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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

"Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! or, The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano"

1/ The story begins with a rant against life and God, against modernisation and industrialisation. 
2/ "I marked the fact, but only grinned at it with a ghastly grin." 
He sounds rather mad. 
3/ "My friends, that must be a Shanghai; no domestic-born cock could crow in such prodigious exulting strains." 
The rooster, however, turns out not to be a Shanghai, but a domestic breed. Neither does it belong to a "gentleman". I don't think it's without meaning. 
4/ If in Moby Dick, Melville elevates the whale to a magnificent creature, the strangest, most mysterious and complex of animals, a genius, a philosopher, see how he writes about a rooster:
"Hark! there goes the cock! How shall I describe the crow of the Shanghai at noontide! His sunrise crow was a whisper to it. It was the loudest, longest and most strangely musical crow that ever amazed mortal man. I had heard plenty of cock-crows before, and many fine ones;—but this one! so smooth, and flute-like in its very clamor—so self-possessed in its very rapture of exultation—so vast, mounting, swelling, soaring, as if spurted out from a golden throat, thrown far back. Nor did it sound like the foolish, vain-glorious crow of some young sophomorean cock, who knew not the world, and was beginning life in audacious gay spirits, because in wretched ignorance of what might be to come. It was the crow of a cock who crowed not without advice; the crow of a cock who knew a thing or two; the crow of a cock who had fought the world and got the better of it and was resolved to crow, though the earth should heave and the heavens should fall. It was a wise crow; an invincible crow; a philosophic crow; a crow of all crows."
5/ Our (mad?) narrator interprets the row as something positive, celebratory, triumphant, inspiring, "[c]lear, shrill, full of pluck, full of fire, full of fun, full of glee", something that brings him vitality and takes him out of his depressed moods. 
Is it? 
He wants brown-stout and a beefsteak whilst deep in debt. He refuses to return money and treats his creditor, whom he calls a dun, as though it's the creditor that owes him something or comes to beg, and then turns violent towards him. And how does he justify himself? 
"Bless my stars, what a crow! Shanghai sent up such a perfect pagan and laudamus—such a trumpet blast of triumph, that my soul fairly snorted in me. Duns!—I could have fought an army of them! Plainly, Shanghai was of the opinion that duns only came into the world to be kicked, hanged, bruised, battered, choked, walloped, hammered, drowned, clubbed!" 
Later, he haggles over the rooster, with money he doesn't have. 
6/ The episode with the dun makes me wonder: Melville's so strange, is there any writer weird like that in British literature? 19th century American literature I barely know. In Russian literature, there are a few. 
7/ The word "lusty" appears 5 times in the story. "Lustily", 3 times. "Lustiness", once. All cases refer to the rooster's crow. 
8/ Another set associated with the crow is jubilant- jubilate- jubilation. 
9/ Bartleby turns inward. The narrator of this story turns outward. 
10/ "I felt as though I could meet Death, and invite him to dinner, and toast the Catacombs with him, in pure overflow of self-reliance and a sense of universal security." 
I don't quite know what that means, but that phrase "self-reliance" can't not be a reference to Emerson. 
11/ "If at times I would relapse into my doleful dumps straightway at the sound of the exultant and defiant crow, my soul, too, would turn chanticleer, and clap her wings, and throw back her throat, and breathe forth a cheerful challenge to all the world of woes." 
He's drawn to the crow, and lets himself get carried away by it, because of its defiance. He too wants to challenge the world, like Bartleby, in a different way. 
12/ 1 bird messes up a man's life. Makes me think of Patrick Suskind's The Pigeon
13/ My copy of the book (Oxford World's Classics) calls Merrymusk a philosophical optimist. Is he? 
14/ Merrymusk's in denial. No, it's all misery and despair, he has to cling to something to survive, and that something is Trumpet. Otherwise, nothing makes sense. He clings to Trumpet like Felicité clings to her parrot. 
15/ A bird in a scene of death and destruction- this is like the ending of Moby Dick


PS: Here is a post about the birds in Moby Dick

3 comments:

  1. is there any writer weird like that in British literature?

    Yes, plenty! Not exactly like that, but pretty strange.

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    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, right. I was thinking.... Yeah, of course...
      Have you read this story, btw?

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    2. Yes, but I could not say I remembered it, which is too bad. Nice of you to give me a refresher.

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