Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chapter IV, continued.

This contrast on Poe's examination of the self with Lovecraft's is interesting. It's like in Lovecraft, the self utterly disappears. His narrators are gentlemen, educated, discerning, and helpless in the face of what to them is chaos. When confronted with the weird and the unknown, the narrators dissolve. Even Randolph Carter, if I'm recalling Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath correctly, doesn't really come across as a personality.

I bring this up because of Pym's ongoing worry about his own authority in the fact of the weird, unknown things he sees:

"I have been thus particular in speaking of Dirk Peters, because, ferocious as he appeared, he proved the main instrument in preserving the life of Augustus, and because I shall have frequent occasion to mention him hereafter in the course of my narrative--a narrative, let me here say, which, in its latter portions, will be found to include incidents of a nature so entirely out of the range of human experience, and for this reason so far beyond the limits of human credulity, that I proceed in utter hopelessness of obtaining credence for all that I shall tell, yet confidently trusting in time and progressing science to verify some of the most important and most improbable of my statements."

Dirk Peters is the 'half-breed' that Pym/Poe-the-editor/Poe-the-writer mentions in the Preface. He is a witness to what occurs, yet he cannot be trusted because of his mixed race. But it's not like people of Poe's time didn't fully trust those of pure race, with the exception of slaves, who went as part of a ratio of truth. The veracity of someone's statement was filtered through the cultural conventions about his race, and while whites could be trusted completely, so to speak, others could be trusted as well if their 'place' were taken into account. Note that they could be trusted, but were not always trusted. So it makes its own sense that Peters is not a reliable informant.

Here's an interesting passage:

"From all the calculations I can make on the subject, this must have been the slumber into which I fell just after my return from the trap with the watch, and which, consequently, must have lasted for more than three entire days and nights at the very least. Latterly, I have had reason both from my own experience and the assurance of others, to be acquainted with the strong soporific effects of the stench arising from old fish-oil when closely confined; and when I think of the condition of the hold in which I was imprisoned, and the long period during which the brig had been used as a whaling vessel, I am more inclined to wonder that I awoke at all, after once falling asleep, than that I should have slept uninterruptedly for the period specified above."

If I am recalling Moby-Dick correctly, Melville at more than one point discusses whale oil at length. Ambergris for certain, and I believe whale oil as well. Poe's take is different through his use of the word "stench." Melville wouldn't have done that, given the way that he romanticizes whales. Or really, given the way that the whale's body becomes the blazon for so many things.

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