Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (via Melville's whale)

I don't know why I picked up my well-worn Modern Library copy of Moby-Dick to read on the train yesterday. Sometimes you feel the need to read something you've read more than once before, especially one of those books that you KNOW will reward you with something you haven't seen there before. I didn't expect to be knocked out within the first 5 pages of the opening "Loomings" chapter --
<< ... And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States."

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces .... >>

I'm sure that hundreds of critics and bloggers have written about this coincidence of Ishmael's contested Presidential election and "bloody Affghanistan [sic]" with the recent events of 2000 -- 2002, and that it becomes a lively source of discussion in high school and college literature classes getting their first exposure to Melville's masterpiece. They must wonder if Melville is a nineteenth-century Nostradamus. They must question which election, and which of Queen Victoria's little wars he's referring to in these headlines. Not only don't we know what great mid-nineteenth century news events he's making reference to*, but we don't care (except as it relates to the novel). But we do, over 150 years later, care about Ishmael and Queequeg and Ahab and their whale, and their author, and we will for hundreds of years to come.

By then, with a little luck, Dobeliou and his dirty little wars will be nothing but footnotes to some great creative work being toiled over today by some modern underappreciated customs clerk.

à bientôt,
True Blue Liberal

*Of course, if YOU know which presidential election and which war he's referring to, you're more than welcome to share the information with us (and show your intellectual superiority to a self-proclaimed True Blue Liberal) in the Comments section below.

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