Monday, March 1, 2010

Me v. Moby: Part Seven

6:28 a.m. No breakfast yet. First, book; then, breakfast.

6:46 a.m. Moby Dick is a bit like a dinosaur. It’s big, fascinating and beautiful, in its way. And these tangents—like The Affidavit, in which Melville lists 8 pages worth of historical Sperm Whale attacks—are its styracosaurus horns. Without it, the monster seems less bizarre and, thus, less fascinating. But, with it, the monster is incapable of surviving in a modern ecosystem.

In other words, Moby Dick couldn’t survive today. Editors would pare it 280 pages and pitch it as an action-adventure. But that’s no more of a criticism than to say I wouldn’t have done well in the Mesozoic.

Everything is a product of its times, doubly so for anything gigantic.

7:20 a.m. Finally, a whale hunt. It’s moments like this that make it impossible to hate Moby Dick. When Melville does stick to the story, it’s fantastic. It’s only when he indulges in the history of cetology that he loses me.

7:24 a.m. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”

That’s the feeling I got when I tried to live blog Finnegans Wake.

8:28 a.m. I accept that Melville feels the need to splice the Pequod’s actions with side stories, but why does Ishmael have to narrate the overlong Ballad of Radney and Steelkilt to a bunch of phony-sounding Lima-ites?

Melville introduces these South American characters so they can function as a sort of Greek chorus for a single chapter. They prod Ishmael with their questions and observations. But every word they say makes me want to skip ahead a chapter.

A sample of their dialogue: “Senor, hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy and hereditary land, we know but little of your vigorous North.”

Melville wrote that with a tin ear, and it detracts from an already boring tangent. Why not have Ishmael just recount the story of Steelkilt to the reader as he’s been doing for most of the book?

This chapter, titled The Town-Ho’s Story, is so frustrating because it comes after the first whale hunt. The whale hunt is wonderful. There’s action, boats are overturned, Queequeg actually does something and Ahab plots his revenge.

Then, we get 19 pages of distraction.

I both love and hate Moby Dick.

I’m getting some breakfast.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. The Town-Ho is a boat, in case your mind slipped into the gutter.

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