Just Finished

Yes, indeed: why read Moby-Dick?

I finished this small (it clocks in at just under 130 pages) joy of a book (not Moby-Dick but Why Read Moby-Dick?) this weekend in a bubbly, hot bath. I like to think that a hot, bubbly bath is the perfect place to read books involving the sea, you see?

I read Moby-Dick in high school, and as with The Scarlet Letter, we students were directed to skip this spot and gloss over that spot, but now I see that was wrong to do...yes, that catalog of cetaceans is supposed to be funny.

It is not at all suprising that most people do not like to read when high school books and teachers tend to take out the funny, joyful parts of the great books. For example, I was quite surprised to find many, many parts of Dickens' Great Expectations actually laugh out loud funny. You wouldn't know it from the edited version we read in high school.


Why Read Moby-Dick?

To write timelessly about the here and now, a writer must approach the present indirectly. The story has to be about more than it at first seems. Shakespeare used the historical sources of his plays as a scaffolding on which to construct detailed portraits of his own age. The interstices between the secondhand historical plots and Shakespeare's startingly original insights into Elizabethan England are what allow his work to speak to us today. Reading Shakespeare, we know what it is like, in any age, to be alive. So it is with Moby-Dick, a novel about a whaling voyage to the Pacific that is also about America racing hell-bent toward the Civil War and so much more. Contained in the pages of Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contributed to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country's ever-contentious march into the future. This means that whenever a new crisis grips this country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important. It is why subsequent generations have seen Ahab as Hitler during World War II or as a profit-crazed deep-drilling oil company in 2010 or as a power-crazed Middle Eastern dictator in 2011.

So...have you read Moby-Dick?

What follows are two quotes from Moby-Dick, quoted by Philbrick in his book...which you should also read as well as Moby-Dick...and In the Heart of Sea which tells of the actual whale attack that Moby-Dick is based on and for which Philbrick won the Pulitzer...but two quotes that I think will appear as part of the epigram for my book(s)...whenever I write them.

"I love to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts."

"Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me."


Tim said…
TD: "Moby-Dick without the whale? What's left"
Old Lady: "A pleasant sea voyage and everybody lives."
becca said…
i haven't read this in years may have to revisit
Writer said…
Tim, apparently that was what Moby-Dick was GOING to be, until Melville met Nathaniel Hawthorne. Apparently Melville got it into his head that Hawthorne's stories (Hawthorne who is described as this shy little man - how is THAT possible?) contained a darkness similar to the darkness described by Shakespeare - Iago, Macbeth, etc. etc. - and thus was introduced Ahab.


OMG. Tim. You gotta pick up this book. Well, yes, Moby-Dick but also Why Read Moby-Dick.
Writer said…
Do so, becca, do so.
Writer said…
Tim, one more thing. Moby-Dick is the prose version of Leaves of Grass and Howl. I'm sure.
Trickle Down BS said…
Yes, in high school...been there, done that, but that was so long ago it was actually printed in old English...lol
And we had a girl in the class who thought Moby Dick was a venereal disease...lol

tamayn said…
The best novels remain timeless because we can find ourselves in them. If we don't take something away from a novel, then it really hasn't done the job.
Writer said…
LOL, Raulito. Isn't it? ;)
Writer said…
tamayn, true indeed. True indeed.

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