Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cetology

"He lived in the world as the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter there, sucking his own paws, so, in his inclement, howling old age, Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the sullen paws of its gloom!"

My keyboard has trouble hitting that many commas because that was the key I had to repair in Labrador. This is some insane prose that Melville is slinging around. I took many things with me to Labrador and the one I looked forward to reading was Moby Dick, but in the final days of my departure the distractions and chaos proved too much and I tossed my copy of the book in with some clothes and songbooks that didn't make the cut. I deeply regretted this because nowhere on earth is as conducive to reading huge books than the remote dirt road dead ends of Labrador that I camped on overlooking ocean inlets and bays as the rain leaked through the windows and puddled around my van. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. So I read my book about North American Geology and looked forward to my reunion with this book of Ahab and the Whale. At once, Melville writes phrases that are beautiful but serve no purpose except to detail the phrase before it and then, just in case, he will write two or three similar phrases to emphasize the last two until you have pages of prose where almost nothing is accomplished. It's like a pretty woman who doesn't speak English.

Ex:
"For though their progenitors, the builders of Babel, must doubtless, by their tower have intended to rear the loftiest mast-head in all Asia or Africa either; yet (ere the final truck was put to it) as that great stone mast of theirs may be said to have gone by the board in the dread gale of God's wrath; therefore we cannot give these Babel builders priority of Egyptians. And that the Egyptians were a nation of mast-head standers, is an assertion based upon the general belief among archaeologists that the first pyramids were founded for astronomical purposes: a theory singularly supported by the peculiar stair-like formation of all  four sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious long upliftings of their legs those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex and sing out for the new stars; even as the look-outs of a modern ship sing out for a sail; or a whale just bearing in sight."

Melville's typewriter must've had a broken period key because few writers use so many commas and extended sentences. Either that or people must've had attention spans that were greater than the Harry Potter/Twilight era of "Harry Stopped. He was scared. Bella bit her lip, drawing blood. What would happen? The moon glowed in eternal longing. Blah blah blah."

Fortunately, at least half of the writing not only sounds unrelated to the plot, but it is unrelated. So if you fall asleep mid sentence that is no great crime.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.