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Call Me Ishmael

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  218 ratings  ·  25 reviews
First published in 1947, this acknowledged classic of American literary criticism explores the influences—especially Shakespearean ones—on Melville's writing of Moby-Dick. One of the first Melvilleans to advance what has since become known as the "theory of the two Moby-Dicks," Olson argues that there were two versions of Moby-Dick, and that Melville's reading King Lear fo ...more
Paperback, 164 pages
Published October 30th 1997 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published 1947)
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Mar 28, 2011 Pete rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
Famous for its groundbreaking insights into the influence of Shakespeare--especially "King Lear"--on "Moby Dick," "Call Me Ishmael" is a fine piece of 20th century literary criticism because it is so poetic. It was published in 1951, when one could include lines like "PLUS a harshness we still perpetuate, a sun like a tomahawk, small earthquakes but big tornadoes and hurrikans, a river north and south in the middle of the land running out the blood" and still have a piece of literary criticism b ...more
Brilliant discussion of the greatest American novel! Though more to do with Olson than Melville! It reminds me some of D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classical American Literature, which was, in fact, an influence. I especially like Olson's discussion of the connection between Lear and Moby Dick. Also his controversial assessment of the two Moby Dicks, the second version a rewrite following Melville's discovery of Shakespeare. Also, his suggestion that the Pacific was Melville's "source of power," w ...more
"As the strongest literary force Shakespeare caused Melville to approach tragedy in terms of drama. As the strongest social force America caused him to approach tragedy in terms of democracy.

It was not difficult for Melville to reconcile the two. Because of his perception of America: Ahab.

It has to do with size and how you value it. You can approach BIG America and spread yourself like a pancake, sing her stretch as Whitman did, be puffed up as we are over PRODUCTION. It’s easy. THE AMERICAN W
Esteban del Mal
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This is what scholarship should be but so rarely is. If blame can be laid for one's own actions, I hereby blame my early-age readings of Olson for my lack of education.* He sets the bar much higher than any institution can ever reach. This can crush a person.
His reading of Melville is deep. The man was impossibly well read and well reasoned, but also a true poet. It never smacks of intellectual posturing. He tells you what he knows to be true. It comes from his bones. His own messy relationship
This is another great early book of criticism of Herman Melville's magnum opus, Moby-Dick. The author, an accomplished poet himself, gets neck-deep into Melville's universe. It's all here, though in brief: male camaraderie, the whale oil business as an early version of petroleum fueled industrialism, wanting to escape civilization and failing, and of course Melville's obsession with Shakespeare. Evidently Melville read his complete works and sketch Moby-Dick's plot in the margins. There is a goo ...more
I don't usually like academic essays with nontraditional formats, but this one, I felt, was MORE readable, and more clarifying than most academic essays with the added benefit of making some very interesting and bold assertions about the construction of Moby Dick. This essay particularly discusses the theory of two Moby Dicks, that Melville revised Moby Dick extensively after reading Shakespeare to include Ahab as a King Lear figure. This discussion is paralleled by two tracks--one of America's ...more
I wish all literary criticism was like this--a poetical response to a great book. Read Moby Dick first.
I've previously read Moby-Dick twice and am preparing for the third reading now. Suffice it to say that I'll not find the novel the same after reading Olson's brilliant examination of its inspirations, its structure, its import.

I think Eliot Weinberger wrote somewhere of great works of literary criticism penned by poets: I don't remember it exactly, but I hope Call Me Ishmael was on that list. (I'll find the source shortly.)
Oh, Charles Olson. Do I sometimes think that you and John Milton would be best buddies? YES! I DO! Both you young men rummaging around in your intellectual vault for something that would make the world more significant. I guess, really, I'm just trying to understand how hungry I would have to be, how desperately thirsty, in order to drink a friend's blood, and leave his flesh up to be eaten like jerky.
Mar 02, 2013 Joe added it
Want to reread in conversation with Craig Santos Perez' work. Americas, aircraft destroyers, the Pacific.

“I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large and without mercy” (11).

“As I see it Poe dug in and Melville mounted. They are the alternatives” (12).

“I said 3000 years went overboard in the Pacific”
the first chapter of this book helped me to grasp the largeness of moby dick and focus my frustration into anticipation.

it also introduces readers to the actual story of moby dick--the tragedy of the whaleship essex as well as melville's relationship to these events.

olson's deep reading technique is carried on today by susan howe, "my emily dickinson" cormorant, howe calls it.
Kelly Neal
Great book. Makes me want to read Moby Dick. Love the history sections used to frame the analysis. Also found the peek into Melville's marginalia as insight into his composing process and the making of meaning in Moby to be fascinating. Cool stuff, looking into the thinking of a amazing poet: Olson.
Finally, someone to tell me what's so great about Moby Dick, and put it into historical/literary context. Hooray for Mr. Olson, whom I've learned a thing or two from in the past.

Just read for the second time. It remains a great meditation of Melville, whaling, America, and the whale.
Short, entertaining, idiosyncratic look at Melville and his relation to SPACE ('I spell it large because it comes large'), Shakespeare, and Jesus by the poet Charles Olson. He intersperses the lit crit with gruesome sea stories of murder and cannibalism.
Most people find the task of actually reading Moby Dick quite daunting; isn't it nice that Olson did all the footwork for you. Slim read and very satisfying whether you like Melville or not.
Redefines what literary criticism can do. Olson's style is impeccable, serendipitous. This is an essay about The Dick, but, more than that, it's a meditation on the socio-economic origins of America.
i love charles olson and i love moby dick. what could be better? i found this book an inspiration and a pleasant reminder of the possible responses to literature.
Katy Crighton
Great Buddy book to Moby Dick. Really opens your eyes to new aspects of Melville's writing
Unique work of creative criticism of an American masterpiece by a visionary poet.
This is what literary criticism should be: literature in and of itself.
This is a great book. Anyone who like MD should give it a read.
John steppling
one of my very favorite books, of any genre, period.
alternately brilliant and incoherent
May 11, 2010 Eric marked it as to-read
Thanks Esteban!
Ben is currently reading it
Jun 13, 2015
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Charles Olson was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance. Consequently, many postmodern groups, such as the poets of the Language School, include Olson as a primary and ...more
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