This is the beginning of a series of short essays I've been throwing around in my head for quite some time. I figured that I might as well use this space to exercise my critical eye - especially since the little snippets and quotations I was posting garnered very little feedback. Yes, this is my writing, as derivative as it may be. I'd appreciate any comments whatsoever - on style and content - and keep in mind that this is part of some larger picture:
Roland Barthes’ essay “The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat” is a wonderful short, critical essay on the work of Jules Verne. The essay is a structuralist analysis of The Mysterious Island, the second and final installment of Captain Nemo’s adventures aboard the Nautilus. With a bit of sarcasm, Barthes calls it an “almost perfect novel,” submitting it as the epitome of a type of childlike delight. The most interesting aspect of Barthes’ criticism, however, is the fact that the subject of his essays is never the real topic of discussion. Rather than merely cast judgment on Verne’s credibility as an author, Barthes resuscitates Verne as a symptom of larger cultural epoch.
The Nautilus comes to signify an infantile desire for the finite. He writes:
Ships in Jules Verne are perfect cubby-holes, and the vastness of their circumnavigation further increases the bliss of their closure… The Nautilus, in this regard is the most desirable of all caves: the enjoyment of being enclosed reaches its paroxysm when from the bosom of this unbroken inwardness, it is possible to watch, through a large window-pane, the outside vagueness of the waters, and thus define, in a single act, the inside by means of its opposite. The Nautilus is the ultimate exploration vessel. The ship represents the technological impalement of nature. The threat of the unknown is neutralized via cartography - the determined classification of each and every hidden crevasse of the earth. We emphasize the dual idea of penetration and enclosure with some risk. A knowable universe would indeed constitute a return to the womb, but the intention here is not to diagnose Verne with some sort of private neurosis. More specific than any thesis of human nature, the Nautilus characterizes a lingering, yet transformed, Enlightment ideology that quite possibly continues to this day. The mold should be quite familiar still: an insatiable thirst for quick answers, for mysteries solved with theatrical flair and conclusiveness, all wrapped up into a rapidly consumable package.