Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Lost" Loomings


I have read many a commentary about Jacob's weaving in the opening scene of "The Incident," citing all kinds of cultural and mythical weaving.

But I have not seen anyone make reference to Moby-Dick. Melville's masterpiece is built all-around a loom/weaving metaphor. The book's first chapter is "Loomings." When Pip, the cabin boy, is pulled to the bottom of the ocean when his foot becomes entangled in a harpoon line, he goes mad after seeing God's foot upon the loom. And, most importantly, in "A Bower in the Arsicades," Ishmael has his mind blown by "a great Sperm Whale, which, after an unusually long raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his head against a cocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings seemed his verdant jet. When the vast body had at last been stripped of its fathom-deep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefully transported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it."

Deep inland, like a certain slave ship, on a South Pacific island, the whale is a thing of mystery:

The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth its vapory spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles.


And in the ever curious Ishmael it inspires a new understanding of the weave of existence (the italics in this 10x x 2 passage are mine):


It was a wondrous sight. the wood was green as mosses of the icy Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver's loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver! - pause! - one word! - whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver! - stay thy hand! - but one single word with thee! Nay - the shuttle flies - the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet- rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among the flying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls, bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villanies been detected. Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world's loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.

Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging - a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idler seemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories.

No comments: