quite mean to say that none of the characters are interesting, as Ahab Ishmael and Queequeg, as well as certain crew members really had some great stuff going, but rather than being used as characters they were often just used to portray different sides of the world views. It really feels like the hunt for the White Whale, and Ishmael's adventure is just a vehicle for Melville to state some new ideas. Groovy ideas they are, but I still feel slightly gypped with the potential this story held and how often Melville took us aside to turn this into a documentary. It'd be like watching Gladiator and having it get put on pause to explain the eating habits of slaves in gladiator camps. I think at some point very early on Melville should have decided whether he was going "Epic Adventure Novel," or "Philosophy on the High Seas" or "Whaling for Dummies" but not all of the above.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Now wait just a minute...

What's your game Melville? What are you doing with these characters? Just how big is this boat you speak of? Does the Pequod contain some sort of worm hole/Narnia Closet you failed to inform us about? Why are blacksmiths and carpenters so boring that they fail to make any lasting impression upon Ishmael until 3/4 of the way through the book? Why is my neighbor blasting the theme from Titanic? What the hell is Fedallah doing down at the bottom of the boat for so long? Did they bring board games? Doing each others makeup? On that matter I'm not even sure if a man can craft a turban out of his own hair. Questions, Mr. Melville. Questions Questions. This almost reminds me of the show Lost in that I am told who the base characters are and then greeted throughout the storyline by constant streams of "Oh and this guy was there, and that guy, and a man in a hat, also this guy is made of Jam now, and the hat was actually made of bees."

This blog, by the way, is brought to you by sleep deprivation and a brain wasted on a tidal wave of metaphors that continues to crash down upon my poor brain. See my brain is like a dinky boat, Melville's Novel is the ocean of metaphors I'm sailing through, Melville is my Ahab, finding some cohesive idea to walk away from this novel with is my White Whale, and Sparknotes is my dear Queequeg. I'm starting to think at this point that Melville didn't complete his research until he was almost done with the book, as carpenter and blacksmith's purpose on a whaling boat isn't that ambiguous, but their absence up to now cannot be explained. I also think at points that Melville may have gotten 2/3s of the way through writing this before thinking "Ooh, I want a crowd of wild men from the Phillipines on board now, better throw in a hint about them earlier so my audience isn't completely blind-sided by them."

Having said that, I am still enjoying the comparison and contrasting views of the already existing characters, particularly the practical nature of Stubb and Flask, plus the new spin on Pip's character and Starbuck's religious input on numerous topics. The novel hasn't worn out it's welcome completely, I just am reeling more and more at how many holes would be torn in me if I presented this to one of my creative writing teachers. Phew.

White Whale, Holy Grail

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Now isn't that a phrase? Anyways this week we broke ground in Moby Dick and the Pequod finally brought down a whale. Two of them actually, and these events have unveiled a new face of whaling. Where we were once faced with war between man in sea we are now given an image of tragic victims of man's enterprise. This development was fairly surprising as I was expecting the novel to maintain it's combative disposition toward the whales in order to glorify those involved in the hunt, but as soon as we saddle up for the hunt we are immediately underwhelmed.

 Once the audience of the novel is actually faced with a real live whale it cuts the conception of them as blood thirsty sea monsters to ribbons, as immediately as the whales are cut to ribbons. The whale isn't killed with any great difficulty or loss of the crew, or damage to the ship. Ironically most danger that comes to the crew comes from the disposal of the whales body. The image of the corpse's disposal, after the creature is shed of it's valuable blubber coat, is of a scorned ghost floating out to sea as the vultures and sharks pick away at it. The idea of the whale having a ghost is indicative of a tragic death or unrighteous slaying, and with each new resource harvested the imagery  is more undignified and harsh. It borders on murder really, with all of the human tributes given to the whales in former chapters in order to set them up as enemies. What we are left with is the beginnings of a more modern look at whales as the gentle giants we know them as.

What I'm interested to see is how this is going to effect our views toward the rest of this journey that Ishmael is on. We're barely halfway through the book and there our image of these daring warriors at sea is unraveling. I still think it leaves room for some more enlightenment and development for Ishmael's opinion and narrative.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blithedale Romance to High Seas Bromance

Well thirty some odd chapters in to Moby Dick and it's nothing short of a delight. This story is so rich with references to history, culture, and other writing that there was rarely a chapter that didn't give me something to new to think about. I think what I want to discuss today though is a subject we went into for a measure in class, which is conduct between Ishmael and Queequeg that some considered homo-erotic. Homo-eroticism certainly crops up in it's fair share of stories in the realm of past writings and I think at times it may lead us to make assumptions too fast at what an author is going for, and while I cannot deny how comically close the two characters are at times I think there are specific elements that are missing from this story so far that separate their antics apart from homo-erotic behavior.

Admittedly part of my disposition on this subject could arise from the fact that I a pre-conception of homo-eroticism in literature as being something uncomfortably passionate between two men or women in a setting where it isn't expected, but overall Ishmael and Queequeg's antics were far too open for me to think there was some hiding latent sexual attraction between them. In fact most of the "taboo" elements such as Ishmael's waking up with the Queequeg's arm over him in chapter 4 is presented with an large air of comedy about it, and there is such a casual air about Queequeg''s disposition that none of it really seems that scandalous or hidden between the two. It all plays itself out much more like the modern equivalent of two guy friends, one of whose wife constantly views their antics and says "Oh why don't you two just marry each other for christ's sake!"

But again, I'm more prone to classify homo-eroticism as something that is feared by characters or hidden, such as Antonio toward Sebastian in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." The way that Ishmael frets over Queequeg in chapter 17 during his Ramadan shows comic concern that doesn't play out as one secret lover to another, but perhaps a mother to a child, or an old couple that has been married for years. There weren't any of those tell-tale passages wherein Ishmael accidentally goes to far with a description of his comrades' body and unwittingly reveals to the reader that he's been studying his friends body with too much interest. Even the passages in which he describes their "Heart's Honeymoon" and tells them off as a "cosy loving pair" seems like the simile goes to far, too intentionally inappropriate. Ishmael is too amused with the whole retrospective comparison for it to be something deep and steamy.

In summation, I think Ishmael's openness and perhaps naivety toward the whole ordeal, and even the two's openness for their camaraderie around other characters takes away the secrecy element, and without secrecy there is no desperation, no passion between these characters, and secret passion is the main ingredient in literary homo-eroticism. What we have here seems more like one of the first guy-pal stories ever written