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Friday, 13 May 2016

"The Lightning-Rod Man"

In thunder a man appears, like a Satan figure with dark countenance and a tri-forked thing. He's a salesman of lightning rods. After a long conversation, the narrator mocks:
"You pretended envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to and from Jupiter Tonans, you mere man who come here to put you and your pipestem between clay and sky, do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt? Your rod rusts, or breaks, and where are you? Who has empowered you, you Tetzel, to peddle round your indulgences from divine ordinations? The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the days of our lives. In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth."
1/ The salesman's like a Calvinist preacher, who speaks of God's wrath to cause fear and takes advantage of that fear to persuade people to convert. I can't help thinking of Jonathan Edwards. 
"Mine is the only true rod." My faith is the only truth. My religion is your only salvation. 
That's against Ishmael's embracing views. In Moby Dick, Ishmael says to Peleg and Bildad that Queequeg is "a born member of the First Congregational Church" and explains: 
"I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands." 
Earlier, he joins Queequeg in praying to Yojo (after Queequeg goes to his church and listens to a sermon): 
"I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?—to do the will of God—that is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me—that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat."
2/ The passage above is reminiscent of something else in Moby Dick: Ahab, the blasphemous Ahab, thinks that a harpoon forged in blood and tipped in St Elmo's fire can make him a winner in a fight against nature. Ah the fool. Here because the narrator "can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar", he thinks he "can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt". 

11 comments:

  1. Di,

    Did Melville write "The Lightning-Rod Man?"

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    1. Ah, yeah. I'm reading a collection of Melville's short fiction.

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  2. Di,

    I just found a collection titled "The Complete Short Stories and Typee and Billy Budd." I think he has written more short stories than this, but it is a Modern Library publication. I guess I'm going to have to check it out.

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    1. Di,

      I just checked and I guess there are only two stories missing--"The 'Gees" and "Daniel Orme." I don't remember ever reading these.

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    2. OK. Which stories have you read?
      I read but didn't write about "The Fiddler" and "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids".

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    3. Di,

      I think I've read most of them. "The Fiddler" doesn't sound familiar, though, and I don't remember the two stories that aren't in the collection I just bought.

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    4. It's a story about an encounter between a struggling (and sad) poet and a once-famous, now-forgotten fiddle player.

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    5. Di,

      Doesn't sound familiar. Well, I have it in the collection, so I will get a chance to read it.

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    6. Yeah. I'll like to hear your thoughts on it.

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  3. the only Jonathon Edwards i know about: sixty years ago my parents had an LP disc with a blonde on the cover and a piano keyboard with two right hands on it... i think he was an English humorist somewhat in the nature of PDQ Bach; i remember his piano playing was very funny but i don't remember why...

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    1. This one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Edwards_(musician) ?
      The only humorist I know of that plays music is Victor Borge. I like him a lot.

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