Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Whales and Weaving, or Destiny and Chance



I’ve been working my way slowly through Moby Dick or the Whale by Herman Melville.  Last night, I read this in chapter 47, “The Mat-Maker”:

“I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat.  As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sidways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly an unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermittingly dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates.  There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanigng vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of the other threads with its own.  This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads.  Meantime, Queequeg’s impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage’s sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance – aye, chance, free will, and necessity – no wise incompatible – all interweavingly working together.  The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course – its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle betwwen given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.”

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