1. The crew
Clifford Ross: Do you think [the crew in Moby Dick] had the same feeling--that things were going faster and faster and leading nowhere? Is whaling just a chase without end?
Laurie Anderson: It's a job. It's a workingman's book, staring guys who are working. It's not Goethe, where a hero goes out, is challenged ande learns things. These men work hard, and they sail, and they drown. And it's not just that they're going to drown, it's that they're being led by a madman who they don't understand and they follow him because he has has unbelievable charisma. He knows what he's looking for. How do you drive men to action? You get some really good bait and dangle it in front of their eyes. Ahab did not have great respect for his crew; he thought they'd only respond to money. Now that is the great American story.
CR: The only explanation that I found in the book for why they kept going was the golden Spanish coin. Of course it's a ridiculous incentive. Were Tashtego, Queequeg or Stubb after that god coin? Or were they swept up by something exciting and abstract? Did the whale become their goal, too, by proximity to Ahab's crazed, infectious drive?
LA: They basically forgot what they were doing for several hundred pages. Time and place are gone in this book, they're lost from the first minute they get out of Nantucket.
CR: What keeps them going?
LA: what keeps anyone going? When your alarm clock rings, you don't get up and say, Why am I in the world? You get up because you have to be at your job on time. It's simpler to think of small things.
CR: When Melville was writing, do you think that he wanted the reader to experience the book through Ahab, or Ishmael? Whose journey is it?
LA: I think we're meant to be omniscient in ways that many readers would never want to be. You only see from Ishmael's point of view initially. Around page 100, when they ship out, it becomes a collection of essays and the thread is Ahab, but it's not longer really a story. It's an adventure on a certain level, but raising and lowering sails doesn't advance a story. In fact, the story itself is rather static. Ahab is crazy from the beginning and he doesn't really change, expect a tiny bit at the end. (Ross, Clifford. "Laurie Anderson." Bomb: The Arts and Culture Quarterly. Fall 1999: No. 69. p. 65)
2. "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul."
Oliver Parker's Othello had opened in the United States on 15 December 1995. As played at such a moment, it could not but take on a particular topical resonance. Antoehr story composed of the same essential narrative ingredients had until very recently enthralled the United States (and the world beyond) as it played out under the spotlight of saturation media coverge [sic]. The verdict at the trial of the black American football player, O.J. Simpson, accused of murdering his white ex-wife, ahd been delivered on 3 October 1995 after almost nine months of testimony. The political and emotional fall-out from what became known as 'the trial of the centruy' was still being felt as Parker's Othello took to the screens. The points of intersection between the two stories were difficult to avoid. In both, the central protagonist was a black man celebrated by white society for his heroic performances in a masculine, combative endeavour (soldiery/football). Each had married a white woman (Desdemona/Nicole Brown), attracting a blaze of publicity in the process, and each had subsequently suspected her of having a sexual relationship with a white man (Michael Cassio/Ronald Goldman). After the murder, each displayed self-dramatising suicidal tendencies: Othello delibers a dramatic speech of self-exoneration before his public, choreographed suicide, and Simpson had, it seems, written a suicide note before being shown on live television holding a gun to his own head on a Los Angeles freeway. In an uncanny echo of Othello's self-portrait as 'one that lov'd not wisely, but too well' (V.ii.345), Simpson's suicide note included the claim that 'If [Nicole and I] had a problem, it's because I loved her so much'. The sentiment was reiterated later in the note: 'I loved her; make that clear to everyone.' His 'make that clear to everyone' exhibits the same concern for how he will be remembered after his death that motivates Othello's comparably insistent 'set you down this' (V.ii.352) in his final speech. Neither, it seems, could contemplate suicide without having first scripted a romanticized version of his own history and stipulated that its central tenets be 'ma[d]e…clear to everyone', or 'set down' as authoritative. (Buchanan, Judith. Shakespeare on Film. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004. 110-111)
3. "Thou talk'st of nothing."
Romeo: He gad in triumph, and Mercutio slain?
Away to heaven, respective lenity,
And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.
Now, Tybalt, take the 'villain' back again
That late thou gav'st me, for Mercutio's soul
Is but a little way above our heads,
Staying for thine to keep him company.
Either thou, or I, or both must go with him.
Tybalt: Thou, wretched boy, that didst consort him here,
Shalt with him hence.
Romeo: This shall determine that.
They fight. Tybalt falls [and dies]
(The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, III.i.117-127)
4. Suffer him
But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.
And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her.
And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam. (Judges 15:1-8)
Now she's done and they're calling someone
Such a familiar name
I'm so glad that my memories remote
Cause I'm doing just fine hour to hour, note to note
Here it is the revenge to the tune
You're no good,
You're no good you're no good you're no good
Can't you tell that it's well understood
I'm never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow
I'm here today and expected to stay on and on and on
Looking out on the substitute scene
Still going strong
It's ok, it's all right, nothing's wrong
(Smith, Elliott. "Waltz #1." XO.)
This is the thought
The madness plays out
Like a sad song
Or a somber book
Or thoughtful analysis
Or bible verse
Or an interview
Romeo and Juliet
the Samson story
the Elliott Smith song
In horror movies monsters don't win.
In Moby Dick the monster
Is Ahab the real monster?
Poised with his harpoon
Screaming into the dark storm
Wailing to the God who makes
Consider the sea
Consider the deep
Is fire-eyed Romeo his monster?
"I am fortune's fool!"
He screams having
The king of cats,
And eats his banishment
With a side order
Of suicide and murder.
Is Othello the rational monster?
Forcing reason to his unreasonable
Sweating thoughts of Desdemona.
He becomes the thing he denies he is.
(No. No. No.
Do not touch the modern.
Do not let the image of a dog licking blood
Off a sidewalk enter into your mind.)
And Samson, in his monstrous anger, burns the town
Using three hundred foxes as the instrument
Of righteous indignation, and that town turns about
To kill that which they perceive to be the cause.
And his revenge will be complete, hip and thigh
The one cause.
The one problem.
The one fix.
And poor Elliott, singing through the bottles
And the bottles singing through him
Sings, completely misaimed in his vengeance:
Confused, rash, uncertain
Leading him to drive a knife into his chest
Like Juliet, poor monster,
Thy lips are warm.
Vengeance wants to be rational
Supposes sense and becomes (just) irrational,
Ahab maddeningly seeks
The beast that took his leg,
As if the creature had sense.
And offers gold to those who
Romeo, Romeo, Romeo
Kills Tybalt out of convention
He cannot even see
The white whale he should be
(O! O! O!)
Believes he is wronged
Stifles the alabaster
Love he believes wronged him
With a pillow on their marriage bed
Need one go on?
Vengeance, the monster.
Pity this poor monster manunkind.
It wants some sense
But like the white whale
And they, all of them
Think they have it
With these rash acts
Of white anger.
Something bonds these men/monsters
(And they all are men and monsters):
A belief in sane act
For insane reason
Their eyes see the need
But we the watcher
We the reader
We the listerner
We the feeler of
The knife's point
The fingers around the neck
The eaters of charred earth
And sometimes the ones who
Kill for vengeance
(So angry we see white)
We peer into the dark edge of that
Insanity and cry
Like Elliott Smith
Harpoon or rapier or sword or knife
Poised to be driven
The dark rolling waters