the hyena

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm now about halfway through reading Moby Dick. I know, I know! I've been at it for months. It's so good, but as I said a while ago, it's also easy to read a couple of chapters and not pick it up again for weeks or longer because I started another book or there is some unswept corner of the internet that I haven't read yet. Another reason it's slow going is because the whole thing is narrated in my head by a brain sailor. My brain sailor talks slow and stretches out his rrrrrrrrs; he sounds like the Sea Captain on the Simpsons and Admiral Croft from the movie version of Persuasion that I like. The brain sailor cannot be rushed! Melville agrees, since he takes his everlovin' sweet time weaving sails and counting feathers on an albatross before getting to "the vast swells of the omnipotent sea." And whales, of course. So far I haven't gotten to THE WHALE himself, but he looms over the whole story -- I'll probably jump out of my skin when he actually arrives.

Anyway, I was thinking that I'd put this aside AGAIN to read another book which I just got and know I won't be able to renew (Arthur Phillips' The Song is You, which I expect I'll either like quite a bit or hate a lot), but now I'm thinking... I've got 3 weeks before I have to take back the Phillips book, there is no reasonable reason why I couldn't finish this book first and still read the other one... we shall see! If my brain sailor skips out to go to some No Landlubbers Allowed convention with the Morton's fisherman or whoever, anything could happen!

I read the passage below today -- it's the first part of a chapter titled THE HYENA, and it's a wonderful distillation of a certain kind of mood -- one of those dangerous, quicksand states of being often found on an adventure. A "genial, desperado philosophy."

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for the small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regard this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.

THAT ODD SORT OF WAYWARD MOOD! (has heart eyes for Melville again.)
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