Thursday, September 24, 2015

I Could Finish My Homework, Or I Could Think About Whales, God

I was at my cousin’s wedding, which was lovely, and the service was lead by a monsignor, a guy above bishops. He was conversational and Herman Melville turned up in his sermon. I’d just read In The Heart of The Sea, a book based on the boat-staving sperm whale who inspired Meville’s Moby Dick, so I thought yes, Melville, you’ve got me, Father. Now what about the novelist?

Mostly what I’m thinking about is that it would be hard to write so many sermons.

At this wedding in LA, my friend Danichi wedding, which was also beautiful, but the priest, a young guy, not catholic, so I guess he would not be a priest, he talked about Kierkegaard. And quoted him. In his service before the vows. Very bad. So many hip philosophers to choose from when speaking about love. Why that one.

I’ll admit that I was dehydrated at this time from a late night. And I also had food poisoning from a vegan restaurant in Silver Lake that Munchie chose for us to eat at for brunch. And the day before, in a bathroom of a San Francisco Starbucks (serves me right) my glasses fell into the urinal while I was peeing, and suddenly I was peeing all over my glasses, and urinal water, my glasses sat in urinal water. And I kid you not, I had fleas. Or maybe bedbugs, from the Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel. I wrapped my clothes in trash bags and dumped those bags in a public trash can.

So, bitten, blind, nauseous, and headached, and very, very ashamed, I can’t remember the quote, but the important thing to know is this—that Kierkegaard was a miserable creature who hounded his intended fiancĂ©e, and after begging her for marriage, he backed out of the deal so that he could, I don't know, be, what, severe and anxious? Which is his right. But really, what I’m wondering is, what a brave and worldly, or not even worldly but practical monsignor to use the skeptic Herman Melville, and what a poor move to use that emo Dane.

What was the Melville quote? I thought I’d never find it. I knew I wanted to look it up but I thought, nope, that thing is gone. Turns out it’s everywhere:
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”  
The context was, it’s OK not to be a good Catholic, and get this, the guy actually said it, it’s OK not even to be Catholic, just so long as you are decent to people. I wanted to cry if that were the kind of thing I could do. I’d been waiting to hear that for years. This is the closest I’d come to God in decades. How can he say such good things? Probably this guy is an atheist who knows he has a fun job, I thought.

But to the literature point, it sounds like Melville—“A thousand fibers… among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes” a third of Moby Dick is just wild flashes of rhetoric and cadence. Can you read scansion? I bet that line has some meter. 

But then I read this blog,, and they found that above quote in a sermon by Henry Melville (no relation?) a British preacher, 1855. Herman the Novelist was alive then, had just finished his whale book a few years prior. How about that. And what does it all mean, and etc. 

I don’t like Moby Dick as much as I used to. So many encyclopedia chapters where the author tries to prove to you that he’s smart and knows his shit. All this is because critics made fun of his early books—Omoo, Typee, Mardi, Red Burn, White Jacket—said that he made it all up, and knew nothing of Fiji and these other, to New England, uncivilized communities where people were always doing it and having a good guilt free time. Although he published these books as novels, I’m not sure what genre expectations were at the time, but they came off as too outrageous for most.

So I’ve just been skipping those encyclopedic I-will-prove-it! chapters. I write “Herman, no!” under those chapter titles. Why I still read it, aside from my love for setting and novels set in small spaces is how Ishmael, although he does not really believe, still challenges himself to. Either because he is lonely, worried, or because (not or, but and) he realizes that there is some value in the practice of belief. Or that haters are often coming from a place of wanting to believe.

Now, I am not that person, but I do like reading a book about that person. And I also like that London preacher Henry Melville’s quotation got misattributed to a spiritual mess of a guy like Herman Melville, whose now classic novel was almost unanimously hated in his lifetime and earned him no money in large part to his narrator’s endless knocks against his Protestant countrymen and his embrace of taking transcendence where he could get it.