The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:
Exploring the Significance of Diversity

Forum 9
Onward to Moby Dick

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-23 13:49:40
Message Id:  8965
I've never thought about this before Elizabeth, but I think you're onto something. I, too, seem better able to process certain types of writing. Sometimes I'm actually suprised by the writing that I process more efficently because it is not necessarily the writing that I like better. Could this reflect evolutionary selection? Are we all equipped to understand certain things better than others just in case, and might this affect survival? It almost seems like the idea is bordering on ethnic cleansing or something awful like that.
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  CLINGING
Date:  2004-03-23 18:53:18
Message Id:  8967
yeh, grobstein is right, i am obsessed with clinging. and amidst my inarticulate mummble today i was getting at the clinging. and i guess i am repeating myself over and over ... but, only because i really think it's all about the clinging.
so, this is the boiled down articulation of what i was trying to say:

i think ahad clings to moby dick.

melville tells us that it is most admirable to to go out to sea and experience instead of read and yet the paradox lies in the fact that he is writing this fat book to read.
and another thing i failed to say: i think a tragedy is something that is doomed to fail from the begining ... we know what is going to happen at the end... we know what happens at the end of romeo julliet and macbeth and hamlet .... we are know that we're going to die in the end and yet we stick to life and try to immortalize ourselves ... knowing that we're going to fail ..... but, we live despite this failure .... and we read tragedies ... because we resonate with them and they reflect the human condition???? and we attach ourselves to the doomed characters. and yet that is where the tragedy lies ... in the fact that we surrender ourselves to the doomed.
so, i think that melville is commenting on the tragedy of humanity .... we go out into ships and inevitably fail to conquer the white whale ... we hop on ships that are destined to sink ... we try to write epic, all-encompasing books and we inevitably fail ... but we do it anyways.
and i think that ahab is the character that melville most admires ... ahab clings to the white whale and refuses to let go ... and fails ... but that's what it's all about.
and melville, too, makes a stab at the white whale through his writing ... but, writing too is a failure ... md starts out with the image of a failed ishmael dusting of his volumes.
he starts the book in the etymology by saying that words fail and he starts out the peqoud journey by syaing that it is going to fail. they seem to be such similar actions.
that's all the time i have. later, all.

Name:  Simran
Subject:  words, criticism, and naivety
Date:  2004-03-23 19:27:46
Message Id:  8968
I find that I do a lot of what Heather says she does- she believes the story that the writer is telling. If I study the process I go through when reading literature, I first need to believe the writer, be inside his or her head so that when the idea expands in my head it is as close to the idea that s/he had. It is only on a second reading of the whole text or parts of the text that I am able to analyse the work from my perspective, finally allowing the idea/story to find its own places in the crevices of my mind. Even though literature/art etc are floating- that is once they're thrown out into the world they're allowed to expand differently in different minds- I find myself first believing and accepting and then, if and when I take a second look, analyzing. Now that I think of it, I do the same with words and stories that are told to me. I believe people when they tell me a story from their experience or someone else's and there have been times when I've later found that these stories were just a figment of their imagination or sufficiently exaggerated to be untrue... and unless the stories sound utterly unbelievable when I first hear them, I usually believe them. Does this make me naïve? I think so... Words are powerful and I try not to use them unless I really have something to say because if I don't, I know there's a lot others have to say that I can learn from. But more and more and more often I find that my willingness to listen to another's story and believe their story without telling mine because I think it may not be important enough, leaves me in silence and without a story at all.

I am rambling, but there was something about Heather's post that really struck a chord since I have always felt myself to be a not so critical and rather naïve thinker.

Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  The Tragedy and the Word
Date:  2004-03-23 20:45:50
Message Id:  8969
Using Orah as a platform to spring off from, I too am deeply troubled by the tragedy of Moby Dick. Is Moby Dick a commentary on the tragedy that is humanity or is it a warning?

If Ahab were 'God' and chasing the white whale was a form of 'worship'/'a decree of the Lord', is it not true to say that by following the decree of the Lord we are destined for tragedy? Is Moby Dick a commentary on the naïve nature of humans? Are we so willing to believe in something so powerful that we are ready to die for it?

One of the reasons I think this novel is so successful is because it focuses on basic human relations – in this example, the relationships formed upon the Peqoud between shipmates. Melville knew that any social construct – politics, organized religion, academia – uses human relationships as its basic foundation. In that way, by examining the basic foundation of all social constructs we could arrive at the root of the problem: the problem of human nature.

I agree with what Ro said in class – that Melville is attacking not just any book, but The Book, the Bible – but using the Bible as an example for all books. How reliable is the word? Not so much. Then why are we a society that is willing to risk our humanity for it?

Name:  Elizabeth Catanese
Subject:  Pirate Gold
Date:  2004-03-23 21:15:12
Message Id:  8970
"I think so... Words are powerful and I try not to use them unless I really have something to say because if I don't, I know there's a lot others have to say that I can learn from. But more and more and more often I find that my willingness to listen to another's story and believe their story without telling mine because I think it may not be important enough, leaves me in silence and without a story at all." -Simran

Simran's thoughts are very interesting to me. I had a conversation with Anne about this, but in the context of a discussion of introverted vs. extroverted information procesessing. The forum, I think allows for an abundance of stories, for people to both talk and listen at the same time... a sort of equilization of the "who gets to tell a story," playing field... It's not necessarily the people who are the most facile with the spoken word. It accomodates people who prefer the written word also... But this is not as specifically related to Simran's point... more specifically I'd just like to say that I agree. I'd much prefer to listen to someone else's story and believe it whole heartedly than to tell my own. Or maybe this is not true... maybe it's more of an entropy-like thing... I'd like to listen to more stories from others then the number that I produce... to listen more then tell but when I do tell, to tell well... if this makes any sense.

I remember spending time with my cousin Chuck when I was younger (he is four years older than I am). We had an interesting relationship then... I would do whatever he would ask me to do-- something that comes to mind is sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table for three hours copying an encyclopedia for him... he made me do this as a sort of mischievious "what-will-I-be-able-to-get-her-to next-she-is-so-gullible-and-nieve-and-young," type of thing but I actually really loved doing it because it was the first time that I had "written" something that long... it was like claiming ownership over the words "making the story my own." At any rate, Chuck would also make up these elaborate stories with the intent of fooling me. One of my favorites that he once made up was a story about the ancient pirate gold that he had in his backpack. He told me about how the gold came to be there and how each piece had a different value, one piece with an elephant symbol was worth $1 million dollars and one piece with a mummy on it was worth a billion dollars and the final special piece had something so secret that he didn't even know what it was on it. He told me this piece was worth "ten zillion" dollars. I was completely absorbed and in love with the story that he was telling me. As a child I DIDN'T really THINK that he had those things in his backpack but I DID BELIEVE him because it was so wonderful to enter the world of that story. I believed the story because it was absolutely lovely to believe. Doesn't everyone want pirate gold in his or her backpack? The best part of the story was that I could "have a piece of this pirate gold" if I knew "the secret code." That is what ended the story. I told him that I didn't know the secret code and at this point he took out a couple of quarters from his backpack and laughed at me. I laughed too. I would always laugh and tell him that he really fooled me. He loved the feeling of being able to fool me... I loved being able to enter into his stories.

I kind of forget the exact reason why I wrote that... I believe when I started writing it I felt I had more of a profound point but at any rate, I've always loved listening to other people's stories- usually more than telling them. Especially when I was a child... I hardly ever talked at all and this coupled with my general "gullibilty" (which was actually just a profound enjoyment of other people's lies) made people think that I either had a learning or speech problem. There's more to that story too but i think it's better not to digress further. The bottom line is that I think it's fine and even natural to want to listen more than talk... it's a matter of preference... people find their own ways of contributing to stories in progress... For each story being told there are two functions, that of listener and that of teller... and I think that in the world there are more people inclined to tell than there are to listen. So listeners provide an excellent service to the perpetuation of stories. People would get tired of telling if there were no one there to listen. So I respect and agree with Simran's thoughts-- and would like to suggest that silence does not necessarily leave someone without a story at all but rather leaves one with the potential to accumulate other people's stories to eventually have better stories to tell. But conversely, one should never be AFRAID to speak or tell a story because one feels that it's not good enough... I suppose it's not consistent but I've often felt this way too... people can do it better than me, so why speak at all? I guess it's just important to know that everyone's story is equally valid and the way of coming to that story and expressing it should be able to vary widely without any feelings of guilt or inadequecy.

I also wanted to include some quotes which I think pertain to our class discussion about Moby Dick and ideas about stories, today. They are from an article by Craig Owens called "The Allegorical Impulse" This is one of the articles that I am reading for my art history class (Contemporary Art and Theory)

"All attempts to decipher [Rauschenberg's] works only testify to their own failure, for the fragmentary, piecemeal combination of images that initally impells reading is also what blocks it, erects an impenetratable barrier to its course." (225)

Here Owens is quoting Smithson a site specific artist who wrote a text called "A Sedimentation of Mind: Earth Projects" This quote is from this particular text.

"The names of minerals and the minerals themselves do not differ from each other, because at the bottom of both the material and the print is the beginning of an absymal number of fissures. Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void." (217)

Here is Owens quoting from Paul de Man "Allegories of Reading"

"We write in order to forget our foreknowledge of the total opacity of words and things or, perhaps worse, because we do not know whether things have or do not have to be understood." (217)

Thanks! See you all soon :-)

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  the morsels
Date:  2004-03-23 21:46:59
Message Id:  8972
one more thing about class today.......
i said that i don't like the fact that i am defined by written words from the past with which i might no longer resonate. (((and yet i still write though some of my old writings pain me .... a little masocistic ....maybe for the instant pleasure .... maybe in hopes that THIS will be the Harpoon, the Word, that HITS.....we say that we know romeo and julliet will die, but do we really KNOW it? do we hope that in this read through the pequod will not sink? hummm.....i don't think so. i really know it's gonna sink. and, godamn it, romeo and julliet die every single time.
but when i'm reorganizing and creating combinations of words that have never before been combined (i.e. when i'm writing) i really do hope that THIS will be the combination that GETS IT, though it's never been done before and i am an insignifigant writer in the sceem of things and everything i say ends up having already been said by someone better ... but i still HOPE.................. i digress.)))
but, tmy old writings might be helpful to others.
((i've been taught to write papers that track my movement from one position to another ... not just to state the aquired position))
so, in a way, publicaiton, posting is a form of sacrifice ... we allow ourselves to be captured in order to help others in thier struggle, leave morsels to help others who are behind us? but, TO WHERE are we leading if we are all doomed to destruction? is there a better path to take ... in writing do we assume that our path will get us (and others) CLOSER, farther in our journey?
and knowing that i will fail do i leave morsels so maybe someone can pick up my journey, get farther than i did and in a way immortalize my path, immortalize ME?
and this makes me realize that it is essential (even though it might be painful) to tell stories, and not just listen to them. (((i guess ya'all already figured that out ... i'm slow tonight)))

ps anne mentioned that she thought i was done with clinging.
just for clarification if i ever was done with clinging i'm back to it.
i really like it tonight.
maybe i won't tomorrow.

Name:  Fritz Dubuisson
Username:  fdubuiss
Subject:  The whale
Date:  2004-03-23 22:13:06
Message Id:  8973
Reading Moby Dick is hard for me. It's not that the book is exactly boring, but just like Ishmeal, I find my self and my mind wandering to places half explored. The story being told on paper is not as interesting the stories which the words inspire. They stay seperate stories and demand equal amounts of attention, so then I go off and make up my own story.
Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-24 06:45:14
Message Id:  8975
A thought struck me during our discussions yesterday--about people worrying about the persistence of past writings as static markers of past selves.

Are we saying, some of us, that we move from less finished to more finished as life/learning/thinking go on? Is that notion of progress towards "perfection" so engrained that our 'thought litter' embarrasses or worries us? Why do we care what people think about stories we wrote and then outgrew? What's the risk (always a good question) if they read it? What bad things might happen?

DOES WRITTEN THOUGHT DEFINE US MORESO than what we think to ourselves? Or what we speak informally? Written language does evolve far more slowly than spoken language. Is that, in part, because we sense the extra import of our written words? What's the risk? DOES THE WRITTEN WORD ISOLATE US as much as it connects us to each other?

Thoughts frozen in words define us no more, no less than our footprints, as children, define our feet as adults. Or do they? Just how integral is the written word with the woman?

Name:  ro finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Chinese poets and the written word
Date:  2004-03-24 09:08:18
Message Id:  8976
This morning I sent a photo to Anne and Paul (which Paul has offered to post). From time to time, something reminds me to haul this photo out and have another look at it--always a new reason, a different angle.

In it are Chinese poets who have gathered along a promenade in Beijing to discuss their poems--both the content/form and the brushwork itself. But look how they do it! By "writing" in water on sun-warmed pavement. As they share their ideas, the words evaporate!

I was thinking about our discussions regarding the written word, the responsility of the writer, drafts floating around that some of us wish would decay and disintegrate, but they don't. Maybe water instead of ink is the answer...

Here's Ro's picture ...

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon
Subject:  (Im)permanence
Date:  2004-03-24 17:04:34
Message Id:  8984

That's a thought-provoking picture, and certainly takes one extreme on the discussion of the (im)permanence of the written word.

Of course, then there are those of us who wish to record every word in our thought processes. We keep journals and we write memoirs. But one form is private, and the other is a cleaned-up version of our "trail of stories" (Orah's words, and a lovely way of phrasing it too!), fit for the eyes of others.

But even so, there are the stories that come back to haunt us, though they may not necessarily be written: the skeletons in the closet, so to speak. Writing, then, is neither a filter for or guarantee of the permanence of stories.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon
Subject:  postures?
Date:  2004-03-24 17:14:14
Message Id:  8985

A thought that occured to me while looking at the photo, completely random and shamelessly irrelevant: has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that seem to be culturally inherited? The poses here feel familiar, though the space they inhabit is strange to me, having never been there. An interesting tension...
Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Body language
Date:  2004-03-24 18:30:47
Message Id:  8986
"has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that seem to be culturally inherited?"

Sure. There are distinct differences around the the way, spies (so my NSA cousin tells me) are schooled to mimic stances, gestures, and the like...but are you convinced that "body language" is 100% cultural?

I wonder. Paul?

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon
Subject:  cultl
Date:  2004-03-24 19:37:44
Message Id:  8987

"are you convinced that "body language" is 100% cultural?" - Ro

Not sure what you mean by your question. "100% cultural" as opposed to...? I don't believe it is culturally deterministic at all, if I understand what you're asking, only that there are differences that seem to align with cultural groups (more to do with unconscious imitation of the people you're with, I imagine). Even describing postures as a "cultural" phenomenon is too strong. A more neutral rephrase: "Has anyone ever noticed the subtle differences in posture that some groups share?"

Name:  roz
Subject:  Depressed?
Date:  2004-03-24 20:50:12
Message Id:  8988
Reading more and more of this book makes me wonder about the depression that Ahab spoke of in the beginning. Technically he did say that his reason for going to sea was to get away from the sadness of his life, and it seems as if it does work because he is very happy. Everything he describes he speaks of in such in high regard. So, it's a good thing for him.
Name:  nancy
Username:  nevans@bmc
Subject:  the other side of stories
Date:  2004-03-24 21:39:29
Message Id:  8990
I find myself very content to be back in familiar territory reading Moby Dick. Although I have never read it before, I know what to expect in a general sense; not so much to do with the plot, rather how I'm expected to act in relation to the text etc. I feel as though I can almost imagine the vein of stories we will tell as we venture through the novel.

So, anyway, I feel more revived now, more important, more productive. Not that I discredit any of what we have learned so far, but I found the emphasis on 'telling our stories' incongruous to my experiences so far in the course. As I see it, you can be telling a story, or you can be listening to a story, and we haven't really been focusing on the more passive aspect of storytelling. I think the two are mutually exclusive (granted, everything we do, even listening to a story, creates a story, but go with me here for a minute). I feel as though up until now, I have been listening to a story. Not that this is bad, but it does lend itself to the feeling of being stagnant that I get in classes of seemingly 'bounded' subjects (generally math, science, etc). I know we are supposed to be questioning and making up our own stories, but I have felt as though I need to learn more before I can produce.

I'm thinking now, looking back, of how it looks to be celebrating a move back into a subject that doesn't require me to be outside of my comfort zone. But I guess that's too bad, I like it in here, even if I am sometimes pushing against the walls.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  loving ahab
Date:  2004-03-24 23:53:31
Message Id:  8991
am still thinking a lot about the inadequacy of words.
bad things happen in this world and words like 'angry or sad' are so inadequite.
so i told my friend tonight that there is nothing i respect more than silence. silence is the only way we can truely respect each other and allow ourselves to BE in our own fullness. silence is the only way we can perceive the world for what it is. silence is the only way to accept tragedy in its fullness, and not minimize it.
my friend then asked me, "so is that why you are such an avid word user?" and i'd never thought about it that way, but, yeh, she's right. i really need to find a way to counteract the silence of life.

or not counteract the silence, because the silence is just a state in which we are beside the reality of existence. but, i don't just want to exist BESIDE this reality, i want to attack it. in the vacumed space left by tragedy what is there to say? what is there to feel? who is there to blame?
i want to blame, i want to fling sharp words, but there are none sharp enough. but, i'll go mad if i can't throw something, so i throw words. but, those who can exist in silence get farther than i do. get closer to what IS.

starbuck says, "vengence on a dumb brute! that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! madness! to be enraged with a dumb thing, captain ahab, seems blasphemous."
ahab responds "that inscrutable thing is cheifly what i hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, i will wreak the hate upon him. talk not to me of blasphemy, man; i'd strike the sun if it insulted me." (139-140)

yeh, ahab is mad ... but don't we all want to take a stab at cancer? beat it into a bloody pulp? so i'll assert tonight that ahab is the most human character in this book. mad or sane ... but mortally and painfully and so so tragically human. oh ahab ahab ahab.

and it's like we're all tightrope walkers ... we're on this thin thin rope of sanity and we could fall into maddness as ahab does, in a frenzied, hopless flinging flail ... or we could fall off the other side and deny our humanity, our instinct to cling to something. deny our humanity and sit in a constant silence.

Name:  ro. finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-25 08:02:45
Message Id:  8993
Melville has all these literary forms at his disposal, and he decides to ignore the boundaries between them. I'm thinking of this blending as the making of a generative literary algorithm--his quest for one. If so, that takes us to a fresh plateau (think expansion) beyond niches such as Greek tragedy, Shakesperean tragedy, sermon, geneological catalogue, obituary, rant, you-name-it.

Melville appears to take powder from so many puny bullets to make one bomb. We presume we know his motives (meaning of life, yadayadayada), but how did he come to believe that LITERATURE is the answer...the essence of Dennett's "universal acid?"

Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-25 12:32:35
Message Id:  8996
A response to Roz:

Perhaps it Is a good thing for his health, but I question whether giving into one's depression should be commended. His intentions were honorable, but I think that his actions show a weakness in his personality. And, as he states at the begining of the book, he goes to sea whenever he feels depressed. He is treating the symptom rather than the problem. Perhaps this is why these characters are so doomed.

Name:  em
Subject:  english major identity crisis
Date:  2004-03-25 16:28:49
Message Id:  8998
sorry to have subjected those of you in anne's class today to my complaints, and sorry in advance for using the forum to do so as well:
when i say i am having difficulty with the book, it is not because i do not understand the book. the footnotes explain most of the allusions that i am at a loss for, and rereading a sentence a few or more times will generally unravel the basic meaning of it. where i am at a loss is the meaning "the meaning" the meaning... i am trying so hard to have this book become meaningful, and perhaps i am like ahab and those cardboard masks-- i want to pin melville and his message to me down, but i keep on finding this great empty hollowness behind the words that makes me ache and instead i curl up and go to sleep. but then i must ask: is melville's message really for me? am i treating moby-dick as a commodity rather than nancy's "organic" reading experience? why is it so important to me right now at this very moment in my life to find something to cling to (thanks, orah) in this novel? today in class i said i "liked queequeg." this still stands, but perhaps i am afraid to admit that i am most like ahab. i would like to be ishmael, i would like to be the whale or the ocean, i would like to be queequeg, but instead, i am left kind of crazy and obsessed with why this book troubles me so. and with that, i throw my pipe into the sea.
Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Date:  2004-03-25 17:07:25
Message Id:  8999
this religion prof that i always quote says that God is COMPLETE OTHERNESS. COMPLETE AND UTTER AND ABSOLUTE OTHER.

so in a way we are each God. when i look at you you are completely other from me and therefore are a form of God.

(((btw ... i think world peace will come when we step beyond the tolerance that everyone talks about and learn to see each other as Godly beings....but that's irrelevant.)))

and i think that is what ahab is doing; he is boldly confronting THE ABSOLUTE OTHER. he is threatening God directly in the face.

i said today that i think that (some sorts ... forgot to mention that) of sex are just this : the attempt to KNOW, the attempt to delve into this ABSOLUTE OTHER .... or to receive and contain ABSOLUTE OTHER.
we conquer this otherness in sex.
maybe sex is the only place (as opposed to in writing) where the OTHER is conquered.

and so maybe ahab doesn't fail in the end, because he conquers the otherness, the whiteness and becomes one with the whiteness and KNOWS the whiteness.

and throughout the book ahab and moby dick are moving toward being ONE.
what is ahab without md ? just a lame old sea captain. what is md without ahab? just a battered old whale.

page 157. "ahab's lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted." and i DO think that this is an extreemly contracted book .... (simultaneously very expanded ... like we talked about) melville is monomaniacal like ahab in a way. maybe a little more sane. it's really all about the whiteness of this whale. it's melville's attempt to stab the ABSOLUTE OTHER.
stab God.
i'd call that pretty blasphemous. he's trying to kill God.

and maybe the reason that melville fails and ahab doesn't is because ahab is more contracted than melville....ahab is is monomaniac.
((i think i remember reading this fabulous quote actually saying that ahab had lost his own identity amidst md.....but, i can't find it. nothing more frustrating))

and FINALLY to the actual whiteness ...
don't have much time, i'll just quote to you:

"hit spiritual whiteness chiefly, which so clothed him with divineness; and that this divineness had that in it which, though commanding worship, at the same time enforced a certain nameless terror." (161)

God is Other. God is terryfying.

in conclusion: i chuckle at some of meville (especially the part in ch. 23 when queequeg talks about the lack of couches in his county) but, in essence, i think that meville is brutally truthful about the nature of living......and i don't think, in my 20 yrs, of anyone who has convinced me more fully.

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  thursday ...
Date:  2004-03-25 17:29:47
Message Id:  9000
Some notes from conversation today, with hopes others will add/expand/contend:

An old memory from junior high school. Relevant? I and a group of friends were assigned to read Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum and to report on it to class. We spent a painful week trying to figure out the significance of a number of the lines in the short story, including an apparently symbolic last line with an obscure reference, in order to be sure we could report on the story's meaning. Frustrated, we went to the teacher for help, who patted us on the head and then encouraged us to stop trying to find the "meaning" and think instead about why the story was written.

Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Date:  2004-03-25 18:59:49
Message Id:  9001

Integrating Environmentalism
A symposium at Haverford College
March 26th - 27th (Fri - Sat)

Keynote address by Mary Catherine Bateson: 5pm, Friday.

Some Haverford students from a variety of departments organized this symposium to start a conversation about ways to integrate environmentalism into the curriculum. Although we have the opportunity to get involved in numerous "green clubs" on campus, there are few courses that offer academic training to prepare us to deal with the critical environmental issues once we graduate. We believe that the multidisciplinary nature of environmentalism must be reflected in the conversation and its subsequent resolutions. For that reason, we have invited speakers who hail from the fields of anthropology and education, philosophy, biology and public policy, and environmental law.

I'm asking for your support and participation in the symposium this weekend. I think this will be a great opportunity for interdisiplinary dialogue on an important and relevant issue.

Sign up here.

Friday, March 26th

Keynote Address: "Restructuring a Vision of the Whole"
Mary Catherine Bateson
Harvard School of Education, bestselling author, daughter of Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead
Introducted by Alice Lesnick, HC

Saturday, March 27th

"Walking an Interdisciplinary Line: from Environmental Philosophy to Environmental Policy"
David Macauley
Professor of Philosophy, Penn State
Introduced by Christopher Schlottmann, HC'02

"Turning Conservation Science into Conservation: Perspectives from an Activist Academic"
David Wilcove
Professor of Biology & Public Policy, Princeton University & Woodrow Wilson School
Introduced by Neal Williams, Bryn Mawr College

Tea and Coffee

"Reflections on the Politics of Environmental Law"
Eric Orts
Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies & Director of the Environmental Management Program, Wharton School of Business at UPENN
Introduced by Susan Liebell, St. Joseph's University

Panel Q & A and Discussion
Moderated by Kaye Edwards, HC

Dinner and Peach Pie Jazz in CC313, open to all participants

PS: Thanks to Paul Grobstein for the permission to post this in the forum.
Name:  Perrin
Username:  Pbraun@bmc
Date:  2004-03-25 19:02:59
Message Id:  9002
In one of my junior high literature classes, I was taught about the principle parts of a novel. My teacher said that every novel has a protagonist and an antagonist, but Moby Dick seems to be lacking in the latter. I don't think that Ahab has the qualities of a real antagonistic character because he is so scarred; the readers are supposed to feel pity for him. His maliciousness and madness are not really inherent, but rather the source of a too-cruel world. Ahab is certainly not perfect, for he carries with him the Mark of Cain, his scar, which gives him an aura of separateness that implies that he not to be touched by anyone save G-d (the great whale himself?)

So who is the antagonist? Moby Dick? I think that Moby Dick is more of a concept than a character—kind of a tangible representation of what humans are searching for, but will never fully grasp. He is the belligerent god who Ahab is fighting to conquer, but this battle will ultimately destroy Ahab in the end because Moby Dick is such an integral part of who he is and in attempting to annihilate the whale, he will destroy himself. In this sense, Moby Dick is reminiscent of the biblical Tower of Babel story, in that humans are attempting to gain knowledge of something elusive that is beyond their understanding. I think that at its core, this novel is about the relationship between Man and his god, and the consequences of our inquisitive, wanderlust-y nature.

So perhaps there is no real antagonist in this novel...except for ourselves?

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  jk
Date:  2004-03-25 19:12:30
Message Id:  9003
so i see that there is evidence to say that this whole book is a joke ... though i don't really like it ... i guess will have to think about it.

"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...There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it i now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object."

i guess you could look at life that way.
i don't.

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-25 19:45:06
Message Id:  9004
The topic of Melville's relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne came up in our session today, and we sort of left it at loose ends... here's one bit from "The Life and Works of Herman Melville" regarding the two men:

In the beginning the relationship was a great source of comfort and intellectual stimulation to Melville, who believed he had finally found the soul mate for whom he had been yearning. As Sophia Hawthorne observed, "Mr. Melville, generally silent and uncommunicative, pours out the rich floods of his mind and experience to [Nathaniel Hawthorne], so sure of apprehension, so sure of a large and generous interpretation, and of the most delicate and fine judgment." Hawthorne's influence, in fact, is credited as the prime catalyst behind Melville's decision to transform what originally seems to have been a light-hearted whaling adventure into the dramatic masterpiece that is arguably the greatest American novel of all time.

In August of 1852 Melville wrote to Hawthorne about the true story of a New England woman who had taken in and married a shipwrecked sailor only to be abandoned by him. "The Story of Agatha", Melville thought, would be a perfect subject for the application of Hawthorne's talents; the older man, however, felt little enthusiasm for the project and after a few desultory attempts suggested that Melville write the story himself. Melville agreed, but it is uncertain now whether he ever actually did anything with the material; at any rate, no published version of the story by him has been discovered.

The "Agatha" correspondence marks nearly the end of the Melville - Hawthorne relationship, which had lasted only a little over two years. The initial abundance of warmth and fellowship had faded for reasons which can only be conjectured. Melville may have come to feel that Hawthorne was not as profoundly sympathetic and responsive as he had at first seemed; for his part, Hawthorne was unsuccesful in using his long-established connections with Franklin Pierce to secure a government post for the impoverished Melville, a failure that left him "embarrassed and chagrined" and probably made him reluctant to pursue further encounters. The two men met for the last time in November 1856: en route to the Mediterranean Melville stopped in Liverpool, where Hawthorne had been appointed American Consul; the two spent several days together, which Hawthorne recorded in his journal as follows:

"Herman Melville came to see me at the Consulate, looking much as he used to do (a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder), in a rough outside coat, and with his characteristic gravity and reserve of manner.... [W]e soon found ourselves on pretty much our former terms of sociability and confidence. Melville has not been well, of late; ... and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.... Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us."

More about Hawthorne later this weekend...I've got some stuff Melville wrote about Hawthorne as an author that may shed some light on Melville's M-D motives...was it a hugely laborious prank? Or was it a dare to us all to find meaning in it--our own--and his be damned? Need to root around and then cull it--if I find anything useful.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  having not much to do with md but rather with existensial mornings
Date:  2004-03-26 00:27:26
Message Id:  9005
i don't know how useful theories are. i seem to come up with all these things, and i'm really happy when i think of them, i get this mischevious smile on my face, like i've just figured out The Rule of the world ... like all those theories about md being a very sexual book, ((ie saying things like: they're all trying to PENETRATE md.......i'm sorry but that's crap) and ahab fulfilling the perfect sexual act, and about being tightrope walkers .... i like the theories when i write them. they seem to aply to life at the moment, but then i realize that life isn't as intense as i make it out to be. there are, of course, those intense moments, but i think proportionally there are more fluffy conversations and nice relationships and ............ people are to tired to be passionate all the time , or not even tired ..... i just don't know.
when i read over a lot of my postings they sound like bullshit.
i didn't mean to write bs. i fluff them up with imagry to make them sound genuine, but ................i guess i don't really know what is genuine writing. i beleive it when i write it, but when i read back over it hours later i realize that i just put it there because it sounded good and felt good at that moment.
and i don't even know what i aggree with in my writing and what i don't. i guess melville had problems figuring out what he beleived too. but that doesn't help much. HE KNOWS ONE THING. i just wish that i KNEW one thing too. i don't.
wrote my last paper on nietsche ... wrote a counterargument to his idea that God is dead. but, thinking about it: i don't know if god is dead. if nietsche had said God was just born i probably would have writen a paper saying why he's wrong and God actually just died.
what am i doing? how am i suposed to figure things out for real? i know how to do it for kicks ...think of nice theories that seem to apply for the minute, but don't really MEAN anything.
godamn it! i seem to have just figured out AGAIN that there is NO MEANING. why do i keep figuring that out. i don't like it. and am trying like hell not to beleive it.
i just wish i could say something about md, or about anything for that matter, that i truely and fully and utterly beleived, because it seems that the only thing i can say and beleive is that there is no meaning and i don't want that. the only Truth i have i don't want.
any consolation from all you writers out there on an dark friday morning? .............. please.
have a splendid weekend, all.
Name:  simran
Username:  skaur
Subject:  help!
Date:  2004-03-26 01:36:12
Message Id:  9006
This is a ridiculous question, but right as we were leaving class today (Professor Dalke's section), what were we talking about? I had something to say and I thought I would post in on the forum but I've lost the thought and its driving me crazy!! I know if I hear what we were talking about the last 10 minutes of class, I'll remember.
Name:  simran
Subject:  I remember!!!
Date:  2004-03-26 03:44:24
Message Id:  9008
Toward the end of class in Professor Dalke's section, we talked about canonical constructions which usually select books that have layers of meaning thus require a certain amount of decoding. Professor Dalke also mentioned "No More Masks," to give us a description of a movement that wanted to get rid of what it calls "inaccessible texts."

I think the straightforward text- the opposite of the inaccesible text- would actually result in a limitation of the gamut of possible meanings. I want to go back to the wonderful example posted on this forum- that of someone having a thought, converting it into language and presenting it to another in whose mind the thought unfurls, but often in a different way. I think that if a text was over-simplified (by this I mean different layers of meaning), it would restrict the different range of possible ways it could expand in the listener/reader's mind. The layers of meaning, I think, give each reader the option of interpreting the message according to how it best fits them, according to where in their lives they are. I guess these layered "inaccesible" novels appeal to me so much because they allow room for my interpretations, resulting in a story that includes me thus is more personal and of more value to me.

Name:  simran
Subject:  In response to Orah:
Date:  2004-03-26 03:57:39
Message Id:  9009
Just thought I would respond to you before turning in after a loooong day! You sound quite frustrated and lost in your posting and I'm sorry if you're not feeling good say Melville knows one thing and you wish you did know one thing for sure too. I guess I just look at what Ahab knows and what he does not. He does not know what is out there that caused the accident, but he does know that he wants to get to the white whale. His mission is destined to fail, yet his desire to know the answers (in whatever way he thinks is best) is greater than that. Your refusal to believe that things don't have meaning seems to be a great strength to me. You refuse to believe that there is no meaning and so spend time and energy trying to discover what it is. It is your refusal to accept meaninglessness that sets you on these quests to learn and discover, empowering yourself with knowledge... I find it facinating that it is this very refusal to accept meaninglessness that adds meaning to your life.
Name:  becky
Subject:  on a bright (warm!) friday morning (in response to orah)
Date:  2004-03-26 13:08:39
Message Id:  9014
i'm not really sure this adresses your question, but this is my take one it (for the time being) :)

what i take away from human brains being a skyhook is that we determine meaning. we just get to choose. so i ask myself, what one thing would i like to know? and i don't have to stop at one thing, and i may revise myself, but, as a fellow clinger, it takes some shaking. some things i'm pretty sure i won't revise- i like them too much, and i find them useful.

i don't guess we get to choose all on our own, we've got the whole world to infuence us, not to mention our biology.

so as to melville and whether moby dick is a joke, maybe it could be, but that seems counter-intuitive for me. i find it difficult to imagine going about life or writing such a big book or in any way seriously investing themselves in something they think is ONLY ultimately laughable. maybe that's only because i find it insulting- i take myself rather seriously! i can laugh at myself, sure, and often do so in response to taking myself too seriously, but in the end i find the idea that i and the things i am invested in are all a joke very threatening. so i've decided they're meaningfull!

i think of moby dick more a an often playful, through an admittedly futile, search for meaning, a search that melville is nonetheless earnestly engaged in.

Name:  orah
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-26 13:37:03
Message Id:  9015
thanks guys ... very helpful ... and i agree, becky, that melville is "earnestly engaged" ... i like that phrase ... and i too feel threatened when people say that life is just a joke. woo hoo for the clingers club!

the moral of my story today is: sunshine makes everything okay.
enjoy the beautiful weather, friends.

Name:  daniela
Subject:  "The fish doen't think...for the fish knows everything..."
Date:  2004-03-26 21:15:52
Message Id:  9018
To me the whole story of Mobidick seems to be like a quest for a definition of life. What instills vital forces into people making them live, instead of merely existing?

From this point of view, Ishmael's and Ahab's stories resemble a rendition of "Hotel California" or the R.L.Stevenson's Suicide Club: "Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must trifle, if you wish to taste the intense joy of living."

Bored with his existence as a school master, Ishmael embarks on this journey to test whether life still means anything to him. Upon the premises of death Ishmael finds out that he does care about his life. Facing death, he is able to appreciate the moment and live it out fully without regretting a single second...

Ahab is driven by hate towards Mobidick and the inscruitable force it represents. What generates this hate? Isn't it the fear of the unknown that he cannot bring under control that humiliates him and, thus makes him hate? Making Ahab experience so strong emotions, the fear does instill life into him...

Date:  2004-03-27 12:19:18
Message Id:  9026
One of the questions we all answered in my section on Thursday was where/whether we found ourselves in Moby-Dick. We had an Ahab or two (folks on a quest to "know"), several "onlookers" (including Ishmaels and one Queequeg), one member of the class who identified as Moby-Dick (not wanting to be confined/contained by anyone else's knowing!)—but most of us unable to locate ourselves in the text. As Diane said, however, this may actually be a compelling reason to read it: to go beyond what we already know, who we are, add something new to the meme pool already bubbling in our brains...

I was reminded of this conversation (and reminded that I wanted to record it) by Mary Catherine Bateson, the keynote speaker for the conference Integrating Environmentalism @ Haverford this weekend, which Su-Lyn told us about. At the end of her talk about making education "more ecological," someone asked Bateson where she would go to school now, were she 17 again. She said she would most likely do what she did before: spend a year in Israel, learning a culture and language different from anything she'd ever participated in before. And so learn (again) how to be an anthropologist, a participant-observer, someone involved/invested in a culture, BUT ALSO able to look @ it from the outside, to see that it is only one of myriad options for constructing the world.




Head in Clouds/Feet on Ground.

To Sea/In a Ship.

Thank you all for all this Backikng-and-Forthing.

It keeps me Im/Balanced.

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Mo B. Dick: A Funny Man
Date:  2004-03-27 12:36:54
Message Id:  9027

A link, from my daughter Lily, perhaps a contribution to various lines of discussion above, both about jokes and sexual play? See Mo B. Dick: The Art of Kinging: "Instead of being an angry woman, I became a funny man!"

Name:  Student Contributor
Subject:  Jokes and Fate
Date:  2004-03-27 14:38:25
Message Id:  9029
Orah's comments regarding the "vast practical joke" (ch. 49 – The Hyena) echoed my own thoughts: I don't fancy the notion of an "unseen and unaccountable old joker", whom I take it to be God, peering down from a heavenly kingdom with his angel pals pointing and laughing at me as I try and make my way through life. Do I misinterpret to think that Melville, in these few lines atleast, sees life as a source of entertainment – must-see television perhaps – by the powers that be? This troubles me. Much like Ahab, I need to believe my grief has some reason to account for it.

Anne's question on Thursday (one of many questions: Do you think there is such a thing as fate in this book?) got me thinking about the mysterious Fedallah and his crew. They appeared out of thin air it seems (although they were hinted at many times before their appearance) and I wonder if they function as a representation of fate. Fedallah, interestingly enough, in Arabic means 'in the hands of God' (Did Melville know that? My 'Specters of Moby Dick' Prof last semester at Haverford didn't seem to think so but it just seems like such an extraordinary coincidence). There are also curious passages throughout the book that alludes to Ahab and Fedallah being one man – Fedallah an externalized insecurity perhaps? Fedallah, shadow, stare, wordless's all rather supernatural.

Name:  Ro. Finn
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  By Dick, I've Got It! (maybe)
Date:  2004-03-28 10:27:49
Message Id:  9030
I just finished a piece for my lit. journalism course. We had to write a negative review of some book we didn't like in some way. So, I grabbed what was handy--you guessed it. The Whale. I took on the great American novel as THE book to avoid. Probably not the best choice.

I didn't know exactly what I was thinking, but I did find out (writing often works that way)—my gripe is that this book is either too much effort or too much risk. Effort = time and thought. Risk = the seduction of all those wacky postulations about good/evil, free will/fate, the whale as gold...the sea as the prairie...the quest as the gold rush, etc.—yeah, theorists actually said that stuff. I would have been embarrassed.

Why MUST we know Melville's motives? In its first writing, this book was a romance novel. Reportedly, it was nearly finished when Hawthorne convinced Melville to rewrite it as allegory. But that was Hawthorne's shtick, not Melville's. Doesn't it seem unlikely that an author's early attempt at allegory would become the greatest American novel? Are WE are making it THAT BIG...seeing THAT MUCH in it?

Do we like the cost/benefit ratio involved? What do we get for our investment? Any new insights? Something that would change our opinions? We do get a well-told story (too long, if that's all), some good laughs (ditto). That's not it. I think that Moby is timelessly, endlessly fascinating because Melville's "out of the box thinking" precipitates an explosion of interpretations, each coming from some unique and personal place within each reader. That's big as all of us put together. BIGGER...when we share these interpretations. Combinatorial. Exponential. Melville has de-clichéd the phrase, "touched a cord." There's something for everyone in it.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  an aid to understanding the beauty of meville's work:
Date:  2004-03-28 17:52:15
Message Id:  9035
and an argument for the broad quality to his writing / an expansionist reading of md:

"It's this course where each boy in class had to get up in class and make a speech. you know. spontaneous and all. and if a boy digresses at all, you're supposed to yell 'Digression!' at him as fast as you can. it just about drove me crazy....that digression business got on my nerves. i don't know. the trouble with me is, i like it when somebody digresses. it's more interesting and all...i like somebody to stick to the point and all. but i don't like them to stick too much to the point. i don't know. i guess i don't like it when sombebody sticks to the point all the time. the boys that got the best marks in Oral Expression were the ones that stuck to the point all the time - i admit it. but there was this one boy, Richard Kinsella. He didn't stick to the point too much, and they were always yelling 'Digression!' at him. it was terrible, because in the first place, he was a very nervous guy - i mean he was a very nervous guy - and his lips were always shaking whenever it was his time to make a speech, and you could hardly hear him if you were sitting way in the back of the room. When his lips sort of quit shaking a little but, though, i liked his speeches better than anybody else's. He pracitically flunked the course, tough, too. he got a D plus because they kept yelling 'Digression!' at him all the time. For instance, he made this speech about this farm his father bought in Vermont. They kept yelling 'Digression!' at him the whole time he was making it, and this teacher, mr. Vinson, gave him an F on it because he hadn't told what kind of animals and vegetables and stuff grew on the farm and all. what he did was, Richard Kinsella, he's start telling you all about that stuff - then all of a suddden he'd start telling you about this letter his mother got from his uncle, and how his uncle got polio and all when he was 42 years old, and how he woun't let anybody come to see him in the hospital because he didn't want anybody to see him with a brace on. it didn't have much to do with the farm - i admit it - but it was nice. it's nice when somebody tells you about their uncle. especially when they start out telling you about their father's farm and then all of asudden get more interested in their uncle. I mean it's dirty yelling 'Digression!' at him when he's all nice and excited." -catcher in the rye 184

seems that sometimes melville is a little like richard kinsella, i mean he is talking about md and whaling and he keeps stopping and saying stuff like: this is a perfect chance to tell you a little more about whales or ships ... stuff that is seemingly irrelevant, but gives the story some shape and just makes the whole thing. .....i don't know.... a lot nicer?
and i feel like we get to know melville better becuase of his digressions, we are intimatly ingrained in his mind.
reminds me of the opening of scarlet letter (my favorite part of the whole book) when hawthorne picks for the reader a red rose and offers it to us. a token of .... ???
hope it makes sense why i think that this quote is relevant ...

one more quote that contradicts a lot of what i've been saying about md and life in general:

"were this world an enless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King SOlomon, then there were promise in this voyage. but in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed." (whelmed =engulfed) (196)

Name:  Meg
Subject:  digression
Date:  2004-03-28 18:05:05
Message Id:  9036
I agree with Orah that digression makes a story nicer and more shapely. The most boring stories are those that follow one track, tangents are the best parts. The outside context always seems to be crucial to the main story being told, and if not, it is always appreciated. I can remember sitting in church when I was little, and the more random and pieced together the sermon was, the more I was able to follow it without drifting off. Little stories that all seem to be disconnected, but come together with a common theme, or character is in my opinion the best way to tell something. Putting pieces together, and asking yourself why all the stories are connected gives your mind a challenge while you are reading or listening, and therefore making it more interesting. There is a limit to how much off track you can go, but random chapters are always a great way to mix up a story as long as they make sense. It is hearing and reading the way that we see the world. Not many people look straight ahead, following a laser beam when they go somewhere, people always look around. In films movie cameras zoom in and out and scan the scene, keeping us entertained, and eager to see more. That is why MD is so much more interesting than I had expected it to be. The story is intertwined with chapters with facts and new stories, making a giant quilt that forms the greater work.
Name:  Diane Scarpa
Date:  2004-03-28 19:25:36
Message Id:  9038
A suggestion for Emily:
Why not embrace your apathy. It seems to me that if you've learned one thing from Moby Dick its what you're not. Go with that. Devote 10 minutes per day considering the ways in which the book is not for you, and maybe it will inspire an amazing essay. Moreover, if you can come up with a few specific contrasts between yourself and the text it might give you a starting point to begin to be able to relate. I usually find that when two things are in such strong opposition of one another they usually only differ in one small way. The book must mirror you in some way if it shows you that you differ. Use it as tool, your time together is so ephemeral, after all, you only get one first reading of a book..
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  enjoying (only) fragments
Date:  2004-03-28 19:32:37
Message Id:  9039

Ladies, I'm LOVING your various explorations of tangents...

but actually logged on here tonight to speak to the contrary impulse, Em's lament that she is "trying so hard to have this book become meaningful, and perhaps i am like ahab and those cardboard masks-- i want to pin melville and his message to me down, but i keep on finding this great empty hollowness behind the words."

I want to tell you a (short) story, one with (long) legs. On Saturday morning, I (and Mary) spoke @ a McBride Open House. One of the prospective students said that she'd delayed so long going to college because she didn't want to be told what to think: that she was a creative person, that she was afraid of being socialized/brainwashed/taught to think like everyone else. I laughed and told her I thought she was old enough, now, to take the risk: that she could bring to Bryn Mawr all she was/all she had accumulated over the years, that we would introduce her to a rich range of things/thoughts she hadn't yet encountered, and that she could enter into conversation w/ them without a fear that they would "take her over" (shades of Dennett's mind-altering memes!).

But then I stopped laughing, and told her a little about my own experience as a first-generation intellectual: someone so overwhelmed by all I didn't know/wanted to know that my Ahab-ian "quest" to understand it all (or @ least vacuum it all up) became a compulsive one. It's taken me years (hey, I'm still working on it) to acknowledge that I don't have to (well, besides I can't) master it all. I am allowed/impelled to CHOOSE WHAT INTERESTS ME, and pursue THAT.

Hence the quote on the bulletin board outside my office: "We are all doomed, by the limits of taste and time, to enjoy only fragments."

Sometimes, Em, what you're offered, when you're offered it, doesn't--for all sorts of reasons--engage. It doesn't have to. Take Fritz's advice: "if the story isn't as interesting as the stories which the words inspire, let yourself and your mind wander to other unexplored places." There's plenty out there (and, qua the perspective: in there)!

You don't HAVE to make meaning of this particular book.

(Though I do: come see, Tuesday.)

Name:  katherine
Username:  kpioli@bmc
Date:  2004-03-28 22:00:07
Message Id:  9043
Okay, so we have already discussed how this book deviates from the normal novel format. But it seems the more that I read, the less I am reading from the point-of-view of Ishmael. His knowledge seems boundless, writing on and on about whales and the history and art surrounding them, and retelling the stories of encounters from other ships, and even slipping into the minds of some of his ship mates and telling their stories and their thoughts. Suddenly, while reading I thought, damn, this Ishmael is a really big liar. is all of this history true, are all the stories that he tells something that really happened? cause how can he be all of these people at once. how can he be such an authority on whaling if this is his first voyage. it makes me think back to the very first big group discussion on the usefullness- or truthfulness- of literature. I really loved what was said in that space, and I think it makes me a more critical reader, less likely to be swept along with the story. I don't know where I am going with this so i will change the

as a rower on the bryn mawr crew team I find the little bits about rowing after the whales really interesting. some of what starbuck and stubb and flint (?) say to their crews is very familiar- the way they yell and then wisper and always push their crew to pull harder. I keep trying to imagine my coxwain telling me to break my backbone, like they do in the book. every time we are in a race we check out the other teams and try to look as intimidating as possible, maybe to scare our competition. what if we all pulled out knives and bit down on them as we rowed. now that would be intimidating!

Name:  Julia
Username:  jeddy@bmc
Date:  2004-03-29 01:15:21
Message Id:  9045
I guess I too am finding it hard to find or even to look for meaning in this book (well, not a strenght of mine to begin with). I find myself reading a bit and being stopped quite regularly to remind myself of a footnote and/or a possible hidden meaning, and in doing so I don't think I am really enjoying the story. ...Part of me really likes to think that it is just that, a story and only a story. Why do we have to analyze and make meaning of everything? The meaning could be solely to take the reader on a journey, there might be broad concepts that everyone who reads it will grasp, and there might also an infinite number of debateables that some grasp and find great meaning in and others find no meaning except for the sake of the author's telling. I don't think we should stop looking for meaning, or that there isn't any in Moby Dick but I am just curious as to WHY we are looking at all? I suppose this perhaps just goes back to some of our previous talks about language, morals, and culture etc...
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Inconsistency
Date:  2004-03-29 01:16:45
Message Id:  9046

Orah's deeply reflective post on existential mornings was great fodder for thought. Though what follows isn't closely related, thought I'd take the opportunity to send a respectful nod in her direction.

Have been thinking about how we often adapt what we say to present a consistent image of our minds, and how we cringe at what we have written in the past. These phenomena highlight two points: 1) our minds are wonderfully flexible, and 2) this flexibility is often stigmatized.

Take, for example, the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Then, Mr. Fitzgerald, we must all be geniuses.

Wonder what would happen if we felt less of a need to claim ownerships of stories. Maybe we'd feel less bound by them. Rather than telling "our" story, we'd simply be telling "another" story. And maybe then we could more freely play devil's advocate, consistency of "our" stories be damned. The stories, at least, would be the better for it.

I think that's what scientific practice, at least in theory, tries to do. Prof Grobstein's collective story-telling and Dan Dennett's public mistake-making (p380) are just two variants on this thought.

But I feel somewhat intuitively that not all stories work like that, not even all science stories. Some stories work because they are owned.

Hmm, that's a thought to be pursued another day, when sleep doesn't sound quite so good.

Name:  Ro.
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2004-03-29 09:25:40
Message Id:  9047
Thought I would post this link to an analysis of the relationship between Hawthorne and Melville:

Also, found the book "Strike Through the Mask," by Elizabeth Renker very interesting/ useful.

Name:  mary
Subject:  one of Melville's complexities
Date:  2004-03-29 12:20:14
Message Id:  9050
As far as Im concerned, this novel is BIG. Melville dives into a scene luxuriously. And he has me with him DEEPLY all over the place through his references to world history, world culture, AND in many times at once -- the past, the present, and the future. I see many interrelated elements as I read. For instance, the emotions that he addresses in his tales and how he addresses them brings to me an interrelationship of time and human thought. On page 23 when Ishmael has just arrived in Bedford, he describes his emotions in a way that I believe is a throwback to earlier forms of human expression of emotion.

It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place. With anxious grapnels I had sounded my pocket, and only brought up a few pieces of silver&

Footnote: (grapnels- small anchors with several hooks for dragging: here, his fingers)

From what Ive compiled about human thought, back in Homers time of oral story-telling, emotions (and other such constructs of the mind, i.e. beliefs, thoughts, intentions, etc.) were not verbally described. Back then, the construct of the mind was not formulated, until later, when the written word (away from the body and on paper) separated thoughts away from the body. Then the construct of the psyche (the mind) was formulated. Now our mind houses a lot of our abstract qualities including our feelings (emotions), although we also cling to the feelings in the heart idea somewhat. Homers tales have lots of emotions portrayed as happenings of the body, e.g. fear was not described as fear but rather as a spring in the legs causing one to run, or a tightening of the gut to describe nervousness. Melvilles eloquent use of describing his fingers as anxious grapnels contains a telling of the far past. We refer to our body parts much less these days to describe our emotions, especially not our fingers, as now we have such a strong concept of emotions being in the mind.

This is why I said above that Melville has me in the past, present, and the future all at once. This brings me to the idea that human thoughts evolve according to context around us and context that we create. Perhaps this is an example of the lateral spread of cultural evolution?

And to top it off, the beauty of Melvilles words in this passage, whew! To think of the fingers in the pocket looking for money on a dreary night as small anchors dragging looking for something to catch on to. Wow! What an emotional experience expressed in one small group of words.

Also, past, present and future complexity is offered through the dialects, the idioms, and the old style language and grammar. He further provides to me, the story of passage of human thought. And this is just one small part of how reading Melville offers complex context IN his words, not mentioning the philosophy weaved through his words. This novel is BIG. Thanks Melville.

Name:  orah
Username:  ominder
Subject:  parceling this world.
Date:  2004-03-29 14:24:08
Message Id:  9051
su-lyn, thanks so much for the fitzgerald quote ... i'd never read it before and it's a really powerful statement.
over the weekend, though, i thought about this bind that i, and maybe others (?) are in in which we are so profisient in being able to argue two sides of an argument that we don't know anymore with which we hold our beleif. i really don't know what i beleive in, i don't know what i like/what i don't like, i don't know how to judge what is quality and what is not quality. there are always two sides to an argument ... both sides which can be argued strongly.
i guess what i am protesting agianst is the binary nature of the world we have created. things either have to be good or bad, god is either alive or dead, i am either smart or stupid.
and i don't think things do or should work like that. i see a movie and the first question i'm asked is, "did you like it," and at this point all i can say about any movie or book or play is, "i don't know." i can tell you things about art, but i cannot give it a one word assesment. i just can't.
i don't know what this says about my education; maybe that i'm ALWAYS fishing to give all of YOU the RIGHT answer ... but in this process that rules out so so so much! i don't think the world is RIGHT or WRONG, but our education teaches us that we must parcel the world out into these categories.

and so maybe i've been wrong all along and i'm not chasing the whiteness, i'm not a clinger to those things that ARE absolutley. maybe pragmatism actually works.
but i'm not sure.

thanks again, su-lyn. see ya'all tomorrow.

Name:  em
Subject:  facing the whale
Date:  2004-03-29 15:25:48
Message Id:  9052
whether it is good or bad
whether i like it or not
the way that melville inverts and upends things
has become useful:
"all men live enveloped in whale lines... and if you be a philosopher, though seated in a whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side." (229)
and flip-flopping the sharks and the men
as they eat...
stretching my mind around a bit
is healthy

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