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Moby-Dick or, the Whale
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message 1: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
(Forgive the cross-post from the Melville section, but I figured the novel needed its own file.)

Sorry to tease, but I'm off for spring break next week. However, upon my return (and who knows, maybe even during break) I'll start posting about Moby and Ahab and the lot.

For now, I'll open the floor to thoughts about Ishmael as the narrator. For such a large narrative work, Moby-Dick starts off with great brevity: "Call me Ishmael." What is your sense of this guy? Why does he open his story the way that he does? What IS his story?

Neil McCrea | 204 comments Last year, on some forgotten thread here, I announced that an artist friend of mine had begun a series of oil paintings based on scenes from Moby Dick. Based on his sense of the character, he wanted to use photos of me as a model for his Ishmael (albeit photos from a time when I was younger and fitter). I am still not sure why Ishmael made him think of me.

There is a lot to be made of the Biblical allusions in Moby Dick, and Ishmael is an interesting case. The Biblical Ishmael is the son of Abraham and his servant Hagar. Abraham was concerned with having a legacy, and although God had promised him descendants beyond measure, he had reached the age of 80 without siring a son. In desperation he began to sleep with Hagar rather than his wife. Ishmael was the result of that union, and because Abraham doubted God's word and sought to have a child with his servant rather than his wife, Ishmael (and all his descendants) were cursed to forever be in an adversarial relationship with the rest of mankind, "All mankind will raise their hands against you, and your hands will be raised against all mankind." This curse, and other details of the story, fit in with Ishmael's description of himself, particularly when he describes himself as being in the mood to walk down the street and knock the hats off the heads of every man he meets. However as the novel progresses Ishmael seems to be one of the more agreeable characters in the book. This is unlike Ahab who as the book progresses becomes more and more like the arrogant and obsessive Biblical king he takes his name from.

message 3: by Les (last edited Mar 19, 2011 10:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Is this on?

I am only about 30 pages into the novel and this is my first reading of Moby Dick, so I do not think I can even pretend to know who Ishmael is. I do, however, get the sense or urgency from the opening lines and the first couple of chapters. He is hankering to get out to sea and he needs to do so before he goes crazy and starts knocking off hats.

Am I reading this completely wrong or is the first chapter pretty light-hearted? Ishmael sounds funny to me. I picture someone who has outlandish fantasies which he would never act on, but would like to think he would and can visualize them with ease--stepping into the street and knocking off hats. He seems like someone who wants to come off as surly, but is not really. The brief bit where Ishmael describes the bill that must have been drawn up concerning his whaling voyage would certainly have taken up a page and been in some crazy font in the hands of a Foer or many moderns. I guess I am surprised at how warm this feels initially.

I may have gone off the tracks early, but why the switch from "I" to "you" and then back in the third chapter?

Thanks for the comments and background, Neil. Also, your assessment of Ishmael as "one of the more agreeable" characters thus far jives with my reading. I hope to stay at this so I can see how Ishmael compares to others.

message 4: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Les--we're indeed on. Sorry about the delay--spring break and all that.

What I'd like to do is respond to people's points and questions, add some of my own thoughts, and then let others jump in with their own questions and answers and comments.

Several years ago I read an introduction to MD by Clifton Fadiman, who wrote that MD has no real humor in it. I think we must have been reading different books because of what Les brings up. Ishmael has a definitely ironic sense of humor, and his scenes with Queequeg are wonderful. But he has hidden depths. Consider the first sentence: "Call me Ishmael." That's not how people generally introduce themselves. And he definitely has a circuitous way of thinking--just look at his thoughts on water in the opening chapter. The Biblical allusion that Neil brings up above is also highly suggestive, though like much in this book there isn't a simple correlative. No other character in the novel, let alone Ishmael, brings up the Biblical significance of his name, although Ishmael does bring up the allusions in the names of both Ahab and Elijah. As Carl F. Hovde brings up in the intro to my Barnes and Noble edition, the Biblical Ishmael was an outsider and wanderer, although the Lord is eventually good to Ishmael later in Genesis. Our Ishmael is rather similar.

The switch Les brings up in Chapter III, "The Spouter-Inn," foreshadows all kinds of things that Melville does with narration later in the novel. Don't know how far other people have gotten so far, but at some point in the twenties (definitely by Chapter XXIX), Ishmael starts to fade into the background and the narration becomes more omniscient in point of view. Pretty postmodern kind of a thing, especially for 1851. Ishmael wanders back into the narrative--rather like the Biblical Ishmael is a wanderer and an outsider, at least earlier on in Genesis--but it's an odd way to tell a story.

What do you all notice about how the story is structured or narrated? What bothers you, intrigues you, challenges you?

Side note--the list of "performances" written by Fate that Ishmael imagines has struck me over the past decade:

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States."
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael."
"Bloody Battle in Afghanistan."

Rather a strange sort of synchronicity across 150 years, no?

message 5: by Dan, deadpan man (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 640 comments Mod
I'm still reading it, I've made it to chapter 65 so far. I am finding it hard to believe that someone had studied this text and concluded that there is no humor in the book. The biggest surprise for me so far is the humor I've seen.

It really is as you say Chris about Ishmael's narration fading into the background which is not something you tend to openly acknowledge until you stop to think about it.

I'd say the thing that bothers, intrigues and challenges me the most is the number of related tangents present that take us off track from the main narrative. Sometimes I just want them to end so we can return to the story, but at the same time I don't find them uninteresting.

Since this is my first time reading the novel I feel that most of the allusions and references are completely lost on me. Luckily I have you guys to clue me into some (all?) that I am missing.

message 6: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
I have to admit MD is not the primary book I'm currently reading, but I am reading it. I'm on Chapter 11 and I found those first scenes between Ishmael and Queequeg absolutely hilarious. The images of them in bed "thus then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg- a cosy, loving pair" --- a riot! I'm eager to see how this relationship develops.

I also found the imagery of Father Mapple, his lofty pulpit, his control of his congregation like he's commanding a ship, and his great sermon of Jonah to be very vivid. I could feel myself as a congregant in that church looking up at this powerful man as he tells his yarn of a tale. It was wonderful.

message 7: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Here's a qualification of the "Moby-Dick has no humor" point, from Clifton Fadiman's introductory essay on the novel:

"A pessimism as profound as Melville’s, if it is not pathological--and his is not--can exist only in a man who, whatever his gifts, does not possess that of humor. There is much pessimism in Shakespeare but with it goes a certain sweetness, a kind of radiance. His bad men--Macbeth, Iago--may be irretrievable, but the world itself is not irretrievable. This sense of balance comes from the fact that Shakespeare has humor, even in the plays of his later period. Melville had none. For proof, reread Chapter 100, a labored, shrill, and inept attempt at laughter. Perhaps I should qualify these strictures, for there is a kind of vast, grinning, unjolly, sardonic humor in him at times--Ishmael’s first encounter with Queequeg is an example. But this humor is bilious, not sanguine, and has no power to uplift the heart."

I think Fadiman's comment about the world not being irretrievable in Shakespeare is an excellent point, but I'm not sure I agree with him about Melville.

message 8: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
From what I've read so far I absolutely do not agree with him about Melville, at least not about Moby Dick. My heart was definitely lifted, and I laughed out loud, when Ishmael found himself caught in Queequeg's "bridegroom clasp" that first morning and my heart swelled all the more as they became "bosom friends."

message 9: by Les (last edited Mar 21, 2011 05:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments I thought that whole setup seemed comic--the back and forth between the inn keeper and Ishmael leading up to the "bridegroom clasp." I'm preparing to hunker down for the long hard voyage that must turn so many people off of MD. I'm glad I have good shipmates.

The Fadiman distinction though is helpful generally, Chris. Many books could be split into the camp of irretrievable world vs. irretrievable characters.

message 10: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
I've been thinking about Dan's post above where he talks about the number of tangents that take us away from the main story. This is a primary complaint among readers of MD. But then I started wondering what the main story is, at least in the first twenty or thirty chapters.

Initially, it's about Ishmael and his desire to go whaling. We follow him along, eavesdropping on his and Queequeg's "bridegroom clasp" (I too found that uplifting and amusing, Kerry), and learn a bit about ships and South Sea cannibals and Ishmael's thoughts on everything from bed-sharing to chowder to the almost mystical significance of water. He's an odd bird, and most readers seem to like his oddness. I'm happy to follow Ishmael.

But as soon as the Pequod sets sails, the story changes, moving towards the dark Ahab and his revenge plot. And herein lies a problem for Melville. We are well over a hundred pages into the novel, having followed a whimsical first-person narrator and his growing friendship with Queequeg, but now the story takes on a grimmer aspect with Ahab's mad desire to destroy Moby Dick. How does/should/can the ironical Ishmael narrate this story?

Melville sidesteps this in two ways. First, Ishmael fades away, to be replaced by another narrator much like him, but more omniscient and less inclined to whimsy. It's not Melville himself, exactly, but a narrator somewhere between Melville and Ishmael, who can narrate a broader range of events (including, apparently, Ahab's own private thoughts in his cabin in Chapter XXXVII, "Sunset").

Second, Melville is up against his own plot. We learn of Moby Dick's dismemberment of Ahab, who swears revenge. Ahab's machinations are complex and rely on his cunning and his charismatic authority. Eventually, he finds the whale, and I'll leave those of you who have not yet read the book to discover what happens. (Hint: Ahab does not join Greenpeace.) But a narrative with such a lethal trajectory could either threaten to grow tedious if confined to just the details of the quest itself ("Log entry #437--still seeking the White Whale") OR it would be a swift, action-oriented tale, something like the "Death Wish" movies from the 1970s. And even in those films, Charles Bronson got to shoot down lots of criminals. Ahab just wants one particular sperm whale.

What Melville does is supplement the core narrative with a variety of strands (and here I'm paraphrasing Carl F. Hovde's intro to the B&N edition): visits with other ships; extended similes that connect the ocean action back to life on land (a lot like Homer uses epic similes that jar with the events of war they describe); allusions that connect shipboard life to "general culture"; and cetology.

Think about "Hamlet." The core plot is pretty simple: a ghost appears to Hamlet, claiming to be the spirit of his father, and tells Hamlet his father was murdered by his uncle, his father's brother, who has since become king himself and married Hamlet's mother. "Revenge his most foul and unnatural murder," the Ghost commands Hamlet. Hamlet swears to do so at the end of Act 1. I imagine Shakespeare at some point was thinking, "Now what?" He can't have Hamlet kill Claudius in Act 2--the play would be over. Shakespeare had a long tradition of revenge tragedies to draw from, though, and those tragedies all prescribed delaying the revenge to ratchet up the suspense.

What makes "Hamlet" such a masterpiece (among other reasons) is that Shakespeare does delay the revenge, but he makes that delay a central point of the play. WHY can't Hamlet act? Well, for starters, he's got Polonius sniffing around, and a suspicious Claudius to befuddle. His girlfriend breaks up with him. And then, of course, there's the mommy problem and the self-loathing, and the Prince's myriad thoughts on life and human beings and society in general and suicide in particular.

Melville isn't writing a play, though (except in Chapter XL, "Forecastle," which is awkward but fascinating), and he isn't copying "Hamlet," but Ishmael does have his own peculiar trains of thought, which run deep and run far. And Melville uses all the stuff above to not just fill up the time between the start of the novel and the epic close, anymore than Shakespeare was just filling time before Hamlet finally kills Claudius.

So if you've made it this far in what's become a longer post than I intended, let me ask you this: what do these tangents add in and of themselves? Why do we need the cetology stuff, for example? I mean, if I ever got sucked into a space-time continuum and found myself in 1850 Massachusetts, I'd want my copy of MD with me, because I'd have an idea of how to make a living on a ship, but Melville wasn't writing a training manual. He was writing a novel, but one unlike anything his fellow American novelists were writing, as far as I know. And this is often held up as THE American Novel, alongside "Huck Finn" and "Gatsby" (the trifecta of the dead white males).

So I'll leave you with that: why all these other things? Do they add something new, like Hamlet's wandering thoughts and psychological pressures add to his revenge story? If so, what? If not, what DO they do?

message 11: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (last edited Mar 22, 2011 10:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Wow. That is an awesome post that is making me rethink many of the books I've read.

Holy cow.

No, really. Seriously. Wow. What a mindblowing idea to start applying to sooooo many books.

message 12: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (last edited Mar 23, 2011 03:25PM) (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
I wish Swanny had been MY teacher in High School.

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Exactly Shel and Kerry. I am ready to stand up and say "Lead on, O Captain! My Captain!" I initially thought Chris was a HS teacher and the most recent posts had me assuming he was (you are--of course, you are still in the room) a Prof.

I need to catch up, but am very inspired to do so. Thanks Chris.

message 14: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Shel, thanks very much--lots of ideas taken from John Gardner and Hovde and a few others.

Kerry, you wish. ;) (Ask my AP students in a week when they're well on their way through MD and they might tell you something different.)

Les, I am a high school English teacher. Not a prof--just hung out with a lot of them in grad school. Some of the brightest people I've met teach high school.

Okay (clearing throat and looking slightly embarrassed)...back to the novel.

message 15: by Les (last edited Mar 23, 2011 06:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments I did not mean it as a slight, just my HS experience--not a shining example. I know many brilliant HS teachers. I have taught HS and middle school (and will do so again) and have high expectations of students and love the in-depth discussions that can be had with them. I think you just reminded me of my one of favorite teachers who happened to have taught literature at a university. I also know of very few schools in which Moby Dick is still taught and considered essential reading. My comments were meant to echo Kerry's and I apologize if I was demeaning to a profession of which I am apart and respect immensely.

message 16: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Les, not at all--if I sounded defensive or anything, that was totally not my intention. You weren't in any way being demeaning, nor did I take it that way. No apologies necessary at all.

message 17: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
I remember talking to a colleague who has since retired--30+ years experience teaching in public and private schools--about teaching MD. I had already taught it one year and I was debating whether or not I should continue doing it. I told my colleague that I had had to read MD for summer reading in high school and had generally disliked it, but ten years later I had picked it up and loved it. "Maybe some books are just meant for slightly older readers," I said.

My colleague nodded. "I understand that," she said. "But you might never have gone back to that novel if you hadn't been exposed to it in the first place."

I've been teaching MD for six years now. My students feel like they've crossed some sort of threshold simply by reading it. I know I felt that way. And it's worth re-reading--I find something new every time, and rediscover half-forgotten things, especially Ishmael's tangential comments that approach a kind of philosophy.

message 18: by Dan, deadpan man (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 640 comments Mod
Great post Chris. Let's see if I can take a shot at some of the questions you raised.

The tangents add overall to your knowledge of the time and the experience of the people on the Pequod. I feel like at it's best it can better draw you into the time and the environment. So I think that adds quite a bit of value to it for me and maybe anyone else who sees it in the same light. I am also a fan of learning weird and esoteric shit so it works on that level as well. That being said it can sometime seem tedious, but I am going to try to more often think of it as I have stated above.

I have also found the return of humor somewhere in chapters 64 or 65. The interaction between the Cook and Stubb. For those not that far it involves a sermon given to sharks because they were being to loud. The cook's manner of speaking reminded me on the chapter in Infinite Jest that was entirely in slang/ebonics or whatever you want to call it.

message 19: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
There is an entire chapter in Infinite Jest written entirely in slang/ebonics??? Now that I'm finally reading Moby Dick, Infinite Jest has now become my Moby Dick.

message 20: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (last edited Mar 24, 2011 02:32PM) (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Swanny, you mentioned "if I ever got sucked into a space-time continuum and found myself in 1850 Massachusetts, I'd want my copy of MD with me, because I'd have an idea of how to make a living on a ship" and I am totally getting that and actually finding it truly interesting. That whole part about "lays" that are proportioned out based on your importance on a ship was crazy. Bildad wanted to pay Ishmael the 777th lay??? I get that he was only playing bad cop to Peleg's good cop, but if I were Ishmael and I heard that number, I would have told those Quakers to fuck off!

message 21: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Kerry, imagining you standing in a whalebone wigwam on a ship, telling some jacked-up Quaker bitch of a captain to fuck off...well, let's just say I came close to snorting with laughter.

And Dan, Stubb is a good antidote to Ahab's moody monomania. He and the cook Fleece have an interesting back-and-forth. I was scarred by an early exposure to Jim's dialect in Huck Finn, so when I first read Fleece's speech ("When dis old brack man dies") I cringed. But now I kind of like it--especially when Fleece delivers the benediction to the sharks: "Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up de damndest row as ever you can; fill your dam bellies 'till dey bust--and den die."

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Chris (or anyone else), are you familiar with this book?:
A Whaler's Dictionary by Dan Beachy-Quick

I was looking at my library for MD commentaries and ran across this. I ordered it, but have yet to see it. It looked pretty interesting.

Also, (revealing how much I have left to read), I was marveling at Chapter X (A Bosom Friend). We have discussed the humor in this chapter, but I was really struck by the humanity and forward-thinking. I claim ignorance, but I know of no comparable parallel to Ishmael's description of Queequeg. Ishmael still refers to him as a "savage" but that seems incidental and does not seem to carry the baggage that word would normally. It seems to stand as a recognition of a person's goodness regardless of race or origin. Is that too simple?

Huck Finn is I'm sure comparable, but (so far at least) MD seems even more ahead of its time. Perhaps I need to reread HF, but the language here is strong:
*" You cannot hide the soul."
*"Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed."
*"I felt a melting in me . . . This soothing savage had redeemed it."
*"I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy."
* Ishmael's acceptance of Q as "my fellow man" and recognition that he "must turn idolator."

It impressed and surprised me.

message 23: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
I always wondered if Ishmael's ready acceptance of Queequeg (after the initial, and rather hysterical, fumbling about in the dark bedroom) played a part in MD's failure to sell. Today it's easy for us to see Ishmael's openness and objectivity as mirroring our own (romantic) view of ourselves. I imagine this was rather different in 1850.

And the whole "George Washington cannibalistically developed" line cracks me up. Imagine if Huck had looked at Jim and thought that his profile reminded him of Abraham Lincoln.

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments I am not re-reading MD, so It is just what pops.

I cann't remember humor from Melville. I can remember sittuations that are so extreme that could make me laugh a litle. I can compare Melville with two, Shakespeare and Kafka.

When you say Melville is not a playwritter, I think this kills his comic skill. He seems almost ahabesque in his dedication to his task, not just MD, Billy Budd could easily slip in a comical tale if wasnt Melville control. And the dumb captain of Benito Cereno would destroy the subjective narrator perspective if Melville didn't held down the obvious irony. I wonder, I suppose everytime Melville imagine Ahab, he burst in laughs. But when writting, his characters had to live in another moody... Sometimes like a Negative Capacity that denies the obvious guy calling Ahab mad (they have some dialogues where this is underlined, but next explicit like comedy urges). Melville is all tragic and in this he is a powerful Shakespeare. Maybe even more, because the more I see Shakespeare I imagine his ghost coming to life and saying "You guys got it all wrong. You edited my plays in the wrong order!" because there was no tragedy, just comedy. Shakespeare best comedy is Romeo And Juliet... He is kind of a bad Cervantes of Moliere... Loved randomness, insane plots, buffons, farses, but next lift that up. I think Melville is all tragic, we find MacBeth, King Lear, Prospero - I never found Quixote. Ahab tragedy does not make me think even of Quixote melancholy.
Then we have Kafka. I remember I once said someone about Dostoievisky humor and cynism. Someone got upset, he is tragic, dramatic, etc. And all the time, I had myself wondering how the Karamazov works like a philosophical socratic debate and how Dostoievisky loved to place people in the wrong social sittuation to "torture" them. It needs humor for this. Kafka has all humor in his tragedy. The absurds do not burst laughs, but a smile with rigor mortis. But Kafka was jew. Melville was not, so he could not find the place to humor. Who loved to find links between Melville and Poe? Failure was a joke for both?

I think it did, but more due the fact the rousseaunian approach was fading, but the way Melville uses it, was quite unsetting. (Refering to Queequeq and sales). But I think the open end and how Ishmael seems to rather look at us questioning "So what", may have caused more problems. It was not the typical adventure novel, that even Melville got some fame from.

message 25: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Hey guys look at this!

Charming right?

message 26: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
This just looks all kinds of awesome:

Maybe even better than that Lee Majors movie "The Norsemen" back on the "Long Ships" thread. I mean, it's got Barry Bostwick in it!

message 27: by Dan, deadpan man (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 640 comments Mod
Chris wrote: "This just looks all kinds of awesome:

Maybe even better than that Lee Majors movie "The Norsemen" back on the "Long Ships" thread. I mean, it's got Bar..."

Holy crap! how'd that get produced?

message 28: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Barry Bostwick???

message 29: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
"I'd strike the SUN if it insulted me!!!" Great quote, hammily acted by the mayor of "Spin City."

This looks so bad it might be good.

message 30: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod

message 31: by Maureen, mo-nemclature (new) - added it

Maureen (modusa) | 683 comments Mod
i just got my copy yesterday! i will try to catch up this weekend, and i'm looking forward to reading through all the discussion up to this point. :)

message 32: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
I'm going to make some comments about Ahab soon. In the meantime, if you've got any thoughts about the one-legged whale hunter, sing out.

message 33: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod

This was supposed to be a funny comment in the vein of Barry Bostwick as Brad in Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm not sure it came off that way though. So now here I am explaining my joke!

message 34: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (last edited Apr 09, 2011 01:24PM) (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
I am so behind I haven't even GOTTEN to Ahab yet! It sure takes him a long time to make an appearance in the book! I just finished the introduction on Starbuck. He sounds like a handsome drink of water. I'm picturing Starbuck in my head the same way I pictured the character of Nat from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. A young, handsome, tanned, lithe sailor. Now, this could be the wrong take on Starbuck, but I don't know enough about him could change.

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Life has gotten in the way of any reading lately. I hate that! I am just to the point of Ahab's speech and offering of the doubloon as reward for spotting Moby Dick. For as little as I can read at a time, I am surprised how much I am enjoying this when I do pick it up. This should be a good weekend for sailing through many pages.

message 36: by Ry (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Chris wrote: "I'm going to make some comments about Ahab soon. In the meantime, if you've got any thoughts about the one-legged whale hunter, sing out."

All right, I've got a couple things to say about Ahab, while I'm free (temporarily) from the duties of student teaching.

First of all, I love how long it takes Melville to get to Ahab in the story. I didn't love it at first, but reviewing it now, it reminds me of those legendary people that you hear of, but you never see until further down the line. The twist in this is that, after building Ahab up, Ahab only becomes bigger and more legendary when you finally see him. This is ironic because usually its a huge letdown when you meet the man in person. Ishmael describes Ahab in epic detail (lightning mark, fake leg made from whale bone, etc.).

I still think that Ahab is the character who has affected me the most upon first being introduced to him in the story. I think the epic quality Melville gives to Ahab does really well in setting up the central conflict between Ahab and the equally epic Moby Dick. And now come to think of it, I love the parallel that is created by the fact that Melville holds off from actually showing both Ahab AND Moby Dick, Moby Dick being shown FAR later in the story.

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments Godot = Ahab.

message 38: by Ry (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Jcamilo wrote: "Godot = Ahab."

Yeah, except Ahab actually shows up.

message 39: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
And how. Talk about an entrance, as you so aptly describe it above.

Have to go get mulch in-between rain showers. More later.

message 40: by Maureen, mo-nemclature (new) - added it

Maureen (modusa) | 683 comments Mod
hello hello: i found this cool link and wanted to share it:

art for every page of moby dick. also, i'm just starting chapter 21 so i'm almost caught up to you, and will go back and re-read everything you've said once i've met ahab. i expect i should be ready to start discussing by the weekend. :)

message 41: by Christopher, Swanny (last edited Apr 15, 2011 06:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Okay, Ahab.

Pre-modern meets modern. Blood revenge + master of industrial technology (ship, sea charts, whaling in general) = bad.

If Ishmael is all about reciprocity, new perspectives, inclusivity, Old Thunder is about isolation, black-and-white power struggles, a single fixed purpose that cannot swerve. Ahab either has power over something or he is unmanned. (And at one point we are told that he was injured and nearly gored in the groin by his ivory leg.) "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me," he insists to Starbuck, which is one of the nuttier things he says.

Ahab is Macbeth, Othello, and Lear all rolled into one. He is not quite as magnificent as those creations, but he approaches their greatness. I think about Macbeth, how what makes him so engrossing is not his nobility--he's the least likable of Shakespeare's major tragic figures--but his will, his indomitable will. He murders Duncan and then his best friend, knowing all the time that what he is doing is evil, yet he chooses to continue doing it. "I am in blood stepped so far," he tells his wife, "that to return were as tedious as go o'er." This is Ahab, although one might substitute "revenge" for "blood."

And Ahab's speech to Starbuck and the crew in "The Quarter-Deck" chapter where he talks about the pasteboard masks of the world is all kinds of awesome.

He's an excellent example of how we each choose our White Whales, our nemeses. In John Gardner's Grendel, the dragon tells Grendel how men don't shake a fist at the universe--they select a neighbor and knock him down. The White Whale is Ahab's choice, his neighbor, his enemy. In the "Moby Dick" chapter of Melville's novel, the narrator states of Ahab:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred White Whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.


message 42: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (last edited Apr 18, 2011 01:42PM) (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Maureen wrote: "hello hello: i found this cool link and wanted to share it: "

THIS IS TOTALLY RAD MAUREEN! Thanks for posting it!

message 43: by Dan, deadpan man (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan | 640 comments Mod
So I've made it over 400 pages into this book and I am losing steam, and the ability to further care about the book. I am actually enjoying the discussion far more than the book itself.

Am I alone in feeling this way?

message 44: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
If you gut it out for 50 or so more pages, you'll enter the final sweep to the end, which is pretty darn good. Stick with it, Dan!

message 45: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Oh sheesh. I'll admit I'm only on page 205. I've only been reading at night on my phone as a way of lulling myself to sleep. It doesn't take long! :D

I will finish this book. But it could take me a really long time.

When I do read it, I do enjoy it. I love the way Ahab talks. All those aye, thy, and thees.


Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Dan, I agree completely. Kerry, I agree. Isn't that the strangest thing to be so impressed with a book while immersed in it and so unable to progress through it. I'm assuming this is mostly mental at this point and am feeling this as a point of pride and a lack of discipline. Maybe we need to set a deadline and some sort of personal punishment if we fail to meet that deadline. Chris, thanks for being our guide and for the motivation to push ahead.

message 47: by Kerry, flame-haired janeite (new) - added it

Kerry Dunn (kerryanndunn) | 886 comments Mod
Yes, Chris, thank you so much for being our Fiction Files teacher/fearless leader of Moby Dick! Please don't let my poor behavior reflect on how awesome of a leader you have been! I just have too many things going on at once, which is typical.

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Also, certain people--who shall remain named Les--should not post late at night after a night of heavy music and light drinking, or vice versa.

Self-punishment is maybe a little harsh and sounds wrong. I'll just give myself a guilt trip until I finish MD.

message 49: by Christopher, Swanny (new) - rated it 5 stars

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
No worries, shipmates. I'll wait a few days to post more thoughts.

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments Now, we have enough reason to propose the theory that Melville was Shakespeare.

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