Herman Melville on the reading list [von Artandbarbarism]

Quite often I write a couple of paragraphs for some entry on my blog, including mostly information that is as superficial as it is useless. Who really would care for instance, what I am reading at the moment, when all I have to offer are a couple of lines offering no special insight.
However, this time I choose to ignore the doubts and offer a few lines about... what I am reading at the moment. That is, not about D'Annunzio's Il Piacere, or about Tristram Shandy, which I am rereading, not even about Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet, a commentator's darling. No, this is going to be about a book that is not very much talked about: Herman Melville's third novel, Mardi, And A Voyage Thither.

The novel starts off as a variation on the traveling theme, the sea theme, if you will, that you can find in all of Melville up to Moby-Dick, where it reaches its apex. While Typee and Omoo, the first two, are quite straight narratives, Mardi departs from that scheme.

The first 150 pages or so are quite easily mistaken for part of either of the first two novels, apart from a poetically metaphysical current showing here and there, but at least from the beginning of the so-called "Volume Two" (about 300 pages into the novel), becomes something quite different.
Everybody who has read Moby-Dick knows the unsettling feeling that hints at something deeper, something beyond the narrative itself. In Mardi, the same foreboding atmosphere is suddenly present, only does Melville not quite know what to do with it. In Chapter 119, called "Dreams" [p. 1021-1023 in the LOA Edition] the narrator places himself in a long line of writers, "French bugles and horns" as he calls them in an orchestral analogy. The closing passage, moreover, provides a strange image: "My cheek blanches white while I write; I start at the scratch of my pen; my own mad brood of eagles devours me; fain would I unsay this audacity; but an iron-mailed hand clenches mine in a vice, and prints down every letter in my spite."
There are passages in the few letters that have survived from the correspondence between Melville and Hawthorne, that evoke similar feelings. There is no sense in judging how much of it is Melville's true spirit, but the emotional state he describes and the notion his texts awake in the reader coincide rather much, at times.
Whenever he is in that raving mood, that soaring way of handling words and philosophy until the boundaries of sense and nonsense blur, in Moby-Dick he writes some of the most beautiful stuff that ever came to be a novel. But then, in Moby-Dick, everyone can sense the purpose. In Mardi, however, he has not found his true path yet. He should write two more rather banal books until he'd have a second go at the transcendent, if you will.
Having his material, a vision, I suspect, of its possible grandeur he naively does the wrongest of things: he consciously arranges his material into the stalest and tritest of allegories: the political allegory. When during the second "volume" the ever-disappearing narrator and his ever more artificial Polynesian friends (who jest like fools in Shakespeare, and hold most incredible discourse) visit places that are but thinly disguised allegories of Britain, Europe and the young USA [names like Kanneeda, Kaleedoni, and Hio-Hio (Ohio) may hint at the almost embarassing level of analogy] even Gulliver's Travels becomes innocent fantasy by comparison.
In short, the novel gets closer and closer to being unbearable, unreadable. Beautiful passages notwithstanding, one cannot stop wishing all this to be over soon, something that would not once jump to mind while reading Moby-Dick. The problem indeed is, that while the metaphysics hint at something universal, the explicit references to even names of Senators (William Allen (Oh.) figures as Alanno) drag the whole matter down to a clumsy game of preachy charade, but there is no winner.
Moreover, as if to underscore my point, there is a passage written by Melville, that forms part of a letter to Mrs. Hawthorne, certain remarks of whom deeply impressed the writer, that adresses the very issue: "Your allusion [...] first showed to me that there was a subtle significance in that thing - but I did not, in that case mean it. I had some vague idea while writing it, that the whole book was susceptible of an allegoric construction, & also that parts of it were."
This, of course, refers to the better book, the more intuitive, the more universal, Moby-Dick. I am not going to discourage anyone who is going to read Mardi, since there are pages and paragraphs in it that are almost equal to the more mature Melville, and of breathtaking intensity (especially in the descriptive parts), but I honestly could not say that Mardi can compete in any way with Moby-Dick, Pierre, or even the so-called Piazza-Tales. This, as I see it, is the place to start and to get to know the marvelous art of Herman Melville.

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ich verstehe diesen eintrag...
ich verstehe diesen eintrag noch immer nicht...
roland_and_his_burning_nose - 27. Apr, 21:26
dort gibt es zweifellos...
dort gibt es zweifellos weiße anzüge, hawaiihemden,...
syro0 - 18. Dec, 13:00
2009 wird ein Abba museum...
2009 wird ein Abba museum mit ca. 750 erinnerungsstücken...
turntable - 17. Dec, 22:29
polyphon sogar: ich bemerke...
polyphon sogar: ich bemerke erst jetzt einen gewissen...
syro0 - 26. Nov, 15:56
diesem Hausverstand pfeift...
diesem Hausverstand pfeift doch das schwein! grüße:-)
turntable - 25. Nov, 23:11
très charmant
très charmant
gizzy duststar - 17. Nov, 20:25
roland_and_his_burning_nose - 11. Nov, 18:41
danke für die ehre,...
danke für die ehre, welche mir zuteil wird. grüße
turntable - 2. Nov, 17:02


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