Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Orchard Thieves

Just to keep the record straight, here's an example of a gigantic book with some attempt to entertain the reader. Moby Dick is peppered with entertaining passages but a stand-up-and-applaud one can be found merely 4 pages into Ishmael's justification of his desire to go to sea as a paid sailor instead of a paying passenger:

"The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us."

This guy slings his pen like a lion tamer. Calling Adam and Eve orchard thieves in a tossed off, pretty much expendable line is ballsy. If I wrote that line I'd be calling all my friends to brag about it, but old Herman Melville is just getting warmed up for 550 more pages. This is some gifted writing because the humor is focused on you getting the joke on your own rather than a big dance to get you to laugh or no laugh at all.


"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--though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment."

How is that for a long sentence? Go ahead and read it twice. I read it three times before I figured out what the hell he was saying and it's really a funny way of saying, "I wanted to believe I am the master of my own destiny but that's all bullshit."

And the list of grand design that Melville intentionally set in smaller type point. It's a joke that he's telling on himself in such a subtle way that I can already tell, 5 pages into it, that he's at the peak of his powers.

I like to talk about timing when it comes to writing. A book like this, 540 pages long, was written in less than one year in 1850. Written by hand on a farm in western Mass. In a situation like that he's got to be in The Zone when he puts pen to paper. I should point out that there's evidence that Melville met H. D. Thoreau via joint friend Nathaniel Hawthorne while in Concord. I see similarities in Melville and Emerson and Thoreau. The word "Providence" was used more by these three writers than anyone in history. If you can use the word "Providence" even once in every day conversation then you are guaranteed to impress people. They all must've been touched a little because no amount of editing or education would produce this kind of writing. It's pure personality shining through in every word.

I've been talking about writing my Santa Cruz book for a few years now. But there's a fluidity to my prose that I haven't mastered. Personal essays and political rants are easy but I want to combine that with a third person narrator who exchanges some of his bitterness for some of my wit. 500 pages get written fast when you write obtuse sentences as long as most paragraphs. When it goes on as smoothly as this then you don't have to go back and retouch it. Of course there is the awful possibility that lightweight first person humor writers like me have no business writing serious third person novels but I choose to ignore that until it has been proven.

If I'm stating the obvious that Moby Dick is well written then I apologize. I bow before his talent.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.