Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weaving spiders, come not here iii

What was so funny about Still-man's movie about disco, was its sublime obliviousness to what disco was about. You can't do disco on the predicate that it fills a kind of gap in a student-centered experience of life. It has to be done as in Tannhaüser, with sex as quite marvelous spectacle, for all who are willing to endure proximity to a great deal of talent for it. Stillman's entire cast would lampoon our hero as some refugee from breedingYet we own an agitation against a falsity that arrests him. This is pretty nervy picturewriting. Guests, escaping trades and guilds whose following frames the mind, may take heart in the sensible motto of the Bohemian Club, and visit as often as they like. 

There's something very Melvillian in a man's resort to a club, which the founders of Bohemia understood very well. Sometimes more honoured in the breach than not, the motto is a sound one for our Ishmael. Immune from care on steep old Taylor Street, his lyric for that gathering, speaks of a true place no proud man ever knew.

Always upon first boarding a large and populous ship at sea, especially a foreign one .. the impression varies in a peculiar way from that produced by first entering a strange house with strange inmates in a strange land. Both house and ship .. hoard from view their interiors till the last moment: but in the case of the ship there is this addition; that the living spectacle it contains, upon its sudden and complete disclosure, has, in contrast with the blank ocean which zones it, something of the effect of enchantment. The ship seems unreal; .. a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave.

In weaving spiders we have favoured liberty, and then equality. Yet rights are but ships for obligation. Melville was not oblique for discretion's sake, he was oblique for distinction's sake, for definition. He wrote from obligation, not effrontery, of the texture of the sensibility he possessed. How like the shadowy tableau, disco was, in its emergence and in its borrowing of time; but what does he say? Any effect of enchantment is inevitable where a sea would be zoned; a spider's filigree to be brushed aside.

Herman Melville
Benito Cereno
  The Piazza Tales
Doubleday, 1961©

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