The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Herman Melville’

Naptime with Mrs. Melville

July 30, 2015 | by

14984882026_7b8ff43108_o

A portrait of Maria Gansevoort Melville by Ezra Ames, ca. 1815.

Yesterday we posted Rick Moody’s introduction to Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, a searching 1965 novel by Paul Metcalf in which he grapples with the influence of his great-grandfather, who so happened to be Herman Melville.

Metcalf makes liberal use of Melville throughout the novel, often quoting his work for paragraphs or pages at a stretch. He also inserts his own asides, and one of these in particular I’ve found striking. “I think, for a moment,” he writes,

of Maria Melville, Herman Melville’s mother, who, it is reliably reported, would require her eight children to sit on little stools around her bed, motionless, while she took her daily nap, that she might keep track of them.

Read More »

On Paul Metcalf’s Genoa

July 29, 2015 | by

Metcalf’s “poeticized collage” reckons with his great-grandfather, Herman Melville.

Paul Metcalf

It is extremely rare, these days, to encounter something that feels completely new. That is, most literary artifacts are pretty easy to slot into one format or the other.What a gift then, what a rare, beautiful turn of events when you stumble on a book that seems to come from some spot entirely its own. What a gift, the moment in which you must summon all your readerly resources to grasp the enormity of what you are encountering, to see the pages as they are. I can count these reading experiences on one hand, and in each case I was somehow improved,made better as a reader (Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes; Sanitorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, by Bruno Schulz; The Recognitions, by William Gaddis; The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald; The Beetle Leg, by John Hawkes). Often the reason we read is in the hope of having these experiences of the truly, unmistakably original.

Paul Metcalf is one of these original writers. A writer who had to follow his own path, at significant cost to himself, over many decades, without a large following. A writer who took the forms that were at hand and shook them up, recast them, repurposed them, so that a traditional approach, after beholding his model, seems almost ludicrously simplistic. A writer of the new, the surprising, the arresting. Read More »

Novels Are Made of Words

March 31, 2015 | by

More on automated sentiment-analysis, and Moby-Dick.

neiman mobydick

Leroy Neiman, Moby Dick Assaulting the Pequod.

Paul Valéry tells the story: The painter Edgar Degas was backhanded-bragging to his friend Stéphane Mallarmé about the poems that he, Degas, had been trying to write. He knew they weren’t great, he said, “But I’ve got lots of ideas—too many ideas.” “But my dear Degas,” the poet replied, “poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made of words.”

Paintings, for that matter, are not made of pretty ballerinas or landscapes: they’re made of paint.

Which brings us to Syuzhet, Matthew Jockers’s new program that analyzes the words of a novel for their emotional value and graphs the sentimental shape of the book. Dan Piepenbring has explained it all here and here on the Daily, with links to the original postings and the various outcries, some of them in the comments, that have blown up around Jockers.

Many people apparently find Jockers’s research the latest assault of technocratic digitocracy on the citadel of deep humanistic feelings, but that’s not how I see it. What the graphs reveal about potboiler narrative structure versus high-literary arcs, for instance—Dan Brown’s higher average positivity than James Joyce’s, and his more regular cycle of highs and lows to force the reader through the book—is insightful, useful, and great. Read More »

Fraud, Fraud, More Fraud, and Other News

March 19, 2015 | by

Typee_Shute_2

An illustration by A. Burnham Shute for Melville’s Typee, 1892.

  • Melville’s first book, Typee, is, like most literary memoirs, a fraud: though he certainly ventured to Polynesia, many of the events in the book are clearly created out of whole cloth—and they suggest how little we really know about the events of Melville’s life. “There is no reason to believe that Melville didn’t witness clothmaking and woodcarving. However, the scene in which his friend Kory-Kory rubs a six-foot pole between his hands, as his back arches and muscles tense, until it bursts into flame, is most likely a metaphoric rendering of a different act (no record exists attesting to whether Thoreau tried this method at Walden).”
  • While we’re talking fraud, Arthur Conan Doyle was set up—by the Staffordshire fuzz, no less. “Newly discovered documents show that the Staffordshire police fabricated evidence to try to discredit Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the curious case of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor accused of maiming horses and sending poison-pen letters at the turn of the twentieth century.”
  • Amazon’s Kindle Scout program— a “reader-powered” publishing platform in which authors submit their work and readers vote on it—is perpetrating a kind of fraud, too. It’s become “a murderously deft purveyor of books seemingly designed only to be inhaled like so many bibliographic nachos.” Is it the new center of reading as a camp experience? Or is it just shit? “The bigger problem with so-bad-they’re-good novels is that sometimes they’re just so bad they’re … bad. For every camp triumph on Kindle Scout, every daft splendor of weaponized pit bulls, you’ll find three corresponding duds.”
  • Everyone loves a good art heist. The trick isn’t so much stealing a painting, though, as managing to sell it again when it’s known to have been stolen. “The misappropriation of masterpieces continues to have a distinctive hold on the public imagination, even as it becomes a type of criminal activity that’s both misunderstood and increasingly hard to pull off.”
  • Among the fake self-help books hidden on shelves in an LA Bookstore: The Beginner’s Guide to Human Sacrifice, Learn to … Dress Yourself!, and So Your Son Is a Centaur: Coping with Your Child’s Confusing Life Choices.

Going Aboard

December 16, 2014 | by

Retracing Moby-Dick on a nineteenth-century whaler.

photo 1

Photo: Ben Shattuck

­­­When Herman Melville was twenty-one, he embarked on the whaleship Acushnet, out of New Bedford. We all know what that led to. This past summer, Mystic Seaport finished their five-year, 7.5-million-dollar restoration of the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the sister ship to the Acushnet. The Morgan is in many ways identical to Melville’s fictional Pequod, save that sperm whale jawbone tiller and a few other sinister touches. Mystic Seaport celebrated the completion by sailing the Morgan around New England for a couple months. I went aboard for a night and a day, intent on following in Ishmael’s footsteps, hoping to breathe a little life into my idea of the distant, literary ship. Below are passages from Moby-Dick that involve the Pequod, followed by my own accounts.
Read More »

7 COMMENTS

Loomings

September 2, 2014 | by

1211_PENNSYLVANIA_AVENUE,_SECOND_FLOOR_APARTMENT,_BATHROOM_-_Miami_Beach_Art_Deco_Historic_District,_Miami,_Miami-Dade_County,_FL_HABS_FLA,13-MIAM,5-57

Photo: Walter Smalling Jr., 1980

Late this morning, the pipes of my toilet began to make a noise that I can only describe as haunting. How to explain it? Loud, very loud. Sad, very sad. A sort of melancholy lowing, a primal moan expressing things seen and unseen. One could imagine ancient peoples hearing such things and looking to the supernatural for answers. If they had plumbing, I mean.

It went on and on. It was beautiful. I had been distracted, blue, depressed by the unrelenting humidity of an urban Tuesday on the day after a long weekend. And then I heard the mysterious sound and it calmed me. For the first time, I began to understand the New Agey penchant for whale songs.

I thought I had better look up “toilet groaning” on the Internet and see if it was something I could manage myself. I’m no plumber, but I grew up in a house with very uncertain old pipes, and in such cases you learn to do what you can. It’s very satisfying when you learn to do these things yourself, if you do. And I know an air vent malfunction when I hear it.

But somehow on my way to the computer, I found myself going to the bookshelf, and picking up Moby-Dick, and paging through it, and then, twenty minutes later, there I was, sitting on the floor, reading.

Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

It was at this point that things started gurgling, and of course then the toilet overflowed. I turned off the water source, mopped up, and notified the super.