“Clubbed Voices” for the Doubtful

It is often said that Moby Dick is difficult to read.  I don’t intend to disagree.  It’s the kind of book that really can’t even be classified with clarity these days.  It is in no way like a novel that we read now.  It is something more akin to an “anatomy” as it seems to encompass so many modes of lexical representation.  It is philosophy, essay, story, poem, encyclopedia, classification; perhaps it is a kind of bible–a collection of texts.  It is a book that shows at all levels the ways in which what is most human cannot be properly captured.  That is: language cannot hope to capture language.

The eel always slips away; of course it has left us a mighty charge in the attempted gripping.

Listen, here is an example of the simple and probably unnoticed brilliance of Melville’s language:

   With bent head and half-slouched hat he continued to pace, unmindful of the wondering whispering among the men; till Stubb cautiously whispered to Flask, that Ahab must have summoned them there for the purpose of witnessing a pedestrian feat. But this did not last long. Vehemently pausing, he cried: — ‘What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?’

‘Sing out for him!’ was the impulsive rejoinder from a score of clubbed voices. 

‘Good!’ cried Ahab, with a wild approval in his tones; observing the hearty animation into which his unexpected question had so magnetically thrown them.

‘And what do ye next, men?’

‘Lower away, and after him!’

‘And what tune is it ye pull to, men?’

‘A dead whale or a stove boat!’

In the above is a newly formed adjective that illustrates the very heart of this human gathering and the nature of the word.  “Clubbed.”

We know that a “club” is a group that is defined by membership and in this by both inclusion and exclusion.  We know that one might be “clubbed” as in hit with a club or some other item; one can also take a clubbing or give a clubbing.  Here it is “voices” that are clubbed.  They are “joined” in a chorus of “crowd response.”  A group of men directed by a leader might deliver clubbed assent on the battlefield, at a political rally, in a mob.  Voices “clubbed” are weapons to be used against another “voice” or opinion or group.  And too, and deeper, these voices have been clubbed together under the sway of the madman.  In the clubbing they have been clubbed.

All of that.  All of that in “clubbed voices.”  All of that and likely more.

That is the tiniest fraction of Melville’s brilliance.

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2 Comments

  1. J. Fulford October 1, 2012 at 1:23 am

    How can a writer be worth her salt if she cannot embrace Melville? I cannot embrace it. That does not mean the essence of the work is not masterful. However, there is fine art all over the world that speaks nothing to me. Paintings and sculptures that, even if I were a student of fine art, I would not visit or study. Will my ability to write a good novel someday suffer in general if I do not commit the time to read Moby Dick in its entirety *and* appreciate its nuances to my satisfaction? I cannot answer that except to say that Moby Dick is the work of a master I don’t care to mimic in style or structure. I couldn’t if I tried. Neither now nor if I studied Moby Dick for the rest of my life. So, for me, the question boils down to: do I relate to the work on a life level? a meaningful, ordinary level? enough to follow it through to the end? The answer to that, after 200 pages, was no.

    Reply
    1. Storm October 1, 2012 at 6:14 am

      I want to more fully address this in a companion post to “clubbed voices.”

      But, part of my “found” poetry work is exercise to display what in certain chapters stands out to me beyond a surface or narrative understanding–I’m trying to find out the way the language “works” ON me, in me, through me.

      So, if you go and look at “Unseconded Coming” you will find something very different from “Empty Wonder…” and nothing like a “smooth” chiseling. But, I was trying to make an interpretive point more than write a poem…

      Reply

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