Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Moby Dick Ch. 12-19: On Religions and Some Cultural Backgrounds

Ch. 12: Biographical

How relatable is this passage about Queequeg's origin to our present world. Son of a High Priest on his native island, he was rejected, bullied, and distrusted when entering the "so-called-Christians" land. Christians, who regard themselves as superior towards other races, but often behave lower and more savage than they whom they called "savages". Only Queequeg, so far (yes, not even Ishmael - see ch. 17!), who regards fellow human being as brothers/sisters - all race and nation is just the same - that's what I call humanity at its best. "It's a wicked world in all meridians; I'll die a pagan."

Ch. 13: Wheelbarrow

= A hint of cultural diversity, the hilarious story from Queequeg. And it's good that Queequeg throws the shade over Ishmael's laughing at him about the wheelbarrow incident. And actually it's not the first time - Ishmael will do similar thing at ch. 17. Those arrogant "boobies and bumpkins" also had their fair shares by bullying Queegueg!

= Another hint of sin and slavery (related to ch. 1 - the passage about "the two orchard thieves [Adam and Eve]) in "the intorelableness of all earthly effort" and "how I spurned that turnpike earth- that common highway all over dented with the marks of slavish heals and hoofs."

= Again, another hint of water as deliverance against dust/land (as in ch. 1), and as key to freedom.

= I admired Queequeg's humbleness; he was unconscious of his heroic action, which was exemplary to all (particularly to Christians) - "It's a mutual, joinstock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christian's." Bravo, Queequeg!

Ch. 14: Nantucket

I have found an interesting fact while researching about Nantucket. Remember Peter Coffin, the owner of Spouter Inn, whose name has thrown dark gloom over Ishmael? Did you know that the real Peter Coffin was one of the owners of Nantucket back in 17th-18th century? A Hussey – as in the Husseys, owner of Try Pots inn [ch. 15] was also the name of one of the owners.

[From Wikipedia] :
“In October 1641, William, Earl of Stirling, deeded the island to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Massachusetts Bay. In 1659 Mayhew sold an interest in the island to nine other purchasers, reserving 1/10th of an interest for himself, "for the sum of thirty pounds ... and also two beaver hats, one for myself, and one for my wife." [In] 1659, when Thomas Mayhew sold his interest to a group of investors, led by Tristram Coffin. The "nine original purchasers" were Tristram Coffin, Peter Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swain, Thomas Barnard, Stephen Greenleaf, John Swain and William Pike. These men are considered the founding fathers of Nantucket, and many islanders are related to these families.”

Interesting, eh? I imagined how Melville might have been amused while finding this name (Coffin), which really fitted the dark gloom he wanted to cast around chapter 3!

By the way, I loved the poetic description of Nantucketer: "....with the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales."

Ch. 15: Chowder

Another interesting fact: the chowder (but tell me first, can you read this chapter without salivating all over? LOL). Anyway, I always assume that chowder is a creamy soup. Is it the same in your place? But, again, researching about 19th century chowder, I realized that then, chowder was a layered casserole. I found this information in a post by a food blogger called The American Table.

“Traditionally, chowders are more like soupy casseroles, and that ‘chowdering’ referred to the process of layering ingredients. One of the first recipes for a chowder, for example, was published as a poem in the Boston Evening Post on September 23, 1751”:

First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning
Because in Chouder there can be not turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thing,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme,
Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o’er the Same again,
You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.
Last a Bottle of Claret, with Water eno; to smother ’em,
You’ll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather ’em.

The original chowder, I guess, would have looked similar to this:
[credit: Book Phantom]

Ch. 16: The Ship

First meeting with the owners of Pequod: Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad. I noticed first of two inconsistencies regarding religion and its practices.

= On Bildad: despite of "Ye have been studying those Scriptures, now, for the last thirty years...", Bildad treated his crews cruelly. And I loved how Melville picked the verse of Matthew 6:19-21 ["lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth...] to be particularly cited by Bildad when he decided to "swindle this young man" by giving him "long lay". Tipping my hat to you, Mr. Melville, that's just brilliant!

Ch. 17: The Ramadan

Inconsistency #2 was shown by Ishmael, when he criticized Queequeg's extreme practice of Ramadan. While keep saying that he (Ishmael) "cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical...", he was obliged, nevertheless, to scold Queequeg "rather digressively" by bullying or making fool of his beliefs, or faith, or whatever you call it: "Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsia nurtured by Ramadans." I personally was quite surprised by this speech - I thought Melville (through Ishmael - or is he not entirely Melville's voice?) made a point of condemning Christian's superiority towards other religions/beliefs. Not believing in other religions (or religions in general) is one thing (and tolerable), but making fool of them publicly is disrespectful. By doing that, Ishmael acted just like the Christians he criticized. We might regard other religious practices are ridiculous, but we must pay respect to them all the same - each to his own belief!

Ch. 18: His Mark

Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg, each has his opposite view of religion.
- Bildad: studied diligently the Scriptures, but practiced none.
- Peleg: ignored the Scriptures, but practiced it.

Browsing Brona's post, I have found out that Melville was assumed to be Agnostic. I shrugged off this idea at that time (last week), since so far, Melville has diligently quoted Bible verses, telling stories from Bible, and named his characters from Old Testament - not mentioning the powerful my-so-far-favorite chapter: The Sermon. But then, I began to notice few inconsistencies in the previous chapter; and now, this Peleg's argument with Bildad. So, maybe the Agnostic idea was not entirely ungrounded, after all. I begin to feel that Melville, perhaps disappointed with his fellows Christians, began to dream of (or "converted" to) a religion beyond existing religions, which was based on humanity and nature (which explains Ishmael's feeling of freedom, related to sea). Well, let's see!

Chapter 19: The Prophet

For an Agnostic (if Melville was really one), he really borrowed Biblical aspect so abundantly for his book! :) Now he brings us the Book of Kings - Elijah the prophet and King Ahab. I'm excited to see where he'd bring us to with this line.

And so, it’s all for now. ‘Till next week!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Moby Dick Ch. 8-11: Still about Sin, Repentance, Prejudice, and more on Christianity

A quick update on #MobyDickReadalong – my thoughts of ch. 8 to 11. I am now actually on ch. 15, but just don’t have enough time and energy to work on my journal more than ch. 11. *sigh*

Chapter 8: The Pulpit

My own interpretation on the symbolic meanings of Father Mapple's ship-like pulpit:

The act of withdrawing the ladder (man-ropes) after Father Mapple reached the pulpit:
It symbolizes spiritual withdrawal, or withdrawal from our own will, letting God's will prevail upon us --> in accordance with Father Mapple's sermon in ch. 9.

The pulpit as a "lofty Ehrenbreitstein with a perennial well of water within the walls":
My random research from Wikipedia revealed that Ehrenbreitstein is a fortress built by the Germans on the east bank of Rhine to protect them from France's invasion. However, there's no information about a well ever found within. So I assumed the perennial water symbolizes God's word, which is also "meat and wine of the word". During the War of Coalition in 1798 the France besieged Ehrenbreitstein fortress and brought starvation to its inhabitants, which led it to be handed over to France in 1799. So, when one takes protection within God's word, one would never be hungry or thirsty, because of the "perennial well of waters".

The painting above the pulpit:

It symbolizes relationship between man and God. He never abandons us in the midst of our struggles and dark hours ("a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm..."). All we have to do is to look up, as "there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's face."

Chapter 9: The Sermon

= The powerful sermon by Father Mapple - Simon Callow read it so convincingly at Big Read Podcast, you'd feel like you're listening to the live version!
= Loved the hymn, which is about God's deliverance.
= Jonah's story has never been told so lively and full of emotion like that in this sermon. His sin of disobedience is in accordance with Adam & Eve's original sin (ch. 1).

Favorite quotes:

"And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves. It is in the disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists."
==maybe we, too, need a "withdrawal" (ch. 8) to make it lighter for obeying God.

"In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers."
== again, prejudices! – judging others by outward appearances only.

On Jonah's repentance:
"And here, shipmate, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment."
==humility is the key to complete repentance. With humility, God will "with speed He flew to (the sinner's) relief".

Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend

Ishmael was drawn to Queequeg because of his simplicity and honesty. There's no trace of falseness or hypocrisy ==> "Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy." It reminded me of the sailors who gathered around breakfast table at The Spouter Inn (ch. 2); there's a hint of hollow courtesy or falseness there. Queequeg is the only human being we have met so far, who was sincere, honest, and trustful, despite of his being a savage. Others (Christians) were mostly greedy (Jonah's Captain), prejudiced (Jonah's crew), and insincere (sailors in the Spouter Inn).

What is worship?
I only half agree with Melville (Ishmael) on this passage about worshipping.
= Is God jealous of "an insignificant bit of black wood"?
   *Yes, if one treats (worship) the wood in place of God.
   * No, if it is a mere symbol.

= Worshipping is not only doing the will of God, but also "love the Lord thy God with all they heart, mind, and soul".

I agree with Ishmael's action of uniting with Queequeg's worship, if it's only meant to be polite, not by heart.

Chapter 11: Nightgown

Grateful vs Comfort
= to enjoy the blissful of warmth, one should be surrounded in cold ==> you can't be perfectly grateful of something, if the thing is abundant - you'd take it for granted (in accordance with ch. 2 - poor Lazarus & the rich man).

Prejudice vs Love
="No man can ever feel his own identity alright except his eyes be closed." ==> again, "do not judge by outward appearances".
When we shut out our senses, we "see" more honestly and truer by heart ==> "See how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them." ==> by "closing his eyes", Ishmael consulted his heart, and love conquered his previous prejudices (seeing with eyes).

Monday, August 12, 2019

Moby-Dick Ch. 1-7: Early Clues of Sin/Redemption & Prejudices Theme

I might not be posting regularly for #MobyDickReadalong, but I'll try to squeeze some chapters every now and then into my tight schedule. Here’s my thoughts for the first seven chapters.

Chapter 1: Loomings

I was surprised at the abundant curious and interesting bits in this chapter alone - and it's only the beginning!

First, of course, one of the most famous opening lines in literature: "Call me Ishmael!" I have dutifully (following Brona's suggestion) listened to Whale Whale Whale podcast, which suggests that Ishmael is not just a person's name, but has a deeper meaning. Ishmael is taken from Abraham's son, who was a wanderer, an outcast. The narrator's condition: broke and depressed.
I've decided not to continue with Whale Whale Whale podcast, as it is full with bantering, like listening to a talkshow, and I have not the patience nor the time to listen to it! 

Water is liberating
Water, to most people, is mysterious – “the ungraspable phantom of life” – enchanting, and liberating ("...landsmen [who] on week days pent up in lath and plaster - tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks"). For Ishmael in particular, being a sailor is also liberating, despite of the obligation to serve and obey his bosses.

Sin and the burden of duty
I was struck by this passage: "The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves (Adam and Eve) entailed upon us." I began to think about sin - or the burden caused by original sin.

Interesting, eh? Sin and water in one chapter; is it me, or does it remind you to baptism? Hmm... maybe I've gone too far, but, who knows?... But wait, there's more in the next chapter...

Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag

Ishmael stumbled upon "an ash-box in the porch" when entering a building he thought was an inn. And his reaction was: "Are these ashes from the destroyed city, Gomorrah?" Again, the allusion of sin. When he entered the building, and found that it’s a negro church, his reaction was: "It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet (=hell)... and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit." What do you make of it? It's still a mystery to me, but I still can't shake off the allusion of 'sin' in this passage also.

Then there is the theme of rich and poor – poor Lazarus and the rich man. That the rich is often belittling the poor's sorrow (Euroclydon/tempestuous wind for the poor is a gentle breeze for the rich) because the rich "look out from glass window where the frost is all on the outside".

Chapter 3: The Spouter Inn

Here a new theme is presented: prejudice. The first case is when Ishmael pondering over a curious painting. At first he accused the painter of "in the time of the New England hags, [the painter] had endeavored to delineate chaos bewitched." But finally he realized that it was a whale painting. Case number two is the hilarious scene when Ishmael and Queequeg first met. Each looked upon the other with suspicion. When meeting someone unfamiliar for the first time, we tend to imagine the worst.

Favorite quotes:
Ignorance is the parent of fear.
Better sleep with a sober criminal than a drunken Christian.

Chapter 4: Counterpane

Picking up prejudice theme from chapter 3, Melville highlighted how outside appearance is nothing compared to what it content inside. [Another] hilarious scene of Ishmael waking up with Queequeg's "blithed" arm hugged him in an affectionate manner. And despite of being savage and uncivilized, Ishmael was surprised to find Queequeg very polite and had "neat delicacies".

Another mystery to me presented itself in this chapter. His awkward situation with Queequeg reminded Ishmael of his childhood experience with his stepmother and the "supernatural hand placed in him" in his sleep. Whose hand it was, do you think? Was it really supernatural? Or perhaps it's his step mother's whom he thought wicked, but actually cared about him? Again... is it prejudice?

Chapter 5: Breakfast

There’s the memorable scene where Queequeg stab his steak with harpoon at breakfast!

Interesting quote:
And the man that has anything bountiful laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.

Chapter 6: The Street

Ishmael mocked New Bedford's "bumpkin dandies" who go whaling. They do it out of greed, to enrich themselves – which was reflected from their beautiful houses.

Chapter 7: The Chapel

A gloomy reflection entered Ishmael's mind while he was sitting in the chapel, looking at marble tablets dedicated for the dead sailors. He pondered about the true meaning of life and death, and why man is so afraid of death. Life is but a momentary existence, while death is the truest. With that in mind, Ishmael is spiritually prepared for the dangerous whaling journey.

Favorite quote:
"What they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. In looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air."

That is all for the moment. I have actually read chapter eight (and today began ch. 9), but I think it requires a dedicated post (maybe coupled with chapter nine), as there are a lot of thoughts I might want to jot down.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Warden is the first of six novels in Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Mr. Septimus Harding is the warden of Hiram's hospital, founded by a John Hiram four centuries ago. In his will, Mr. Hiram left his estate to the Church, intending it to be an almshouse providing decent life for twelve bedesmen. After four centuries, the estate's income has much increased, and so, besides for the bedesmen, it also provides a comfortable life for its warden. At this point everyone (bedesmen and warden) has been living peacefully, and happily have they been accepting the arrangement. The warden, Mr. Harding, even generously sets aside a small portion of his personal income to provide additional gift for the bedesmen.

Then, a zealous young man, John Bold, who call himself a reformer, put it into his mind to propose a reformation to the arrangement. He thinks that the surplus money, instead of being paid to the warden, ought to be given to the bedesmen. Bold chose journalistic path to fight his cause, and soon enough, the newspapers started attacking the meek Mr. Harding's character, drawing an image that he is a greedy and selfish robber. On the other hand, the old bedesmen were also swept by the conflict, as they began to cherish hopes of getting rich. It is they who are eventually getting greedy and selfish.

I always have suspicion on anyone calls himself a reformer, as if it's a profession. Instead of reforming that which really needs to be changed, the person always finds some causes which he could reform, under pretenses of serving public interests; while in fact it's only his own ambition that he serves. That is, I think, the case with John Bold. Does he really think the bedesmen suffer from any injustice? I think he focuses only on the lawful aspects of the inheritance. But charity is charity. When the poor is provided with decent life and is happy, that is the aim of charity. Why must anyone make a fuss on the will, while it was probably what the late Mr. Hiram has exactly wished? If in the end everybody is unhappy; is it truly a public service?

The Warden is the first novel of Trollope I've ever read. Last year I read one or two of his Christmas short stories, and was captivated by his wittiness, and his sharp, straight away style of storytelling. But I must confess that The Warden has quite bored me. Some said it gets better with his next novels, so let's just see. Also, I'm not amused by his parodying Charles Dickens as Mr. Popular Sentiment and Thomas Carlyle as Dr. Pessimist Anticant. I realize that writers criticize one another of their contemporary all the time, but I think Trollope's parody is rather too harsh.

Judging all that, I think 3/5 is not unfair for this book. I do hope the next one really gets better!