Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why "The Treadle of the Loom"?

Why the title, "Treadle of the Loom"? The phrase is from the chapter, "The Castaway" in Moby Dick, where Pip falls overboard; while ultimately rescued, his experience of being in the open ocean without boat or brethern leaves him mad. The words are beautiful:

By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him; but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot; such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

I first read Moby Dick when I was 16, in 11th grade (Thank you, Mr. Bryson), and it was a treamendous moment in my education. While I did not (and have not since) seen God's foot on the Treadle of the Loom, I did see Melville's hand there, perhaps maddeningly enough, and this blog is about the weaving of Melville's works and the many marvelous patterns worked into that warp and weft.

At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I painted the "Castaway" chapter on the back of my door so that I could read it as I studied or read or relaxed in the room -- and just to help ensure that my obsession with The Whale not only continued but was adequately advertised. So for a year I studied to a constant reminder that "Man's insanity is heaven's sense." For a year I dove into my little coral books continually reminded that drinking deep had its dangers as well as rewards.

The whole passage is a Melvillian delight: full of the mock seriousness and overblown language, the stunning images and flowerly language, that fills his books. I hope this blog will be a little crazy, colorful, and overblown, will have at least of small dose of wry Melvillian humor, and will help a few people through the reading of not just Moby Dick but all of Melville's wonders.

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