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AMERICAN PROPHECY: The Try Works by Herman Melville (with my emphasis added)

As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words  of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.

So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat kindred visions in my soul, so soon as I began to yield to that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me at a midnight helm.

But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since inexplicable) thing occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing sleep, I was horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. The jaw-bone tiller smote my side, which leaned against it; in my ears was the low hum of sails, just beginning to shake in the wind; I thought my eyes were open; I was half conscious of putting my fingers to the lids and mechanically stretching them still further apart. But, spite of all this, I could see no compass before me to steer by; though it seemed but a minute since I had been watching the card, by the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it. Nothing seemed before me but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes of redness. Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing thing I stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came over me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way, inverted. My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my brief sleep I had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship’s stern, with my back to her prow and the compass. In an instant I faced back, just in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into the wind, and very probably capsizing her. How glad and how grateful the relief from this unnatural hallucination of the night, and the fatal contingency of being brought by the lee!

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. Tomorrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lampall others but liars!

Moby Dick; Or the Whale, by Herman Melville, 1851

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  • Mike Austin August 31, 2022, 9:45 AM

    “Moby Dick” is a classic, which can be defined as “a book that few read but many claim to have read”. Nothing against Melville, you see. Though I have not read that tome—and never claimed to have read it—I have read “Billy Budd”, “Typee” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener”. That is quite enough of Melville for my taste.

    And you may call me Ishmael if you like.

    • ghostsniper August 31, 2022, 10:12 AM

      Same is true with Atlas Shrugged.
      Takes quite a pair of boots to wade through that 1152 page tome and I did just that.
      And, I read all of “That Woman!”(‘s) other books as well, one right after the other starting with “Anthem”, while sitting on the front porch in the summer of 2006 right after we moved here.

      Just a guess, but I’ll estimate 90% of the people that claim to have read AS did not and have all sorts of disparaging things to say about it, but mostly about her, personally. Without exception every single one of them was a complete and utter nitwit and quite incapable of reading any book even one tenth the length of Atlas Shrugged. They cannot grasp any of Rand’s books. Dr Seuss is more their speed.

      I haven’t read Moby, but I have seen the old black and white movie a couple times with Gregory Peck in it. He was a scary dood. And yes, you may call me Ishmael too.

      • Fred August 31, 2022, 10:32 AM

        Not to complain to a ghostsniper, but galumptious KA-BLOOMS! of uncommon wisdom and common sense alike both hide in plain sight in the collected works of Theodor Seuss Geisel, as I and 30 years later my son discovered. Reading, apprehending, understanding and USING are very different things, as caliber, windage. elevation and SQUEEZING undoubtedly taught you!

      • Mike Austin August 31, 2022, 11:08 AM

        So much of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” is taken up with preachy screeching that I could not rouse myself to get through either of them. If I want to be screamed at by some woman I would get married again.

        I did read “Anthem” though. And “The Cat in the Hat” too.

        • ghostsniper August 31, 2022, 2:32 PM

          I read some of Seuss’s books when I was a little kid, then a lot more of them when our own son was young. Passed down, those same books are now read by him to our grand daughter. A little bit of silliness never killed anyone. Seuss, the gift that keeps on giving.

    • Vanderleun August 31, 2022, 12:52 PM

      Melville was a close friend of Nathanial Hawthorne. They lived near each other and enjoyed many long walks together. In addition, Hawthorne was a reader of Melville’s early drafts of Moby Dick. In the first drafts, Melville was trying to recapture the sales of his earlier novels which were mainly ripping yarns about the sea and whaling. Hawthorne read Moby Dick and, on a walk, advised Melville he should do more, MORE, with this novel as Hawthorne saw more profound depths were available. Remember that this was at the time and the place where the Transcendentalists were strong and thriving. Melville went back and slathered in solid helpings of the Bible (old and new testaments with an emphasis on the old) and then injected the prose with a lot of that old Shakespearian rag (so elegant, so intelligent, so well Shakespearian.) The resultant finished Moby Dick was a complete commercial bomb and was one of the things that led Melville to seek paying work at the US customs house in NYC. It wasn’t until after Melville’s death at around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century that Moby Dick was discovered as the profound parable of America that it is. Too late for Mellville but not too late for us. If you like the Bible and Shakespeare you might take another pass listening for the Old Testament tones and the internal rythums of Shakespeare.

      • Mike Austin August 31, 2022, 5:26 PM

        Now at the age and maturity to appreciate and understand “Moby Dick”, I might at last plow through it. And who knows? I just might enjoy it. Just don’t ask me to read Rand or Joyce. Or for that matter, that little Colombian creep Márquez. Not happening.

        • Tom Hyland September 1, 2022, 8:25 PM

          Definitely give Moby Dick your time… your eyes. It will pay handsomely. A good wintertime activity when you’re likely to be indoors than out. Get a copy illustrated by Rockwell Kent, as the graphic above was crafted by. He paid a heartfelt service to this masterpiece. I read both Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. They were excellent. I could read novels more easily long ago and don’t seem to have the patience for them as before. But I gave the Grapes of Wrath a long deserved read, just summer before last, and it blew my mind. A book for our very freaky times. Toughest book I’ve ever read? I’d say that was the Real Anthony Fauci by Robert Kennedy, Jr. One painful slog. He could have made it half the length and it would have been a vast improvement. But Fauci & fellow demons have committed a lot of crimes.
          I can’t go lying about books I’ve never read, saying I did. Strange problem others are afflicted with… not me. Started in on the Brothers Karamazov but got distracted. I’ll dive in again this winter. I have a very fine copy of Atlas Shrugged nearby. It is fat and intimidating and everyone I know who’s read it says it’s absolutely essential reading. Well… I’m this old and still haven’t cracked it… but I can expound on what I’ve digested so far and I am fully satisfied.

          • Mike Austin September 2, 2022, 6:42 AM

            Thank you, Tom. I will take your advice. There is a huge used bookstore near where I live. I am going to look for that edition of “Moby Dick” with the Rockwell Kent illustrations. If that store does not have it, it can find it for me.

            Even though I lived in Latin America for 14 years I could never quite get into its literature. Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa and Octavio Paz are some of the writers I read.

        • Terry September 2, 2022, 8:58 PM

          I read Moby Dick for the second time in my life about four years ago. The first time was when I was confined to bed recovering from a severe case of Mononucleosis. Attempting to read Moby caused a remission.

          The second read made me think outside the box to get a clue as to the meaning of the tale. Yes it is a difficult book to get a handle on.

          I have read every book Ayn Rand published including several published by her institute after her passing. She did change her outlook as she aged. So did I. Comes with experience in this world.

          Just because some book bug says I should read such & such does not impress me to do so. I have wasted hundreds of hours reading some “must read” piece of totally useless printed paper.

          Time to get back to my current read, a self help primer on how to get a date with the “Roller Skate Girl At A&W Root Beer”.


          I had best get a fifties convertible. And get rid of about sixty years of age.

      • ThisIsNotNutella August 31, 2022, 9:54 PM

        Live long enough and even Gore Vidal starts to to seem right about most (NB) things:

        C-SPAN Book TV interview ca. 2000.

        If I’m not careful I’ll find myself raising a toast to Sy Hersh next.

        • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 1:34 AM

          If I ever get a desire to read a book from that wretched sodomite I will have lived too long. The degenerate even imagined a homosexual relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala in the 1959 film. Too bad that Buckley—himself somewhat of a poof—never carried out his threat to beat the shit out of Vidal. At least Vidal did get head-butted by Mailer—perhaps the only decent thing Mailer did in his entire life.

        • Tom Hyland September 2, 2022, 11:00 AM

          It was Gore Vidal who said, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist… I’m a conspiracy analyst.” Vidal was a champion of human freedom and a muckraker to the Nth degree. I’ve read several of his books and attended an on-stage interview back in 2007 here in Santa Fe. He possessed a brain of the highest order.

          Remember this… we were ALL female during the incubation process. A very delicate maneuver takes place when the Y chromosome enters the formula. My brother was gay, knew it very clearly when he was about age six. Gay men have male bodies and female brains, thus they are sexually attracted to males. It’s science. Lesbians are simply angry women who hate men. Conditioning makes them the way they are. They aren’t fooling me.

  • jiminalaska August 31, 2022, 11:57 AM

    Yep I read M. Dick & A. Shrugged. Why on earth would anyone say they read them when they didn’t, Ishmael?

    • Mike Austin August 31, 2022, 12:25 PM

      It’s like the people who claim to have read “Ulysses” or “War and Peace” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and, after a few questions, it is revealed that they did no such thing. Their knowledge of those works comes from hearsay, from Cliff Notes, from Wikipedia or from some HBO special.

      To claim an accomplishment that was never accomplished is one of the great failings of human nature. We see such all-around: fake resumes, fake war records, fake racial claims, fake biographies.

      • ghostsniper August 31, 2022, 2:28 PM

        Like all the asswipes that say, “…all my gay friends…” or “all my black friends…”, and then they go on to prove that they’ve never spent more than a moment or two in the presence of either one. It’s a form of virtue signaling and fake credence.

        • Mike Austin August 31, 2022, 3:19 PM

          True that. I have no gay friends. I have no black friends. Would not even consider adding some if only to virtue signal. My virtue signaling is done by openly carrying a firearm wherever I go.

  • John A. Fleming August 31, 2022, 6:47 PM

    I have made it through at least 2/5 of Moby Dick, about 5 or 6 years ago. I’m not sure I can claim halfway. What slowed me down was I had a hard time picking up the rhythm of the prose. I would read a paragraph, and then realize I hadn’t took in anything that I read. So I had to slow it down and read it sentence by sentence. Sometimes reading a sentence several times, before I could understand just what the heck he was getting at.

    I got a little more practiced in grokking the gestalt of Melville as the chapters rolled by, but it’s relentless. It’s a story about obsession and madness overcoming reason, freighted with all the thoughts of 19th Century New England culture. It’s worth it for the time travel ticket, but the price will cost you dear.

    I intend to finish it, although with this distance of years, I am going to have to start over.

    Rand is easy compared to Melville. As to all of Rand’s detractors who seek to discredit the books based on the author’s behavior, well, it is usually so that meeting the artist or creator will be a disappointment. When Calliope, Melpomene and Thalia decide to gift art to the world, they pick a suitable transcriber. Once it leaves the artist’s hands, it’s up to the reader to find the meaning for themselves, the artist is not smarter than anybody else. Occasionally, the Muses find the exceptional artist (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart come to mind), who are able to take the gift and make of it something even they did not intend.

  • Nobody Atall September 1, 2022, 7:35 AM

    I at last could read Moby after seeing the movie and realizing that Gregory Peck was speaking in a quasi-Shakespearean fashion … MD is Shakespearean verse! That made all the difference.

    As for AS, I read it in college in 1979 or ’80, all but about 40 pages of John Galt’s radio address, which IIRC was over 60 pages long and almost recursively repetitive. Yes everything Rand did is preachy and repetitive, but even back then I could see it prophetic nature. As for Rand’s private life, being a monster doesn’t make her wrong about everything else. Kinda like you and me on a different scale, eh?

    • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 8:41 AM

      Well then that’s the issue, yes? Should the private life of some artist influence our opinion of his art? One could expand that to include politicians and men of renown in all fields. Churchill was a fat alcoholic and jingo. Should he then be cast into the memory hole? (I have nothing at all against alcoholic jingoes by the way.) As for Rand and her ilk, she was a flat-out atheist and God-hater. Should we then pay attention to her pronunciamientos concerning society? Or better, what sort of world would it be if everyone were as she was—with appropriate apologies to Kant? Would we read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” if we knew that Lewis Carrol had a pedophilic attraction to pre-pubescent girls?

      I have no solution, and rather doubt one exists.

      • John Venlet September 1, 2022, 9:17 AM

        As for Rand and her ilk, she was a flat-out atheist and God-hater.

        Indeed, Rand was a flat-out atheist and God-hater, but even when I read AS for the first time, at age 16, and a half-a-dozen times since that, I could well understand the point’s she was making in regards to work ethic, possession of one’s own labor, and the evils of state control. Is AS a tome in keeping with Christian morals? Decidedly not, just like Rand, but Rand well understood owning the fruits of one’s own labor, one’s own personal possessions, and an adherence to principles. Sort the wheat from the chaff in Rand’s works, just like any others. She was correct in many aspects of the societal evils under which all individuals suffer today.

        • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 9:34 AM

          Rand’s “Objectivist” philosophy was all-inclusive and could admit no competing ideologies—such as Christianity. It was not just Christian morality that Rand hated; it was the kind of society that Christianity imagined. Like Nietzsche she considered Christians muddle-headed sheep at best and natural slaves at worst. She could never understand that a world dominated by John Galts—or for that matter, by Ayn Rands—would eventually end up exactly like the USSR which she detested. Atheism always ends up that way—in the boxcar on the way to the gulag.

          What would Rand have done to all Christians if she had had the power to do so? She would have done to them exactly as Stalin did to them.

          • John Venlet September 1, 2022, 11:51 AM

            I’m not defending Rand’s flawed philosophy of life, but The Messiah himself was criticized for hanging out with Publicans and sinners. I’m certain, though, He planted a seed within them, which may, or may not, have grown and borne fruit.

            • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 12:37 PM

              One could learn self-reliance from Rand as easy as one could learn atheism. Whatever good she taught was transmitted by a hatred of God. A glass of 99 percent pure spring water and 1 percent sewage is sewage.

  • jiminalaska September 1, 2022, 10:16 AM

    I am sure there’s a lot of comfort in reading only the works of writers whose morals and character one admires. However a more catholic approach, in my opinion, establishes a firmer bedrock upon witch to build one’s life.

    • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 10:47 AM

      “I am sure there’s a lot of comfort in reading only the works of writers whose morals and character one admires.” I have never met nor heard of anyone who practiced such a thing. Have you? And besides, how could you possibly know if such a view brought “comfort”?

      I have no idea of the moral fiber of these authors, yet I read them nonetheless:


      Your so-called “catholic” view seems a bit morally flexible. Would you read a piece of literature that glorified pedophilia? For example: “Lolita” or “Death in Venice”? Or perhaps a title such as “Sock it to Me Daddy”? Does reading such books have any effect upon the reader? I am just curious where you would draw the line, and why.

      • Vanderleun September 1, 2022, 11:40 AM

        Speaking for myself I draw the line at no books are anathema to me. I would read Satan’s Journal if it were in print. And yes they reading of Lolita does have an effect on me as does Death in Venice. “Sock It To Me Daddy” may have been on offer to me at Penthouse. Thousands like it were.

        I accept them all and would read them all Because Aeropagetica.

        The effects? If they seem to be gaining traction in my soul I simply turn to another book and read:

        In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
        The same was in the beginning with God.
        All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
        In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
        And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

        • ghostsniper September 1, 2022, 12:07 PM

          In a nutshell:

          I conceive therefore, that when God did enlarge the universall diet of mans body, saving ever the rules of temperance, he then also, as before, left arbitrary the dyeting and repasting of our minds; as wherein every mature man might have to exercise his owne leading capacity.

          How great a vertue is temperance, how much of moment through the whole life of man? yet God committs the managing so great a trust, without particular Law or prescription, wholly to the demeanour of every grown man.

        • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 12:19 PM

          The Catholic Church once had an index of prohibited books, the ” Index Librorum Prohibitorum”. Books on the list were seen as detrimental to Catholic faith, to a good moral conscience, to a healthy family and society and to the soul. As such no Catholic could read such works without committing a grave sin.

          Moderns laugh at such things, though every group in and out of government has such a list, though it might not be clearly stated. Amazon certainly has one, as does Biden and his FBI. For example, imagine having a Bible on the teacher’s desk at a California school. Horror of horrors! The cops would be summoned.

          There is no question at all that what is viewed with the eyes has a moral component. “Custody of the eyes” as a Christian would say. For example, no normal person would subject a 3-year-old girl to a picture of violent pornography. Yet an adult can freely indulge this desire believing there will be no harm done to his soul. Thus the popularity of “Game of Thrones”, though its use of nudity and sexual violence can hardly be overstated. Does such a thing have a deleterious effect upon the man? Upon his family? Upon society?

          In 1950s America such a thing as “Game of Thrones” was almost impossible to find. Now it is available to anyone, everywhere at all times. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

          The point here is that every society known to History has had moral guidelines beyond which no man could go without losing his freedom or his life. No society, that is, except ours. There are no guidelines, no prohibited books save the Bible, no prohibited actions. The results of this moral collapse are all around.

          One can claim that such writing as “Death in Venice” is art, yet one would be hesitant—I would hope—to wander around a city searching for 14-year-old boys to seduce. The same could be said of “Lolita”, though more and more pedophilia is becoming accepted.

          The Ancients had “The Iliad” as a moral example. We have “Sock It to Me Daddy”.

          • Vanderleun September 1, 2022, 4:29 PM

            WELL, I am beyond roaming the streets looking for anything other than a hamburger on sale.

            As for “Sock It To Me Daddy,” I have to confess that I wrote it years ago because I needed to cover the rent and finance a trip to the Greek islands with my 30 years junior secretary. It was a pretty good book of its kind but they trashed it with this cheap and tawdry cover :

            As for custody of the eyes, I fear that decades back my eyes were reduced to ashen cinders in empty sockets with skin stretched drum tight over the openings.

            Seriously though you mention:

            The point here is that every society known to History has had moral guidelines beyond which no man could go without losing his freedom or his life. No society, that is, except ours.

            I’m sure you are correct about the existence of said moral guidelines but I would suggest they were not always guidelines we would recognize as “moral.”

            Our own wild west certainly had its “codes” and omnipresent moral guidelines but that did not prevent the peg-boys of San Francisco.

            • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 6:03 PM

              That is just the cover that I remember. I must have read it 50 years ago or more. It wasn’t exactly “The Iliad”, though I probably learned more from it than I would have from anything Nabokov or Mann wrote.

              Moral guidelines are the only ones that matter. The nature of a society and its people flow from these. One might compare the laws of Calvin’s Geneva to those of Tenochtitlan before Cortez to get a clear idea of this.

              The Wild West ended at the Rockies, and San Francisco was almost as far away from its frontier as was New York. That “City by the Bay” was a moral sinkhole since the days of the 49ers. It remained so even though God sent a warning in 1906. It did not listen.

            • Mike Austin September 1, 2022, 6:33 PM

              I would argue that the moral universe assumed by “Sock it to Me Daddy” was a normal one, while that of “Lolita” and “Death in Venice”—even though hidden beneath veils of writing—was depraved, monstrous even. Even the ethical code of “The Iliad” was far superior to our own. Perhaps one day we will revert to such a code in our last moments of desperation. I might enjoy it, though it has been a while since I shoved a sword into someone’s guts and then tripped over his spilling entrails. I would need to practice a bit.

              Here is one example of such a world: