Thoughts on Moby-Dick: or the whiteness of the whale

Last weekend I had a lovely night out with the ladies. Deidra, Mendy, Debora and I congregated at Après Diem and then went to see a lovely movie, (500) Days of Summer, which was clever and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is charming and all in all it was a great evening. A perfect weekend (only made better by my dear friend Will coming to stay with me for his writing and reading whilst away week).

But something happened in the middle of it all. I was posed a question by my dear friend Mendy. “Why do you like Moby-Dick?” She asked. Seems simple enough. However, this is what struck me, no one has ever asked me that. Not only about MD, but about any of my strange passions. I had a Pimms cup, or 3 by the time she asked, so I may not have articulated it well. Then again, maybe it helped me get to the core of it.

So, here they are — a few reasons why I love a sort of unlovable book:

  • The characters. Sure, they float around, they inconsistently appear and reappear, but they make their mark. They are ambigous, often, much like me and most people I know. They are flawed. Some of the most minor still reveal a key aspect of our consciousness. It is almost too much to absorb.
  • The layers or fragments or pieces or whatever you want to think of them of the book. All the cetology, the bizarre, the bones and the slaughter, the false starts, the epilogue. This is a hodge podge of information, fiction, tales. What do you do with it all?
  • The chase.  I love the obsession. I love the obsessions juxtaposed with everything else. I especially love the madness and the way it drives everything in the end. you grow to hate it, you just want it over with. It’s pure delight.
  • The sea, the land, the boat and everything they symbolize. Maybe it would just be easier for me to say the symbolism? This novel is rich in the way it can be mined for interpretation.
  • And very specifically, the chapters that cover the mother and her calf are so intimate and removed (how does he do that?), the mystery and intrigue of the giant squid and I think, above all, the epilogue. It is one of the finest bits we can come to. It is the calm and reward.
  • Not least of all, I had a phenomenal teacher. Dr. Marta Werner drove the class to this point of obsession. I’d never read Moby-Dick before. Honestly, I haven’t read it since (except to excavate some stuff for papers.) She wouldn’t let us rest with the obvious, she made us keep peeling back layers. In short, she drove us mad — and like Pip, I’ve never fully recovered.

Thanks for the question Mendy!

2 responses to “Thoughts on Moby-Dick: or the whiteness of the whale

  1. What is a Pimms cup? I really need to get out of this country setting. In the meantime I will check out Moby- Dick. Obsession, Madness, Love, Flawed Characters, and the Sea!! Late summer reading! You should write book reviews for New York Times.

  2. Excellent site, keep up the good work

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