Monday, October 31, 2011

Rugged, Rugged Melville . . .

The Moby-Dick Collection
of
W. O. "Bill" Pettit

Avast! (Whatever that means.) Here be a wander-full, errant whale of a cover! (Note the missing hyphen in the book-title.) I came across this boys' book by clicking onto the online version of an International Herald Tribune article by Kathryn Harrison reviewing Nathaniel Philbrick's defense of Herman Melville's magnum opus, the novel Moby-Dick. That online copy of Harrison's article appears in the New York Times as "How to Read Moby-Dick" (October 21, 2011)

Go there to read about Philbrick's advocacy of Melville -- the great author needs no defense here on Gypsy Scholar! I first read Moby-Dick entire while living in Berkeley and putting off my doctoral-thesis application -- therefore in the mid-1980s -- indicating that I read that novel in Stephens Lounge under the watchful gaze of the Professor Stephens portrait hung high up on the wall.

I recall being amazed at how 'modern' the novel was, how entertaining it could be! True, there was a lot of whaling terminology to master, but Melville himself elaborated much of that. I don't recall the cover on my copy, but it certainly didn't have the appearance of the cover above, that 'homosocial' image of stalwart, sturdy, upper-class teenage boys dressed in their semi-formal attire, the tallest boy bearing a football and leading shorter boys as they float down a flight of ethereal, blue steps toward a game of something like rugby . . . except that the sport will have to be far more rugged, "fishing for whales," involving a Scottish Terrier, for some odd reason . . .

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13 Comments:

At 5:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Avast Jeff!

Sailors (unsurprisingly) use the word as a stand-in for ... drumroll... "Attention!" Supposedly, it carries across further distances - never tested by 'ol JK himself though.

And Melville was...? (Well, before being an author.)

JK

 
At 6:19 AM, Blogger dhr said...

This is SO extraordinary that I relaunched it from my own blog. Definitely a 'must.'

:-D :-D :-D

 
At 6:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I figured the word meant something like that -- the link offers an etymology.

Melville was certainly (as you elliptically imply) a sailor, his first success being a book based on his experiences in the South Pacific.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think this must be the expurgated version of Moby-Dick.

The name "Dick" has probably been replaced by the "football" seen in the tall boy's hand, but since "Moby Football" sounds peculiar, the expression actually used is perhaps "Moby Leather Balls."

That sounds much less offensive, so I'm betting that's what we'd find if we could just turn that book's cover . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:35 AM, Blogger dhr said...

"Call me Ease Mall."

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ease Mall will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand raised against all others . . .

. . . and from "Ease Mall," we get the German word "Esel."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:50 AM, Blogger dhr said...

C'est melvilleux!

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

'S Wanderful, 'S Melvilleux . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Aarrggh.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uttered by a pirate of the East Sea . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:51 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Philbrick's Mayflower book--what I could read of it before casting aside in disgust--is rubbish.

I'll have to read through these links. Report (brief report)forthcoming.

 
At 2:46 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

It is difficult to tell in her descriptions if Harrison is presenting her summary of Moby-Dick or Philbrick's?

Anyway, this looks to me like middle-brow stuff. Philbrick isn’t saying anything new here, and it looks like he is missing a few points.

The plot of Moby-Dick isn’t at all ‘fated.” (and, again, is Harrison saying this or Philbrick?) Ahab might think so, and Melville is doubtful about how the ship (the Pequod and America) will end up, but still there are choices characters could make that could produce good outcomes. There is a plot and a crisis; indeed, there are many crises in this book. Perhaps a key crisis is when the middle class Starbuck is unable to take the ship from Ahab—Starbuck bows down to the idols of their respective roles in society. You might say Starbuck is stuck in his Confucian vision of social organization. Clearly, Ahab is mad, and clearly Starbuck should take the ship—and even if it means killing Ahab. In fact, it is his lawful duty. But Starbuck is, as I have a suggested, a fool and a coward, stuck in his fawning obsequiescent respect for Ahab’s “authority.” Moby-Dick is a sort of Calvinist satire, guide book, or even bestiary—an exposition of how people (from scientists to officers at various levels in commercial organizations) can make stupid and fatal mistakes.

In short, it looks to me like another middle-brow production by a middle-brow author, published by Middle-Brow, Inc., and meant to be consumed by middle-brow drones that will likely get bored and set the book down before they finish it. And, if they do finish it, they have wasted their middle-brow time, in my humble high-brow opinion.

 
At 5:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, this blog clings perilously, precipitously, somewhere between Middle-Brow and High-Brow, so thanks for the rope with which to secure myself.

I'd never heard of Philbrick before, but I certainly have learned a lot by noting his book in a blog entry . . . also about Harrison, whom I definitely had heard of before.

Jeffery Hodges

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