This subtle tale follows the steamboat Fidèle and her passengers as they meander down the Mississippi on one April Fool's Day. Traipsing about the shiThis subtle tale follows the steamboat Fidèle and her passengers as they meander down the Mississippi on one April Fool's Day. Traipsing about the ship is one of literature's most sinister and guileful masterminds, a "man" of many faces and names. He prowls about the deck, looking for those whose trust he can exploit -- exploitation which, though of a pecuniary nature in the story, has far more sinister allegorical implications. He culls acolytes of a plethora of popular philosophies prevalent in 19th-century Christianity, ingeniously binds them to the millstone of Confidence, and throws them into the figurative waters.
Indeed, though his figure is central throughout the story, it is only by dim and oblique hints that we see who the Confidence Man truly is. He (as he did in the desert) quotes Scripture with the deftness of an adder. But his final act is the most frightening of all: after slithering past nearly all of the people he encounters, he concludes that the Church is barren, and he extinguishes that Lamp with which he befuddled so many unfortunates.
Melville's pessimistic view of his fellow Christians is enlightening and unnerving, to say the least, especially when viewed in tandem to modern cries for a return to the morality of the past. His work creates a wonderful environment in which Reformed Christian doctrines like total depravity and Sola Scriptura confute the wily Devil and provide the only safe means by which to live. This book reminded of Luther's famous line, "One little word shall fell him," and the lines from Jeremiah 17 that I would pick to fell the Confidence-Man:
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?...more
This is really a very interesting read. The stories are entertaining and the logical interplay with the famous "Three Laws of Robotics" is fascinatingThis is really a very interesting read. The stories are entertaining and the logical interplay with the famous "Three Laws of Robotics" is fascinating.
I'm a bit chagrined to see Will Smith's picture on the Mass Market paperback cover—the movie is almost nothing like the book. I really enjoyed the movie, to be sure, but they're completely different stories....more
A very interesting volume. Plato's philosophy is interesting, and I plan on reading more about his metaphysics in Timaeus. I was very intrigued whenA very interesting volume. Plato's philosophy is interesting, and I plan on reading more about his metaphysics in Timaeus. I was very intrigued when I discovered that Plato used the phrase 'through a glass darkly' many years before its inclusion in the Bible. It's very insightful to realize that Paul was well educated and that he thought it worthwhile to make allusions to the philosophical thought of th e time when writing his epistles (1 Cor. 13, for example).
Epictetus provided an interesting introduction to the Stoics' philosophy. The have some very fascinating and practical thoughts on living properly, and I found them to be very insightful in some regards.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus drew much from the Stoics, and his meditations were fascinating to read. Of no little interest to me was his use of the term daemon (which we've seen make a recent appearance in Northern Lights / The Golden Compass. Aurelius uses the daemon as another component of the human being, similar to but separate from the soul. The daemon represents the Deity within, and is unique to each person. Understanding a little bit the ancient idea of a daemon, I wonder how much Philip Pullman is drawing on this old definition and how much he's redefining it for his own purposes. My guess is that there is little truth in the former and much in the latter; Pullman seems like the type of author who would redefine balk at the Greek and Roman definition of Deity, but would love to "reclaim" the word in order to effectively express the stature and fortitude of enlightened modern day humanists.