11 September 2009

I should be working on the article, but I don’t feel like it right now. I suspect that this resistance (aren’t all refusals instances of resistance?) stems from a current reading of Moby Dick. Or perhaps this re-reading of a truly rich novel confirms too much of what I have discovered in the world: what’s the point? Ishmael goes to sea because he is bored, and he discovers that the opposite of bored is alarmed. If Thoreau learned by his experiment that if he marched in the direction of his dreams he would realize unexpected success, then Ishmael learns that if he sails out in the direction of his dreams, there is no end to the dangers and the unknowns he faces. And try as he might to get some control over the world, he keeps discovering how little he ever can and will know.

I was overhearing a conversation yesterday about the death of a teacher from a brain aneurysm. In fact, the conversation concerned something else: the resignation of the teacher hired to replace the deceased educator. There was some jocularity concerning the surprise and embarrassment from the newly hired teacher’s failure—he was in a certification program at the University.

And all I could focus on was the ability of colleagues to laugh at all in the face of the suddenness and capriciousness of chance that ended so suddenly the life of the teacher. And it wasn’t so much the death as the arbitrariness of it; oh yes, the idea of there but for fortune go I. I felt like Yossarian in Heller’s Catch-22 and Ishmael in Moby Dick: They’re trying to kill me, Yossarian cries. “Who?” the doctor asks. “Everyone!!” At one point Yossarian screams that every cell in his body is waiting to turn traitor and do him in. And Ishmael almost philosophically notes that there is as much danger sitting before the fire in the living room as sitting precariously in the whaling boat with the whale line running out threatening to sever limbs from body and body from life. There is no safe harbor once you’ve left the original harbor.

So perhaps laughter is the only response to the realities of the uncertainties embodied in the white whale; certainly the humor in Catch-22 relieves this primal terror. And Ishmael has a keen sense of humor, ironic that it is. It seems to acknowledge, with Dylan, that it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.


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