Israel Potter

Noon.

I wish I could remember more of the Melville I’ve read. After I finished Pierre I also read Israel Potter a long time ago: very dark and depressing but so true from a certain point of view. I don’t recall how it begins, but Potter is shanghaied and forced into service aboard ship, during which he meets the original John Paul Jones who was an American buccaneer. Generally the book is a tale of woe that only gets worse until he dies homeless, penniless, and friendless somewhere in England. Melville is great if you agree with his fatalism. I relate to it because from the time I was in high school I was mostly invisible, an anonymous wallflower, suffering blow after blow to my health and later my sanity. So it’s tempting to believe that the stars rule our destinies, or that life is a game of probabilities, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. At the end of the rainbow is there a pot of gold, or a piece of cheese for the mouse in the maze? It’s always possible to end up like Israel Potter, a sober reminder from Herman Melville, while the beat of old Duran Duran music in my head goes on indifferently: the grotesque and the glamorous seem to coexist. Beauty and the beast. I’d rather go where there is substance than with shallow appearance. 

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