Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
6 April, 2004

At Sea ... And Back to Land
"neither believe, nor be comfortable in [her]his unbelief?"

Last week, Sam, my 4-year-old grandson, went to play with his father in a cluster of bamboo growing near a lake in their neighborhood. Sam has PDD, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. As a result, he often sees things quite differently than other children, and sometimes his perception can be breathtakingly clear. This was the case when, while running through the 25-foot stalks, he turned to his father and said: "Oh, Daddy, look how little we are." Sam's beautiful observation about our true position in nature is often forgotten.

Dan Gottlieb

At Sea
is it possible that reading this novel and getting inside a product of Melville's own brain has infected you with that same torture of "neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief?" ... (he so forcefully expounded it, consistently herding the class into consensus, saying "does everyone agree?" or "does everyone see that?") ... Kat

sounds like a lonely place to be. can't depend on anything. or anyone. because nothing is permanent. i guess, if i moved to being a non-clinger the thing i would miss most is the depending ... but i guess even in the life of a clinger the world is the same as it is for those who are flung around and tossed by the wind. people leave us. no matter if we are a part of the clingers club or the tossed team. i guess the clingers are more tired in the end, after exerting themselves and pouring all their energy into the upkeep of the beleifs they, i've only been around a couple decades and i'm pretty pooped ... Orah

Free-will was mentioned briefly in class today and I almost wish I didn't have the freedom to choose a meaning. That someone would just tell me what the function of Moby Dick is. But if that were done and Anne were to announce on Thursday that Moby Dick functions as a means of criticism to academic scholarship (for example), I know I would feel betrayed and disappointed. I don't want to assign A Meaning, but would rather assign multiple readings. Could that be my meaning? ... Aia

The thing about Ahab is that he has an all consuming passion, like some religious missionary, and like a missionary he draws people in, fascinated by this obsession, this emotion, whatever you want to call it ... Schoolteachers never have to risk their lives, unless they're in very rough districts, but on the other hand, they rarely have something exciting enough to be worth risking their lives for ... Elizabeth

Why did these whalers choose to live their lives on the cusp rather than with both feet planted safely ashore? ... the ultimate struggle of our own innate and mysterious desires in conflict with the natural order of things (?) ... Emily S.

i feel that this forum has been doing a stupendous job of crossing borders and defying categories. there is always someone saying, "well yes but...", or "for example"... i love it. this forum is so cool. and it does not keep religion or the sacred out of the pot, something that i think is really important, especially, i'm coming to see, with this novel. in the beginning there was the whale? i relate more and more to ahab now, with his feeling, the deep feeling he has. i wish i could have a passion like that ... Em

The passion itself, the state of it, is worthwhile enough. It isn't a means to an end. It is something I aim to dwell in, a state to be achieved. Its as if I'm an addict without a drug. And if you still insist that it is this passion that leads to our downfall I suggest we consider why this has become a socially acceptable way to commit metaphorical suicide. Maybe we should consider what it is about passion that links us all ... ps: this forum medaites my thoughts like therapy would, i feel as if i should pay $300 an hour for it or something ... Diane

I find myself especially tuned in to snippets of Melville that echo our discussions from the first half of the semester about randomness and absolute truth and debunking evolutionary "progress."... I don't mean to suggest that the right thing to do is to reduce Melville to Dennett's terms, but i found myself thinking "means" = algorithms (sane in the sense that they create order, etc.) and "motives" and "object" = meaning/intent and perfection (mad in the sense that there is no motive, only randomness and there is no object except continual change). Or you could say that motives and object = randomness which is mad in the sense of completely lacking intent ... Reeve

I cannot think about social structures that one might extrapolate/fantasize from Moby Dick until I do two things first: rationalize how the man, Melville, with his particular experiences up to the time he wrote Moby Dick, could have possibly precipitated the mega-book in the Library of Babel, the book that is a representation of all others (if we think hard enough, smart enough, fancifully enough, etc). I can't lose the hunch that he stumbled into a general systems "algorithm" for the symbolic allegory/novel and its openness allows the rest of the world to fill in the blanks—all of them ... Ro

AND/OR (dealing with the binary brain) our consiousness is the surface, and our unconsiousness is our blind spot that we continually build stories do cover. and/or our unconsiousness is the inside of our sounding board, the inside of the story-instrument, where things can exist before the brain gets to them and tells a story about them.- where our shadow/our selves/motivations that we are unable to pin down "exist" ... Becky

Back to Land?

I began Ahab's Wife with an open mind, hoping that I could understand why this is one of the books in Anne's "cannon," but the text seems completely condescending and "fluffy," to quote Katherine. It is only a book about women insofar as it concerns the most superficial things that make a woman a woman. I feel that if we (women) embrace such a text we are taking a step backward ... Diane

i was really worried that i would dislike the book. but in spite of what you have said i do not dislike the book, in fact, i cannot tear myself away sometimes: it is like gazing into the face of a sister i never had. while i do sometimes uncover and fret over the same dead earnestness (and terrible melodrama) that frustrated me in moby-dick, something about the book speaks to me in ways that melville's text does not ... Em

I too find myself struggling a little sometimes to put Naslund's book down, and don't really know why I identify better with Una more than any of the characters in Moby Dick.... perhaps just because she is a woman and she writes with clear romantic images and emotion. Perhaps romanticism is fluffy, but I like it ... Julia

There is indeed a stark difference between Ahabs Wife and Moby Dick-- I like them both... and am finding Ahab's Wife to be a really enjoyable story in part because it is so beautifully written. There is a significant amount of depth in this book. It's just arrived at in a styalistically different way. The varying opinions are fascinating though ... Elizabeth

Ro: "Melville offers either no preferred perspective or too many, and that is this book's genius, in my opinion." "But I want to know the truth" Una says to her mother (22). As do I. I spent most of my journey with Moby Dick trying to find the book's truth, but alas...I think there is none, or at least none that is manifested without my conjuring ... "The truth about the unseen makes little difference to me." I agree. We each create our own truths ... Aia