Thursday, March 16, 2006

Melville

[As] far as any geologist has yet gone down into the world, it is found to consist of nothing but surface stratified on surface. To its axis, the world being nothing but superinduced superficies. By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid—and no body is there!—appallingly vacant as vast is the soul of a man!

—Herman Melville, Pierre

8 comments:

Casey said...

Nice blog -- glad I found it. How about a little commentary on this Melville passage. Seems like somebody who believed the soul is "vacant" wouldn't spend so much time writing about it... could this be the product of some kind of authorial distance?

MaLj said...

Nice comment. Glad I found it. (And the bass pictures in your blog page were amusing!) I have never read anything by Melville, so I can't discuss RAM:s post - but it made me wonder about the passage, and about the posting of it.

What I thought when I read the quoted text, was,

1) Human souls do not exist in themselves, defined by their own sense of identity. From chemical chaos and random events comes nothing of that kind - nor does it survive the body. The only souls that are alive and human, are the ones that are built in dependency and interaction with others, constructed from superficial layers of interpreted impulses, actions and emotions; and inherited and adopted ideas, histories, languages, to be unique and unchangeable entities. But they are without traceable mass and velocity. You can't find, measure or predict a soul.

2) You can say the same about music. If you analyze a piece of music down to its smallest building block, whatever you think that is (note, time value, pitch quality, etc), you will find nothing of its musical "soul".

Surly Terrier said...

Maria, that sounds viable to me.

Surly Terrier said...

Maria, if you want to investigate Melville, do not start with Pierre. Typee and Omoo are both very approachable, and "Benito Cereno" and "Bartleby the Scrivener" beautifully written and extremely moving. Billy Budd is amazing. Approach Moby Dick with caution...Melville's writing can be very dense, but was definitely ahead of its time.

MaLj said...

Rod, I read an interesting article (somewhere, can't remember how I found it - in the newspaper here, or through links) about "Billy Budd" recently, so I understand it is a good story.

MaLj said...

...but I still haven't finished "The country of the pointed firs" (total 100 pages!), and haven't read a page of "Buddenbrooks" since December, so I am not the ideal reader to recommend new books to just now...

Surly Terrier said...

I understand, Maria. Don't look at this as a recommendation, but information to be filed for future reference. With a long commute to and from work every day, I speed through books at an alarming rate, and my eclectic tastes mean that I leap from choice to choice in a somewhat surprising way.

Surly Terrier said...

By the way, Billy Budd was not published until the 1920s, I believe, and I also believe that Thomas Mann was quoted as saying that he wished he had written it.