Melville’s Love Life
I don’t give a fuck who Herman Melville slept with. I don’t think Herman Melville gave much of a fuck either, to be honest. And yet any discussion of Melville in our time inevitably leads to theories of his homosexual nature seeping into his work. I get it, anything nautical or penal gets discussed our snickering, prurient interest, rife in our 21st-century culture, rears its ugly, slavering head. I feel like Carmella Soprano in that episode where “Billy Budd” is being discussed during dinner at her daughter Meadow’s apartment; “everything is not gay!” she frantically exclaims as the inevitable theories of homosexual love come into the conversation.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it centers around an attractive, albeit stuttering, young seamen aboard an 18th-century, British man-of-war who kills his master-at-arms. Go ahead…titter away at “seaman” and “master-at-arms” or even just the fact that it’s a Navy story. My contention is that we miss the very point of the story by concentrating on this prurient interest. Just like our culture is far more interesting in what actors are wearing or who they’re fucking than their roles and their movies. Hell, we’ve created “reality TV” so we can do away with plot and story and watch nothing but naked, brutal drama (or rather manufactured melodrama) to appeal to that prurient interest. We’ve become a nation of Gladys Kravitzes who no longer have to get up to look out the window, but who can simply switch through channels of our neighbors’ exploits. Oh no, Melville couldn’t have possibly been commenting on human nature or themes of God, society, justice, or the disparity between the classes as played out in microcosm aboard a ship. No, it’s got to be a gay story, right!? For fuck’s sake, it’s got to do with the Navy and “seamen!”
This, of course, draws the criticism that I’m homophobic, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I can’t be homophobic if I don’t give a shit who fucks who. I don’t care who fucks who unless it has to do with me. I’m not liberal. I’m not progressive. I’m not “straight not narrow,” I just don’t give a fuck who’s fucking who outside of my own bedroom and excluding my children, and only for simple parental concern. I don’t think I’m alone either. In fact, I’d wager that, regardless of whether Melville was homosexual, bisexual or liked to rub a cheese grater on his dick, his stories were not about sexuality. I can’t prove he was or wasn’t, and it’s moot; his writing is not about his sexuality or anyone’s sexuality. I won’t say that his sexuality, whatever it may be, didn’t inform his writing on some level, but it was not a central theme. “Moby Dick” was just not that obvious.