Sunday, September 26, 2010
Seas the Day!
The Congo Square Players were still playing sold out performances every Friday and Saturday during the first week of February. The inn was still opened on the off nights of Wednesday and Thursday, as Timmy played host behind the bar to the locals. One of the Wednesday evening regulars was a customs inspector from the New York docks. His shared accounts of his existence reminded Timmy of his former life in Liverpool, and the affinity of their experiences created a kinship. The custom inspector's name was Herman Melville.
Herman led an interesting life. He was a cabin boy on a whaling vessel and served in the U.S. Navy. He was a bookkeeper in a general store in Honolulu, Hawaii, and lived among cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. He wrote of his experiences, among the cannibals, in two novels entitled Typee and a sequel Omoo. Both books were well received and Herman was convinced he was to prosper as a literary personality. However, future projects did not gain the same recognition among the critics and Herman never achieved constructive fame as a writer.
He shared the same enthusiasm many held for the attributions of artists like Sarah Taggart Benson, and he admired her for achieving a popular following during her lifetime. Herman felt fame had alluded him, and that his talents were somehow misconstrued by the public. He accepted their ignorance as a function of the irrationalities of the cosmos.
Anxious to meet with Sarah, but fully aware of her delicate condition, Herman instead asked Timmy if he could one day meet with Justin. One late afternoon, while Sarah was resting peacefully, Justin went downstairs to the tavern to meet Herman Melville. No one besides Timmy was present, and the three sat at the bar immersed in stimulating conversation
In an earlier post- Resurrection from the Mind-Forged Manacles- we learned that Transcendentalism believed spiritual intuition transcended empirical data. An extension of enlightenment was developing during this movement, which acknowledged the intuitive link of the common sense with the common man. It was from the extension of this tenet that one of America's greatest novels was created. Inspired by the idea that fiction would describe history more effectively than written essay, and encouraged by Nathanial Hawthorne to explore the metaphysics of life in the character's of the story, Herman Melville wrote the novel: Moby Dick; or, The Whale.
He constructed a narrative of both empirical data and spiritual intuition, and although the novel was not successfully accepted during his lifetime, it stands as one of the most popular epic masterpieces ever written. The acceptance of the novel was much like that of its author. Both were considered peculiar and nonconforming, and were scrupulously avoided for qualities many others believed to be indicative of genius.
Melville is seen as a regular at the basement tavern of Benson's House, a place called The Benson Inn. He becomes an accepted member of The Urban Romantic Movement: a group of young artist rebelling against the conformity of Victorian nomenclature. Their gathering becomes the nucleus of pop culture, and the musical performances on the platform stage of the tavern are the origins of the music that became Rock 'n' Roll.
Although both the movement and the tavern are fictitious, I attempted to portray a setting where free thinking was allowed and true genius evolved. It was the symposium of the democratic voice, an existence where progressive ideas became reality. Melville contributed to these undefined expressions, unlimited by labels and unrestricted by genres. Like Edison's inventions, the concepts deviated from cookie- cutting structures, and was allowed to flourish as contributions to the enlightenment of the people.
In literature, the use of tactical sensationalism is often seen as the accepted way of luring the reader onto the pages of a book. The process can be seen as giving the development of a quality storyline a secondary consideration. In music, the staging affects are often regarded as the stimulant for attracting an audience. The attention to this detail can be seen as proposing the allure of a well written song insignificant.
However, the Herman Melville's of the world often don't subscribe to such disciplines, and are sometimes rejected or misunderstood. Their importance in enlightening society and correcting the trend towards the Dumifying of America should be recognized, and their works be given proprietary consideration.
I deliberately placed Herman Melville's character in the paradox of being a member of the movement that emerged from the accepted works of a young female artist in the 1870's. Sarah Benson was talented- as was Melville- and she also inherited a public appeal that defied social protocol. Yet, she become famous, while Melville lived a life nearing indigence. Was his fate- as Melville suggested- a function of the irrationalities of the cosmos?
Before another YA movie is sought about a young girl's struggle to be accepted as a serious lobbyist on K Street, or a Sci- Fi thriller is read about a super sleuth investigating a murder in a dystopian set village, read the 567 pages of Moby Dick. The heritage of pop culture began with the contributions of pioneers like Herman Melville. Although his success was posthumous, his legacy is infinite.
One of my favorite chapters is: Chapter lxxiv - THE SPERM WHALE'S HEAD - CONTRASTED VIEW.
"Now, from this peculiar sideway position of the whale's eyes, it is plain that he can never see an object which is exactly ahead, no more than he can one exactly astern. in a word, the position of the whale's eyes corresponds to that of a man's ears; and you may fancy, for yourself, how it would fare with you, did you sideways survey objects through your ears."