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Old 03-10-2012, 11:20 AM
 
Location: Connecticut
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I had to read Moby Dick in high school and I will admit the first half of the book was so darn boring. I was just about to go out and buy the Cliff Notes when it finally became a wonderful story. I am so grateful I never purchased the Cliff Notes.
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Old 03-10-2012, 02:28 PM
 
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First, springfieldva, are you tempted to a jaunt to the Chesapeake from reading this book? My coast is the Pacific and the Pequod's Pacific is far to the west of me.

The biblical Ahab is married to Jezebel, a worshipper of Ba'al. Ba'al worship was the major religion of the region. Ba'al, though, is a general term for "god" (lower case) or "master". I don't know if Melville intended a parallel to Captain Ahab's switching allegiences from a generalized "God" to a determinate one--one conjured of a specific, private obsession. But that parallel exists.

Mastery, therefore slavery, is I'd say the theme of Stubb's dream. There are pervading questions about what constitutes authority, spiritual or secular. In a middle chapter called "Head or Tail" there's discussion of rendering unto the King and Queen what is properly theirs. Taxation without representation, IOW, returning to the idea that this is in part an American narrative about the American spiritual experience. I haven't fully resolved it.

My edition does have some notes, and there's a constant poke at Melville that his research comes almost entirely from a single writer, Beale, who apparently published a big profile of whales.

Getting back to one of your previous posts, I think any homo-eroticism is a modern investment in this book. (Although, who knows?, Melville may very well be writing subliminally but I don't think it's thematic.) It seems any reference to gayness by current authors and audiences is more wry than real. You can't help thinking it when Stubb says "Ahab is qu**r, he's qu**r, such a qu**r man." And that they're sailors, of course. It may very well be that in a century, future audiences fully accepting of homosexuality will in turn find such wink-wink interpretations of Moby Dick rather odd or quaint.

Last edited by Bunjee; 03-10-2012 at 02:36 PM..
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Old 03-11-2012, 01:46 PM
 
5,210 posts, read 8,291,446 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bunjee View Post
First, springfieldva, are you tempted to a jaunt to the Chesapeake from reading this book? My coast is the Pacific and the Pequod's Pacific is far to the west of me.

The biblical Ahab is married to Jezebel, a worshipper of Ba'al. Ba'al worship was the major religion of the region. Ba'al, though, is a general term for "god" (lower case) or "master". I don't know if Melville intended a parallel to Captain Ahab's switching allegiences from a generalized "God" to a determinate one--one conjured of a specific, private obsession. But that parallel exists.

Mastery, therefore slavery, is I'd say the theme of Stubb's dream. There are pervading questions about what constitutes authority, spiritual or secular. In a middle chapter called "Head or Tail" there's discussion of rendering unto the King and Queen what is properly theirs. Taxation without representation, IOW, returning to the idea that this is in part an American narrative about the American spiritual experience. I haven't fully resolved it.

My edition does have some notes, and there's a constant poke at Melville that his research comes almost entirely from a single writer, Beale, who apparently published a big profile of whales.

Getting back to one of your previous posts, I think any homo-eroticism is a modern investment in this book. (Although, who knows?, Melville may very well be writing subliminally but I don't think it's thematic.) It seems any reference to gayness by current authors and audiences is more wry than real. You can't help thinking it when Stubb says "Ahab is qu**r, he's qu**r, such a qu**r man." And that they're sailors, of course. It may very well be that in a century, future audiences fully accepting of homosexuality will in turn find such wink-wink interpretations of Moby Dick rather odd or quaint.
We head to the Atlantic ocean every chance that we get . In fact, I can feel the magnetic pull of the sea right now...especially with a nice stretch of 70 degree days in the forecast for my area. But back to land...

I think that there are three levels involved in understanding MD:

1) Level one - is the literal story.
2) Level two - are the symbolic references (many religious) which create the allegoric tale that is MD.
3) Level three - is the actual application of the MD allegory.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Melville intended the symbolism in his allegory to be fairly straight forward and I think that he wanted his story to appeal to a wide net of readers. The references he uses are not obscure at all, especially not in his day (almost everyone read the bible when this book was written). The story is entertaining - funny, sarcastic, even bawdy at times. Melville is writing for the average Joe.

It's the application of the MD allegory that is more complicated. And Melville knew that would be the case when he wrote MD.
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Old 03-11-2012, 04:08 PM
 
2,848 posts, read 4,190,528 times
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Originally Posted by springfieldva View Post
We head to the Atlantic ocean every chance that we get . In fact, I can feel the magnetic pull of the sea right now...especially with a nice stretch of 70 degree days in the forecast for my area. But back to land...

I think that there are three levels involved in understanding MD:

1) Level one - is the literal story.
2) Level two - are the symbolic references (many religious) which create the allegoric tale that is MD.
3) Level three - is the actual application of the MD allegory.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Melville intended the symbolism in his allegory to be fairly straight forward and I think that he wanted his story to appeal to a wide net of readers. The references he uses are not obscure at all, especially not in his day (almost everyone read the bible when this book was written). The story is entertaining - funny, sarcastic, even bawdy at times. Melville is writing for the average Joe.

It's the application of the MD allegory that is more complicated. And Melville knew that would be the case when he wrote MD.
Ahhh, that's nice. I'm looking forward to seeing the Atlantic in the springtime myself. (Summer's a little humid for me.)

I went ahead and finished reading the book. Towards the end it becomes pure narrative so it's a page turner. It becomes very theatrical too, Shakespearean. My final impression on the allegory is my first impression and is mixed, not because I'm staunch in my spirituality but because I'm critical of supplanting one answer for a (albeit meaningful, but ultimately inutile) question. This is, however, an artistic enterprise and not an academically philosophical one. The novel certainly succeeds as art.

It's beautifully crafted. Some of the passages are poetry. [It's interesting to read some of the endnotes, though. Apparently the unedited manuscript contained some of that convoluted punctuation that was common in those days. Lots and lots of semicolons combined with m-dashes in overdrawn sentences. Unreadable for the editors then, certainly unreadable for audiences nowadays.]

My work involves lots of writing: policies, procedures, proposals, instructions, specifications, etc. I do some freelance too. I may have finished the book, but halfway through I realized I should have been marking relevant quotes for a project I'd like to start. So I'll basically have to re-read the whole book.

It'll be a one- or two-sheet analysis, probably a flowchart, but basically a technical writer's version of Moby Dick. There are a lot of robots in today's workplace, so you have to distinguish yourself through creativity. I think it'll be a fun portfolio addition. Even better, I'll have something gainful and engrossing to do on my plane ride.
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Old 03-11-2012, 06:11 PM
 
5,117 posts, read 4,024,110 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by springfieldva View Post
I think that there are three levels involved in understanding MD:

1) Level one - is the literal story.
2) Level two - are the symbolic references (many religious) which create the allegoric tale that is MD.
3) Level three - is the actual application of the MD allegory.
. . . The references he uses are not obscure at all, especially not in his day (almost everyone read the bible when this book was written)...
Nice, Springfield!
My issue is that it's hard for me to read the book on all 3 levels at once. And I admit to finding Shakespearean/Biblical language really tough going, which is why sections of MD are tough. Chapters 33 - 40, for example!

Cs 33&34 were about a ship's social hierarchy. Man can't have supremacey over other men without external support, which is usually "base". I did find some of the sections which indicate Melville's awareness of ecological change in America really interesting - in 1850, especially! For example, Ahab "lived in the world as the last of the grizzly bears lived in Missouri," and, in C. 35 he describes that at first whales were caught directly on the shore of Nantucket but in his time whales had to be pursued in farther and farther away.

Also in C35 Melville, as Ish, says that while at watch on the masthead his mind was really on "the problem of the universal" rather than on searching for whales. When relaxing into watching the sea "thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; like Wickliff's sprinkled Pantheistic ashes." Pantheism really appeals to me as a religion/philosophy, but who's Wickliff?

So the truth of the literal story is that whalers didn't just hunt but also had a lot of time to think about huge issues - and also had to find a place for themselves in the social hierarchy of the ship (or had that place imposed on them.)

C36 is a pivotal chapter because it's where Ahab excites and incites his men about hunting Moby Dick. Starbuck, first mate, asks what profit is there in pursuing vengeance? Ahab "smites his chest" - the profit is emotional/spiritual. Ahab explains his purpose in pursuing Moby Dick: "How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me." So - Ahab thinks of himself as a prisoner? Of what? His soul a prisoner in the body? Prisoner of the physical world? I think this is important to figure out.

Philbrick thinks this is an important chapter because it highlights how suseptible people are to the power of a charismatic person. In C38 Starbuck says his soul has been taken over by a madman. His fate seems to be to obey while feeling rebellious, and to hate while also feeling pity (a paraphrase).

Re the ocean - I'm not a water person at all, although I've lived by both oceans (NY, LA), Puget Sound (Seattle & Olympia WA), and the great lakes (Milwaukee and Duluth). Now I live on a farm in Iowa. The sky seems huge here - few man made artifacts in the way - and this morning it was so blue, blue. I'm not alone in thinking of the midwestern sky as the equal of the ocean. You can lose yourself in the sky if you look at it for long. Hmmm, has my spirited "ebbed away from whence it come"???

Sorry, that made me laugh. Time to shut the gate and walk the dog!
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Old 03-12-2012, 07:58 AM
 
5,210 posts, read 8,291,446 times
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Right now I'm reading Ceotology and getting a lesson on the various types of whales in the ocean. It's a bit of a yawner, all right. At times I find my mind drifting a bit while I read. Suddenly, I realize that while I'm reading the words on the page, I have ceased to follow along...

So I end up having to do a reread.

But if I remember correctly, the action really starts to pick up once you get past the draggy middle. And, as you've noted 601, there is some interesting detail - even in the draggy middle - that you don't want to miss. I'm going to pay special attention to chapter 38.
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Old 03-12-2012, 08:39 AM
 
5,210 posts, read 8,291,446 times
Reputation: 5849
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bunjee View Post
Ahhh, that's nice. I'm looking forward to seeing the Atlantic in the springtime myself. (Summer's a little humid for me.)

I went ahead and finished reading the book. Towards the end it becomes pure narrative so it's a page turner. It becomes very theatrical too, Shakespearean. My final impression on the allegory is my first impression and is mixed, not because I'm staunch in my spirituality but because I'm critical of supplanting one answer for a (albeit meaningful, but ultimately inutile) question. This is, however, an artistic enterprise and not an academically philosophical one. The novel certainly succeeds as art.

It's beautifully crafted. Some of the passages are poetry. [It's interesting to read some of the endnotes, though. Apparently the unedited manuscript contained some of that convoluted punctuation that was common in those days. Lots and lots of semicolons combined with m-dashes in overdrawn sentences. Unreadable for the editors then, certainly unreadable for audiences nowadays.]

My work involves lots of writing: policies, procedures, proposals, instructions, specifications, etc. I do some freelance too. I may have finished the book, but halfway through I realized I should have been marking relevant quotes for a project I'd like to start. So I'll basically have to re-read the whole book.

It'll be a one- or two-sheet analysis, probably a flowchart, but basically a technical writer's version of Moby Dick. There are a lot of robots in today's workplace, so you have to distinguish yourself through creativity. I think it'll be a fun portfolio addition. Even better, I'll have something gainful and engrossing to do on my plane ride.
I'm keeping your impressions and insights in mind as I read this tale. It doesn't surprise me at all that you write professionally as your posts are always extremely well worded and a pleasure to read.

Your upcoming project sounds interesting - MD for techies, love it!
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Old 03-12-2012, 10:55 AM
 
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Yeah, Bunjee - I think you're reading it the best way - a run all the way through with initial impressions then going back through many times for the fine points. Actually, creating a flowchart or diagram for other readers might be really helpful - maybe you can market it! I must say, sometimes your comments are as difficult for my poor brain to absorb as MD itself is - I'll be thinking along then realize, oh THAT's what Bunjee meant! Other people's minds and lives are fascinating. Now that you're done, please don't abandon me in my struggle as I read chapter by chapter! And anyone else out there - join us! It's really been worthwhile so far. And it won't be hard to catch up to me!
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:05 PM
 
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I hesitate to quote specific chapters you haven't read yet, and I really don't want to lead anyone with my own individual interpretations. I tried to be oblique that way, so I realize what I'm saying does get a little muddy! It's a failure on my part, actually.

With the kind of material I have to write, no matter how proud I am of it, if the audience doesn't understand then I have failed. That's why I want to challenge myself with Moby Dick. I'm tasked to explain complex ideas in a logical, compact way. There's no license for ambiguity, and one issue is how do you do that with art? It's a rich book subject to interpretation.

I personally think the "Cetology" chapter again points up, like mysticism, a limited human comprehension of the universe. "But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the Great Cathedral of Cologne was left..." That flowchart box would connect to a quote from Chapter 3: "Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house... But it's too late to make any improvements now... The universe is finished."

This would be a very messy flowchart. I have to rethink it.
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Old 03-15-2012, 11:28 AM
 
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Woops, I've been lazy. Onward!
C41 - Ahab identifies MD as not just the source of his physical pain, but also his spiritural pain. Well, I guess that's what makes him crazy. Ahab "morally enfeebled" by "the imcomptence of mere unaided virtue" in Starbuck and the indifference and mediocrity of the rest. "Such a crew, so officered, seemed speciallypicked and packed by some informal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge".
C42 - Here's where I'm confused. Is MD, the white whale, a whale or a symbol? Because here's a whole chapter on his whiteness, which I'm understanding to mean that whiteness = death or nothingness. p. 214 - "A colorless all color of atheism". Atheism = nothingness to Melville? Or the all color of pantheism??? "Explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught" writes Ishmael/Melville. Well, all those chapters MIGHT be naught. Hmphf.
C43&44 - signs and portents - and more about Ahab's madness.
C45 & 46 - See, here's something fundamental I don't understand. MD is written in the first person. Is it always Ish speaking? Or is it Melville? If it's Ish, we have to assume from the start that he survives it all. Or if it's Melville, do we assume that he is telling about things he personally experienced or read? Or both? I know Philbrick says he loves C85 because Melville breaks from Ish and speaks as himself. But does Ish speaking 1st person throughout the book really make sense??? In this chapter, either Ish or Melv want to convince the reader that this story is believable by telling stories proving 1) that whaling is dangerous and many died, and that 2) sperm whales are huge and dangerous. Tells the Essex story, on which most think MD was based.
C 47 - Well, anyone wanting to read homoreroticism into something that might never really have had it there (I agree with you Bunjee) take a peak at QueeQuag's "oaken sword". I'm seeing somethin'!
C48 - The Filipinos, Fedallah and gang, come out of hiding. They play the role of the devils on the shoulder of Ahab, egging him on. But come on - have any of you guys seen sailing ships? I've just seen "tall ship" events in Seattle, Milwaukee and Duluth (and come to think of it I was on a reproduction at Plimoth Plantation) and those boats are teensy! I find it so hard to believe that a group of men could have successfully hidden. C49- The Desperado Philosophy of Ish - death is inevitable, so each day alive is that much gained. I think Philbrick said this is why Ish survives in the end - but don't others on the boat have the same philosophy? Maybe not - Ish thinks about it all, but others don't THINK about it - either they're like Starbuck and have blind faith, or like Stubb and just lead their lives in ignorance.
C50 - Ahab has created his own enabling environment - his "mongrel" crew, his devlish enablers Fedallah and gang, his ship fitted out to accomodate his leg, his ship owners who only care about profit.

Actually, you guys, what makes it difficult for me is mostly the choppiness - it isn't a straight narrative, but thisanthatantheother, which makes it hard for me to concentrate.

Am I just a goat bleating in the wilderness? Springfield, Bunjee, are you out there?
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