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A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion 
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 A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
A Descent into the Maelstrom
by Edgar Allan Poe, 1841
Suggested by Robert Tulip

Read A Descent into the Maelstrom online for free.

Or you can listen to the short story for free on YouTube. It's about 50 minutes long.

And if you're like me, and for your sake I hope you're not, you can read the short story while listening to it read by someone else.




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Mon May 01, 2017 12:46 am
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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
This tale has all the suspense and mystery and imagination for which Poe is so highly renowned, as among the greatest of all American wordsmiths.

There is some irony in the opening quote, with its mention of Providence, a divine quality usually imagined as good, but here seen as a source of sheer terror and awesome might, beheld on the very margin of life.

An excellent analysis of the story at https://www.eapoe.org/pstudies/ps1970/p1973108.htm emphasises that the sailor is saved only by releasing himself to his fate, achieving the tranquil detachment of the hanged man, surrendered to the power of the whirlpool in order to achieve a higher vision, suspending time to achieve all the time in the world, in the sublime serenity where poetry and truth are unified in beauty, where escape is possible only through joining in the chaos on its own terms.

This story speaks to an American mythos, especially with the maelstrom likened to the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie. The theme, as in Moby Dick, is that a vast and pitiless natural force symbolises the western frontier confronted by the hardy free pioneers. Triumph through acceptance of the power of nature is the paradoxical ecological message.


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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
I'll be interested to see how I respond to the story, which I first read long ago. Since I gravitate more to realistic, character-based fiction rather than tales typical of Poe, I have a bias. Poe's sesquepedalianism has bugged me just a little.

I hope I have time to read or reread the other stories as well. I like the method of selection, and I won't even think about whether Chris is putting on with the random number generator bit! :-D



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
DWill, just leaving aside the spelling mistake on your big word, :blush: your comment prompted me to install my readability stats on Microsoft Word. It is quite tedious as you have to go through the whole grammar check to get the analysis.

The Maelström scores at Grade 9 level, with an average of just 4.2 letters per word. Poe's sentences tend to ramble tho', at average length of 29.9 words. The story has about 7000 words.

And the önly way I can get the .. over the o is by göing tö the link and cöpying it.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon May 01, 2017 5:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
Oh, right, the word has "quip" in it. Interesting about your readability stats. I did not find the vocab full of 50 cent words, nor the syntax to be intricate. Maybe the character of sailor accounts for the plainer speech, or maybe I'm wrong in my recollection of Poe.

The "ancient mariner" (though only made old by the terror of his experience) becomes after his initial horror fascinated by the terrible beauty of the maelstrom, having no hope of surviving in it anyway. His descriptions remind me of the concept of the sublime that was current with Romantics like Poe, in which nature was awe-full and terrifyingly magnificent, and of course indifferent to measly man.

No way to have a story, though, unless sailor gets himself ejected from the whirlpool, so he shakes off the Circean spell of the vortex and employs his good old Norwegian ingenuity. This is very "American" of him, too.

The mechanics of this mighty ocean vacuum are interesting, and I wonder how Poe worked them out. Although obviously fantastical, he creates plausibility for the general reader. Science may say no.

What a bummer for him that his fishing buddies don't quite believe his tale!



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
DWill wrote:
Oh, right, the word has "quip" in it. Interesting about your readability stats. I did not find the vocab full of 50 cent words, nor the syntax to be intricate. Maybe the character of sailor accounts for the plainer speech, or maybe I'm wrong in my recollection of Poe.
Great quip, must have been one of Shaw’s. A fifty cent word dates from telegraph days when people were charged by the letter. I was in Alice Springs last week and visited the old telegraph station which was opened in 1872, shortening the communication time to the old country from two months to one day.
DWill wrote:
The "ancient mariner" (though only made old by the terror of his experience) becomes after his initial horror fascinated by the terrible beauty of the maelstrom, having no hope of surviving in it anyway. His descriptions remind me of the concept of the sublime that was current with Romantics like Poe, in which nature was awe-full and terrifyingly magnificent, and of course indifferent to measly man.
Yes, there is a touch of Coleridge and the albatross in this story. My commentary on the poem of the grey beard loon at post84467.html#p84467 looks at the sublime terror of the ice and fate.
DWill wrote:
No way to have a story, though, unless sailor gets himself ejected from the whirlpool, so he shakes off the Circean spell of the vortex and employs his good old Norwegian ingenuity. This is very "American" of him, too.
I like your mention of Circe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circe , who of course was the enchantress who befuddled Ulysses, and the origin of holy moly, at least according to Hermes. It was after leaving the year with Circe that Ulysses arrived at the Charybdis, an event with some similarity to the Maelstrom. Yankee can do know how seems to figure in the ejection, with perhaps a nod to the old Europeans going down with the ship.
DWill wrote:

The mechanics of this mighty ocean vacuum are interesting, and I wonder how Poe worked them out. Although obviously fantastical, he creates plausibility for the general reader. Science may say no.
This inexorable vortex is explained at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whirlpool
DWill wrote:
What a bummer for him that his fishing buddies don't quite believe his tale!

I used this story in my novel The Jug, transposing the events from Norway to a near-future collapse of the Antarctic ice sheets causing a global tsunami and floods. post160277.html#p160277

I meant also to mention, from the commentary I linked above, https://www.eapoe.org/pstudies/ps1970/p1973108.htm
Quote:
incomprehensibility of the scientific explanation of the Maelstrom — that is, the theory of colliding currents . Then there is also a more subtle indication of his agreement. When the narrator first sights the vortex from the summit of Helseggen, he says to the sailor, “This . . . can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelstrom”. The sailor’s reply is a gentle correction of his companion’s appellation. “ ‘So it is sometimes termed,’ said he. ‘We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-strom, from the island of Moskoe in the midway’”. The name is accepted by the first narrator, for the next time he refers to the vortex, he calls it the Moskoe-strom. But the point lies not merely in the acceptance of a new name; rather it lies in the implications of the name. In rejecting “Maelstrom,” the sailor is rejecting a definition: “the stream that whirls round and grinds” or “the grinding stream.” He is thus rejecting man’s efforts to define — and so to limit and control — chaotic Nature.


This reminds me of Hamlet’s Mill, with its discussion of how the Norse Myth of the cosmic mill ground out gold, then iron, then sand, as it fell off its axis with the precession of the equinox. I like this analysis of Poe's idea about the whirlpool as an uncontrollable force of nature.


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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
I'm not getting into this story. I'm ready for the next.



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
“Maelstrom” is a term that Poe introduced into English, which has taken on wider meaning, indicating emotional turmoil, inescapable confusion, medical conditions in psychology and destructive personal relationships.

These metaphors are worth bearing in mind in reading Poe’s story, as the narrator escapes from the seemingly inevitable doom of the vast sucking whirlpool into which his brother plunges in sheer mad terror.

The virtue of detachment, the ability to view a situation dispassionately, and to observe surroundings objectively, noticing things that you would not see if you gave in to the feelings of powerless fate, enables escape from the most dire situation.


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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
Robert Tulip wrote:
“Maelstrom” is a term that Poe introduced into English, which has taken on wider meaning, indicating emotional turmoil, inescapable confusion, medical conditions in psychology and destructive personal relationships.

These metaphors are worth bearing in mind in reading Poe’s story, as the narrator escapes from the seemingly inevitable doom of the vast sucking whirlpool into which his brother plunges in sheer mad terror.

The virtue of detachment, the ability to view a situation dispassionately, and to observe surroundings objectively, noticing things that you would not see if you gave in to the feelings of powerless fate, enables escape from the most dire situation.

Great point. There's an interesting book you might look that goes right to this subject of who is most likely to survive in emergencies. It's Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales.



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
The Trump Administration is perceived as a descent into the maelstrom, an inexorable vortex of insanity, a tragic risk of collapse of life and freedom and equality and rights.

I don't agree with those perceptions, but sympathise with people who feel terrorised by the White House and the Trump mentality.


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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
Fortunately he has been held in check by the courts and his own experienced and wiser advisers. I just learned that he fired James Comey, so he's still capable of wielding chaos. As far as governing skills are concerned, where are they?



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
DWill wrote:
wielding chaos.
A quick search revealed a number of headlines where the Trump Administration, or the agencies affected by it, is likened to a maelstrom, suggesting an incomprehensible and fissiparous chaos. Whether a giant oceanic whirlpool is similarly chaotic is an interesting question. There is certainly an element of unpredictability in a maelstrom, but then again the remorseless energy of time and tide obeys the order of a higher law than we can comprehend. As per the epigraph,
Joseph Glanville wrote:
The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our ways; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than the well of Democritus. Joseph Glanville
A little birdy tells me that ‘According to legend, the well of Democritus was bottomless. It should also be noted that Democritus, a contemporary of Socrates and Plato, is known for laying the foundation for the modern atomic theory, declaring that matter cannot be destroyed but merely changes from one form to another.’ This means that the meaning of the descent into the maelstrom is to illustrate that the ways of nature are infinitely complex, beyond the potential of human understanding ever to explain. It seems mildly ironic that Democritus held that matter is made of atoms, which are finite, and not infinitely small, rather than opening the speculative idea that atoms themselves are fractal multiverses.
The relevance of the infinite depth of Democritus’ well to Mr. Trump is in how Trump is supposedly unleashing the animal spirits of exuberant confidence, viewing the American economy as a beast beyond rational explanation, that will respond to inspired leadership but not to calculated logic. Admittedly, that is a pretty crazy idea, but then human beings are not exactly sane.
If the current period in American politics is likened to a descent into a watery maelstrom, the risks are whether the nation will achieve the calm detachment to grab on to a passing piece of jetsam that will carry it out of the crushing vortex of doom, away from the risk of conversion to mincemeat on the hard jagged rocks of the ocean floor, or if a failure of vision will produce escalating conflict, division and ruin. Against such negative talk, there is still the possibility that Trump is a visionary, presenting an opportunity to make America great again.
DWill wrote:
As far as governing skills are concerned, where are they?

Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric often has the nature of an ambit claim, aiming to shift the centre of gravity of political debate so that actual results are closer to the unrealistic dreams of his base. The question of what constitutes good governance is immensely complex, playing into assumptions about security, the economy and the role of the state. In that maelstrom, it is far from clear that a Clinton Presidency would have displayed superior government skills.


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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
Well, the most succinct comment on Trump in my view has come from none other than George W. Bush. Descending the grandstand from which Trump had given his inaugural address, Bush was heard to mutter, "Man, that was some weird shit," and since that rainy (or was it?) day, there has been a steady excrescence of the same. I mean, Robert, anyone can always say that by some un-understood, paradoxical, or dialectical process, we may end up at a good place after a virtual shit-storm has finished raging. It's also possible to believe that creative extended metaphors have a relation to reality. But the best we can do here on earth is to reason our way to solutions and deal with the unintended consequences as we go along. We can't let mystical Jedi-like theories take the place of governance as we've always practised it. Visionaries always must advance a practical, even if idealistic, agenda. "I have a dream" was once such visionary yet practical program.

I believe you are mistaking the chaotic thinking of Donald Trump for disguised profundity. An interesting line of inquiry is how this idea of disruption has come to have such allure. To see so-called conservatives express belief in it is pretty surprising.

Oh, "fissiparous, " I have to give you props for that. It's /fɪˈsɪp(ə)rəs, according to Merriam-Webster. Only coined in the 19th C. Language evolves in such an amazing way.



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
I would like to discuss Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" at some point--another seafaring tale but certainly one of the most bizarre ever written. Would anyone care to discuss it?



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Post Re: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe - a discussion
DWill wrote:
Bush was heard to mutter, "Man, that was some weird shit," and since that rainy (or was it?) day, there has been a steady excrescence of the same.
Hardly surprising from dub, given the orange drumbeat about ‘low energy Jeb’.
DWill wrote:
I mean, Robert, anyone can always say that by some un-understood, paradoxical, or dialectical process, we may end up at a good place after a virtual shit-storm has finished raging.
I think of it more like the frog in a pot. The frog feels perfectly secure and warm, but fails to see that these feelings seal its doom, just as the narrator’s brother was damned by clutching ever more tightly to his boat.

There are massive cultural divisions swirling around the maelstrom of American politics, and deconstructing these polarities opens deep emotions about security and progress. The steady warming of the pot, seen as a metaphor for the ability of government to deliver progress and security through increasing tax, creates a strong sentimental attachment to the idea that government can make us safe and prosperous by expanding the intrusion of the state into civil society.

The big ideas behind the Trump movement challenge that myth of ‘gubmint oughta fix it’, albeit at high risk of war and collapse.

I persist in seeing Trump as a type of John Galt figure, seeing the economy as a free maelstrom rather than a controlled plan, like a ranga calling for the law of the jungle as a source of competitive strength.

That Rand typology is only partly true, but the trend question it raises is whether the trajectory of taxation is up or down. Economics says better results come from lower taxes, since churning money through the state only produces friction and waste, destroying incentive and freedom.

Unfortunately I fear that Trump’s rhetoric about small government is just lies and fantasy.

The importance of being able to look at the maelstrom in a detached way seems to me Poe’s great parable in his story.
DWill wrote:
It's also possible to believe that creative extended metaphors have a relation to reality. But the best we can do here on earth is to reason our way to solutions and deal with the unintended consequences as we go along. We can't let mystical Jedi-like theories take the place of governance as we've always practised it. Visionaries always must advance a practical, even if idealistic, agenda. "I have a dream" was once such visionary yet practical program.
Allegories and parables are always what you call 'creative extended metaphors'. In this story, the maelstrom, the descent and the escape each serves a separate metaphorical function. It is always useful to consider our predicament against such metaphors, in the hope they may shed light on our options. That is the intent behind the use of parabolic methods such as in the Bible.

Your comment about reason and unintended consequences is well illustrated by the descent into the maelstrom. Your strategy is exactly what the brother does, imagining that clinging to his boat is his best option for survival, in a context of mad blind terror. In fact, his failure to see that letting go would be the only way to save him is a bitter irony about our reasoning prowess, and inability to change course once path dependency sets in.

This Buddha-like detachment has the cryptic koan quality of Yoda. Poe is calling us to let go of our effort to control reality, saying control is the wide and easy path of damnation, when to be saved we need to find the narrow hard way where many are called but few are chosen.
DWill wrote:
I believe you are mistaking the chaotic thinking of Donald Trump for disguised profundity. An interesting line of inquiry is how this idea of disruption has come to have such allure. To see so-called conservatives express belief in it is pretty surprising.
Trump’s big message is that the role of the state is rule of law. That is very simple, but also very chaotic, complex, profound, risky and difficult.

The creeping intrusion of government beyond rule of law can only be reversed by disruption, in a way that brings a Schumpeterian creativity, not altogether unlike a descent into a maelstrom, or a tectonic upheaval reversing decades of slowly increasing tension between continental plates.
DWill wrote:
Oh, "fissiparous, " I have to give you props for that. It's /fɪˈsɪp(ə)rəs, according to Merriam-Webster. Only coined in the 19th C. Language evolves in such an amazing way.
Give you props for give you props, which I had not seen before. Fissiparity is often used to describe the Indian subcontinent.


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