Wednesday, September 4, 2013

America's Great Epic

Last weekend I drove in a single day from the torrid depths of my place in the Texas hinterlands amid prickly pears and palm trees to the airy heights of the Colorado Rockies, then drove all the way back two days later, again in a single day. But it was no wearisome journey, for I had as companion and copilot an unabridged audiobook of Moby-Dick, read by the peerless Frank Muller, who (by gum) did an Ahab that seemed almost enfleshed beside me in the cab of my pickup truck. After twenty-one hours of listening I reached from hell's heart I stab at thee in a town called Eden set upon the rolling uplands of central Texas, with sunset thunderheads flashing in the distance before me.

I recently wrote a post comparing Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun to Moby-Dick. But, oh, while it may be argued that BOTNS is the Moby-Dick of science fiction, being the "Moby-Dick of" something and actually being Moby-Dick are quite different propositions. O sublimity, O profundity, O humor and vivacity of that greatest of American epics!
But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and gave chase; and Stubb's boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent upon his fish, that Pip's ringed horizon began to expand around him miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

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