Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From hell's heart, I stab at thee!

I have made a decision. Don't try to talk me out of it. I have been thinking about it for a long time now, and I'm finally going to do it. Many people have made the same choice as I have, and it has only ended in disaster for them. With that in mind, I'm still going to go forward with my plans.

I'm going to read Moby Dick. Call me a madman, but I finally want to be able to answer the following question: "Hey, have you ever read Moby Dick?" with a: "Yes. Yes I have."

My first encounter with the white whale was when he bit my leg off while I was...no, wait, that's Ahab's first encounter. My first encounter was the movie version when it was playing on TV. I was just a kid, and I had recently seen the Jaws movies, so I figured that it would be pretty much the same sort of a thing, except of course with a whale instead of a shark. The only two things I remember from that was seeing Ahab nail the golden dubloon to the ship's mast and the final scene where he's strapped to Moby Dick by the harpoon rope. Those were both pretty powerful images, and I think that on some level I was able to understand that the real villain of the story was not the whale but Captain Ahab.

My next encounter would come while I was attending San Francisco State University, in my American Literature class. We had just read The Scarlett Letter which I didn't really get into. When I heard that Moby Dick would be the next book, I got pretty excited. It's one of those stories where so many images and references to it permeate so many aspects of our society that I was extremely curious to read it for myself.

Then something happened. I actually tried to read the damned thing. I don't think I finished it. I think I read quite a bit of the Cliff's Notes and a lot of the chapters at the beginning and a lot of the chapters at the end.

Don't get me wrong. There are wonderful passages. The first chapter is sublime, and practically stands on its own. There are also a lot of great parts, like when Ishmael finds himself sharing a bed with the cannibal Queequeg. There are some great speeches given by Ahab (not to mention Father Mapple's analysis of the Jonah story). There are wonderful philosophical and spiritual debates. It also has probably one of the best endings of any story ever. You can analyze and discuss the story endlessly. (A friend of mine, who teaches part of the story, shows the movie Grizzly Man after the class reads it. I was skeptical of it, but it basically deals with one of the major things - the danger of anthropomorphizing animals.)

Still, you gotta actually read the damned thing. When you're not reading all of the great stuff, you're reading some of the most tedious, torturous, ponderous prose ever composed by humans. I often joke that it's simultaneously the best book and the worst book of all time. Damn you, Melville! Why must you wrap this diamond in a turd?

But I won't let it beat me this time. I will actually read the damned thing from beginning to end. Why? Don't ask why! 'Cause it's there, and I own a copy!

Aye, aye! and I'll read it round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give it up!

Or maybe I'll just listen to the song by Led Zeppelin. That's pretty much the same thing, right?

1 comment:

ForHisSake said...

Like I have said before--You are delightful!. Great Post.