Wednesday, June 22, 2005

CLR James on whales, Bergson, etc

After posting about CLR James the other week, I found some more James in the blogosphere:

Alphonse van Worden: Little Ahabs and the Monsters of the Deep:
"People write repeatedly that Melville describes the technique of the whaling industry as if he were drawing up some sort of text-book manual. Melville is doing nothing of the kind. He has painted a body of men at work, the skill and the danger, the laboriousness and the physical and mental mobilization of human resources, the comradeship and the unity, the simplicity and the naturalness.

They are meanest mariners, castaways and renegades. But that is not their fault. They began tht way. Their heroism consists in their everyday doing of their work. The only tragic graces with which Melville endows them are the graces of men associated for common labour.

The contrast is between Ahab and the crew, and Melville traces this at every level from the basic human functions to the philosophic conceptions of society. We have seen that they eat differently. They sleep differently. In the forecastle where the off-duty watch is sleeping, "you would have almost thought you were standing in some illuminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. There they lay in their triangular oaken vaults, each mariner a chiselled muteness; a score of lamps flashing upon his hooded eyes." Ahab cannot sleep at all, or, when he does, he sleeps standing straight up or in his chair, shouting about the blood spouting from Moby Dick."

- CLR James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways
Counago & Spaves: Hold That Thought:
“I remember my first break with rationalism. It was Bergson, 1934. His work had come at the turn of the century. And was startling to me on two counts. 1) He attacked the abstractions of Understanding, their mechanical categorization, etc., and opposed to this, Intuition. 2) Humor, he said, was the fulfillment of the desire to see the snob and aristocrat humbled. So that the well-dressed man slipping on a banana peel was his classic example of humor. It is still individualistic, as it would be in the philosopher, but I remember it broke me with morbid and melancholy philosophy speculation . . .”

- C.L.R. James (from notes for an unpublished autobiography)
(Counago & Spaves also blogs about the great Maurice Brinton)

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