Saturday, September 10, 2011

Write Essay: Edward Said's Theory of Essay VS D.H. Lawrence Mocking Essays

Moby-Dick Courier TruckImage by jocolibrary via Flickr
 What English grammar textbooks teach about the essay
While most English grammar textbooks explain the technical aspects and structure of an essay, few or none that I have seen deal with the other side of an essay: its importance as a tool for building a good society.
By the technical aspect and structure of an essay, English teachers mean dealing with the parts of the essay: thesis, development, and conclusion. In addition, and only as a mission of secondary importance teachers deal with embellishments; for example, how to write transitions between paragraphs, how to compare and contrast, how to summarize, and the like.

What needs to be taught about the essay: Edward Said’s View

Only a handful of master essay writers delve into the “good for society” aspect of writing essays. Francis Bacon, Michel Montaigne, George Orwell, Octavio Paz, and Edward Said, have contributed ideas to the development of the genre. 
Edward Said writes in his book The World, the Text and the Critic: “[The essay] is an act of cultural, even civilizational, survival of the highest importance (page 6).” Such affirmation may seem on the surface an act of exaggeration, but if we dig in deeper we can see that not only is there some merit to the remark, but also truth.

In sum, the essay attempts to deal with facts and truth. But we must recognize that a great deal of essays written deal more with opinion than truth--opinion that sometimes is not only mocking, but often down-right denigrating, as in the following essay by D. H. Lawrence:

An Essay by D. H. Lawrence on HERMAN MELVILLE'S "MOBY DICK"
A hunt. The last great hunt. For what?
For Moby Dick, the huge white sperm whale: who is old, hoary, monstrous, and swims alone; who is unspeak­ably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow-white.
Of course he is a symbol. Of what?

I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That's the best of it.
'He is warm-blooded, he is loveable. He is lonely Levia­than, not a Hobbes sort. Or is he?
But he is warm-blooded and loveable. The South Sea Islanders, and Polynesians, and Malays, who worship shark, or crocodile, or weave endless frigate-bird distortions, why did they never worship the whale? So big!
Because the whale is not wicked. He doesn't bite. And their gods had to bite.
He's not a dragon. He is Leviathan. He never coils like the Chinese dragon of the sun. He's not a serpent of the waters. He is warm-blooded, a mammal. And hunted, hunted down.
It is a great book.
At first you are put off by the style. It reads like journal­ism. It seems spurious. You feel Melville is trying to put something over you. It won't do.
And Melville really is a bit sententious: aware of him­self, self-conscious, putting something over even himself. But then it's not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story.
Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and senten­tiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like Moby Dick. He preaches and holds forth because he's not sure of himself. And he holds forth, often, so amateurishly.
The artist was so much greater than the man. The man is rather a tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical ­transcendentalist sort: Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, etc. So unrelieved, the solemn ass even in humour. So hope­lessly au grand serieux, you feel like saying: Good God, what does it matter? If life is a tragedy, or a farce, or a disaster, or anything else, what do I care! Let life be what it likes. Give me a drink, that's what I want just now.
For my part, life is so many things I don't care what it is.
It's not my affair to sum it up. Just now it's a cup of tea. This morning it was wormwood and gall. Hand me the sugar.
One wearies of the grand serieux. There's something false about it. And that's Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!
But he was a deep, great artist, even if he was rather a sententious man. He was a real American in that he always felt his audience in front of him. But when he ceases to be American, when he forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful, his book commands a stillness in the soul, an awe.
In his "human" self, Melville is almost dead. That is, he hardly reacts to human contacts anymore; or only ideally: or just for a moment. His human-emotional self is almost played out. He is abstract, self-analytical and abstracted. And he is more spell-bound by the strange slidings and collidings of Matter than by the things men do. In this he is like Dana. It is the material elements he really has to do with. His drama is with them. He was a futurist long before futurism found paint. The sheer naked slidings of the elements. And the human soul experiencing it all. So often, it is almost over the border: psychiatry. Almost spurious. Yet so great.
It is the same old thing as in all Americans. They keep their old-fashioned ideal frock-coat on, and an old-fashioned silk hat, while they do the most impossible things. There you are: you see Melville hugged in bed by a huge tattooed South Sea Islander, and solemnly offering burnt offering to this savage's little idol, and his ideal frock-coat just hides his shirt-tails and prevents us from seeing his bare posterior as he salaams, while his ethical silk hat sits correctly over his brow the while. That is so typically American: doing the most impossible things without taking off their spiritual get-up. Their ideals are like armor which has rusted in and will never more come off. And meanwhile in Melville his bodily knowledge moves naked, a living quick among the stark elements. For with sheer physical vibrational sen­sitiveness, like a marvelous wireless-station, he registers the effects of the outer world. And he records also, almost beyond pain or pleasure, the extreme transitions of the isolated, far-driven soul, the soul which is now alone, with­out any real human contact.
The first days in New Bedford introduce the only human being who really enters into the book, namely, Ishmael, the "I" of the book. And then the moment's heart's-brother, Queequeg, the tattooed, powerful South Sea harpooner, whom Melville loves as Dana loves "Hope". The advent of Ishmael's bedmate is amusing and unforgettable. But later the two swear "marriage", in the language of the savages. For Queequeg has opened again the flood-gates of love and human connexion in Ishmael.
"As I sat there in that now lonely room, the fire burning low, in that mild stage when, after its first intensity has warmed the air, it then only glows to be looked at; the evening shades and phantoms gathering round the case­ments, and peering in upon us silent, solitary twain: I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits. Wild he was; a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him."-So they smoked together, and are clasped in each other's arms. The friendship is finally sealed when Ishmael • offers sacrifice to Queequeg's little idol, Hogo.
"I was a good Christian, born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with the idolater in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship?-to do the will of God-that is worship. And what is the will of God?-to do to my fellow man

what I would have my fellow man do to me-that is the -will of God."-Which sounds like Benjamin Franklin, and is hopelessly bad theology. But it is real American logic. "Now Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Con­sequently, I must unite with him; ergo, I must turn idolater. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salaamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat. How it is I know not; but there is no place like bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, lay I and Queequeg-a cosy, loving pair--"
You would think this relation with Queequeg meant something to Ishmael. But no. Queequeg is forgotten like yesterday's newspaper. Human things are only momentary excitements or amusements to the American Ishmael. Ishmael, the hunted. But much more Ishmael the hunter. What's a Queequeg? What's a wife? The white whale must be hunted down. Queequeg must be just "KNOWN", then dropped into oblivion.
And what in the name of fortune is the white whale? Elsewhere Ishmael says he loved Queequeg's eyes: "large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold." No doubt like Poe, he wanted to get the "clue" to them. That was all.
The two men go over from New Bedford to Nantucket, and there sign on to the Quaker whaling ship, the Pequod. It is all strangely fantastic, phantasmagoric. The voyage of the soul. Yet curiously a real whaling voyage, too. We pass on into the midst of the sea with this strange ship and its incredible crew. The Argonauts were mild lambs in com­parison. And Ulysses went defeating the Circes and over­coming the wicked hussies of the isles. But the Pequod's crew is a collection of maniacs fanatically hunting down a lonely, harmless white whale.
As a soul history, it makes one angry. As a sea yam, it is marvelous: there is always something a bit over the mark, in sea yarns. Should be. Then again the masking up of actual seaman’s experience with sonorous mysticism sometimes gets on one’s nerves. And again, as a revelation of destiny the book is too deep even for sorrow. Profound beyond feeling.
You are some time before you are allowed to see the captain Ahab: the mysterious Quaker. Oh, it is a God-fearing Quaker ship.
Ahab, the captain. The captain of the soul.
"Oh, captain, my captain, our fearful trip is done."
The gaunt Ahab, Quaker, mysterious person, only shows himself after some days at sea. There's a secret about him! What?
Oh, he's a portentous person. He stumps about on an ivory stump, made from sea-ivory. Moby Dick, the great white whale, tore off Ahab's leg at the knee, when Ahab was attacking him.
Quite right, too. Should have torn off both his legs, and a bit more besides.
But Ahab doesn't think so. Ahab is now a monomaniac.
Moby Dick is his monomania. Moby Dick must DIE, or Ahab can't live any longer. Ahab is atheist by this.
All right.
This Pequod, ship of the American soul, has three mates.
I. Starbuck: Quaker, Nantucketer, a good responsible man of reason, forethought, intrepidity, what is called a depend­able man. At the bottom, afraid.
2. Stubb: "Fearless as fire, and as mechanical." Insists on being reckless and jolly on every occasion. Must be afraid too, really.
3. Flask: Stubborn, obstinate, without imagination. To him "the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse or water-rat--"
There you have them: a maniac captain and his three mates, three splendid seamen, admirable whalemen, first­class men at their job.
It is rather like Mr. Wilson and his admirable, "efficient" crew at the Peace Conference. Except that none of the Pequodders took their wives along.
A maniac captain of the soul and three eminently prac­tical mates.
Then such a crew. Renegades. castaways. cannibals: Ishmael. Quakers.
Three giant harpooners to spear the great white whale.
1. Queequeg, the South Sea Islander all tattooed, big and powerful.
2. Tashtego, the Red Indian of the sea-coast, where the Indian meets the sea.
3. Daggoo, the huge black negro.
There you have them, three savage races, under the American flag, the maniac captain with their great keen harpoons ready to spear the white whale.
And only after many days at sea does Ahab's own boat ­crew appear on deck. Strange, silent, secret, black-garbed Malays, tire-worshipping Parsees. These are to man Ahab's boat, when it leaps in pursuit of that whale.
What do you think of the ship Pequod, the ship of the soul of an American?
Many races, many peoples, many nations, under the Stars and Stripes. Beaten with many stripes.
Seeing stars sometimes.
And in a mad ship, under a mad captain, in a mad, fanatic's hunt.
For what?
For Moby Dick, the great white whale.
But splendidly handled. Three splendid mates. The whole thing practical, eminently practical in its working. American industry!
And all this practicality in the service of a mad, mad chase.
Melville manages to keep it a real whaling ship, on a real cruise, in spite of all fantastics. A wonderful, wonderful voyage. And a beauty that is so surpassing only because of the author's awful flounderings in mystical waters. He wanted to get metaphysically deep. And he got deeper than metaphysics. It is a surpassingly beautiful book, with an awful meaning, and bad jolts.
It is interesting to compare Melville with Dana, about the albatross-Melville a bit sententious. "I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below I ascended to the overcrowded deck, and there, lashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal feathered thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked Roman bill sublime. At intervals it arched forth its vast, archangel wings—wondrous throbbings and flutterings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some King's ghost in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible strange eyes methought I peeped to secrets not below the heavens-the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those forever exiled waters, I had lost the miser­able warping memories of traditions and of towns. I assert then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird chiefly lurks the secret of the spell--"
Melville's albatross is a prisoner, caught by a bait on a hook.
Well, I have seen an albatross, too: following us in waters hard upon the Antarctic, too, south of Australia. And in the Southern winter. And the ship, a P. and O. boat, nearly empty. And the lascar crew shivering.
The bird with its long, long wings following, then leaving us. No one knows till they have tried how lost, how lonely those Southern waters are. And glimpses of the Australian coast.
It makes one feel that our day is only a day. That in the dark of the night ahead other days stir fecund, when we have lapsed from existence.
Who knows how utterly we shall lapse.
But Melville keeps up his disquisition about "whiteness".
The great abstract fascinated him. The abstract where we end, and cease to be. White or black. Our white, abstract end
Then again it is lovely to be at sea on the Pequod, with never a grain of earth to us.
"It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an addi­tional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued, and yet

somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incanta­tion of reverie lurked in the air that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self--"
In the midst of this preluding silence came the first cry:
"There she blows! there! there! there! She blows!" And th~n. comes the first chase, a marvellous piece of true sea­wntmg, the sea, and sheer sea-beings on the chase, sea­creatur~s chased. There is scarcely a taint of earth-pure sea-motion.
"'Give way, men,' whispered Starbuck, drawing still further aft the sheet of his sail; 'there is time to kill a fish yet before the squall comes. There's white water again! -Close to! -Spring!' Soon after, two cries in quick succession on each side of us denoted that the other boats had got fast; but hardly were they overheard, when with a lightning­like hurtling whisper Starbuck said: 'Stand up!' and Queequeg, harpoon in hand, sprang to his feet.- Though not one of the oarsmen was then facing the life and death peril so close to them ahead, yet, their eyes on the intense countenance of the mate in the stern of the boat, they knew that the imminent instant had come; they heard, too, an enormous wallowing sound, as of fifty elephants stirring in their litter. Meanwhile the boat was still booming through the mist, the waves curbing and hissing around us like the erected crests of enraged serpents.
" 'That's his hump. There! There, give it to him!' whis­pered Starbuck.-A short rushing sound leapt out of the boat; it was the darted iron of Queequeg. Then all in one welded motion came a push from astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on a ledge; the sail collapsed and exploded; a gush of scalding vapour shot up nearby; some­thing rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us. The whole crew were half-suffocated as they were tossed helter-skelter into the white curling cream of the squall. Squall, whale, and harpoon had all blended together; and the whale, merely grazed by the iron, ~scaped-. -" .
Melville is a master of violent, chaotic physical motion: he can keep up a whole wild chase w~th~ut a ~a.w. He is as perfect at creating stillness. The ship IS cruising on the Carrol Ground, south of St. Helena.e-vlt was while gliding through these latter waters that one s~rene and moo~light night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver:

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