Entry begun on US Airways Flight 5147 from Philadelphia to Cincinnati, Thursday, August 4, 4 pm
I got back to Terminal F in Philadelphia today and this time I am flying out of it to my intended destination. It this flight goes well, the liquid ribbon of the Ohio River rather than the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean will be guiding our landing path. I was happy to see the digital Delaware River mural again as I arrived in the food court today. I sat under the panel in which the Schuylkill merges with the Delaware as I wrote much of the above entry. In relative size, the Schuylkill resembles the Licking River as it merges with the Ohio as it runs between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.
Today was warm and fresh in the Berkshires after overnight thunder and rain. The Lenox Club took the softened morning light as I had my last breakfast on the porch, this time with four different crows cawing their five-note codes from widely spread trees and branches. I was taking Claire to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station on the way to the Albany airport, and by the time I boarded this plane to Philadelphia she was probably riding up the Hudson River on the way to Montreal, where she was to spend several days with friends before flying back to Paris on Sunday.
How nice to be on the open road with a bosom friend after seeing, hearing, feeling, and saying so much as our literary, musical, and artistic adventures continued to unfold. Such time gives rise to thoughts and feelings of past, present, and future without pre-cognition or self-consciousness. From a solitary tour through the forests of Burma and the mountains of Tibet in Claire’s mid-twenties, to huge Douglas Fir peeler logs floating loose down the Snohomish River on my first day as a teenage tugboat deckhand, the conversation flowed freely as the Massachusetts Turnpike became the New York Thruway before we passed through Greenbush, New York, and approached the Amtrak station on the banks of the Hudson. Greenbush is where twenty-one-year old Herman Melville had taught some “60 Scholars” during the 1840-41 school year without being paid in full for his services (Leyda, Log, 1: 97-105). This left him no other option (after an exploratory visit hoping for employment in Illinois) than the most desperate one of all, embarking on what might be a three-year whaling voyage from which he might not return.
Melville was only twelve when his bankrupt father died in Albany in 1832, leaving his widowed mother and her seven children so bereft of support they eventually had to escape to Lansingburgh on the opposite shore of the Hudson to elude creditors. Young Herman had done what he could to help his family, teaching school in Pittsfield and sailing on a merchant ship to Liverpool before teaching in Greenbush. But now, in 1840, there was nothing he could do for his family until he returned from the South Seas in 1844. After writing two successful maritime novels, Typee and Omoo, in Lansingburgh in 1845 and 1846, Herman married Elizabeth Shaw in 1847 and moved to New York City, where he wrote Mardi, Redburn, and White-Jacket in the late 1840s before beginning Moby-Dick and moving to Arrowhead in 1850. I wish I’d had time to take Claire a few miles upstream to Herman’s Lansingburgh home before leaving her at the Amtrak station. Her train would soon be going right by his house as it headed up toward the distant source of the Hudson on the way to Canada.
My trusty Enterprise rental car got me smoothly form the Albany Amtrak station to the Albany airport. I was at last ending my automotive adventure at the airport from which I had planned to begin it. I had a little time to write after going through security, and the leisure to take a good look at the arresting artwork on the ramp out to Terminal B. It was a great round ball immediately suggesting the globe on which we live, festooned with black rings.
With my mind on the ocean, I first thought of the nautical rings by which ships moor themselves to the shore. Yet here I was in Albany, where Melville’s own Gansevoort ancestors had owned slaves, one of whom had stayed on with Herman’s mother as her personal servant when freed. This was also the city in which Dinah, a young enslaved teenager, had been hanged on Pinsker Hill, near the Albany Academy later attended by Herman Melville as a teenager, when she was accused of starting a fire in the stable of Herman’s great uncle Leonard Gansevoort that had burnt down much of the city.
So, does this work of art represent the security of the nautical rings that help moor a ship to the shore? Or are they more representative of the shackles of slavery that are as much a part of Albany and its history as its reputation for nautical innovation throughout the 19th century?
The little boy who came up and grabbed the closest ring was not worried by questions like that as he pulled that ring up and down. He only saw a unique, fascinating object on which to test his own grip and strength. A decade after Melville went to sea as a sailor, Frederick Douglass had put the nautical ring-bolt at the very heart of the most famous speech he ever gave, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In that 1852 speech, a year after Melville published Moby-Dick, Douglass (who had spoken four times in Albany while Melville was writing Typee in 1845) told his mostly white audience that the Declaration of Independence is “the ring-bolt of the chain of your liberty . . . Cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight” (Andrews, The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, 112).
I would love to know what Dean Snyder, the creator of the Albany airport sculpture, may have intended. If you had to time to look, you could find its object label over on the wall. Snyder has called the work Lubber, a word that denotes “a person that is out of synch with his environs” (as in a “landlubber” who is uncomfortable, or not able to live, at sea).
Thinking of this sculpture as a nautical object reminded me of the digital poster my student Ben DeAngelis made during the 2014 Spring Semester featuring the stark question posed by Stubb during a furious midnight storm in chapter 121 of Moby-Dick: I wonder, Flask, whether the world is anchored anywhere.
The tension between freedom and servitude in the sculpture also relates to the distinction in chapter 89 between a “loose-fish” (a whale that is free) and a “fast-fish” (one that has been killed or captured). This tension prompts Ishmael to end the chapter with the sentence that inspired the title Emma Rose and I chose for our Moby-Dick catalog: “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”
Snyder’s sculpture Lubber can also represent the psychological condition of being free (looking for connections), or in servitude (shackled to others), or utterly alone (unable to connect). Much of the visual art my students have created in response to Dickinson’s poetry ranges along this psychological continuum, none more strikingly that Camilla Asplen’s I took my Power in my Hand (2001). Camilla’s image of a self-possessed and well-armed young woman goes perfectly with the opening stanza of Dickinson’s poem (J 540):
I took my Power in my Hand—
And went against the World—
‘Twas not so much as David—had—
But I—was twice as bold—
But Camilla, whose life-size drawing we chose for the front cover of our Dickinson catalog, had also hand-carved the second stanza of the same poem into what remained of the drawing’s white paper ground. Here the heady self-assertion of the opening stanza is undercut by self-doubt and vulnerability.
I aimed my Pebble—but Myself
Was all the one that fell—
Was it Goliath—was too large—
Or was myself—too small?
The drawing we chose for the back cover of our Dickinson catalog, Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there (2005, J 1262), takes the opposite approach. Here the powerful female figure is absent from the words and colors of the drawing, but present in the shape of the untouched spaces of the unlettered white ground. In conceiving and executing this work, like Claire in creating her Whiteness book, Brian had to “let the white paper play the leading part.”
I had been writing out the above thoughts at 30,000 feet above the globe. Our plane from Philadelphia is now landing at 5:07. The fellow in the window seat to my left leaned back so I could take a photo of the curve of the Ohio River just before we hit the runway.
Note 1 to the Reader. For readers who would like to read this book-length blog from the first entry to the last rather than from the last entry back to the first, I have created an electronic table of contents in chronological order that you can access on the navigation bar at the top of the page. (Thanks, Ed Trujillo, for your help in creating this.)
Note 2 to the Reader: This title of this entry, “A Second Voyage Ended,” comes from the passage in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter of Moby-Dick in which Ishmael declares that “one most long voyage ended, only begins a second, and a second ended, only begins a third.” My third will be starting soon at https://mobydickinCincinnatiin2016.wordpress.com/
Quick note in February 2016. This blog “Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015″ has now been incorporated into the Dickinson Electronic Archives (see “The DEA Blog” at http://www.emily.org/). Although the subsequent blog “Moby-Dick in Cincinnati in 2016″ relates primarily to artwork inspired by Melville’s novel, fans of Dickinson will be interested in its entry “Thanksgiving for Emily” at https://mobydickincincinnatiin2016.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/thanksgiving-for-emily/.