the whale

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the whale

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feb 12, 2011, 6:48 am

I just wrote a long remark that was swallowed. Probably the machines disapproved of my prose. The point was basically to get at why Moby Dick is so blithely despised by some and not others. I imagine Dalkey readers would clasp Moby Dick to their bosoms. Is is simply a matter of prose over plot?

feb 13, 2011, 9:51 pm

Moby-Dick is one of the absolute best books I have ever read. I didn't end up reading it until pretty late in life. I had actually avoided it 'cuz it SEEMED like it'd be one of those boring classics. And hearing about it being chock-full of the minutiae of whaling also does not sound inviting. The effect it produces when coming out of Ishmael, however, is quite the opposite of what I'd expected. The obsessive harping on everything that has to do with whaling ends up being nothing short of hilarious. I found myself looking forward to those moments when the story would be halted in order to have a 3-chapter-long aside about a random aspect of whaling that really has nothing to do with the story and has very little interest in and of itself. But it helps weave this patchwork of nervous obsession. What you say about prose over plot may be part of it, but I think there's more to it than that. Of course the prose is excellent, but there are elements that go beyond the prose or the plot. It's difficult for me to express what I mean, but I'll give it a shot. The book's structure and the different layers all support each other in a very cohesive way. I guess I'll go back to my patchwork analogy: up-close it can look fragmented and rambling and pointless but when you step back the overall pattern is clear. Not that I think fragmentation is bad, but I like the way Moby-Dick works on both levels. I enjoyed the fragmented quality as well as the more structured whole. My analysis is not very good, but that's the basis of what's floating around off the top of my head.

feb 14, 2011, 6:29 am

'I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.'

apr 11, 2011, 1:44 am

It's hard to say why some people love Moby Dick and some people can't stand it. For myself, I think that it might have something to do with their expectations going into it vs. what the book actually delivers. Moby Dick is so thoroughly ingrained in western literary tradition and pop culture that it's pretty much impossible to read it "clean", so to speak.

Everyone probably has some exposure to the novel before they ever crack it open, and everyone knows the basic plot. But Moby Dick, more than other novels, is not about its plot. It's about a feeling, an idea, a symbol that is built up through repetition and allegory until it becomes something altogether greater than the sum of its parts.

People going into it expecting the story they already know are going to be very disappointed. The diversions from this story to the minutia of a 19th century wailing vessel seem like distractions, and the frequent changes of narrative style and even narrator are jarring.

It's only when you agree to forget what you know about Moby Dick and allow yourself to be swept up in picture that is being painted for your that you begin to enjoy it.