Sunday, January 23, 2011

Imagery of Gliding, Sliding, Solidifying, and Dissolving

Hershel Parker
Naval Academy 12 February 1998

As he was finishing Moby-Dick Melville wrote to Hawthorne that for the several years he had been unfolding within himself. This claim is in the letter long dated 1 June [?] 1851 but really written three weeks or so earlier:
Until I was twenty-five, I had no development at all. From my twenty-fifth year I date my life. Three weeks have scarcely passed, at any time between then and now, that I have not unfolded within myself. But I feel that I am now come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shortly the flower must fall to the mould.
Yet several months later, at the time Moby-Dick was published in mid November 1851, Melville asked in another letter to Hawthorne, "When shall we be done growing?" Leviathan was not the biggest fish--he had heard of Krakens. For some weeks after that, Melville seems to have thought that in Pierre he was indeed composing a book as much greater than Moby-Dick as the legendary Krakens are greater than whales. He must have believed that the greatness in Pierre would be tightly compressed, for at the start of the new year he had ready for the publisher a short book which he wrote in the last two or three or four months of 1851. No review or academic criticism has ever been published on Pierre--not Pierre as Melville completed it at the end of December 1851, before he stuck into it wholly unintended sections dealing with Pierre as a writer--what Melville added after he had completed the novel and gotten a contract for it, a terrible contract he literally could not live with, or live on. When Maurice Sendak began talking about illustrating Pierre, I persuaded him that we should risk our careers together--he would do pictures (he didn't say pornographic) of a text from which I had pulled out all the sections on Pierre as an author. This is the so-called Kraken Edition of Pierre--so-called because I got away with naming it that, although I did not get away with anything else. I brought down the wrath of literary critics by my complicity in this, while Sendak was regarded as an innocent kiddie artist duped by a Melvillean confidence man.

What I had in mind was not a text of Pierre that any scholar or critic would want to quote in an article or book. I just wanted to make available, in a strikingly glamorous, maybe in-your-face format, something probably very close, very close indeed, to what Melville was laboring on when he wrote Hawthorne that Moby Dick (or Moby-Dick?) was not the biggest fish. Everyone who had ever written about Melville's intentions in Pierre had been talking about the much longer book that was published in late July 1852. I wanted anyone to be able to think of Pierre, first, pretty much the way Melville planned and wrote it. That was the only way, I thought, that we could begin to understand its relationship to Moby-Dick.
Knowing that many academic critics have no lives of their own but lie dormant deep under departmental sludge until a scholar publishes something they can review, I packaged the Kraken edition artfully, disarmingly, inviting the reader to imagine Pierre in a new relationship with Moby-Dick, on the flap of the dust jacket, where even a critic could see the challenge:
Melville scholar Hershel Parker has long believed that the psychological stature of Moby-Dick could best be understood in the light of the original, shorter version of Pierre, in his opinion "surely the finest psychological novel anyone had yet written in English." Moby-Dick and the reconstructed Pierre are at last revealed as complexly interlinked companion studies of the moods of thought--the Typee and Omoo of depth psychology.
Well, no one rose to the challenge. No one read the absolutely new and irrefutable biographical evidence in the introduction, and no one read even the dust jacket, apparently, for no one rushed to write on Moby-Dick and Pierre as companion psychological studies.

I want to talk about them as such companion studies, as embodiments of Melville's intense psychological life around the time of Moby-Dick, in particular the way he describes psychological processes in images of gliding and sliding and overlapping and solidifying and dissolving. We all know that in "Loomings" Melville says that meditation and water are wedded for ever. They had been wedded in his mind for years, at least. One could make a case that Melville's unique sensibility as a connoisseur of moods was already emerging in Typee (written in 1844-1845), as in the languorous passage in which "some shapeless
monster of the deep" sinks "slowly into the blue waters," and fades away from sight (Ch. 2). Even before Omoo Melville was on his way to what he described himself as being while he was in Cologne late in 1849--"a pondering man." In Omoo, Ch. 9, meditative revery is inevitable when during night watches the narrator leans over the side and thinks "of the strange objects" he might be sailing over. In Omoo (ch. 27), Melville described the sensations of seeing on the stern of a beached whaler in the harbor at Tahiti the name of a town on the Hudson (the Alexander Mansfield, of the then-thriving port of Hudson, New York): "In an instant, palm-trees and elms--canoes and skiffs--church spires and bamboos--all mingled in one vision of the present and the past." In chapter 17 of Omoo the gliding of the ship leads the narrator into reveries about "endless grottoes and galleries, far below the reach of the mariner's lead," where strange shapes lurk; later, in Moby-Dick and Pierre, the gliding would be explicitly transferred to the mental processes, but even in 1846, as Melville wrote Omoo, he described "sliding from one revery into another" (Ch. 31)--simple enough, but destined to eventuate in the sliding, gliding, overlapping images of thought-progression in Pierre.

Melville himself thought of Mardi (written 1847-1848) and Moby-Dick (written 1850-1851) as the chief evidence of his growth, apparently meaning intellectual and philosophical growth. But I think his aesthetic and psychological life had burgeoned precipitously because of Redburn, which we wrote in two months--June-July 1849--maybe not during the writing, but afterwards, for writing Redburn was an act of unwitting bravado. A few years ago I found out why he wrote it when he did. In the spring of 1849 he realized he had to write an easy unambitious book to make up for the failure of Mardi. Just then, I discovered, his youngest brother Tom signed on the Navigator, bound for China. Herman went aboard his ship and saw him off, re-enacting the scene in Manhattan ten years earlier, when his brother Gansevoort had seen him off on his own first voyage. In the ten years Melville had gone to the Pacific and returned and become a published writer with the help of Gansevoort--who had died launching Typee in England and in New York. Now Tom, ten years his junior, looked uncannily like Herman had looked, and Herman, ten years later, was playing the role of the older brother. In Melville's mind at the end of May 1849 two New York wharf scenes glided into one and fused, and the bewilderingly similar cast of brothers glided across each other and fused in his mind.
Melville decided that fictionalizing his own first voyage was a fast safe way of spinning out a little story fast and making up for Mardi. The family situation Melville depicted in Redburn--early death of father, impoverishment of widow and children--was autobiographical. Maybe he wrote so fast that nothing seemed too close for comfort. He kept a jocular, rueful stance as he depicted Redburn's youthful self-pitying feelings of bewildered injustice at the prosperity of cousins while his own family was impoverished. Melville was still too simple-hearted then, to use Thomas L. Nichols's term, to know how dangerous it was to probe into childhood, even with a tentative hook. If Madison asks you to write a simple ten-page account of your childhood, watch out.

Melville always spoke contemptuously of Redburn, but that seemingly innocuous book had laid open the floodgates to his unconscious, even though months passed before he focused his full attention to what was emerging from that wonder world. Melville seemed to escape unscathed from his excursion into terrain so psychologically dangerous. After all, rather than collapsing into introspection he briskly wrote another book in what turned out to be another two months, White-Jacket. Yet the effects of having dipped into his unconscious in Redburn enriched White-Jacket (one of Melville's most underrated books), a book of moods, of the analysis of states of body and mind, more so than any earlier book. There in Ch. 84, "Man-of-war Barbers," he says: "The long night-watches of the sailor are eminently adapted to draw out the reflective faculties of any serious-minded man, however humble or uneducated." He could deal with the evanescence and arbitrariness of psychological in the comical section on being allowed to smoke only at set times (Ch. 91, "Smoking-club in a Man-of-war"): "how can the mystical motives, the capricious impulses of a luxurious smoker go and come at the beck of a Commodore's command?" The effects of opening himself to his unconscious came home to him during the months he traveled to Europe, during his long voyage home in January 1850, and during the many months he worked on Moby-Dick. In that book he implied that he, like his narrator, had been haunted by the image of the White Whale, and what first took recognizable shape may indeed have been a grand hooded phantom, like a snow-hill in the air. By the time that shape emerged in Moby-Dick, Melville had become extraordinarily aware of his states of being, so acutely aware of his being that to talk of bodily states and mental states is to set up false categories--but we could say something like that about White-Jacket, already.

One of the characteristics of Melville's mature depiction of psychological processes was a development of what he had done as early as Omoo, the portrayal of images from different times and places which alternate rapidly in the mind, merge with each other, and (in later examples) disentangle again. The hallucinatory collision of Hudson, New York, United States and Papeete, Tahiti, Society Islands I have mentioned. Melville experienced another collision when he prepared to disembark from the Southampton in 1849, for his second trip to England: "This time tomorrow I shall be on land, & press English earth after the lapse of ten years--then a sailor, now H.M. author of 'Peedee' 'Hullabaloo' & 'Pog-Dog.'" In London one night, a little drunk, horribly strung out on caffeine, he could not sleep: "No doubt, two years ago, or three, Gansevoort was writing here in London, about the same hour as this--alone in his chamber, in profound silence--as I am now. This silence is a strange thing. No wonder, the old Greeks deemed it the vestibule to the higher mysteries." He was supplanting, replacing Gansevoort as the brother in London, as he had supplanted Gansevoort a few months earlier as the one seeing a nineteen-year-old brother off to sea as a sailor. Memories were working on him as they had been working for the last half year, since Tom sailed and he began writing Redburn.

In Pierre, as much later in Clarel, Melville made profound use of the psychological phenomenon of hallucinatory overlapping of experiences, a phenomenon which had appeared in most of its characteristic essentials in Omoo:
And now, by irresistible intuitions, all that had been inexplicably mysterious to him in the portrait [the chair portrait of Pierre's father], and all that had been inexplicably familiar in the face [the face of Isabel], most magically these now coincided; the merriness of the one not inharmonious with the mournfulness of the other, but by some ineffable correlativeness, they reciprocally identified each other, and, as it were, melted into each other, and thus interpenetratingly uniting, presented lineaments of an added supernaturalness.
On all sides, the physical world of solid objects now slidingly displaced itself from around him, and he floated into an ether of visions . . . [85, end of Bk 4.]
An immediate model is in Dante's depiction in the Inferno (Canto 25) of the way the bodies of two Florentine thieves fuse together: "Agnello! See! thou art not double now, / Nor only one!" Although these "two mutually absorbing shapes" are Dantean, to a remarkable extent, Melville had developed from the Shakespearean set piece in The Tempest the imagery and vocabulary with which he conveyed his new understanding of conscious and unconscious psychological processes. Words and images from Prospero's farewell to his magical powers in The Tempest (melted . . . air . . . baseless . . . vision . . . temples . . . dissolve . . . rack . . . dreams) figured complexly in Melville's depictions of sliding, gliding psychological states and evanescent perceptual states in Pierre.

For the book the author of Typee and Omoo was designing was a psychological novel--literally a study of the psychology of his hero, a young American aristocrat, and the psychological processes of the author himself. Having had few physical adventures since his return from London, he was ready, in the fall of 1851, to write the story of an adventure he had been witnessing first hand--his own interior development as he wrote Moby-Dick. He had, after all, never had anything to write about except his own experiences. In Pierre he wrote the story of his awakening to his own unconscious.

What Melville began writing in the fall of 1851, as Brian Higgins and I analyzed in "The Flawed Grandeur of Melville's Pierre" (1978), was the tragic story of a youthful idealist whose "infinite magnanimities" are inextricably linked with appalling self-delusion. In this paragraph I borrow from our analysis, where we traced the way Melville, from the opening pages, set forth the artifice underlying Pierre's chivalric ideals and tingeing his intimate relationships. Even the Christianity that Pierre has insensibly absorbed is tainted by falsity, involved as it is with the un-Christlike glorification of militarism, and that ambiguous idealism, it becomes clear, makes him uniquely vulnerable to the particular appeal that the mysterious Isabel will make. Pierre "is woefully ill-equipped to set out as a Christian Knight-Champion, most obviously because the pattern of chivalric, romantic idealization has developed simultaneously with--and at the cost of--dangerous sublimation of his sexual feelings." Even in his securely naive youth, Pierre has had, Melville tells us, unbidden inklings of a tragic side of life, but he is reluctant to awaken to a tragic sense of life. By Book III, Melville has begun to develop Pierre's darker side, portraying the stirrings of Pierre's unconscious from which those "bannered armies of hooded phantoms" disembark and attack his conscious mind. Tracing the processes of Pierre's mental growth the action of the story, Melville makes the reader privy to the seemingly "boundless expansion" of Pierre's life. Melville begins his Book IV, "Retrospective," with this disclaimer: "In their precise tracings-out and subtile causations, the strongest and fieriest emotions of life defy all analytical insight." Nothing daunted, he proceeds there and elsewhere to attempt just such precise tracings out, and later in "Retrospective," announces the supersubtle complexity of psychological motivations and indeed of all psychological processes.

After this Book, as Higgins and I said, "treatment of Pierre's inward development is inseparable from the theme of the shadowiness of all human motivation," impulses which lurk in what Melville calls the "ever-elastic regions of evanescent invention" through which the mind roams up and down. By the end of Book IV, Melville had "gone beyond the supersubtlety of all human psychology to assert the autonomy of those subtler elements of man," including what Melville refers to as those "ineffable hints and ambiguities, and undefined half-suggestions, which now and then people the soul's atmosphere, as thickly as in a soft, steady snow-storm, the snow-flakes people the air." As we said, the imagery "suggests an evanescence of thought which the individual no more controls than he does the snow-storm, and Melville distinguishes these 'reveries and trances' from the 'assured element of consciously bidden an self-propelled thought.'"
None of this should be unfamiliar to readers of Moby-Dick, where (Ch. 41) "in some dim, unsuspected way" the White Whale "might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life," and where Ishmael cannot hope to explain fully what he White Whale meant to him (ch. 42): "But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught." Look at the "random hints" in Pierre (Book 4, p. 68), look at Isabel's "first dim life-thoughts" (Book 5, 114). Look in a concordance at the astonishing number of times the word "half" occurs in Moby-Dick in passages that involve perception, consciousness, uncertainty. For example, Ch. 58 the one insular Tahiti encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life; or such gliding strangeness investing Fedallah that the men seem "half uncertain" whether he is mortal (Ch. 130); or the occurrence of "half-hinting," "half-revealing," "half-suspected." Look at the word "hint" in Moby-Dick, and other forms of the word, such as "hintings," as in Ishmael's recalling "the enigmatical hintings of the unaccountable Elijah" (Ch. 48). Elijah's sort of talk, of course, is ambiguous (Ch. 19), and begets in Ishmael "all kinds of vague wonderments."
In Moby-Dick (140--Chapter 35, "The Mast-head,") Melville admonishes shipowners not to hire sunken-eyed young Platonists to look for whales--"absent-minded young men," "absent-minded young philosophers" who make it seem that whales "are scarce as hen's teeth:
Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of them in the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; like Wickliff's sprinkled Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of every shore the round globe over.
In Chapter 111, "The Pacific" (399) Melville recurs to the old gliding imagery ("When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South Sea . . ."). What follows is a depiction of what we would call the collective subconscious, if not collective unconscious:
There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.
Melville goes on: "To any mediative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld, must ever after be the sea of his adoption."

No one questions that Pierre is a psychological novel, but we don't think of Moby-Dick as being a psychological novel in the same way. We should.
Of course, some of the most influential essays ever written on Moby-Dick have approached it from psychology. Henry A. Murray's 1951 reading is the most famous:
Captain Ahab is an embodiment of that fallen angel or demi-god who in Christendom was variously named Lucifer, Devil, Adversary, Satan. The Church Fathers would have called Captain Ahab "Antichrist" because he was not Satan himself, but a human creature possessed of all Satan's pride and energy . . . .
Melville's Satan is the spitting image of Milton's hero, but portrayed with deeper and subtler psychological insight, and placed where he belongs, in the heart of an enraged man. . . .
Melville may have been persuaded by Goethe's Mephistopheles, or even by some of Hawthorne's bloodless abstracts of humanity, to add Fedallah to his cast of characters. Evidently he wanted to make certain that no reader would fail to recognize that Ahab had been possessed by, or had sold his soul to, the Devil. Personally, I think Fedallah's rĂ´le is superfluous and I regret that Melville made room for him and his unbelievable boat-crew on the ship Pequod.

To be contemptuous of the role of Fedallah and his boat's crew (187 Ch. 47), the "dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air," is to be blind to Melville's depiction of the intrusion of the unconscious into consciousness: that hair-turbaned Fedallah remained a muffled mystery to the last. . . . He was such a creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their reams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent--those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness of earth's primal generations, when the memory of the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants, unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms . . . . (NCE 199 ch. 50)
The meaning of Fedallah is reinforced by a passage in Pierre (NN 49, "Presentment and Verification"):
But now!--now!--and again he [Pierre] would lose himself in the most surprising and preternatural ponderings, which baffled all the introspective running of his mind. Himself was too much for himself. He felt that what he had always before considered the solid land of veritable reality, was now being audaciously encroached upon by bannered armies of hooded phantoms, disembarking in his soul, as from flotillas of specter-boats.

What Melville is writing about, in Moby-Dick with Fedallah and his five dusky phantoms, and in Pierre with the bannered armies of hooded phantoms disembarking in the soul, is the eruption of the unconscious into consciousness. We still have not acknowledged how much alike Moby-Dick and Pierre are (at least Moby-Dick and the original version of Pierre), and we still have not said enough about the ways in which they examine human psychology, the ways in which Moby-Dick appeals to us as an exploration of physical and psychological states, as mind-body states.

The New York Albion of 22 November 1851 used the phrase "mood of mind" in its review of Moby-Dick, claiming to see "both truth and satire" in what it called a "peep into a particular mood of mind." This was the passage in "The Hyena" (chapter 49):
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.
"Mood of mind" is curiously like the phrase that Melville soon afterwards wrote into Pierre, "moods of thought," in a passage (324) which the New York Herald quoted, in its contemptuous review on 18 September 1852, Isabel's declaration of her fluidity: "Thy hand is the caster's ladle, Pierre which holds me entirely fluid. Into thy forms and slightest moods of thought, thou pourest me; and I there solidify to that form, and take it on, and thenceforth ear it, till once more thou moldest me anew." "Mood of mind," "moods of thought"--not what we think of when we think of Moby-Dick perhaps. This is not what cartoonists think of when they draw Ahab or the White Whale. But shifting moods of mind and thought, linked to bodily moods, states of mind-body, states which cannot be simplified, cannot be classified, are characteristically Melvillean.

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