John Pistelli's Reviews > Call Me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael by Charles Olson
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bookshelves: literary-criticism-theory, twentieth-century, nonfiction

I read this alongside my first reading of Moby-Dick when I was a teenager, and read it again for old times' sake as I re-read the novel recently. Though Olson's pioneering account of what Melville took from Shakespeare remains instructive, I found his book as a whole less remarkable the second time around. Olson writes of Moby-Dick as a kind of unmediated black-magic myth, missing the novel's crucial dimension of Romantic irony and parody; Olson is too in the shadow of Pound and Lawrence, writing in that showily telegraphic modernist style that now seems to me more dated than Victorian fustian. Call Me Ishmael is worth reading, however, for a marker of how a certain aesthetic critique of American society generally held by reactionaries in the early twentieth century (the aforementioned Pound and Lawrence, as well as Eliot, Heidegger, etc.) crossed with Marxism in the midcentury to become political common sense among radicals by the 1960s. Also, the excerpts Olson provides from Melville's Shakespeare marginalia and his journal of his travels in the Middle East are wonderful, though the footnotes in the Norton Critical Moby-Dick leads me to believe that Olson's scholarship, though groundbreaking, has been superseded. In general, I judge this more a historical curio than a living work of criticism.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 14, 2016 – Shelved
December 14, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-criticism-theory
December 14, 2016 – Shelved as: twentieth-century
September 17, 2018 – Shelved as: nonfiction

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