Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More than one Moby?

They really like Moby Dick in the comics.

W. B. Park cartoon:

'Come on - You mean Ahab thought Moby was the only great white whale?'

This is funny. The biggest reason is that deep in the back of your mind as you are reading this tale, what if Moby did not have that distinct coloring? I mean, if I have a pit bull take my hand off, I am not going to be able to distinguish one bloody pit bull from another.

However, I know there is supposed to be more in the symbolism of the whiteness. Below is an easy excerpt from the Sparknotes on the subject:


Whiteness, to Ishmael, is horrible because it represents the unnatural and threatening: albinos, creatures that live in extreme and inhospitable environments, waves breaking against rocks. These examples reverse the traditional association of whiteness with purity. Whiteness conveys both a lack of meaning and an unreadable excess of meaning that confounds individuals. Moby Dick is the pinnacle of whiteness, and Melville’s characters cannot objectively understand the White Whale. Ahab, for instance, believes that Moby Dick represents evil, while Ishmael fails in his attempts to determine scientifically the whale’s fundamental nature.

All the more reason to wonder what if there was more than one white whale. The symbolism of being white then begs the question--is that the only thing white in this world? Is that the only piece of evil? Of good?

In that regard, there is ANOTHER cartoon, one by Jim Sizemore, here: http://www.cartoonstock.com/cartoonview.asp?catref=jsi0085 with Moby sitting at a bar and the barkeeper asking, "Another Ahab?"

This implies that the clash between good and evil will continue, at any rate. If you get one obsessed man chasing the object down, there may be another. And if the white whale is as symbolic as all the critics supposedly say, they will always be chasing him, like men chasing after gold.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Inspiration of Art

"Conceptual artist Loris Gréaud (b. 1979, France), who joined The Pace Gallery this month, will present The Gepetto Pavilion, a colossal sculpture of a 55-foot-long beached whale placed at the canal entrance to the Arsenale with an “isolation room” in the whale’s belly for visitors to enter.
Made and carved according to the description of Moby Dick, Gréaud’s life-sized whale explores the myth of the belly of the whale in contemporary culture, from biblical stories to Pinocchio. Continuing his practice of collaborating with experts in diverse fields, Gréaud compiled, archived, and analyzed stories about the obsession of the whale and formed a team of oceanographers and sculptors to produce an artwork that corresponds to their research. The inside of the belly houses a 40 square-foot space where the spectator can actually live what it would feel like to be swallowed and expectorated, allowing them an extreme and fictitious experience that has only been made tangible in tales and legends. " at http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=46841

This interests me because Melville would be proud how his old-time encyclopedic book was used for the description of the sculpture. Clearly, this modern artist could use a more scientific description, but he chose Melville's famous stuff. One case where Melville's writing, the fluffy poetry-like prose, is used well.

Cartoon again--Should we rewrite the first paragraph of the book?


Danny Shanahan New Yorker cartoon. Remember that New Yorker cartoons are usually of very high literate value--these cartoonists often allude to things that literate people should know.

The cartoon clearly works on its own, just calling somebody else's name in the throes of passion. However, the added element is that it is clearly peg-legged Ahab.

Now here's the crux of the real literary matter and one of the annoying things I find about the book--Ishmael.

Is it about Ishmael or Ahab? I know the story needed a narrator and particularly needed a narrator who survived. But did we, really? The way the book is presented, why couldn't it be an omniscient narrrator anyway?

Ishmael has the famous first line of the text. There's really no overly-famous quote that involves Ahab's name. Yet we all know it. If Melville had started with any other sentence, would "Call me Ishmael" be famous? If, for instance, he left this thesis statement as the last sentence of the opening paragraph instead of the first, would it be famous? The funny thing is that as an English teacher, we most often tell students to leave this to the last sentence of the first paragraph.

Let's look at that first paragraph again--if it were presented without that first famous line:

Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in
my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail
about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of
driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself
growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my
soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and
bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos
get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to
prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking
people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato
throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing
surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some
time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Call me Ishmael.

It could go there as the last sentence. Clearly. Maybe add a bit--like: "Who am I? Call me Ishmael."

I look at this paragraph and think that a better opening would have some reference to the call of the sea. Maybe a siren allusion? Maybe a reference to a watery adventure?

The second paragraph starts on another tangent--tangents in Moby Dick are prevalent remember--about the island of the Manhattoes. This movement of the famous line might even tie in better to this second paragraph to make him closer to the Manhattoes, as one of them.

Wow, this New Yorker cartoon is deeper than I thought.

Moby Dick picture book

This book looks painstakingly fantastic!
Many other pictures at the link below. I left a comment to ask her, "Why Moby Dick? Why not something like Alice in Wonderland?" I'm just curious as to the motivation.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another Moby Cartoon


I dare not reproduce it--but I can link to it.

Cartoon by Jon Herman. Ahab is tied to the whale--but he has a cell phone and says, "Hey, I gotta go! I'm out of minutes."

Of course the cell phone pun now inextricably tied to Ahab's life, as we all know that this is his last breath before Moby Dick breaches.

Notice what I just said--we all know.

This cartoon makes use of the fact that we know this is Ahab in his last moments. Yet it brings up the question--what does one think if one doesn't know the tale? How do I test that? Maybe in class with the high schoolers one day in the fall...

...to be continued.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Face to face with Moby Dick underwater pictures


A researcher off the coast of Dominica took some spectacular underwater photos of being extremely close to sperm whales. Apparently, sperm whales are there all year round, possibly due to a limited continental shelf there. This is all according to the interview on the Fox News site.

Now, the only mention to Moby Dick is from the researcher and the title of the news segment. The researcher does say that sperm whales have had two hundred years of bad press since Melville's book and even recently with Nathaniel Philbrick's book.

At least this tries to distance itself from the book. But it does acknowledge its impact. I thought for sure one of the news anchors would say something about it, but they didn't. The one news anchor does ask if you should ever be afraid of the whale hitting you with its tail and doing damage but then this is where the researcher talks of the bad press. So the news anchor, consciously or subconsciously, knew of the potential for destruction revolving sperm whales. You wonder if it would have been the same with any other breed of whale.

More pictures can be found at: