Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Moby-Dick — publication and confusion

First there is this from The Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1851 that Moby-Dick was published in New York, as one long, 635-page book. About a month earlier, a censored version of the novel had been published in three separate volumes in London. It was called The Whale.

Moby-Dick begins with the famous lines:
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”
And Herman Melville wrote in Moby-Dick: “Meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

And there is this personal postscript:

I read Moby-Dick twice in my life, and I recall being confused both times about my opinions of Ahab and the novel: I wasn’t sure whether I despised or admired both the character and the book. 

Perhaps I should read it again. Yes, Ahab beckons me once more into the ineffable abyss, but do I dare answer the call? Who knows? At this stage of my life, I might be more clear in my reactions and opinions. Or my immersion into the metaphysical terrors of the deep might destroy me. Would the harrowing encounter be worthwhile?

But what about you? What are your opinions of Captain Ahab and Moby-Dick


  1. I see no reason not to re-read a book you've loved, Tim. Sometimes I think we learn more from the second (or tenth, or whatever) reading of a book than from the first.

    1. Margot, I suddenly remember my earliest encounters with the story prior to my encounters with the novel: the Classics Illustrated comic book version and the Gregory Peck movie. What wonderful introductions!

    2. Margot: off topic here, but... i've tried several times to comment on your site, but wordpress won't let me... maybe they know too much about me now, as a result of our blog manipulations...

  2. I have always thought of Ahab as the ultimate Calvinist. He completely accepts that he is predistined.

  3. Hmmm. Frank, I’ll keep that idea in mind during my voyage on the Pequod.

  4. I think Ahab suddenly realized that the universe is uncaring, neither just nor unjust, and then absurdly attempts to punish it in the form of the whale that taught him this lesson.

    Stephen Crane also realized this and wrote. . .

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

  5. i've only read it once and that was enough for me... Melville was a kind of flawed genius, imo, with a giant gift for language, but rather erratic talent for organization... rambler, he was... i tend to agree with Fred: that type of realization does drastically alter one's perception of reality... maybe the metaphor M was looking for was: whale=universe...

    1. Mudpuddle--yes, the whale=universe.

  6. Fred, Mudpuddle, Frank, Margot, et al ....
    Off the air until at earliest tomorrow..... just back from bad afternoon at doctor’s office, and I’m my woe is me frame of mind making me unsuitable for society .... I’ll comment upon MD by Melville later .... And so it goes ....

  7. Fred, Mudpuddle, Frank, Margot, et al ....
    Prior to yesterday afternoon, I was at the starting line and ready to begin the Melville marathon. However, given circumstances of yesterday afternoon, I cannot now fathom challenging myself with such a metaphysical maelstrom. Instead, as of this afternoon, if the impulse persists, I feel the need for some Dickens. He tends to make life more bearable for me even when his characters' lives are often not enviable experiences; somehow, though, the Dickens view of the world -- ultimately comic in that all ends well -- might be the perfect tonic for this stumbling, bumbling curmudgeon. For now, I will content myself (and perhaps blog visitors) with some reviews from my archives (e.g., one about a Dominic Crossan book appears today), and I might be reading Dickens. I don't know if I will post about Dickens. My mind, body, and soul will have to be up to the task.