Monday, September 9, 2013

The Sea and Solitude

In the introductory notes to the Oxford World Classics edition of Moby Dick, we read of the idea of a "lost origin," (xiv) of "paternity unknown" and the quest for belonging, for the archetypical or symbolic "mythic womb." While these ideas are a bit abstract and perhaps unapproachable for the common man, Melville did, in fact, see mankind in a state of insularity or isolation--a state wherein individuals, though surrounded by other people, were endlessly and needlessly alone. For Melville, learning to overcome this isolation was one of the primary aims of life and literature (see Introduction, xv).

The beginning of Moby Dick is full of disconnected, discontented strangers. Really, the only real references to union or companionship include:

  •  the couples huddled in the Whalemen's Chapel 
  • Captains Peleg and Bildad
  • Queequog and Ishmael. 

Each of these examples, however, exhibits apparent weakness with regard to the idea of unity. The churchgoing couples, though 'together,' are still seated at a distance from all others in the congregation. Peleg and Bildad enjoy a work relationship that is dysfunctional at best and seem to have simply learned, over time, to tolerate the other. Even this latter "cozy, loving pair" (47) has to first overcome the old tale of insularity and difference before they can begin to truly accept and understand the each other.

I have thought a lot about this idea of connectivity and how modern technology is shrinking the gaps between individuals. The Internet provides seemingly boundless opportunities for communication and collaboration, so it would seem fairly easy to simply state, "Yes, this is good." The question, though, is whether the Internet and other digital resources have, in actuality, brought us to a greater degree of connectivity. Do they really enable us to connect with others on a more meaningful level, or have they simply brought us to a consciousness of our own isolation? When you check Facebook, do you think to yourself, "Gee, I have 800 friends!" or is it rather, "Gee, 800 friends and the only one notification, from a 14-year-old wanting to play Farmville"? Do these resources truly serve in bridging the gaps, or do they force us to acknowledge the limits of interaction within virtual systems?