Friday, March 4, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.1 (Herman Melville)

The Confidence Man by Michael_Kelleher
The Confidence Man a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Melville, Herman
The Confidence Man


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Susan Howe who, by the by, won the Bollingen Prize last week. Way to go, Susan!

I would have to disagree with Kerouac's declamation that Pierre is Melville's greatest novel (see yesterday's entry for anecdote). I would have a hard time agreeing that anything is superior to Moby Dick (including most great novels by writers other than Melville). However, if I were to choose one of Melville's novels to place up on the pedestal next to the big book, it would be this one.

As the Iraq war progressed, P., like many conservatives, began to sour on it, viewing it first as a triumph of democracy and a bulwark against terror, then as a series of poorly executed blunders on the part of an incompetent administration and later, after it became clear that the whole thing was based on a lie, an unforgivable error. I wouldn't say he came all the way around to opposing the idea of waging war in Iraq, but he certainly swung back toward the center.

His love of baseball waxed an waned over first decade of the new millennium. Having grown up near Chicago, he'd originally been a Cubs fan, and I think he always felt a little guilt about abandoning them. There were times, like when the Yankees traded for Clemens, when he seriously considered rooting for the Cubs again. But then at the height of the war he wrote an essaying decrying the good losers of Cub-dom in favor of the triumphalist majesty of the Yankee franchise.

Disillusion with the Yankees and the game, however, was nigh. When they traded for Alex Rodriguez he asked, Why? Do we really need him?It seemed as if all the worst criticisms leveled against the Yankees, that they bought championships, were true. He felt a great relief when they threatened to let A-Rod go if he took the out-clause on his contract. When he did, and then they re-signed him for another decade, he felt betrayed.

Throughout this period, the steroid scandal blossomed, further adding to his disillusion. When we spoke he often said he was just waiting for the revelation about Derek Jeter, both of our favorite player. That the revelation has never come has kept us both Yankees fans throughout the last decade, if decidedly less engaged ones. I have a hard time imagining my love of the Yankees extending much beyond the end of Jeter's career. I think P. feels the same way.

I have already dropped from watching 162 games a season to watching three or four partial games before the playoffs. I prefer to watch the Buffalo Bisons play downtown -- I did make it to Toronto to see the Yanks once last season.

As our mutual interest in baseball has quieted, we've still managed to remain friends. While P. remains a conservative, I am sure that he stared at the voting screen for quite some time in 2008 before pressing the John McCain button. This change has furthered a thawing of our political relations. We remain close, perhaps because we've yet to run out of things to say to one another.

from The Confidence Man

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

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