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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

Self-Referential Melville? (Or The Novelist’s Hallelujah)





By on February 24, 2009

From Moby Dick [in reference to the sperm whale’s supposed lack of a voice]: “

Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living. Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!”

What do you think of Melville’s observation? Are you ever profound to yourself, in your own mind (without immediately thinking with whom you need to share this profundity)? Melville seems to be making fun of his own profession: writing novels with the hope that someone will pay you for your profundity. But I think this idea could be extended beyond making a living as equal to making a buck. Don’t we profit in other ways by sharing our bits of wisdom (approval of the crowd, admiration of others)?

In fact, isn’t blogging as I’m doing at this moment a perfect illustration of that? (I certainly am not making “a living” at it!) “Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!”

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Comments

  • Melville was foreshadowing blogs and of course twitter.

  • Melville was foreshadowing blogs and of course twitter.

  • Perhaps I should set up an auto-DM on Twitter for new followers: “Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!”

  • Perhaps I should set up an auto-DM on Twitter for new followers: “Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!”

  • If we weren’t profound in our own minds, what would motivate us to stammer anything to the world? It sure isn’t royalties that make a novelist shout “hallelujah.”

  • If we weren’t profound in our own minds, what would motivate us to stammer anything to the world? It sure isn’t royalties that make a novelist shout “hallelujah.”

  • Perhaps I could have made that question more clear. What I meant is “are we ever content to just be profound within our own minds (without any need to communicate the thought to others)?” You are correct, of course, that authors must be internally profound before they can externalize it into their writing. My question came from what I took to be Melville’s belief (at least as expressed through Ishmael): that humans are not motivated to be profound unless they have the promise of reward (whether monetary or through approbation) from others.

    I’m wondering if meditative monks come closest to being the exception that proves Melville’s rule.

  • Perhaps I could have made that question more clear. What I meant is “are we ever content to just be profound within our own minds (without any need to communicate the thought to others)?” You are correct, of course, that authors must be internally profound before they can externalize it into their writing. My question came from what I took to be Melville’s belief (at least as expressed through Ishmael): that humans are not motivated to be profound unless they have the promise of reward (whether monetary or through approbation) from others.

    I’m wondering if meditative monks come closest to being the exception that proves Melville’s rule.

  • I would answer this question here, but thinking the answer is just fine for me. 🙂

    All action is done with the hope of some self gain. Perhaps vocalizing our so-called profound thoughts is part of getting verification from others that they are indeed profound (or that we are perhaps idiots). Perhaps God put that inclination in us to make sure we didn’t just clam up. That is, to keep us responsible to our other human neighbors.

  • I would answer this question here, but thinking the answer is just fine for me. 🙂

    All action is done with the hope of some self gain. Perhaps vocalizing our so-called profound thoughts is part of getting verification from others that they are indeed profound (or that we are perhaps idiots). Perhaps God put that inclination in us to make sure we didn’t just clam up. That is, to keep us responsible to our other human neighbors.

  • I like that, Brandon, because it recognizes that desires, even the desire for approbation, is not always a bad thing. Many of us who are Christians (or who have been brought up in Christianity) have taken on an assumption that any desire for the approval of others is automatically sinful. I like your angle that it may have implications for community and accountability.

  • I like that, Brandon, because it recognizes that desires, even the desire for approbation, is not always a bad thing. Many of us who are Christians (or who have been brought up in Christianity) have taken on an assumption that any desire for the approval of others is automatically sinful. I like your angle that it may have implications for community and accountability.

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