Sunday, October 24, 2010
Reading the Classics with Paul- Moby-Dick- week 6
The bulk of this week's reading comprised a story which sort of serves as our "we're going to need a bigger boat" scene. In this story within-the-story, we finally see Moby-Dick in action. In all fairness to Ahab, at this point one might mention that the number of whales eaten by people remains at 0 so far, while the number of people eaten by the white whale is now at 1.25. The rather violent tale serves to further illustrate not only the dangers of the whaling trade (which I can't believe is even still a thing!) but especially the dangers of this particular whale. If Ishmael's meditation on the unbearable whiteness of being didn't do it for you, now you have a dead guy in the whale's belly.
I don't have a lot to add this week. The story was long and rambling although I was engaged at the parts where the narrator stuck to the story. I was confused, to the point of flipping back a page to see if I'd missed something, at the breaks in the narrative to talk to the people listening to the story. And the priest part at the end struck me as a bit maudlin, although, again, in such a way that raised fears that I may be too modern and cynical to appreciate this book.
Although, I thought the fight, with the guy's jaw gushing blood on the deck much like the whales they cut up, was well described and kind of exciting. As was the account of the insubordinate sailors hiding in the forecastle (although they were being drama queens, didn't you think?) This served to further my contention that Melville was a decent adventure story author. As I understand it, in his lifetime, that's largely what he was known as. I feel it's telling that no one reads his other works today. I haven't and I have no intention of ever doing so. The strangeness of this book, and I'm not sure I've ever had this experience reading before, is that it does occasionally hit transcendence, but it's so clunky, so few and far between, so buried in notes on knot tying and what-not, that I find myself constantly hyper-aware of this fact the whole time I'm reading. I've jokingly suggested to friends that this might be very early meta-fiction, that the greatness of the book is like the white whale itself, unseen and constantly looming below the surface. You are pretty sure that it's going to emerge from the deeps sometime in the process of reading it, you just don't know when. If someone posited that hypothesis in seriousness, I would refuse to take it as such.
On the other hand, we are in the middle of Moby-Dick where nothing happens. That was my recollection from having read it a decade ago. I came to this reading assuming my brain was indulging in its usual propensity for exaggeration. I found that I was right on the money. We're driving around in an ocean looking for one particular whale. Get comfy.
That's all I have for this week. Next week, we'll read through Chapter LXIII which, in my book, takes us up to 273 (and we're past the halfway mark, people.)