Thursday, March 10, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 37.7 (Herman Melville)

Typee, Omoo, Mardi by Michael_Kelleher
Typee, Omoo, Mardi a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Melville, Herman
Typee, Omoo, Mardi

Purchased at the late, lamented Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store.

If you've been reading the blog for the past ten days or so you will recall I spent quite a few entries recounting the story of P.

P. and I are still close friends and we talk on a regular basis. I thought I had clued him in to the fact that I was telling his story on the blog, but I guess I hadn't. It so happened he decided to visit Pearlblossom Highway yesterday and was somewhat surprised to find himself reading entry after entry about a character who could only be him.

Late yesterday afternoon he sent me an email telling me that he'd read my posts and that he thought most of my characterizations fairly accurate. One strange part of this encounter, he told me, was that found himself engrossed in the story of P. to the point that he kept reading because he wanted to find out what happened next! This dislocation of the character P., whose story was based on his own, from himself, felt strangely other to P., as if he were really reading about someone else.

I was thinking about that overnight and I have to I feel something similar as the writer of the tale, not so much in the dislocation of myself from the narrator telling the tales, but the dislocation between the characters in the stories and the people on which they are based. If I thought I were writing fiction, this wouldn't feel quite so jarring, but since the prose I am writing would be classified as memoir., autobiography, non-fiction, it begs the question of where that distinction falls.

When I write about P. over the course of several days, he eventually does become a character, and while I think my portrayal of the facts, incidents, chronologies and so forth is accurate, at a certain point they become merely elements of the story I am telling, to be re-arranged as the requirements of the narrative reveal themselves to me through the writing process.

So it was good to hear from P. that he felt my characterizations, that is, my conjectures about certain elements in his person that led him to make specific decisions in his life, seemed to him true to life. He said I was free to write about him as long as I didn't reveal his identity.

That's an interesting phrase, "true to life." The word "to" can seem a giant abyss standing between the fullness of life and the approximations of truth (or narrative truth).

P. did correct me on one point. It turns out that Pierre was not the book Kerouac thought superior to Moby-Dick. It was The Confidence Man.

from Mardi

We are off! The courses and topsails are set: the coral-hung anchor swings from the bow: and together, the three royals are given to the breeze, that follows us out to sea like the baying of a hound. Out spreads the canvas--alow, aloft-boom-stretched, on both sides, with many a stun' sail; till like a hawk, with pinions poised, we shadow the sea with our sails, and reelingly cleave the brine.

But whence, and whither wend ye, mariners?

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