Sunday, November 22, 2015

where "huge" is huge

I am having a hard time reading even a few pages at a time of "In the Heart of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick. It seems that the walls of the reasoning adult that might allow me to keep a distance from this tale of a ship rammed and sunk by a sperm whale (all in 10 minutes) are somehow tattered and useless. Am I not also a man who might starve; who might have the comforting control of civilization stripped away as surely as these whalers once stripped blubber from their quarry; and who might, in the far reaches of desperation, resort to cannibalism?

An adult reader might keep a careful distance -- be somehow reassured by the fact that it was "just a book" that I was reading from the slouched comfort of my bed. An "adult" might absorb and yet keep a distance. But the distances seem to lose their credibility. Cannibalism, for example, is not so much horrific or anti-social or 'inconceivable' as it is reasonable in such desperate straits. The far reaches of human capacity draw near. I am wider than I supposed and the most surprising thing about it is that there is little or nothing surprising in it.

One of the things I admire in Philbrick's non-fiction presentation is what feels like the ability to walk the Hindu's "razor's edge." On the on hand there is the arid and self-serving world of the semi-colon, all factual and full of academic specifics. On the other is the vastness of the ellipsis and exclamation point -- full of living, human capacity and suffering and quirkiness. The vastness of the situation matches the vastness of the Pacific Ocean on which the survivors and cannibals were set adrift. Reason and adult-hood is lost -- or badly tattered -- in this vastness. Reason cannot reach any more than astounded emotion can. Vast is vast ... period.

I would like to stop reading "In the Heart of the Sea," but I know I won't. I dislike being stripped and stretched. I would love to reassert a reasoned and reasoning and semi-colon-littered control and simultaneously know there is something informative in the world where "meaning" dissolves. However fragile and incapacitated and raw I may feel, still, there is something in it.

In a world where "huge" finds no purchase, it is huge.

When or if I finish this book, I have promised myself some bite-sized murder mystery or Disney-esque adventure story. Even a diet of good medicine can be overdone.

1 comment:

  1. Don't be afraid of falling into the book. The book is not so bad.