June 6, 2017

Hey, man, did you notice Dylan edited out the "man" interjection from Captain Ahab's speech?

You'd think Dylan more than Ahab would drop "man" into a sentence. I hear it as beatnik style.

But Bob said — in a part of his Nobel speech I didn't talk about in my lengthy analysis yesterday — as he was going on and on about Herman Melville's "Moby Dick":
Ahab, too, is a poet of eloquence. He says, "The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails whereon my soul is grooved to run." Or these lines, "All visible objects are but pasteboard masks." Quotable poetic phrases that can't be beat.
I wanted to know more about that "visible objects are but pasteboard masks" business, so I looked it up, and I see that Melville wrote:
"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks."
There's that seemingly beatnik "man" popping up in Ahab's speech. I have to strain to hear it as some kind of 19th century bombast, sermonish.

Dylan also left out the "as" and thus turned a simile into a metaphor. He's praising Melville's poetry and saying it "can't be beat," and he changes the words. It's so "quotable," he misquotes it. Well, he's a poet too. He knows it — "Hope I don't blow it" — and his phrases are quotable and unbeatable too. I know I quote him. A lot more than I quote Melville (who didn't put his words into songs that I played a hundred times).

What did Melville's Ahab mean by "All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks"? He continues:
But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me?

36 comments:

Robert Cook said...

"What did Melville's Ahab mean by 'All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks?'"

Everything we perceive is fake, masked, an illusion, a delusion, a lie, a figment, a dream.

eddie willers said...

KHAAAN!!!

David Baker said...

"Man" as in "mankind."



St. George said...

Pasteboard masks covering the horror of the white absolute of existence.

Or something like that.

Chapter XL11: The Whiteness of the Whale

Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea; the bleak rustlings of the festooned frosts of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the windrowed snows of prairies; all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking of that buffalo robe to the frightened colt!

Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous - why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian's Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows - a colorless, all- color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues - every stately or lovely emblazoning - the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge - pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino Whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt? With reference to the Polar bear, it may possibly be urged by him who would fain go still deeper into this matter, that it is not the whiteness, separately regarded, which heightens the intolerable hideousness of that brute; for, analysed, that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only arises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror.

Moby Dick is pretty much 500 pages of this. Howl, howl, howl...

surfed said...

Bob Dylan and Gerry Lopez sound a lot alike. Go figure.

robother said...

Wow, man. Its like, a metaphor, you know?

Fernandinande said...

In addition to poetic phrases, Melville is also guilty of plagiarism and misappropriation:

Mocha Dick was a male sperm whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near Mocha Island, off the central coast of Chile. American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds published his account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" in 1839 in The Knickerbocker. Mocha Dick was an albino and partially inspired Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick.

Quaestor said...

Captain Ahab is obviously invoking Plato, except that he gives the cave and the shadows a sinister spin.Ahab says, "If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?" Remember that the Platonic parable involves prisoners who are shackled so that their only perception of reality is composed of the shadows thrown against the wall of the cave that is their prison. Ahab substitutes "pasteboard masks" for shadows, but the meaning is the same. If man is to be free he must break out of his prison and tear away the masks. However, in doing so he must also know the horrors hidden by those masks. Lovecraft, a fellow New Englander, took Ahab's perception of the Universe and ran with it. Melville himself a bit less fearful of the ultimate Nature of Things. His innocent survives because Nature sends him a life raft in the form of a caulked and tarred coffin, and the Rachael in search of her lost children, finds another orphan.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ahab says, "If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?" Remember that the Platonic parable involves prisoners who are shackled so that their only perception of reality is composed of the shadows thrown against the wall of the cave that is their prison."

And if he strikes and hits, he'll be a Reality Winner.

Bob said...

I know almost nothing about Bob Dylan but I know a fair bit about Moby-Dick, probably because I've played Frank Muller's recording of it a hundred times. (That's the one to get, and I recommend it without reservation.)

In this scene Ahab is speaking to Starbuck, the first officer -- he's the "man" in this direct address. ("All visible objects, Starbuck, are as pasteboard masks.") The practical and pious Starbuck is hunting whales for his living -- they're "dumb brutes" no different from cattle or buffalo. Ahab, by contrast, sees "the demonism in the world" -- the whale isn't the principal, he's the agent.

The whale is Trump, but it's Putin who's really controlling things. Ahab can't get at Putin, so the only thing left is to destroy the agent.

(And BTW, Melville misquotes and alters his sources all the time. In that sense, he's just being a creative writer, like Dylan, and not a poor devil of a sub-sub librarian, like me and Althouse.)

Richard Dillman said...

the pasteboard mask comment is pure New England transcendentalism. It is a core principle of Emerson's philosophy and Thoreau's as well. There was a strong thread of transcendental thinking in Melville, although he was often critical of Emerson.
In Moby Dick he warned against romantic pantheism. Beware ye pantheists, for beneath that placid sea lie all sorts of unknown
terrors, etc.(I paraphrase).

Mitch H. said...

I've been thinking about last sentences. I want to love Moby Dick's last sentence, but Melville ruins it with that thuddingly bad bit about devious cruising. People usually clean it up when they 'quote' it. Melville's style was a bit overweighted with bad-idea adjectives and linguistic oddities.

Quaestor said...

And if he strikes and hits, he'll be a Reality Winner.

And here I am trying to be all serious 'n stuff...

FWBuff said...

Captain Ahab: "He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him."

Kathy Griffin: "He broke me! He broke me! He broke me! I've always been bullied by old white guys."

Captain Ahab/ Moby Dick.

Kathy Griffin/ Donald Trump.

Maybe that explains her weird obsession, Professor.

Quaestor said...

And if he strikes and hits, he'll be a Reality Winner.

Here's a formula for a new hit Showtime series. I call it Thar She Blows! Urban hipsters are given the task of sailing a square-rigged ship in search of whales, which they'll tag with GPS monitors (for sciencey purposes, dontcha know?). They must live as 19th-century seamen lived, eat what they ate, and chase the whales in oar-propelled open boats. Sounds cool, no? But here's the kicker — get ready — they are all nude! Coppertone will jump at the chance to sponsor.

rhhardin said...

Moby Dick is supposed to represent a world without women, somebody wrote. Maybe I can find the book...

Ruth Burdick, _Engendering Romance_. Amazon has a hardcover for $6 if you're fast.

Roughcoat said...
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Roughcoat said...
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Bob said...

Urban hipsters are given the task of sailing a square-rigged ship in search of whales... But here's the kicker — get ready — they are all nude!

"And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world...."

rhhardin said...

Emily Miller Burdick, not Ruth.

Quaestor said...

Engendering Romance... Think I'll wait for the price to come down a bit, somewhere south of toilet paper by weight.

Amexpat said...

I'd strike the sun if it insulted me

When Dylan quoted that line from MD, I thought of a verse from Tombstone Blues:

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And, dropping a barbell, he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken"

dustbunny said...

Just started reading bio of poet RobertLowell, on opening page is a photo of a harpoon from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and this quote:
"all men live enveloped in whale lines".

Pete said...

Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?

traditionalguy said...

Captain Ahab is fighting God. Gutsy move Ahab.

Bob said...

Captain Ahab is fighting God. Gutsy move Ahab.

Aye, and it's not just God, it's all the gods, whom he addresses specifically and invites to take him on:

Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That's more than ye, ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes! I will not say as school-boys do to bullies--Take some one of your own size; don't pommel me! No, ye've knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bags! I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab's compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me.

mtrobertslaw said...

Ahab is a Kantian.

Earnest Prole said...

The thing about the great plagiarizers -- Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan, of course -- is that they always improved on the original.

Bob said...

Ahab is a Kantian.

Unlike the Right and Sperm Whales:

Does not this whole head seem to speak of an enormous practical resolution in facing death? This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

(This is one of the reasons why so many of us love Moby-Dick -- it contains some reference to almost everything in the universe. Althouse may know that there are two whole chapters full of detailed legal commentary, complete with citations in Latin: "Fast Fish and Loose Fish" and "Heads or Tails.")

BillyTalley said...

"As if I were Adam, staggering under the piled centuries since Paradise."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArFd_2-z9Io

The Godfather said...

Moby-Dick was assigned in my 12th grade honors English class in 1960-61. If I were to find that this classic has been removed from the curriculum of my alma mater, I would protest mightily! Yet, back in the day, I didn't read the book as assigned; I read an abridged version, about half as many pages. So far as I can recall from class discussions, papers, exams, etc., I didn't really miss anything. At some point in my adult life, probably after I retired from full-time employment, I decided to read the whole book. I got about a hundred pages past "Call me Ishmael", but that was it. Dylan's precis of the book in his lecture is very good. I think maybe those 12 minutes are really all you need.

On the other hand, I think Dylan's summary of the Odyssey left out a lot of really good detail. Even if you also saw the Kirk Douglas movie.

Ann Althouse said...

"I know almost nothing about Bob Dylan but I know a fair bit about Moby-Dick, probably because I've played Frank Muller's recording of it a hundred times. (That's the one to get, and I recommend it without reservation.)"

Thanks for the push to get back to the recording I downloaded a while back.

tcrosse said...

You'd think Dylan more than Ahab would drop "man" into a sentence. I hear it as beatnik style.

Work !!

Amexpat said...

Be interesting to see if book sales of Moby Dick surge after Dylan's lecture.

Jon Ericson said...

https://youtu.be/r9-42mu1D9Y

LordSomber said...

That's just, like, your opinion, man -- thou damned whale.