Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Et tu, Cliffs Notes? We have nothing against Cliffs in some circumstances.
Let's face it, the last guy in the English-speaking world to actually read Moby
Dick was the guy who wrote the Cliffs.
I was doing some research for Shakespeare class and online references for the students when I came across that tidbit.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
On 10-20-2010, Karl Rove was on Megyn Kelly’s FOX News show and said comments roughly like:
"I am Ahab, chasing the white whale. I used to say that I was Grendel in Beowulf but nobody remembered that old high school reference."
The fascinating part is not Rove comparing himself to Ahab, but that he had to change the reference, a much better analogy to Grendel, to Ahab because more people understood it. This validates the ultimate reasons that I started doing this blog—we all know Moby Dick but the general populace has not read it. The “all” is the general populace that knows such things, such as Superman’s symbol even in third world countries.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Again proving to me that we all know the story even though we haven't read the book, just the other night I saw this commercial on the Blackberry Torch with AT&T. It was directed by Dennis Liu for the ad agency BBDO.
Complete with a map reference to Nantucket; character names from the book including Ishmael, Stubb, Flask, and Starbuck; the idea of "searching for Moby Dick;" going around Cape Horn, a reference to "Thar she blows;" and, of course, the "white whale."
What do you make of this? The idea that this classic has permeated into our culture enough to be deemed common knowledge enough to reference in a brand new technology commercial. It does lend itself well here, the idea of "searching" with the uses of the internet and the phone, Facebooking with the characters, snapping a pic. What other popular reference do you use?By the way, the URL for www.att.com/moby-dick does not exist.
See the full ad here: http://www.radicalmedia.com/Commercials/Dennis-Liu/Commercials/#/12948/
Thanks to Librivox for the linkage to the commercial, at http://librivox.org/2010/08/26/librivox-in-att-commercial/. I tried to listen to the Librivox audio, no offense to the reader, but again it was the material! I was trapped in the car almost 50 minutes each way and I didn't want to listen to it!
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
is a rather interesting article about an artist, , that has Moby Dick as a definite source of inspiration.
Frank Stella is in London to promote a book, Frank Stella's Moby Dick by
Robert K Wallace. It chronicles and analyses the series that Stella himself sees
as central to his later career - artworks made during the 1980s and 1990s,
including lithographs, sculptures and installations, each of which takes its
title from one of the 135 chapters of Herman Melville's great American novel.
"Why couldn't there be a British Melville?" wonders Stella. "They had great
explorers, but, I don't know, a quest for God or chasing the white whale is
different from a quest for empire, right? The British want to really own it
somehow; the Americans just want to be able to grasp it. Maybe they're slightly
less materialistic - it's hard to believe."
This guy devoted almost as much of his life to Moby Dick as I did, although he probably worked much harder. It is interesting where this book goes into the consciousness of the world.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
This Moby Dick poster is created using the first 26 chapters of the
A literary classic first published in 1851, Moby
Dick represents the ultimate human struggle. A masterpiece of
storytelling and symbolic realism, this thrilling adventure and epic saga pits
Ahab, a brooding sea captain, against the great white whale that crippled him.
More than just the tale of a hair-raising voyage, Melville's riveting story
passionately probes man's soul.
Author: Herman Melville
Dimensions: 24x30" - 61x76cm
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Humor columnist Dave Barry once gave potential English majors some advice using Moby-Dick as an example:
Never say anything about a book that anybody with any common sense would say. For example, suppose you are studying Moby-Dick. Anybody with any common sense would say Moby-Dick is a big white whale, since the characters in the book refer to it as a big white whale roughly eleven thousand times. So in your paper you say Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland. Your professor...will think you are enormously creative.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Tom and Jerry get shanghaied after Ahab's crew, seemingly having all their wits, actually abandon him before they set sail. The name of the ship, hilariously, is the Komquot.
I like how the Ahab captain is constantly muttering the name of Dicky Moe.
It takes a while for it to get moving, a whole heck of a lot like the book. Tom chases Jerry for a while when the setting has nothing to do with their chases for the most part.
The ending, with Tom wrapped in the ropes around the whale, is eerily reminiscent of the best scene in the book, where Ahab is about to hurl the harpoon and sees Fedallah, dead with eyes still open, tied up on Moby Dick's back. So that part of this cartoon is super cool.
Again, I wonder how much the audience already knows of what the whole reference is for this cartoon. It would be interesting to show it unannounced to a bunch of people and see what they know before and after.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
TAKE THAT! It's a whale of a tale as modern-day Moby Dick attacks a yacht!
Ahab and Fedallah are made from muffin mix and the whale is of course a white cake with vanilla frosting. Marshmallows to represent the blowhole (of course, not anatomically correct but the pan was only so big).
I made it and cut it out all by myself. Horrible, isn't it?
But it was delicious, as I imagine Ahab felt at that last second that the rope around his neck ripped him from his feet.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I finished. Just now. I finished reading Moby Dick. I did it.
After lying about it in the seventh grade to my teacher who made me read it--as a seventh grader!--I finished the book that has dogged me.
There was always a sense in me of something unaccomplished. Now, that whale has been killed. I did it.
Admittedly, the last 30 or so chapters, of course with some that could be deleted with extreme prejudice, were actually quite good. Lots of formal speeches, I like those. And action, real action, near the end. When Ahab looks up into the rigging that is still hanging on Moby from the days of chasing and sees the crewmember they thought lost at sea still tied into the rigging, still looking open-eyed at Ahab, that was a really cool scene. When Ahab spits out his famous "To the last I grapple with thee!" and then gets a noose of rigging around his own neck and yanked off the boat, that was a really cool scene.
I did it.
Mind you, I never would have gotten this far if it wasn't for strong-willed, pure determination. Melville does not build the climax along like the Harry Potter books. (I have read the first three Harry Potter books and going to read the 4th one soon. All I know is that Rowling really can build a climax that keeps you turning those pages and those chapters. If anything, she is superb at that. Hundreds of pages before the ending of the books, you are dying to know what's going on, like very few authors I have experienced. It's no wonder she was such a hit with these books.)
I just started Chapter 128. My, oh my, are the forces of nature and fate building to the inevitable confrontation in these last few chapter. The weather tries to bar his way. When the ship catches fire on the top of the mast and Melville likens them to candles burning is pretty good. Ahab says, "'Ego non baptizo te in nominee patris, sed in nominee diaboli'" which translates to: I baptize you not in the name of the Father, but in the name of the devil. (Translation from PowerMobyDick.com) That's pretty good, isn't it.
And now they are talking to another ship, the Rachel, who has just seen the white whale yesterday. Ahab is full of joy. I actually might finish this book today.
I might actually finish Moby Dick today. This is a day that has been, what, 24 years in the making? I am going to kill my white whale.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I kid you not--tonight--
Thursday, July 22 at 8:00 PM.
41 Main St.
East Hampton, NY 11937
Description: Alec Baldwin reads "Moby Dick"
Reading from Herman
Melville's, "Moby Dick," with Alec Baldwin
Why the heck is Alec Baldwin reading from Moby Dick? I don't have anything against Alec Baldwin. He's fine. The event is fine, a public reading. But why is Alec Baldwin reading from the book? Is there a movie coming out?
Turns out that Baldwin has also been interviewed about it recently. http://www.newsday.com/lifestyle/books/talking-with-alec-baldwin-about-moby-dick-1.2107441
Just on July 15 of this year, 2010, he talks about the book on the Newsday.com site but I can't access the article because I don't subscribe (what a load of malarkey that is--subscribing to a site where I can't read any articles to see if I would like it...)
I found a blog site of a person going to this reading and I have emailed the blogger for more information. Can't wait to find out more.
I have tried sitting through it before, but either fallen asleep or somehow changed my mind. I sat through it this time, all at once. 202 minutes. I did have to get up to change the VHS tape (I borrowed it from my dad) but other than that it was pretty much uninterrupted.
And I saw Moby Dick in it.
I know the movie is actually patterned off of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. (Another thing I am going to have to force myself to read in the future.) However, I think there are more parallels to the narrative structure.
It is a very straightforward and simple plot really. Captain Willard has to go upriver to Colonel Kurtz, who has gone insane, and relieve him of his command (read: kill). There are lots of little adventures along the way. The vacuous Playboy bunnies, the bitter French plantation owners, some fighting. Some of the little stories do nothing to the narrative. Sure, they make a statement, telling about Kurtz' insanity and how he got that way because Willard just about joined him. They do make it more human. Although the French plantation owners seemed tedious, it does make a comment on the war and what it did to people.
But that's my point. Apocalypse Now interwove these adventures into the narrative. There were no asides. The things that were talked about were brought up because they were going through those adventures. Imagine: Willard just travelling upriver and just writing these asides on stuff on the war like Ishmael does on whales. No, Willard lived these adventures. There was still a narrative.
So if I were to make a new Moby Dick movie, I think I would do it much like Apocalypse Now. That kind of movie.
Because I think I know more about Kurtz than I know or will learn about Ahab. I'm sorry, I think Ahab is a flat character. However, the Apocalypse Now characters all had life and dreams and personality.
So I still hate it, even though there are shining moments, albeit brief moments.
For instance, Chapter 105 is all about extinct whales and where modern ones came from, are bigger, etc. Yawn.
Chapter 106 on Ahab's leg has a shining moment of interest. He is getting a new leg, one made of sperm whale jawbone, what they call "ivory-bone." It must be very monomanical to get a leg made of the thing that bit it off. If he can't have Moby Dick's jawbone yet for it, this will have to do for now. That is sort of fascinating.
And then bloody Chapter 107 goes off on another tangent again! About carpenters! Again, Melville slips away from the narrative.
Chapter 108 is on the fitting of the new leg (see, three chapters to put on a leg). How embarassing for Ahab. They say a "dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar [leg]." What that must be like for the one-track man now.
And then Chapter 109 has a scene much like I am imagining that one scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Khan's right-hand man is telling him he has a ship to go where he will, that he has already bested Kirk. In this case, Starbuck is arguing like a good first officer about unsound decisions, eventually relenting to Ahab, saying, "'but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.'"
Now comes the good stuff, although there are still asides, however short the chapters are, on extraneous things. Sort of poetic, yes on the Pacific Ocean, but I think it should have been blended into the narrative, have a character speak it or something.
Give me another week or so and I will slay this whale of a book myself.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Wait a minute--Chapter 100?? Finally?? Why the heck are we readers putting up with this?? Chapter 100 of a 135 chapter book and now it finally moves somewhere.
But finally we get back to Ahab and his monomaniacal vengeance. They meet an English whaling vessel and find the captain missing an arm--due to Moby Dick!
Why wasn't at least this chapter 30 chapters ago? At least when Melville introduced us to the gams that the whaling vessels had to talk to each other.
Sometimes this book reminds me of Hamlet--scholars know what the heck I am talking about. There are plenty of passages that seem to make the play "grander in scope" than Hamlet merely trying to make up his mind on revenge. Scenes like "What a piece of work is man." Carrying the skull and saying, "Alas, poor Yorick." Heck, even Ophelia's madness scene can be skipped if you're in a rush. I have actually taught Julius Caesar before by not including Acts IV or V, except the very last scene of the play.
However, that is unjust because after all my study, I know why Shakespeare put all these scenes in there as it does increase our understanding of character, at bare minimum. I just cannot make a connection between these extraneous chapters and the plotline or basic narrative of Moby Dick. They simply do not progress the characters. Why should I know that Ishmael finds it somehow fascinating to squeeze whale spermaceti? Maybe if Melville showed how Ahab was doing it (which he wasn't) and just seething with anger. Maybe equating the squeezing with his anger in some way but it is not there.
The little that we get on Ahab is just way too little. I don't know him as a man. Just a thing looking for revenge. Yet, analytically, maybe Melville is making us look at Ahab through only one lens, like Ahab looks at only one thing.
Dammit, I hate it when I come up with a literary reason that actually makes sense to me.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till
I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of
insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers'
hands in it...
Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!
Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into
each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of
I just can't help but laugh. I know it is childish of me.
However, this is just an example of what these chapters are about and how they do absolutely nothing to the narrative structure.
Ishmael and everybody squeezes the spermaceti back into a liquid. They also mash it with a kind of spade and he "jokes" about how some men have fewer toes.
What does this do to the structure of the book? Nothing. Delete it.
By the way, don't even get me started on Chapter 95 "The Cassock" wherein Melville tells us all about the whale penis, even how some wear the skin of it to protect themselves.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Then I found out about Melville.org. See, I think that was always part of it for me. Melville was somehow more strangely fascinating than his writings.
Monday, July 12, 2010
More famous whale people, even calling the Leviathan that Perseus defeats a whale.
Mr. Melville, get on with the story!!
I'll be honest. Critically, the reader just about forgets who the heck Ahab is by this time. There was more character development in those other two captains who give Ishmael and Queequeg the lays.
Imagine if you will a novel that stops and inserts encyclopedia entries all the time. And it is not every other chapter either. I remember the novel The Grapes of Wrath where every other chapter was about the setting or the world. Yet Steinbeck wondrously came back to the main story every other chapter. Steinbeck could have inserted text about politics and poverty like Melville. Even a book like Tolkien's The Return of the King stayed with a character set for a while, a long while in Frodo's case, and then went back to the other set of characters. But the story moved on. Tolkien could have inserted stuff from his Silmarillion and his other unfinished stuff. Imagine if Tolkien inserted all that stuff from his other books? At least you can say that Tolkien was not afraid to delete.
I understand that some of these become necessary later. The chapter on the rope that whalers used (yes, a whole freaking chapter on rope) makes sense only when incorporated properly. Ishmael, for instance, could have gotten a paragraph's worth of decent information on the rope from Stubb, let's say, while moving on to something else. If I look at a list of the chapters, I figure I can delete at least 20 of the 86 chapters so far.
I am chugging along. However, I can only read one chapter a day if they are going to be like this. Sadly, looking at the chapter titles only, I think I am in for a hard time until at least chapter 106 on "Ahab's Leg." I may be surprised, but I doubt it. I mean, think of the fun I am going to have reading chapter 103 "Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton."
Keep in mind that these are NOT encyclopedia entries. These are Melville's attempts to write down only his learned knowledge of the whale and the whaling industry. He is not a scientist and I feel that some of these chapters are probably contradicted by today's zoological science. That makes it feel extra tedious to me.
This blogger, Rhiannon Paine, has imagined that pitch. The following is reprinted by permission of the author from http://rhiannonpaine.com/herman-melville-pitches-moby-dick. So after reading this, ask yourself if it makes any sense. Sometimes I think Melville just rambled. I know he was trying to be ambitious but...a chapter on chowder??
Herman Melville pitches Moby-Dick
June 5th, 2010
As I blog, tweet, and work on a synopsis for my novel Fall Crush, I wonder how writers in earlier ages would have fared with the social media.
Suppose Thomas Hardy had been required to pitch The Mayor of Casterbridge. “When Michael Henchard sells his wife and daughter after too much rum-laced furmity, he can’t expect it to go well. But, surprise! He becomes a mayor and prosperous grain-merchant with a mistress named Lucette, only to lose it all and die (the furmity again). In a clever grain-merchant-related touch, he requests that ‘no flours be planted on my grave’.”
Sale? I think not.
Or consider what a Twitter stream might have looked like between Herman Melville and his publisher, Richard Bentley. For the sake of brevity – not a point that ever troubled Melville – I’ve omitted all but the first two @ directives, but they’ve been accounted for in the sacred sum of 140.
HerMel @RBentley Excellent news, Bentley. A notion for my next book has at last taken possession of me.
RBentley @HerMel Capital. Another “cakes and ale” tale, a sequel to “White-Jacket”! “Yellow-Jacket?” No, that’s an insect. What say you to “Blue-Jacket”?
HerMel No, no, this is more ambitious. The front matter is replete with quotations, and I define “whale” in several languages.
RBentley Do you? Why?
HerMel The book is about one man’s quest to kill a ferocious white sperm whale.
RBentley Ha ha ha! You wrote “ferocious white sperm whale”! Doubtless you meant “lion,” “tiger,” or “bear.”
HerMel No, it’s definitely a sperm whale.
RBentley Oh my.
RBentley Herman? Are you there?
HerMel #amwriting My narrator’s in bed with a purple-faced tattooed harpooner named Queequeg. He sells embalmed heads on the side.
RBentley The narrator?
HerMel No, Queequeg. Social realism. Points up how precarious finances can be for purple-faced tattooed South Sea Islander harpoonists.
RBentley Quite. That should help to capture that all-important market.
HerMel The point hadn’t occurred to me, but you’re probably right.
RBentley I was being sarcastic.
HerMel Outlining. A chapter on the history of the fishing industry … a chapter on chowder … two Quakers and a prophet named Elijah …
RBentley Is Elijah the man who’s trying to kill the whale?
HerMel No, that’s Captain Ahab. We don’t meet him until – let me see – Chapter XXVIII.
RBentley But isn’t he the main character?
HerMel Well, him and the whale. Did I mention he’s only got one leg?
RBentley *fans self with sheet of paper* It’s news to me that whales HAVE legs.
HerMel AHAB has one leg. Moby Dick bit the other one off. So he wants to kill it, but it kills him, the ship sinks, & they all drown.
RBentley Including the narrator?
HerMel Epilogue. Narrator gets picked up by passing albatross … pushed ashore by dolphin … finds life-preserver … something.
RBentley Lives to tell the tale.
HerMel So what do you think? Are you as excited as I am?
RBentley Herman. Herman, Herman, Herman.
RBentley A SPERM whale named DICK?
HerMel I know! And subliminal advertising hasn’t even been invented yet!
“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Yes, I put it down again. The paperback I had was falling apart so that didn't help. It was just such a chore that every time I wanted to pick it up I saw 800 other paperbacks on my shelf that looked like a heck of a lot more fun to read. I just get no enjoyment out of Moby Dick. None. When I feel like that schoolchild who has a class novel that they have to read, plus I am only assigning it to myself so I have no accountability but to myself, I feel no reason to dive into it.
But that changed again. I am back in the saddle. I received the coolest thing ever for my birthday this past January, a Sony eReader. Phenomenal invention. An iPod for books, basically. I even put Moby Dick on there as the first I loaded it with. But then the same thing happened again. With 100+ books on the eReader, those others just seem a lot more interesting.
Since then, I have read quite a few books on the device. I even read Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And let me tell you...that is a much better and enjoyable book than Moby Dick. So it is not for want of reading.
But I am back into it again. I think I re-picked it up, on the eReader, about chapter 20 or so. I am now on Chapter 82. And these are by far some of the hardest chapters to get through. Chapters on comparing the heads of right whales and sperm whales. Chapters on the history of pictures of whales. I see some reasons behind these things. The one chapter comparing the head of the whale to a battering ram is sufficient foreshadowing for what happens at the end. I get that only with my knowledge of what happens in the book, not from any sense of urgency in the book itself. The chapter on what kind of rope is used in whaling makes sense with what I know of Ahab's fate. But the dryness of Melville's writing to my tastes...For instance, this next chapter 82 talks of the "Honor and Glory of Whaling," especially indicating Perseus as the first whaleman and stuff like that. It just reads so much more like an encyclopedia entry or a textbook than a story. And when we do get story bits, like the rumors of Moby Dick's presence in the area, there just doesn't feel like much to sustain the momentum of the reader.
But I am going to finish this book if it kills me. Moby Dick is my Moby Dick. I will kill the beast. I am reading at least one chapter a day through the eReader, if not 2 or 3.
Because it is funny to me. I am also reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I want to read all those books, some of them again. I will admit, from a literary sensibility and with my English literature training, that this is not a great piece of literature. But it is just fun. The ideas are interesting, the dialogue snappy even when Zaphod just says, "Hey, yeah," and somehow it is just written in an accessible style that makes continuing easy to do. What makes Moby Dick such a classic and Hitchhiker's a cult favorite? I bet I could get more kids to read Hitchhiker's. In fact, I actually bet more people have read Hitchhiker's than Moby Dick.
I will keep this apprised of my status. Probably not every day but weekly or so, just to maintain progress. I have to think of here as like a due date or a teacher that will scold me if I don't read.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick examined the American whaling
industry, using the whaling ship as a microcosm for an expanding world. People
from across the globe lived below the Pequod’s decks, an early indication of the
globalizing power of industry. Even more so, the Pequod’s voyage and final
demise (and Captain Ahab’s quest to find the eponymous white whale who had eaten
his leg) are an indelible part of America’s literary tradition.