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Thursday, December 15, 2005

poor melville

i was nostalgic about reading Moby Dick today, mentioning it briefly in an essay i'm writing and was flipping through it. an outstanding canonical work that more people should read. more people should have read it during Melville's life, he sold less than 4000 copies of the book and it was publicly derided by critics and considered, generally, to be a failure by all until some time later. ahead of its time in many respects. i always return to the unknowable nature of the whale. the book just compiles and compiles data about the whale, attempting to understand it, as if Ishmael (if that is his name) is trying to focus on a single thing in order to understand just a single thing before his death. but, despite such close attention, he is unable to understand even this tremendous thing. Ishmael continually laments his inability to "see" the whale:

Dissect him how I may, then, I but go skin deep; I know him not, and never will. But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen. But I cannot completely make out his back parts; and hint what he will about his face, I say again he has no face.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lindsey said...

For some reason your RSS feed isn't working - the message reads "Live bookmark failed to load." Just thought I'd let you know. Then again, it might just be my computer.

9:37 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Ball said...

that live bookmark thing happens a lot for me -- on my computer too, for
numerous sites -- so it's not just your computer -- and i have no idea how to fix it

7:11 AM

 
Blogger Manitoba Erratic said...

What really strikes me about Moby Dick is how funny it is. Melville manages to create a narrator who claims that he has a clue but it seems like he doesn't. This leads to all kinds of humourous moments in which the reader is "more in the know" than the narrator.

I've got to admit, though, that I haven't finished the book (evil!), and that perhaps all I've picked up on is the narrator's "initiation" into his harrowing voyage.

The Guardian Weekly (vol.173 no.23) recently published a favourable review of a new biography of Melville: Melville: His World and His Work by Andrew Delbanco.

Anyway, read Moby Dick. It's a motherfucker.

5:13 PM

 

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