Ménage à trois, premiere fois

It is possible to read these passages I quoted in my last post, from Moby Dick and Steppenwolf, as social critiques: in fact, how not so? They are positing their speakers in an unmitigated opposition to society, squarely, and for very similar motives: to escape the drudgeries of modern life, Ishmael and Haller take off into their own violent escape routes. Both are ineffective, of course, in pursuing these, so the critique is rather a commentary, and Haller’s is more deeply politically and historically charged. It adds mechanized routine to the worldweariness so strong in Ishmael. To revived Melville and Hesse – add Lovecraft, child of no age: add Lovecraft and see how he stirs the ensemble out of its agreed-on hang to self-irony and destruction, and the combination of the two. Both passages, quoted in the previous post, share in that self-ironic narrative voice that is probing for the audience, almost desperately, at the same time that it tries to repel it, & and all humanity at all.

that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off –

Just moments later, Melville’s Ishmael re-invites the reading audience that he had implicitly included in his general regimen of hat-knocking –

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs – commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. (my emphasis)

And so on. Out goes the romantic violence-fantasy, in comes the (disciplined) narrative and with it the readers. From the second paragraph onward, they are re-admitted, re-addressed in an immediate way. The steppenwolf’s ennui du monde seems a little more self-centered, in contrast, presumably because his narration is processed within a personal log-record of some kind, “For Madmen only”: nevertheless he is far from unraveling a monologue, but instead includes narrative gimmicks as, for example, sustained dialog sequences in exposition of himself and his partners in dialog.

Both protagonists envision the(ir) end, both enroll the audience in their telling of it and take them all the way through it: the end, not necessarily in an apocalyptic sense (though in Moby Dick it is as much as that), is a shared experience.


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