Monday, May 19, 2008

Chapters II-IV.

The fragmenting of identity continues. At the beginning of this chapter, which is titled "Episode 2" on the website, Pym is on his way to the whaler and is in disguise, when suddenly he is confronted on the street by his grandfather:

"Why, bless my soul, Gordon," said he, after a long pause, "why, why,- whose dirty cloak is that you have on?" "Sir!" I replied, assuming, as well as I could, in the exigency of the moment, an air of offended surprise, and talking in the gruffest of all imaginable tones- "sir! you are a sum'mat mistaken- my name, in the first place, bee'nt nothing at all like Goddin, and I'd want you for to know better, you blackguard, than to call my new obercoat a darty one." For my life I could hardly refrain from screaming with laughter at the odd manner in which the old gentleman received this handsome rebuke. He started back two or three steps, turned first pale and then excessively red, threw up his spectacles, then, putting them down, ran full tilt at me, with his umbrella uplifted. He stopped short, however, in his career, as if struck with a sudden recollection; and presently, turning round, hobbled off down the street, shaking all the while with rage, and muttering between his teeth: "Won't do- new glasses- thought it was Gordon- d--d good-for-nothing salt water Long Tom."

Maybe this is pushing the notion too far; perhaps not, considering what happens later in this chapter. Here, Pym takes on, albeit temporarily, the identity of a sailor, or dock worker, or the equivalent. Judging from the eye dialect, this identity is Irish. He has the nerve to refer to his grandfather as a blackguard. But as with Tom Sawyer at the end of Huck Finn, when Jim is unjustly imprisoned for Tom's amusement, Pym is just playing games for his own amusement. This identity is a glove, slipped on and off for the task.

Gets me thinking about honour, and what Poe has to say about that. Was the notion disappearing in his time? Is that why he, Lovecraft and others had such difficulty integrating themselves with their respective eras? If Pym were truly honourable, he would have admitted to his grandfather what was going on and taken the consequences. One can't push this too far into the fiction, especially Lovecraft, because he deals with other matters entirely. But maybe it comes in here and there.

Domesticity. This is a huge topic in this early part of the Narrative. One sample passage:

"He led the way into his own stateroom, which was on the starboard side of the brig, and next to the bulkheads. Upon entering, he closed the door and bolted it. I thought I had never seen a nicer little room than the one in which I now found myself...In that portion of the closet nearest the bulkheads there was a space of four feet square, containing a table, a chair, and a set of hanging shelves full of books, chiefly books of voyages and travels. There were many other little comforts in the room, among which I ought not to forget a kind of safe or refrigerator, in which Augustus pointed out to me a host of delicacies, both in the eating and drinking department."

This continues once Augustus and Pym descend into the hold and reach the stowaway's quarters. Reminds me a lot of Moby-Dick's early chapters and the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, and how the sailors on the Pequod make the ship comfortable. Perhaps this is a convention of sailing narratives; I don't know enough about them to say. I can see how the conventions of pirate narratives would be very different, if they in fact are. It'd be interesting if they weren't. Anyway, domesticity generally sets itself up for its own destruction. Some would argue that this is the male destruction of the female, but I think that's pushing it a bit far. Perhaps the destruction of social constraints is more accurate. After all, ships are referred to in the feminine, and sailors do indeed love their ships with wild depth of feeling.

All this stuff about the peripheral, which is a huge theme in Lovecraft. One example is here:

Augustus had purposely arranged the stowage in this hold with a view to affording me a thorough concealment, having had only one assistant in the labour, a man not going out in the brig."

Things brushing against other things, the way that this man, who is conveniently not going out in the brig but which is totally plausible once one thinks of it, helps Augustus. Someone who knows what is going on, i.e., someone who understands the reality underneath the ruse, is out there and available. Finding him would be easy if one had the right combination of facts, just as in Lovecraft's work, the right combination of facts damns the characters to insanity. Finding out the reality underneath the ruse in Lovecraft is not always difficult, and it is occasionally unbidden. It's like the reverse of grace. One doesn't have to work hard necessarily to receive grace, and it is occasionally unbidden. I think Poe is better than Lovecraft at these circles of reality brushing against one another.

And now, the scene of rebirth into madness. A three-day stint in the Lazarus cave turns into seven days (horrors! the servants!), and Pym goes a little mad. First the watch runs down, so he has no sense of time passing. Then he discovers that the mutton is not merely spoiled, but putrefied. This causes him an excess of emotional feeling:

"This circumstance occasioned me great disquietude; for, connecting it with the disorder of mind I experienced upon awakening, I began to suppose that I must have slept for an inordinately long period of time. The close atmosphere of the hold might have had something to do with this, and might, in the end, be productive of the most serious results. My head ached excessively; I fancied that I drew every breath with difficulty; and, in short, I was oppressed with a multitude of gloomy feelings. Still I could not venture to make any disturbance by opening the trap or otherwise, and, having wound up the watch, contented myself as well as possible."

And then there's Tiger:

"I was bewildered, utterly lost in amazement--but I could not forget the peculiar whine of my Newfoundland dog Tiger, and the odd manner of his caresses I well knew. It was he. I experienced a sudden rush of blood to my temples--a giddy and overpowering sense of deliverance and reanimation. I rose hurriedly from the mattress upon which I had been lying, and, throwing myself upon the neck of my faithful follower and friend, relieved the long oppression of my bosom in a flood of the most passionate tears."

Tiger serves a multitude of purposes. Redemption: perhaps Poe had no other way to deliver the scene. He couldn't very well have the narrator crying on Augustus's shoulder, and even less so on the shoulder of a random seaman. Pym's redemption is emotional, but not physical; his condition worsens as time passes. Messenger: Tiger has a note tied to his body, with which Pym fumbles about for a good part of the chapter. Destroyer: First, Tiger is a destroyer of the material, when he eats the food and candles and drinks the water. Strangely, he finds the pieces of the note and brings them to Pym, only to attack him later, when Pym is physically desperate for water. Perhaps this is tied into domesticity. Here in the midst of a domestic scene is nature gone mad.

More on this later. Long enough post for the moment.

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