Charles Olson on Herman Melville: “When he made his whale he made his god”

From Charles Olson’s study Call Me Ishmael:

Melville wanted a god. Space was the First, before time, earth, man. Melville sought it: “Polar eternities” behind “Saturn’s gray chaos.” Christ, a Holy Ghost, Jehovah never satisfied him. When he knew peaces it was with a god of Prime. His dream was Daniel’s: the Ancient of Days, garment white as snow, hair like the pure wool. Space was the paradise Melville was exile of.

When he made his whale he made his god. Ishmael once comes to the bones a Sperm whale pitched up on land. They are massive, and his struck with horror at the “antemosaic unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale.”

When Moby-Dick is first seen he swims a snow-hill on the sea. To Ishmael he is the white bull Jupiter swimming to Crete with ravished Europa on his horns: a prime, lovely, malignant white.

8 thoughts on “Charles Olson on Herman Melville: “When he made his whale he made his god””

  1. Oh I have loved that book so much. I was reading Cosmopolis through it. Eric Packer’s constant noticing obsolescence, which all the reviewers and academics read as tekkie stuff instead of DEATH. That first paragraph of Moby Dick, Death. Is Ishmael going to Samarand? Almost.


  2. Absolutely stunning painting.

    Dated dramatics, but very moving cinematic take on Moby Dick:

    Directed by John Huston, screenplay by Ray Bradbury. Wonderfully eccentrically played by Gregory Peck as the Captain. Why men will follow another man down. God above, God on the surface, God below.


          1. Who knows, since the Superego doesn’t exist in reality. Even though the word is a noun, it functions as a verb? An adverb in action? I think the story is much more complex than that. Part of what I perceive is a story of manhood and the pursuit of manliness. The conquering of oneself. A cautionary tale of being master of your own fate, but beware that fate doesn’t wrap itself around you (pun intended). If you like the oooo goosebumpy feeling, then it is metaphysical. If you like the flesh and muscle and bone feeling, then it is a story of humanity. It makes for great cartooning and satire, also. Bob Dylan lyrics. Not having read it nor watched the movie for a while, yours are good suppositions to look for the next time I delve into the work. I wonder if there is a good audio.


              1. Good idea. I think the whale is a penis symbol and that the work is a metaphor for what men encounter in themselves every day – the choice between Id or Libido. Just half kidding. Reading and writing about Moby goes good with listening to a The Doors concert.


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