Tag Archives: Melville

Admiring Melville’s Bartelby while dealing with depression

My favorite fictional character when I was studying literature in college was Bartelby, the Scrivener. Before college my favorite TV character was Maynard G. Krebs. Everyone is apprehensive of the future, especially college students, wondering first if they can make it through school and then where they will end up in the job market. And my view of work was similar to Krebs, as played by Bob Denver as seen here in a clip from “The Many Affairs of Dobie Gillis.” Work indeed; it is scary. Which brings me back to Bartelby.

Bartelby is not a beatnik like Maynard, and his aversion to work is also different. In the short story Bartelby has lost his job due to administrative change and now finds himself working in law office as a scrivener, a scribe, who is hired to copy legal documents. On his third day on the job when told by his boss what he wanted Bartelby to do, my hero Bartelby said “I prefer not to.”

And what employee in a dead end job does not want to say that. He said the line with calmness and matter-of-factness. He did not defy in hostility, he simply with great sadness said, “I prefer not to.” And he got away with it. Bartelby became a fixture in the office, a mournful, sad presence, often looking out the window at a brick wall. In fact it turned out he ended up living in the office, much to the surprise of his boss. Day after day, “I prefer not to.” Sadly Bartelby was forced to leave, his presence became not intolerable, but embarrassing. Bartelby ended up in the Dead Letter Department of the post office, but I shall not reveal the ending.

From time to time when I lived in the real world with a real job I would say to my boss, “I prefer not to.” For some reason it never worked. I guess I never ran into a boss like Bartelby. I either received a stare in return or laughter, or “I don’t care, do it anyway.” Preferring not to do something is valid, but not caring is a bad attitude. Though maybe that is the Bartelby within me speaking.

Maynard had an aversion to work because it was unhip, uncool, and it was . . .well it was work. I had the same aversion in my youth. Today like Bartelby, as I look at a blank page in Word, attempting to write the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph of my new novel, my mind says, “I prefer not to.”

Bartelby fell into an existential trap, but I deal with dysthymia or melancholy, depending on which counselor or therapist I listen to, but I think both forms of depression overlap, blend, merge, and swirl into each other. I took medication for a few years, but it had side effects and given the choice, I “prefer not to” take pills.

It has been suggested that the narrator of “Bartelby” is mask for Melville and that Bartelby is a darker side of the writer Melville. If that is true then both must have been depressed, but if you get enough literary critics together they will debate, argue and interpret the story in diverse ways. I just like a guy who says, “I prefer not to” when asked to work.

After I publish this blog I may or may not write, or work on my new, yet to be online website. I will see what I prefer to do, if anything.

Meanwhile in this e-book of supernatural short stories for $2.99  you will find two more literary characters, Frankenstein and his monster, created by Mary Shelley, and reimagined by yours truly in an alternate ending.

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What you learn from writers insults

One of the truly great writers-and one of my favorites-Vladimir Nabokov once said of writer Joseph Conrad, “I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist clichés.”

Yes, writers can be snippy, catty, and insulting.  How about William Faulkner on Ernest Hemmingway. “He has never been known to use a single word that might send a reader to a dictionary.” It may be an insult, but if you have read Hemmingway, you know that to be true. And Faulkner was far worse in talking about America’s beloved writer, Mark Twain. Faulkner said, “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and lazy.”

There is something about Faulkner’s quote that is beyond snippy. He seems to think Europe has better writers, but the reason Twain is revered in America is for the local color. I don’t want to go into a long defense of Twain, truthfully I like Hemmingway, Twain, and Faulkner.

Is there a lesson for writers to take away from lines like Virginia Wolfe who said of James Joyce’s book “Ulysses,” that  it is “the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples,” or the below the belt, truly offensive comments by W. H. Auden on Robert Browning, “I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve year-old girls.”

It is easy to laugh at writers who snip at each other and we love it when one of them takes on a writer we share an abhorrence or dislike for, but beyond that consider the message within the message. They are just opinions and just like rear ends, we all have one. I can’t get through “Moby Dick,” finding the nonfictional sidebar about whaling a big bore; it stops me dead the two times I tried to read the novel, but others revere Melville, whom I believed was paid by the word. There are those who trash “The Great Gatsby.”  I say those people can’t read.

Bottom line, is if you are a writer and you get insulted, trashed, and excoriated by others, remember that one person’s opinion is not a universal opinion. And if it does hurt, play a game, tell yourself that some opinions come not from thought and insight, but from the area of the body that everyone has, one that the dastardly pygmy brained idiot was sitting on when he wrote the comment, one created from indigestion and methane. Keep that image in mind when you are raked over the hot coals of literary cattiness.

Here is a link to more writers insults.http://flavorwire.com/188138/the-30-harshest-author-on-author-insults-in-history/view-all

And here is a link to my e-novels which might create laughs or gas.

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Could Edgar Allan Poe get published today

“I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view-for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest-I say to myself, in the first place, ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect or (more generally)  the soul is susceptible, what one shall I say, on the present occasion select?’ “

The sentence above is from Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” To be fair it begins a paragraph early in the essay, so, in a real sense, it is taken out of context. It is directed, I am sure, not to the common reader, but to the intelligentsia.  So let me quote from a short story in the next paragraph. It is the opening paragraph from “Morella.”

“With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity.”

Keeping in mind that I read Poe in junior high and in college, and is one of my favorite writers, I ask, if whether he could get published today.

I ask because in the first example about composition, the sentence is awkward, requiring a better mind than mine to determine precisely what he is writing about. I have to read it three times before I get the gest of the meaning. Which is preferred- to read with swiftness, understanding each sentence, each paragraph, absorbing every point with ease, or to go over the same sentence over and over.

In the second example cited from Poe’s short story, would not an agent or editor say to the writer change ‘burned with desire’  along with ‘the fires were not of Eros’ for being antiquated.

And that is the point, writers today do not write like Poe, like Dickens, like Melville. Styles have, culture has changed, art has changed. Movies had a lot to do with how writers have changed. Writers began to write not with intellectual thoughts, but by seeing the story played out like a movie. Writing began reflecting the editing structure of movies. Movies told stories faster, and over time writers began to do the same.

 Today it is more along the lines of  ‘keep it simple stupid.’  Keep the story moving, don’t get bogged won with too many words. I still read Poe and other writers of yore, but I question if Poe were a young man today his style would get him published. Quoth the raven, nevermore!

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An American literary classic that was a failure

Considered an American literary classic, Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick” was a failure when published and the story behind the failure is a writers nightmare.

For reasons I do not know the normal arrangement was Melville ‘s American proofs were sent to England where they would be set in print and have first publishing rights. Melville had no American publisher lined up, though in the past it had been Harpers. He had little money, had trouble paying rent and buying food. He was working at correcting proofs of the first part of the book and getting it set in type, while revising the second part. However, Melville already had plates for the American edition which would be costly to redo. So the English version, though published first, would be the revised edition. Herman could have used an agent.

The English edition, in addition to thousands of spelling and punctuation differences had over 700 changes in words and sentences. On October 18, 1851 a printing of 500 copies of a three volume set entitled “The Whale” was published. (Melville was able to change the title to “Moby Dick” for American publication). For some reason the English publisher, Richard Bentley, moved two sections of the book “Etymology” and “Extracts” that preceded chapter one to the end of the book and the epilogue was missing. Additionally the English version was heavily censored. Any sacrilegious passages like Ahab “stands with a crucifixion in his face” was changed to “an apparently eternal anguish.” God save us all. Also any references that may thought to shed bad light on British royalty were exorcised. So too was any discussion of the sex life of whales because as we all know England has many whale fetishists for whom such discussion may provoke impure thoughts on blubber. God save us all.

Since the book was first published in England, their reviews came first and they were brutal. They wondered how the tale could be told if no one survived. The missing epilogue would have resolved that. I have tried to read the book twice and get to a long dissertation on whaling, a strictly non-fictional account, that for me, interrupts the narrative flow and bores me no end. I suppose I could have skipped all that, but I just could not bring myself to finish this overlong epic. It was also a criticism of the book when published. Melville wanted to write both a romantic fiction and a factual account of whaling. But the book failed to sell.

Melville thought it would be his masterpiece, but at the time that was the last thing anyone considered. However, a year after Melville’s death in 1891, “Moby Dick” and other of his novels were reissued and slowly his reputation started to grow in basically and underground movement. By 1917 D.H. Lawrence, the great British writer, praised the book and the edition he read was the American edition, the one before the revisions.

Melville died thinking his book was a failure. In a way the whale did in both Ahab and Melville.

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