Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Moby Dick Review

I have read so many, many books, articles and reviews try to boil Moby-Dick down to the purest most refined elements. But, like Russian television and Nietzschean abysses, when you deconstruct Moby-Dick, Moby-Dick deconstructs you. Ultimately, every reviewer finds, somewhere in this oceanic work, their own gods and demons.

Boil, boil, trouble and toil. Tell me of ships, whales and oil. Melville’s words are a mashup of all that comes before. There is Shakespeare. There are sailor’s ditties. There is Biblical poetry. There are songs from the kids in the street. There are myths. There are encyclopedia entries. It is a hip-hop book wrought of minnesang and hula and kathakali, ending in a glorious danse macabre. Most of all, there is humor, there is seriousness, and there is drama. Come, more wine! There is a roaring furnace before us and we’ve tales to tell!

Melville does not so much challenge the novel’s form as disregard it, crafting a tale that makes sense to him, pulling together his whaling canon from all the literary and philosophical flotsam gathered in a life of global wandering. He sprinkles acts of a drama among tableaus and stories and treatises, he throws in footnotes, he steps out of the book and comments upon it, and steps back in and takes on a new voice. Throughout, ever writerly, the story plods on, in those wonderful words and phrases and rhythms, slowly building, building, building into a drama like no other (however much it borrows from others - is this the fish that sank a thousand ships!). There is a typhonic crescendo at the end, and then the music tails off.

Since this review must ultimately devolve into a deconstruction of myself reading, since the book is beyond knowing, I might as well tell of this particular reading of Moby-Dick, which has been quite different from prior readings. In this reading, I see a book of uncommon dramatic energy and careful construction that seems to pull all the diverse threads of our deepest myths and creation tales together, building out of them a misty, mystifying fabric, diaphanous as Cleo’s gown, a sort of alternative mythology for a world in which science and technology are emerging and removing us more and more from nature itself, and putting us more in opposition to it. He offers us this mythology because he knows that this new, scientific world, this world of observations and answers, will ultimately provide no more answers than the ridiculously pious (piously ridiculous?) world that came before.

But, whatever my reading, you must tell me yours, for the book lends itself to many.

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