May 17, 2010

We are all Ahab

"As if I were Adam, staggering under the piled centuries since Paradise..." Watching John Huston's Moby-Dick after reading the book so many years ago, after listening to the Librovox recording recently, I can easily shrug off the ancient history of dismissive reviews and the burden of requisite sophistication that contemporary culture producers (artists) are called upon to display. Melville never saw the exhaustion of the sales of his first edition for the forty years that spanned to the end of his life, so let this little YouTube upload and humble blogpost add a tittle to the three or four revivals since his passing.

It was a nice surprise to discover that John Huston made the movie, and more happy surprises followed within the movie with Orson Wells' turn as Father Mapple and the revelation that the screenplay was done by Ray Bradbury (from IMDB trivia: "When John Huston first met Ray Bradbury to discuss writing the screenplay, Bradbury admitted, 'I've never been able to read the damned thing.' Huston simply asked Bradbury to come back the next day to start working and, handing him a copy of the book, said, 'Just go home and read what you can.' " I can see the smile curl at the corner of Huston's mouth as he said that.)

So I found Bradbury's writing to be a wonderful compression of Melville's work, as can be witnessed in this clip, chapter 132, Ahab's moment with Starbuck under the "mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky". And wonderful too, is Gregory Peck's timing as Ahab momentarily balances the gimbal between angel and demon. Here is the original text via Project Gutenberg:

"What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year's scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swaths?Starbuck!"


Postscript 1: Check out Melville's marginalia

Postscript 2: Check out this, a review of Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, a new American Experience documentary by Ric Burns.

Postscript 3: Avast! Check out yonder windlass in the movie clip! Do I spy the fates turning a huge element from Allan McCollum's Over Ten Thousand Individual Works?

Posted by Dennis at May 17, 2010 1:21 PM

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