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.
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.