Horace & Pete’s – Episodes 1 to 5

Old “Friends”

horace and pete

Episode 5 ends with a title card that reads “End of Act I”. From the first episode, it was apparent that Horace and Pete was a TV show meant to elicit the feel of a live theater performance. The lights come up on an empty set, and the audience is often placed in the vantage point of a theater house. Off the top of my head, there have only been a total of 3 set pieces, one of them a bench in a New York park. Not just any theater either, but Modern (capital M) theater. Miller and O’Neill seem to be Louis C.K.’s biggest influences when producing the script and feel of the show.

In the beginning, it didn’t feel like there was any predictable format to the show other than that, and 5 episodes in, it doesn’t feel like convention is something C.K. is after. The episodes vary in length. Episode 1 was over an hour, and Episodes 4 and 5 are each 30 minutes. The veneer of a plot, which centers around the decision to save or sell the bar, aptly named Horace and Pete, barely enters the field of action.

Instead, we’re given scenes of Horace, played by C.K., trying to reconcile with his daughter, bemoaning her willful habit of texting him whenever he calls. There’s a series of scenes with Pete having schizophrenic freak outs because he hasn’t had his medicine. Sylvie, their sister, berates her own daughter after a funeral. Uncle Pete (not to be confused with Pete) goes on many sexist and racist tirades. Horace has a sexual fantasy or two about his dead father’s lover. In an especially ballsy move by the show, Horace’s ex-wife is introduced at the beginning of Episode 3 and continues with a monologue about carrying on an affair with her new husband’s father for the next 20 minutes. And then there are just these lulls in the show to allow for the painful ennui of the barflies and barkeeps to wash over us. As outlandish and absurd as any of the scenarios above sound – and they are outlandish and absurd – that could appear in Louie, they’re taken at face value on Horace and Pete. 

If Louie, C.K.s other highly successful TV program, is a comedy eclair with a drama filling, Horace and Pete is a heavy Black Forest cake of drama with chocolate shavings of comedy. And it’s all dark.

The show has plenty of philosophizing on life from all the characters, and it’s especially entertaining when the barflies or racist and sexist Uncle Pete, played by a disheveled Alan Alda. Uncle Pete, who seems to have no redeeming value on the show, gives us a beautiful and heartfelt speech on the wonders of making love to a woman…as opposed to giving or receiving oral sex to or from her. Leon, played by the morose and irreverent stand-up comedian Steven Wright wonders what it would be like if everyone in the world killed themselves at the same time. And it’s really funny. Then Horace tells his sister, “The only thing worse than living with somebody who doesn’t love you…is living with somebody who really loves you a lot.”

These contradictions litter the show, seem to be the central question holding up all the themes of old establishments in the face of modernity (Sylvie, who is the biggest proponent of selling the old and failing bar, informs Horace and Pete, that the air rights alone are worth $6 million dollars), face-to-face dialogue in the age of the digital, character versus plot, and theater in the age of television. Youth, middle age, old age. The old Brooklyn versus the up-and-coming Brooklyn. The show is a juxtaposition and jumble of so many of these elements and themes, and five episodes in, it covers a wide array of topics that just seem to be thrown into the mix over and over again. It could have been chaos, but there’s dramatic order in it all, at least by the end of Episode 5.

The assembled cast is amazing. Steve Buscemi plays his cousin, er, brother Pete, and Horace’s sister is played by Edie Falco (both prominent The Sopranos alumni). Jessica Lange plays Horace Sr.’s old lover; he died before the start of the show, and she just kept hanging around, a would-be glamour worn to keep the tragedy she’s mired in from touching her. Notable Louie alumni are the aforementioned Stephen Wright, Nick Di Paolo, and Marie Dizzia. Finally, the gold star goes to Alan Alda, who plays Uncle Pete. Ornery would be an understatement. The man is vile, and Alda plays him without pulling any punches.

The title song, written by Paul Simon, sounds like it could have been a continuation of the old Simon and Garfunkel song Old Friends/Bookends. He wistfully sings over the show credits, “I can’t complain about my problems/I’m ok the way things are/I pull my stool up to the bar/at Horace and Pete’s.” As Sylvie argues for selling the bar and damn the tradition of having Horace and Pete around – both the men and the bar – I can’t help but hear the lyrics to Old Friends: “Preserve your memories/they’re all that’s left of you.”

If all of this sounds way heavy for a show by Louis C.K., well it is heavy, and it’s designed to be that way. I didn’t know if I would like this show after two episodes, and I still don’t know that I really like the show. Part of my hesitation to allow myself to say I enjoy the show is just an expectation of what a Pig Newton (the name of C.K.’s production company) show is as written by the comedian Louis C.K.

At the same time, if you’ve watched all of Louie, you know that the man digs deep into the human experience. It’s just that now he has given himself a new vehicle with which to explore it without having to apologize with comedy. It’s an acquired taste, to be sure, and while I am still unsure, I’ve entered the bar, paid for all 5 episodes, and will likely be paying for the rest of the season…that is, Acts. And if you enter with something weighing heavily on your own heart, in the way that people enter middle age, you yourself may decide to go when you find out they only serve liquor unmixed or Budweiser beer; or, for better or worse, you may find yourself staying.

Horace and Pete Episodes for Purchase

My Struggle: Book 1 – Detail of a Life

It’s a sunny winter day. Sky is blue, but the trees partially in view from my kitchen and living room windows on either side of my apartment are bare, thin vein branches sprouting. The sunlight makes a guillotine blade down my unclean windows. There’s a green piece of machinery across the way in the empty lot where the condominiums have been scheduled to go up for what seems like a long time. Any day now, they’ll appear though, and the current inhabitants of this residential block will grow accustomed to the reality of a building that seems as if it appeared out of nowhere, no time having passed at all between it’s nonexistence into existence.

51maejxeqll-_sx331_bo1204203200_

That paragraph might seem totally unnecessary in this “review” of Karl Ove Knaussgard’s first part of My Struggle; however, the book has many passages of the author doing the very same thing: describing skies and small Norwegian cityscapes with seemingly unnecessary detail.

It would be inaccurate to say that these descriptions (forecasts?) of sky, earth, and city make up a bulk of the book. It would also be inaccurate to say that they don’t figure prominently, breaking up other more significant details about Knaussgard’s mother, grandmother, friends, teenage rock band, and of course, his father, the main antagonist in the book.

My Struggle starts and ends with philosophical waxing on death:

For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run toward the body’s lowest point, where it will collect in a small pool, visible from outside as a dark, soft patch on ever whitening skin, as the temperature sinks, the limbs stiffen and the intestines drain.

The rest of the book is written with just as much visceral detail, whether describing external or internal states. His father, often described as a hard man for Knaussgard to feel comfortable around, is compared to his mother. With few details about her, Knaussgard gets around to the idea that dinner with her is much more open and free-flowing, one in which neither he nor his brother have to be on guard. All of this is shown by the way the opposing parents prepare dinner, his father preparing with formality and the feel of contraction.

As Knaussgard details his upbringing and journey through adolescence, his father ducks and weaves and grows and decays in ways that make it hard to get a bead on the man. He’s a mystery that both the reader and the author are trying to make meaning of. His father is his “problem parent.”

Although the rest of the series cover different phases of Knaussgard’s life (the second in the series goes into more detail about his own role as a father and husband), his father centers around all of it, according to the author. Branching and radiating outward from this central conflict are moments of Knaussgard forming a teenage rock band and playing at a local shopping center. He pursues love with the savage lust of youth, breaking the heart of one girl because he’s interested in her sister. He goes to parties, visits his brother.

It’s a book very much interested in the painstaking mystery of human existence, and Knaussgard explores both the joys and tragedies, the awkwardness and the grace of it all. He does it all in a mostly plainspoken way, which makes it all feel quite accessible. All of this is written in a lyrical yet lucid, down-to-earth tone. Knaussgard waxes philosophical and has a distinct world view, but this is no political or philosophical doctrine on living (perhaps he’s saving this for a future book). The second half of the book, indeed is a doctrine and account of his father’s death.

Knaussgard is much more interested in detailing the little mundane things in life, bringing forth the things that those of us in the modern world have been living for the last half century. The narrative is driven less by plot order and more by the whims and necessity of his intuition. Details emerge out of the blue, including a passage about his father passed out drunk on the couch with the television still on, or the revelation about a dead cousin at a party after his father’s remarriage. The old man starts to cry, and while wearing colorful clothing ill-suited to the man Knaussgard used to know, both the reader and the narrator are surprised.

Who was his father? And who are any of us in relationship to our fathers and mothers, and their father and mothers? Identity is born out of memory or the imagination of the reader’s mind. An image recently released in a piece written by Knaussgard for The Guardian even contradicts any images I have in my head of his father. Then that identity shifts, and it dies off in a graveyard of bottles and depravity.

My Struggle has made Knaussgard a literary celebrity. There are certainly people who loath the book, or at least are puzzle by the appeal, while many others have caught glimpses of their own inner conflicts, their own sufferings. Why has this book made as much of an impact on modern literature as it has? A woman at the bookstore said one of her co-workers said he’d gotten halfway through the book before saying, “My Struggle? Okay…I have struggles…you have struggles…” Right, but how many people have taken the time to explore their own sufferings, much less the sufferings of others? In many ways, this seemingly ordinary, recorded life is a license to do so without it feeling like an indulgence or frivolity.

For further interest:

“The Shame of Writing About Myself” – The Guardian

 

 

 

The Fetish of The Fermata (1994)

fermata – a symbol in music denoting the elongation of a note, a stretching out

I am currently on page 185 of my second readthrough of The Fermata by Nicholson Baker, a book that my friends affectionately refer to as the “time freeze-rape book”. Not only was I revisiting one of my favorite all-time books, but I had to see what might remain now that the titillation of a first read was gone, i.e. is this “literature”? I’m happy to say that unlike most erotica, this book has substance.

The Fermata centers around a temp in his mid-thirties, Arno Strine, and his escapades in The Fold, or The Fermata, a time stasis where the he is still in motion while the rest of the world takes a breather. What does the man use his powers to do? To fondle and undress women who are complete strangers, of course.

I’m sure there are some of you out there right now who are actually not reading this, and I wouldn’t blame you. Bias: I am a pervert. Another bias: I enjoy good literature. The Fermata covers both of these bases. I knew that I’d have to reread what is arguably the hottest book I’ve ever read. What makes it so hot is not only that it’s seriously raunchy, but that Arno Strine is also a very sensitive guy with a streak of the romantic.

Perversion: (taken from Arno’s own erotica writings) “Keep pumping the brake and watchi this hot little cunt come!”

Poetry: (while talking about a former girlfriend) “Nineteenth-century novels were all-important to her. It wasn’t a question of hr liking them; they were a neurological necessity, like sleep. One Mrs. Humphrey Ward, or a Reade, or a Trollope per week supplied her with some kind of critical con-enzyme, she said, that allowed her to organize social sense experience. It was nice if the novel was good, but even a very mediocre one would do; without a daily shot of Victorian fiction she couldn’t quite remember how to talk to people and to understand what they said. I miss her.

Poetry AND Perversion: “Kneeling by the edge of the tub, I spotted something dark in the water near her feet. Her toes were curled around it. When I put my head very close to the surface of the lavishly chlorinated water, steadying myself on one of her knees, I determined that the object was, as I had of course hoped but hadn’t really allowed myself to expect,a large black realistic rubber dildo. She was bathing with her rubber dildo–oh poetry!”

What I’m realizing during this latest read-through is that this is no gimmick. The book is still hilarious and hot, but it also contains revelations, observations, and insights about everyday life and love. It’s like an erotica novel as written by Virginia Woolf. Sex is simply the force by which the realities of the mundane world are made significant and elevated to magic.

He also writes about relationships and loneliness: “I don’t think loneliness is necessarily a bad or unconstructive condition. My own skill at jamming time may actually be dependent on some fluid mixture of emotions, among them curiosity, sexual desire, and love, all suspended in a solvent of medium loneliness…Loneliness makes you consider other people’s lives, makes you more polite to those you deal with in passing, dampens irony and cynicism.”

If you can stomach the ambiguity that goes into Arno’s fantasies and time-freeze escapades, you’ll get a lot out of this book. If you’re turned off by the premise, this post, or the first few pages of the book, it’s understandable. Even Nicholson Baker admits that for all of his loneliness, intelligence, and sensitivity, the guy is a creep (which is maybe why I love him so much)

V-Day Couplet Day 1

They don’t display time on the train between tunnels
which lets me look long on you, beautiful stranger.

Book Shoppers Anonymous: “Time Enough at Last”

Something has been happening in my apartment. I have a new roommate. Boy, do I get rankled all the time for want of some alone time. It’s not just the apartment, though. It’s this entire city, it’s the world. He’s just stepped out, and now I have some time to listen to my own thoughts, to read, to write, to walk around the apartment naked. Most of all, though, I tell myself that if only I had more time to myself in the apartment, that I’d read more.

For those of you who know me, I play a lot of video games, and I may have even mentioned that up until a month or so ago, I hadn’t been reading much. So for those of you reading this, you might know, too, that by me saying that I’d read more if only I had more space and more time, is really just me rationalizing my own selfishness.

If we travel back in time to this summer when I wrote my post about detachment, Buddhism, and book-buying, I used that oh-so-iconic figure of Henry Bemis, the eccentric banker from a famous episode of The Twilight ZoneI’ve been watching the show recently from the very first episode, and my god, that show is dark, intense, and ahead of its (yes, here’s that word again) time.

Henry Bemis, as played by Burgess Meredith

In the episode “Time Enough at Last”, our tragic bespectacled hero Henry Bemis is a timid and eccentric bank teller and husband. He’s nearsighted and loves to read books. All Henry wants to do is read books and talk about books, but the real world represented by his wife, his job, and his boss, keep intruding.

The president of the bank tells him, “You, Mr Bemis, are a reader. A reader of books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers. I see you constantly going down to the vault during your lunch hour. You will henceforth devote your time to your job and forget reading, or you’ll find yourself outdoors reading on a park bench from morning until night from want of a job.” Bemis interrupts the president, to which the president replies, “Make it quick and get back to your cage.” Imagine this president in the age of the internet. Talk about the distraction and productivity killer to end all.

His wife is no better, talking down to him and his silly books, a lot like how people used to pester me about video games. She even takes a pencil to his book and vandalizes them. Henry Bemis is crushed. Even after Bemis tells the president how his wife will never let him read, driving him to desperate acts of reading the labels on the ketchup bottle, the president commends Bemis’s wife as a sound woman.

They all just seem like a bunch of meanies, at least to my roommate and his girlfriend.

So much of the episode sets up the viewer to sympathize with Bemis. This shy, timid, gentle man is just being bullied and misunderstood by the world. It’s certainly difficult for an informed and literate New Yorker like myself to understand how so much of Bemis’s world can be against books. It’s even more surprising just how anti-intellectual the world can be even now in the heyday of the internet and quick-and-easy access to knowledge. There’s Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia (which actually gave presented the idea of anti-intellectualism in this episode).

In my liberal time and place, education and being informed are often so highly regarded. I take it for granted just how much we value books. And that’s exactly what the story is trying to teach us, right? The world is just a bunch of dummies, and Bemis is the true hero because he reads books and is educated and understands the human condition and blah blah blah.

Then the H-bomb goes off as Bemis reads from the protected shell of a bank vault. He’s suddenly left alone. His pocket watch shatters. There’s no one to bother him. He has plenty of food, well, crackers, but there’s no one to bother him. No one. Soon enough he goes mad, finds a gun with which he’s going to kill himself. “Surely I’ll be forgiven…”

Then he sees the sign for the Public Library and approaches his version of Heaven.

“Collected Works of Dickens. Collected Works of Bernard Shaw. Poems by Browning, Shelley, Keats! Great Dramas of the World! Books, books, books. All the books I’ll need, all the books I’ll ever want!” No wonder this video was first shown to me in a high school English class.

Still, if this episode is a champion of intellectualism, then why is Bemis “punished” at the end of the episode? He embraces a huge clock when he expounds on having all “the time I’ll need. All the time I’ll want. There’s time enough at last.” And yes, secretly there’s a part of me that wishes for an apocalypse where I’m secretly vaulted up in the cellar of The Strand book store with enough crackers and salami to keep me alive.

And even though I’d be able to read all the Dostoevsky I wanted, and enough time to read The Fermata over and over again, surely I wouldn’t be able to make love to any of these books. I couldn’t discuss them with anyone, and let’s not forget that Bemis wants to discuss books with others. It’s not that he’s a recluse. He wants to

But with no markers of time, no people, no eyeglasses, no life to which our books and knowledge can refer to, it’s all dead anyways. As admirable as Bemis’s intellectualism is, he ultimately falls prey to his own desires. There’s a limit to it all.

What would Werner Herzog have to say about this, though? When he said that you can’t be a filmmaker if you don’t read, bemoaning a culture that only reads magazines and blog posts (like this one), did he see the blind spots of his own obsession with the written word? And what do we make then of this limitation of knowledge when David Simon, the creator of The Wire, one of the most critically acclaimed shows touted for being authentic and unflinching, tells us that we still need to be reading books because they do something television doesn’t? Or even when Buddhists must practice detachment from books and knowledge?

Was Bemis punished? Was it the world that was at fault? Or is this just an example of the amorality of our universe and the tragic nature of humanity? Even books can’t save us in the end, not even an e-book. But if books can’t save us, neither will all of our stories. When the big one hits, no matter how we view these stories as little time capsules, capturing history and slices of life, they’ll never be a substitute for living itself, even if that reality is a harsh wife and a demanding boss.

Is it really that simple, though? That cut-and-dry? Why shouldn’t we get our own little slice of paradise? As we’ve all most of us have learned, life isn’t fair. And as The Twilight Zone, books, and the events of the world have taught us all (oh-so-recently) we often live in a confusing, alien, and amoral world that all the books and knowledge could possibly fix or alleviate.

But I’d like to think it might help…

Moby Dick – Sanchez 2.1 – Chapter 29 “Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.”

"Call me Kevin Costner"

“Call me Kevin Costner”

To Officer Cole

Before I get into the meat of my discussion, I thought I’d make two movie recommendations as companion pieces to Moby Dick, to be henceforth called “the Dick”. The first would be Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, because apparently Kahn quotes the Dick” for dramatic effect and literary/cinema allusion. The second movie we should watch is Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, A. because I’ve never seen it, and B. it might just be fun. The 1950s film version of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck should probably wait until we’re done with the book. Isn’t that a nice little touch about reading classics? We don’t have to worry about the film ruining it for us.

And just one other little side note before getting into the (whale)meat of this: what are your assumptions when we call a book a classic? For me, it’s all “white” literature written in the last 300 years or so. Is the Bible a classic, cause that was written by all manner of non-whites.

Anyhow, let’s get to it.

So I’ve finally met Ahab. with his ivory peg leg and the stub hole in the deck for said peg leg, his pivot hole. The man is fierce. Although I’ve come to trust Ishmael a little more now (only a little), I’m definitely mistrustful of Ahab. At the same time, there’s something drawing me in. Obviously, I have an investment as a reader of literature to know the character, but Melville is definitely making some magic. “He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness.” He’s a fighter, set aflame by the attach, what must have been a near-death experience. But I can’t help but think there are other stories, too. In any case, that one image is what I picture when I picture vigilance. “…an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance.”

You don’t fuck with this guy.

In this last chapter I read, Ishmael is waxing poetic about nights at sea:

“The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ’twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; the, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab’s texture.”

Now to address something you wrote about last time, I want to speak to Ahab’s archetypal-y-ness. You said that Melville might have shot his wad a bit on Queequeg, making him overtly a type, the noble savage, that in my opinion might be bordering on no-harm-no-foul unintentional racism (oh god, I can already see some of your responses). As nice as it is to be able to say, see, even savages can be humane, is kind of racist, right? It’s like saying, Oh see, even (insert any ethnic type or race) people can be good. I might be pontificating a bit much, BUT I bring up your worry about Queequeg in light of Ahab as an archetype probably only because I haven’t read much about him yet. I can tell this man has secrets. And I’m probably going to feel sorry for him at some point during this book. At least, that’s my hope. There’s got to be tragedy in there somewhere, right, Josh?

At the same time, the part that fascinates me about him is also the part that unnerves and unsettles me. There’s something debauched about it all, what with the ivory being used for his peg leg and even a deck chair made out of ivory, too. Then the man doesn’t even show up until they get to the sea, like a ghost, which sort of supports my early impressions that this book felt like I was reading a ghost story.

“Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks. It feels like going down into one’s tomb,’ – he would mutter to himself – ‘for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my gravedug berth.'”

Which Ahab am I?

Alright, a paradox and a flaw in my argument. That description could suggest a man with a lust for life. Or he could be a  member of the undead! A zombie as a matter of fact. Let’s think about how the book starts. Ishmael starts on the first pages saying that when he feels off, he goes to the sea to right himselfAhab seems to be doing the same, but I get the feeling that he’s a bit more…well, let’s just say that if Ishmael is a recreational user of sea voyages, Ahab is a full-blow user and addict. No one sees the man until they’re well away from shore. It’s a perversion of existence, escapism to a hilt, otherworldly and not belonging to dry land.

Doesn’t Ishmael say something about how it disconcerted him to not meet the captain before agreeing to work the ship? Does Ahab live on the ship? Do we know where he was staying while they were in Nantucket? Will he ever return to land? And why does he feel so slighted by the whale? Is that the only reason he’s here, or did this vendetta start from purer usage and relations with the ocean? Ahab, like Ishmael but to a greater degree, is a vagrant not just in (dis)connection with society but to the entire living world. He’s a sea-ghost.

When I first started reading, it all felt like a ghost story. All the epitaphs and carvings at the church. The drabness of Nantucket and Bedford in winter. The bartender sitting in the whale’s jaw bones. In any case, this book is haunted.

A quick story: when I was a kid, say about 4 or 5 years old, I either drowned or had a dream I was drowning. I had to learn how to master myself in the water because I was scared of drowning. Water in astrology is all the spiritual, emotional stuff of life, that essence. It nurtures and is one of the cornerstones of life if it is channeled correctly. It can be soothing, placid, cooling. In a storm, typhoon, or tsunami, water can also be a destructive force. Moodiness, delusion, all-consuming. Water can drown. I think these are all apt comparisons to all of our sea-voyagers.

A quick response to Queequeg: sure, the guy just saves people with no thought of reward, which is all very admirable, but Josh, the guy eats other people. That’s Melville painting Queequeg in shades of gray. Can he change? We’ll see. Wait a minute, Queequeg is a zombie!!!

Your friend,

Private Sanchez

P.S. We should really watch Water World. Here’s the trailer:

Moby Dick – Letter 1.2 – Josh to Dave

Dear Sir,

It is with great interest that I received yer letter of the 28th of November of the 2012th year of our Lard.  Please excuse the tardiness of my reply: since I’ve been back to Breukelen, my productivity has been that of a small dead dog on Easter morning.  And what a day today be today in Breukelen.

The day is dull.  Neither hot nor cold; no rain, but not without a chance of.  The sky a single shade of meaningless gray.  If it weren’t for all the cars alarms and cement, I might imagine myself in Melville’s Nantucket.  But, avast: here be me response.

First off, let me comment that, in reviewing one tenth of a book the likes of Moby Dick, ye’ve somehow concocted a letter whose length befits the scale of a book more the likes of War and Peace.  Which brings me to your point on Hobbes.

Look, Señor Sanchez, Hobbes be a fuckface.  In fact, from this moment on I should like to refer to him as such, or as FF for brevity’s sake.  It don’t take much for a man of education to “predict” that societies focused on the summum bonum will fail because, well, all societies have failed at some point in the past or will at some point in the not-yet-present, eh?  I myself hereby predict that any society which counts milliners amongst its breathing men is likewise doomed to fail.  Someday.  Within the next millennia.  Check back with me in a thousand score and chances are, I’ll be right.  If not, wait a thousand more and surely ye’ll know it to be true.  See how easy that was?

And societies that care for themselves are prone to civil war?  That be the civilest of wars, I say.  But if I were to point out to that doubting Thomas that Bhutan, for instance, measures the state of its state on the Gross National Happiness Index – the most summumous bonumous metric of this earthly realm – Monsieur Fuckface would likely retort that said Bhutan just hasn’t failed “yet.”  Ye see, Señor?  Or one might look to yer very own island of Pingu Tingu, which, while very young, seems to put a premium on at least some summum, eh?  Have ye even had a war yet, civil or otherwise, my dearest Sanchez?  (Let me here be notin’ that yer Ping Pong Island bears some resemblance to Kokovoko, if it weren’t for the eatin’ of human flesh and whatnot.)

So, hopeless Hobbes believed decent societies would cannibalize themselves, is how I read it.  Enter Queequeg.  That there cannibal be the real rudder drivin’ the ship of this literary voyage of ours.  He’s the one to watch.  Even his inaction, forcing Ishmael to choose the ship on which they whale, has steered the story.  And it seems to me that Melville might’ve given up the game a bit too early when he concludes Chapter 13.  After Queequeg, in an act of inhuman will, rights the schooner and saves the drowning bumpkin, Ishmael imagines Queequeg thinking to himself, “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.  We cannibals must help these Christians.”  I love that (even noted the quote in me notebook) and I expect that’s some piece of Melville’s greater point of the book.  The thing I’ll be watching with Queequeg, then, will be whether there’s any room for evolution of character, as one might expect in a good book, or whether he’s already so fully formed that Melville’s left him no room for growth.

Interestingly, I just learned that “bumpkin” has multiple meanings.  In addition to an “unsophisticated yokel,” it’s also a wee bit of post on either side of a ship that steadies the mast (I think).  Poetically, then, a bumpkin person – for all his faults – might be just as fundamental to the structure of a society as a bumpkin spar is at protecting the structure of a ship.  As I see it, a society, an ocean, an economy… these are just varying degrees of ecosystems, and an ecosystem is as dependent on the minutest bacteria as it is on the greatest of mastodons.  And while we may consider a country bumpkin akin to something of a bacteria, it remains that the system is as dependent on each.  Thus, our fine young cannibal saved not just an individual, but the system.  Truly a joint-stock world.  I wonder what FF would have to say to that!  Oh, how I’d like to methodically knock the hat off that one.  He’d have us living in a world as joyful as the sound of a thousand babies crying.

Your comparison to the Underground Man is an apt one.  I like it.  You ask if I agree that “almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean” as Ishmael.  I think, in his day, very likely, but not in our own.  In the mid-1800s, the sea still held such mystery.  Today, we’ve got the white whale of the Internet and the Channel of Discovery to blunt our wonder.  And yet we’re somehow more oblivious of the ocean.  The common man today wouldn’t know an ocean if he’d drowned in it.

And now I see that I too have produced a tome the length of which would frighten some remedial tourists.  For this I apologize as Eve should’ve to Adam.  Write again soon, Señor.  I’m curious as to your further thoughts.

Sincerely,

Josh the Cole

PS- Brave New World is a sham of a book.  Never mention it to me again or my fury will engage.

PPS- I may be somewhat drunk.  On booze, not on life.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.