Wednesday, March 12, 2014

RE-encountering the White Whale


Melville’s Moby Dick has become such a marker of American literary identity that the whale Moby Dick, and his pursuing captain, Ahab, have moved beyond the pages of the novel into the world-at-large.  Even if someone has not read the book, they usually know that it has something to do with the singularity of an insane quest, insatiable revenge, and the purported dominance of man over nature.

Of course, the novel is that, and much more.  It is also a deep investigation into the spiritual life and its limitations, of language and its limitations, and of man and his limitation against nature.

And although only a fraction of the novel takes place in America, it is a deeply American novel.  Long before we were a world power, Melville shows, in his American Nantucket whalers, the world embracing spirit that would grip most of twentieth century America.

Although Moby Dick is a challenging read for most 21st century readers, the language Melville captured has a particular rhapsody all its own.  It is more akin to poetry than prose.  The reader can simply be lifted by the language and let go his or her own resistance to the novel evaporate.


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