Thursday, March 31, 2011

revising brigadier's daughter

Hated to allow a one month gap in posts but the vagaries of the communications god, Mercury,  struck at my blog in the interval since the last post.  The previous wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP) went out of business, and connection to the net was down for about six weeks.  After making suitable burnt offerings to Mercury, and signing a 2-year contract with AT&T for their wireless data service, my net connection is again up and running.  The transmission speed is just as good for this rural area, about 3 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, but there are frequent hiccups during transmission, which have the effect of slowing any computer commands a lot.  Maddening stuff.

A lot of writing time was taken up recently in researching literary agents to query for possible representation of "The Brigadier's Daughter," a completed YA novel discussed briefly in my last post.  However, a new book I just read invited another peek at comments my protagonist, Caitlin, makes about the classic, "Moby Dick," during her English class.  "All Things Shining--Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age," by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, devotes a chapter and more to discussion of possible meanings and allusions embedded in "Moby Dick."

 Caitlin is asked to discuss Melville's scene where Queequeg casts dice on the deck of the whaling ship to learn his fate, as an example of Pagan versus Christian attitudes toward death.  The book had been one of Caitlin's favorites, and being the whimsical person she is, she'd constructed an alternate reality for Queequeg.   In her imagination, he was probably from the Afghan village of her immigrant mother (still Pagan, even today).  When challenged by other students, Caitlin makes her case in her best, authoritative manner.  Since the "All Things Shining" book had new information about Queequeg I wanted to go back over Caitlin's discussion to see whether any revision might be useful.

A brief paragraph from the "All Things Shining" book illustrates the magic of Melville's novel:

...the whale is a mystery, so full of meaning that it verges on meaninglessness, so replete with interpretations that in the end they all seem to cancel out.  It is this tantalizing but ungraspable quality of the great Sperm Whale, we are later told--his facelessness, his imposing "pyramidical silence," but also the immensely amplified sense of the "Deity and the dread powers" that lurk within his brow---it is this unrelenting but also unyielding mystery that stands at the center of the universe.  "I but put that brow before you," a central character says.  "Read it if you can."

Heady stuff, but you don't need to be a philosopher to enjoy the drama of "Moby Dick."
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