December 7, 2018

1. Birth Order

“Data from around the world show that the firstborn does better than those who come after, and the only child does better than the firstborn. The first time I became aware of this was a study which showed that, among young people who made the finals for a National Merit Scholarship and were from five-children families, the firstborn was the finalist more than the other four put together. Among the Apollo astronauts, 22 out of the 29 were either firstborn or an only child.”1

Will China’s one-child policy create a generation that’s more capable and intelligent? Will these positive effects be felt around the world, since many countries have a declining birth-rate, and therefore a higher percentage of children are either firstborn children or only children?

2. Word Roots

Most English words have either a Germanic root or a Latin root. Words with a Germanic root are usually monosyllables (slow, fast, run, walk, short, tall), while words with a Latin root (or a Greek root) are usually polysyllables (geography, education, politics, etc.). Words with a Germanic root are closer to our experience, to our feelings, hence we’re sometimes told to prefer Germanic words when we’re writing (don’t say “etymology,” say “word roots”). Profanity is sometimes called “4-letter words.” Profanity is short, monosyllabic, Germanic, and therefore connected to our feelings — it has an emotional charge.

The psychologist Ernest Jones said that the English people can repress their feelings more than other people because they can use Latin-based words; the English have more synonyms, they can bury their feelings beneath a mountain of polysyllables, polysyllables that have no emotional charge.2

3. The Scarlet Letter

A. The Kinship of Love and Hate

I recently read Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, and found it most enjoyable and impressive. I prefer it to Moby-Dick and Leaves of Grass. Hawthorne’s prose is “purity itself” (as Poe said), while Melville’s prose is quirky and obscure. The plot of The Scarlet Letter is exceptionally good — full of drama, almost believable, never dull; the plot has many surprises, yet it feels inevitable. And Hawthorne has a keen sense of humor, evident in “The Custom House” (the long preface to The Scarlet Letter). It’s not surprising that The Scarlet Letter sold briskly when it was published in 1850.

One of the deepest truths in the novel is the kinship of love and hate. When love and hate are carried to the point of obsession (Hawthorne says), we lose ourselves, we lose our center, we become dependent on another person, we become attached to an unhealthy degree, we lose the detachment/independence that are necessary for psychological health.

It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry [Hawthorne writes], whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same.

[Spoiler Warning: Skip the rest of this section, if you’re planning to read the novel.]
The Scarlet Letter depicts Roger Chillingworth’s obsessive hate, and his collapse when the object of his hate dies. At the end of the novel, Chillingworth has lost himself, lost his soul, lost his raison d’être. The Scarlet Letter is about obsessive hate; it has little to do with love, though it does describe the painful consequences of illicit passion.3

How did Hawthorne himself preserve his own soul, his own “calm center”? When he lived at Brook Farm (the utopian-socialist community in West Roxbury), he would periodically retreat to a secluded spot in the woods, a vine-covered “magic circle.” Hawthorne wrote about Brook Farm in the novel Blithedale Romance. One critic, Harry West, says that Coverdale, a character in Blithedale, is an “author-surrogate.” Coverdale

periodically retreats to his vine-encircled hermitage, “a hollow chamber of rare seclusion” in “the innermost sanctuary” of the woods surrounding Blithedale, for, as he explains, “it symbolized my individuality, and aided me in keeping it inviolate”.... All such magic circles for dreaming and meditation are indicative of a retreat inward to the center of consciousness.4

I myself walked in the woods near Brook Farm and, after several attempts, managed to find the remains of the utopian community.5

B. Black Magic

Since Hawthorne wanted to preserve his individuality, he took a dim view of mesmerism, which he regarded as an invasion of the soul. When his wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, was considering mesmerism as a treatment for headaches, Hawthorne tried to dissuade her. He described mesmerism as “the transfusion of one spirit into another,” and he said mesmerism would violate “the sacredness of an individual.” He concluded, “If thou wouldst know what heaven is... then retire into the depths of thine own spirit, and thou wilt find it there among holy thoughts and feelings.”

Hawthorne’s aversion to mesmerism is apparent in his fiction. In an earlier issue, I quoted a critic who spoke of, “Hawthorne’s repugnance to spiritualism and mesmerism, and his harsh delineation of Dr. Westervelt, the crafty mesmerist in The Blithedale Romance.”

Hawthorne’s repugnance to spiritualism/magic is also apparent in The Scarlet Letter, and Dr. Chillingworth might be compared to Dr. Westervelt. Chillingworth invades the soul, violates the individuality, of Dimmesdale. Hawthorne tells us that before Chillingworth came to Massachusetts, he was seen with another evil doctor, “Doctor Forman, the famous old conjurer, who was implicated in the affair of Overbury.” Thomas Overbury was apparently murdered in the Tower of London in 1613, thirty years before the events described in The Scarlet Letter. It has been argued that the Overbury murder was a major influence on The Scarlet Letter.6

Chillingworth also associated with other practitioners of occult arts: “He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby, and other famous men — whose scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural — as having been his correspondents or associates.”

As Chillingworth learned from Forman and Digby, so too he appears to have learned from Native Americans:

During his Indian captivity, [Dr. Chillingworth] had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the incantations of the savage priests; who were universally acknowledged to be powerful enchanters, often performing seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art.

Chillingworth pursues occult arts like alchemy and astrology, and he’s believed to be in league with the devil.

Hawthorne deals with various occult themes, such as the power of intuition, the power of spiritual ills to cause physical ills, the power to foresee the future, and the rapport between nature and man (synchronicity). Hawthorne describes electricity as an occult force, half-physical, half-spiritual:

Hester silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.

In the early 19th century, electricity was often viewed as an occult force.

Magic is of two kinds, black magic and white magic. Black magic aims to harm, white magic to help. Hawthorne emphasizes black magic, and depicts Dr. Westervelt, Dr. Chillingworth, and Dr. Forman in a negative light. Is there a single example in Hawthorne’s works of a benevolent Magus, like Shakespeare’s Prospero?

C. Hester Hutchinson?

Hawthorne was a student of NewEngland history, and he knew that the Boston colony was fiercely divided, in the 1630s, over the Antinomian Controversy. The Antinomians believed in following the heart, the inner light, the divine voice within, while their opponents emphasized moral law. The Antinomians accused their opponents of preaching a doctrine of works, like the hated Catholics, while they themselves trusted in the grace of God, and the faith of the individual. The Antinomians were akin to the Quakers, and the Boston establishment condemned both Antinomians and Quakers.

The most well-known Antinomian was Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from the Boston colony, and took refuge in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. (Rhode Island was a refuge for Quakers, Jews, Baptists, and others who didn’t “toe the line.”) While the Antinomian Controversy was raging in Boston, the Boston establishment feared that the Antinomians would resort to armed insurrection, so they sent the constables door-to-door to confiscate the guns of the Antinomians. The Antinomian Controversy brought the Boston colony to the brink of civil war.

Founders Brook Park, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Memorial to Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer
Early settlements were often located near fresh water

A critic named Michael Colacurcio has argued that The Scarlet Letter dramatizes the Antinomian Controversy.7 He compares Hester to Anne Hutchinson, and Dimmesdale to John Cotton, the minister who influenced Hutchinson, but didn’t defend her at her trial. Early in the novel, Hester displays “a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed.” This description, Colacurcio says, “seems deliberately to recall Mrs. Hutchinson’s courtroom defiance.”

“From the first,” Colacurcio writes, “[Hester] has seemed perilously close to defying her judges with the affirmation that her spirit posits and obeys its own law.... When Hawthorne says of Hester... that ‘the world’s law was no law to her mind,’ we may well suspect that he intends some conscious pun on the literal meaning of ‘antinomianism.’” Hester tries to persuade Dimmesdale that “what they earlier did ‘had a consecration of its own’ — they having felt it so and said so to each other.” Hester eventually concocts “an antinomian plan for adulterous escape.”

But Hawthorne, according to Colacurcio, doesn’t entirely approve of Hester; Colacurcio calls Hawthorne a “neo-nomian,” not an anti-nomian. Hawthorne believes that “the world’s law validly exists to restrain our disruptive social excesses.”8 Hawthorne agrees with Roger Williams that the spiritual self is autonomous, but the outward man must obey civil authority.9

Colacurcio argues that Antinomianism was a natural reaction to the Puritan emphasis on correct behavior. “Extremes of public legalism seem to breed their antinomian opposite by natural law.” The Thesis gives birth to the Antithesis, Puritanism gives birth to Antinomianism.

Colacurcio also argues that, among Antinomians and Quakers, women played a prominent role. Should we compare Anne Hutchinson to modern feminists? Or should we compare her to an ancient priestess, like those at the oracle of Delphi?

D. Proust Contre Sainte-Beuve

One might compare the Antinomian Controversy to the literary debate between Proust and Sainte-Beuve. Proust argued, like the Antinomians, that our literary self, our higher self, our true self, isn’t expressed in our daily actions, isn’t expressed “in our habits, in society, in our vices.”10 The great writer doesn’t follow moral law, according to Proust. Proust felt that a great writer could grasp beauty and truth, and express them in his works, though his daily life was stained by vice. He made this argument because his own life was stained by vice; he wanted to justify his life.

Sainte-Beuve, like other 19th-century critics, argued that literature is connected to the author’s life/personality. “An author’s writing is inseparable from the rest of him,” Sainte-Beuve wrote. Proust wrote Contre Sainte-Beuve, in which he argued that our daily life doesn’t reflect our higher self, our literary self. Proust’s argument reminds me of the Antinomian argument that our true self, the state of our soul, isn’t reflected in our daily actions. Sainte-Beuve’s position is akin to the BostonEstablishment position that, if you want to know the state of the soul, look at the daily life.

E. A New Bible For A New World

Viola Sachs is the Jesse James of Hawthorne criticism — a gun-toting outlaw who strikes fear in the hearts of law-abiding scholars. Sachs was a Jewish emigré from Poland who lived for several years in Brazil, and then had a long academic career in France. Sachs’ arguments are so outlandish that one scholarly journal prefaced Sachs’ essay thus: “American Quarterly is pleased to publish this leading example of French work in American Studies. We recognize its provocative and controversial character.”

Sachs argues that American writers tried to create a new bible for a New World. One of her books is called La Contre-Bible de Melville: Moby-Dick Déchiffré (some of her writings are in French, some in English).

Emerson repeatedly calls for the scriptures of the New World [Sachs writes]. Whitman viewed his Leaves of Grass as a bible chanting the democratic Spirit of the New World.... This obsessive reference to scriptures should not be taken as a mere metaphor: America literally produces its own bible — The Book of Mormon (1837).11

When I discussed Whitman in 2001, I said, “he dreamed of founding a new religion, for which Leaves of Grass — expanded into 365 chapters or psalms, one to be read on each day of the year — would serve as a holy testament.”12 Sachs notes that

Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, in the 1867 edition, is built on a hidden numerical framework referring to the yearly calendar; similarly the fifty-two sections of “Song of Myself” identify “Walt Whitman, a Kosmos” with the terrestrial sphere in its annual revolution of fifty-two weeks.

Sachs says that both The Scarlet Letter and Moby-Dick attempt to be “a revelation of divine Wisdom,” a liber mundi.

As the Puritans looked for hidden meanings, secret codes, in the Bible, so American writers put hidden meanings in their fiction, their new bibles. Literary codes were an analogue of nature’s code: the Puritans believed that nature was the handwriting of God, that we could decipher God’s intentions in natural phenomena.13 The Puritans believed that the Book of Revelation contained a prophecy of “the discovery of America and its claimed destiny to be the land of the second coming of Christ.”14

I’ve often argued that everything is connected, that the flight of birds (for example) may be connected to human destiny. This is the Hermetic worldview, the view that the universe is an organism, that the parts of the universe are inter-connected. The Puritan view is similar, the Puritans felt that all natural phenomena were controlled by God, and therefore coincidences were more than just coincidences, coincidences were meaningful. Sachs speaks of “Christian Hermeticism.” Sachs says that Protestants were interested in “Christian hermeticism, heretical writings, Gnosticism, and neoplatonic thought.”15

The Hermetic worldview was popular during the Renaissance, popular in the time of Shakespeare and Bruno, popular around 1600, so it’s not surprising that Hermetic ideas impact Puritan thinking. And the Hermetic worldview enjoyed a revival in the Romantic period, so writers like Hawthorne and Melville would imbibe Hermetic ideas from both Puritan sources and Romantic sources.

The word “Hermetic” comes from the Greek god Hermes, who corresponded to the Roman god Mercury and the Egyptian god Thoth. Sachs says that “The Scarlet Letter and Moby-Dick carry numerous references” to Enoch, Thoth and Hermes.

In the concluding chapter of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne says that Dimmesdale’s life teaches the following moral: “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” Sachs points out that “be true” contains 6 letters, and when it’s repeated three times, we have 666, the number of the beast in Revelation.16

The old rule for coded writing is Tria Sunt Omnia [threes are all]. In other words, the hidden meaning is repeated three times. “Be true! Be true! Be true!” seems to exemplify Tria Sunt Omnia, the three-fold repetition of the code.16B

The next sentence (“Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”) contains 18 words (6 + 6 + 6). The number of words in the entire passage (“Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”) is 18 + 6, or 24, just as the number of chapters in The Scarlet Letter is 24. Sachs says,

The number of chapters (24), the movement of the narrative from bright sunlight of noon to the darkness of midnight and back again into the bright sun, the period of seven years which elapses in the narrative, all indicate that a cyclical conception of time underlies the mythic structure of the book.

The Elizabethan magus John Dee tried to transcend language, and achieve a better form of communication. Dee “devoted much time and effort in the last thirty years or so of his life to attempting to commune with angels in order to learn the universal language of creation and bring about the... unity of mankind.” According to Sachs, Hawthorne and Melville had a similar goal. They felt that “conventional language is not capable of rendering the divine which could only be revealed indirectly, that prophets spoke only in emblematic terms.” American writers tried to transcend conventional language, tried to find a language that was “universal in space and time... the primordial condition when different people understood each other before the confusion of tongues occurred at the Tower of Babel.”

Sachs was influenced by the French scholar Henry Corbin, who specialized in Islamic philosophy/mysticism/Sufism. Corbin was a regular visitor to a Swiss conference called Eranos. Eranos attracts scholars with a mystical bent (Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, etc.).17

Sachs was also influenced by Mircea Eliade, who was born in Romania, lived in France for several years, and spent much of his career at the University of Chicago. In his book The Sacred and the Profane, Eliade says

the profane world is formed of a juxtaposition of phenomena, while an intuitive total apprehension of reality characterizes the sacred. The latter calls for the perception of the world as a meaningful whole, each of its parts partaking in and of the whole.... Wholeness characterizes the sacred world.18

Eliade’s argument confirms my view that a philosophy of inter-connectedness is a good foundation for a new religion.

As an example of the profane, the un-integrated, Sachs cites the work of American novelist Thomas Pynchon. Though Melville is pessimistic, at least he expresses “chaotic energy... the writing of life. Pynchon’s superabundance of information, hieroglyphics, emblems constitutes the ‘legacy’ of the dead. The Crying of Lot 49 is the Book of the Dead of America.”19

Sachs was also influenced by the eminent Melville scholar Harrison Hayford. Hayford taught at Northwestern, and made Northwestern a center of Melville studies. Hayford argued (as Sachs later did) that errors in Moby-Dick were intentional, and had a hidden meaning.20 One of Hayford’s students was Hershel Parker, who wrote a two-volume biography of Melville. Parker also edited Melville’s complete works, which were published in 15 volumes by Northwestern-Newberry.

Another scholar whom Sachs cites frequently is Sacvan Bercovitch. Born into a Jewish family in Canada, Bercovitch became a prominent figure in American Studies, and taught at Columbia, Harvard, etc. He wrote few books, perhaps because he was busy with teaching, with editing the Cambridge History of American Literature, etc.

One of Bercovitch’s best-known books is The Puritan Origins of the American Self. He says that the Puritans “conceived of reality... as a system of linked analogies, interlacing every strand of recorded experience, ancient and modem, scientific and humanistic no less than theological.” Since Melville was a “direct descendant of the Puritans” (according to Sachs), Melville filled Moby-Dick with analogies, correspondences, which must be deciphered by the patient reader.21 Melville is trying to teach that “the Invisible is but the reversed image of the visible,” which reminds us of the Hermetic maxim, “As above, so below.”

Melville mentions writers who were preoccupied with numerology, such as Pythagoras and Thomas Browne. Sachs says that 16 is “the number upon which the structure of [Moby-Dick] rests.”22 Ishmael is “linked to the hidden architecture of the book, for his story is told in chapter 16 of The Book of Genesis.” The doubloon (discussed in chapter 99 of Moby-Dick) is worth 16 dollars. Stubb says “At two cents the cigar, that’s nine hundred and sixty cigars.” But it’s actually 1600/2 or 800 cigars. “The mistake of 160 cigars too many,” Sachs writes, “or 320 cents too few, serves to call the reader’s attention to the importance of the number 16 in this chapter and in the underlying structure of the book.”

I don’t see much value in Melville’s secret codes. Therefore, I don’t think we should work very hard to decipher these codes. That said, I find Sachs’ essays provocative, and don’t regret reading them.

Perhaps the best antidote to all these hidden meanings is Zen, which takes a simple approach, looks at the object, and appreciates it for itself. And perhaps Melville is at his best when he simply describes. In an earlier issue, I noted that D. H. Lawrence

has high praise for Melville’s descriptions, especially his description of the first chase (Chapter 48), which Lawrence calls, “a marvelous piece of true sea-writing.... When [Melville] forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful.”

4. War or Peace?

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. He probably thought that the Allies would stand aside, rather than declaring war on Germany. He probably thought that the Allies wanted to avoid another world war — the memory of the first world war was still fresh in people’s minds. And at that moment, Hitler was especially formidable since he had the Soviet Union on his side.

Should the Allies have stood aside, rather than declaring war? When should we resist evil, and when should we make concessions to evil? Should a decision of war-or-peace be based on a calculus of power? Or should we resist evil even when we’re faced with overwhelming power? Should we prefer peace to war, even though choosing peace often means allowing evil to triumph?

Let’s assume that Hitler’s principles were

If the Allies declare war on Germany, are they accepting Hitler’s principles? When we choose to resist evil, are we accepting our enemy’s principles, and betraying our own principles?

Let’s pretend someone steals your ring. Should you say to yourself, “I’ll just let him have it, he evidently thinks that such things are important. I have different principles, higher principles. If I resist him, I’m descending to his level. As Jesus said, Resist not evil.”

Or should you say to yourself, “What he did is evil/unjust. I should resist injustice, I should show him that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ Every decent person should love justice, and resist injustice.”

Decisions of war and peace — between individuals and between nations — are so difficult and complex that no general rule can govern them, we can only wrestle with them on a case-by-case basis. And whatever decision we make, our critics will be able to find fault. Since these decisions are so difficult, societies are often bitterly divided over war vs. peace.

5. Serial Killers

“Samuel Little, 78, has confessed to more than 90 murders... stretching back almost half a century.... The authorities suspect him of killing women in at least 14 states.”23 This case has several characteristics that are often found in serial-killer cases:

6. Fauda

In a recent issue, I discussed the Israeli TV show Fauda, and said it was realistic. Then there was an Israeli raid in Gaza that sounded like an episode of Fauda:

According to a statement from Hamas, Israeli special forces in a civilian car drove about two miles inside the Gaza Strip... where they killed Noor Baraka, 37, a local battalion commander of al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing. Mr. Baraka’s responsibilities included digging attack tunnels and firing rockets into Israel.

The Israelis, dressed as civilians — including some in women’s clothing — were in a civilian vehicle that stopped outside Mr. Baraka’s home, where it drew suspicion. A gunfight ensued, and the fleeing Israelis called in airstrikes to cover their retreat.

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1. Thomas Sowell back
2. “A Linguistic Factor in English Characterology”, 1920 back
3. One might pity Chillingworth since he’s at the mercy of his obsession: “a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, though still calm, necessity, seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching for gold; or, rather, like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom.” back
4. “Hawthorne’s Magic Circle: The Artist as Magician,” Harry C. West, Criticism, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall 1974), pp. 311-325,

In an earlier issue, I discussed an essay on Hawthorne by Paul Elmer More. More views Hawthorne’s retreat from society as a sickness, while Harry West views it in a more positive light. Perhaps the truth is on both sides. back

5. The surviving buildings aren’t difficult to find if you approach from Baker Street, but I parked on Kendrick Street in Needham. back
6. See The Yellow Ruff and the Scarlet Letter, and Sir Thomas Overbury’s Vision (1616) and other English sources of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, both by Alfred S. Reid.

Chillingworth doesn’t have a medical degree, so perhaps he isn’t entitled to be called “Dr. Chillingworth.” But he practices medicine in the novel, and Hawthorne says he has a “fair right” to be called a physician.

While The Scarlet Letter has English sources, it also has NewEngland sources. Hawthorne was a diligent student of NewEngland history, and his novel has many accurate details. He read Bancroft’s History of the United States, Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts, Caleb Snow’s History of Boston, Felt’s Annals of Salem, etc. (See “The New England Sources of The Scarlet Letter,” by Charles Ryskamp) back

7. “Footsteps Of Ann Hutchinson: The Context Of The Scarlet Letter,” ELH, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1972), pp. 459-494, Since this essay is written in thorny academic prose, I don’t recommend it.

Colacurcio says that Hester “begins in outward conformity, playing the game of ‘sanctification’ — the single rule of which is that the true Self is the sum of all its outward works.” While the Puritan establishment spoke of sanctification, the Antinomians argued that “the significance of a life is not the sum of its legally regulated outward works; or, more radically, what one does has a consecration of its own provided the quality of deep inner feeling is right — i.e., authentic.... The whole antinomian controversy is about the inner and the outer, the private and the public person: what do our outward works, positive and negative, really reveal about our salvation status, or, in naturalized form, about our selves?” John Cotton: “As Justification and the faith of it doth not stand upon his good works, so neither doth it fall or fail upon his evil work.”

It can be argued that the Antinomians were the forefathers of the Transcendentalists. back

8. This is a quote from Colacurcio, not from Hawthorne. back
9. See footnote 32 in Colacurcio’s essay. back
10. Marcel Proust: A Biography, by George Painter, Vol. 2, Ch. 6 back
11. Sachs, “The occult language and scripture of the New World,” Social Science Information, vol. 23, 1: pp. 129-141, First Published Jan 1, 1984; available through Sage Journals back
12. These aren’t my words, I was quoting the Introduction to the PenguinClassics edition of Leaves of Grass. back
13. Sachs: “Just as everyday affairs concealed signs of Divine Providence, and the world of natural phenomena revealed the ‘handwriting of God’ to the Protestants, so the hidden text of The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, and others reveals the word/Word of the author/Creator.” (“The Gnosis of Hawthorne and Melville: An Interpretation of the Scarlet Letter and Moby-Dick,” American Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 1980, pp. 123-143,

Let’s look at an example of “the handwriting of God” in The Scarlet Letter. In Chapter 12, “The Minister’s Vigil,” Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold in the middle of the night. “The minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter — the letter A — marked out in lines of dull red light.”

In my view, this is a far-fetched example of synchronicity, an example that isn’t realistic, isn’t credible. The reader can’t believe it, and Hawthorne himself is skeptical. Hawthorne says that a witness of synchronicity “beheld the wonder through the colored, magnifying, and distorting medium of his imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.”

If Hawthorne doesn’t believe in synchronicity, should we question the sincerity of his writing? Is he just trying to entertain? Or is he expressing genuine experiences, genuine beliefs? back

14. Sachs, “The occult language and scripture of the New World” back
15. Sachs, “The Gnosis of Hawthorne and Melville” back
16. Sachs, “The Gnosis of Hawthorne and Melville”

“Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” (Revelation, 13:18) back

16B. For Tria Sunt Omnia, I’m indebted to Alexander Waugh and his fascinating Youtube videos about the Shakespeare Controversy.

In an earlier issue, I discussed numerology in connection with Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I mentioned that Alastair Fowler has written about numerology in literature. Among Fowler’s books is Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (1970), and Silent Poetry: Essays in Numerological Analysis (edited). back

17. Corbin’s mentor was Louis Massignon, who promoted respect for Islam in the West. Massignon was also the mentor of the Iranian intellectual Ali Shariati. back
18. This is a quote from Sachs, not Eliade. See Sachs’ essay “The Profane and the Sacred: an Initiation to the American Romance,” Revue française d'études américaines, No. 5 (Avril 78), pp. 73-82, back
19. Sachs, “The occult language and scripture of the New World”

As for Melville’s pessimism, Sachs says, “Melville’s gnosis denies the existence of anything else than matter in constant movement.... Only matter, chaos, and Moby-Dick; or, The Whale exist.... Melville’s message reads that no primordial Spirit or Light exists, that all life stems from matter.... Truth is to be found in error and that what the gnostics consider to be the cosmic error of Creation is the only truth.... [In Chapter 49 of Moby-Dick, Melville writes,] ‘There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.’”

Is Hawthorne also pessimistic? The Scarlet Letter has little humor, little play, little high-spirits, and much torment and suffering. back

20. Sachs, “The Gnosis of Hawthorne and Melville.” Sachs refers us to Hayford’s essay “Unnecessary Duplicates: A Key to the Writing of Moby-Dick” in New Perspectives on Melville. back
21. And not only Moby-Dick: Sachs says that Mardi is “entirely structured, as Maxine Moore has brilliantly proved, upon an astrological and astronomical game.”

The phrase “linked analogies” calls to mind the Metaphysical Poets, who were probably influenced by the Hermetic worldview. Perhaps some of these poets were Puritans.

The phrase “linked analogies” also calls to mind Joyce’s Ulysses, which is an elaborate system of analogies. These analogies probably don’t indicate that Joyce believed in an inter-connected universe; rather, they seem to be merely a literary device. back

22. Sachs, “The Gnosis of Hawthorne and Melville”

Since the invisible is a mirror-image of the visible, Sachs says that the Puritans were preoccupied with the mirror symbol, which they regarded as “a revealer of the divine image.” Melville is also preoccupied with mirrors; “Melville’s code is largely based on reflections of numbers in a single or double mirror.... The author even, jokingly, tells us that ‘While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me.’”

Sachs discusses the “Great Debate” on American literature that took place in the U.S. in the early 1800s. “None of the other young American republics [Mexico, Brazil, etc.] had, so early in its development, shown such a preoccupation bordering on the obsessive with the need to elaborate a national form of art. This widespread debate, with all its anomalies — such as the proposal that a work of art translate the size of America or the demand that American writers discard the English tongue in favor of an Indian one — no doubt sensitized the American writer to the possible correspondence between the very form of writing and the national experience.” Perhaps this Great Debate inspired, or helped to produce, writers like Hawthorne and Melville. Can the buzz of literary criticism help to produce great literature? back

23. New York Times back
24. The Golden State Killer was reported to have an unusually small penis, which may have made him feel inferior/inadequate. This feeling may have driven him to prove himself, to make sexual conquests. back