February 5, 2013

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Artist: Matt Kish
Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the world through so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an ear which is smaller than a hare’s? But if his eyes were broad as the lens of Herschel’s great telescope; and his ears capacious as the porches of cathedrals; would that make him any longer of sight, or sharper of hearing? Not at all.— Why then do you try to “enlarge” your mind? Subtilize it.
I was reading Moby-Dick since September, and there are reasons for it taking so much time. First, I started to read one chapter a day with Moby-Dick Big Read, and I thought it was a good idea, but you know me: I kept forgetting about the every day bit of reading, so already rather big chunks were waiting to be read for weeks, then I had the end of the semester and exam session... you can imagine. Somewhere halfway I discovered that it's really difficult for me to listen to such a complex text, so I gave up following the audios altogether.

But here I am, having finally finished it and deeply affected by it. This book is so much more than anything I was expecting, that I find it really difficult to write about it. But I'll try, anyway, even if it is just a stream of consciousness.

Well, I'll be honest: it is true that it's a difficult book. Beginning as low as on the vocabulary level you'll have to overcome obstacles concerning a lot of marine words and detailed descriptions of whaling processes. I'm no novice in marine vocabulary, I was specially studying it when I went to sea on a rigged ship, but I still had some problems. But all the words and descriptions add to the atmosphere of the whaling and are really very much in their place in the book, so I wasn't irritated very much ;) Moreover, somewhere on the way I found patell dot org blog, where a NYU professor comments on every chapter, which is really helpful.

On the semantic level Moby-Dick can boast getting the title of the most inter-textual book I've ever read. There's a bit of Bible, Zoroastrism, whaling history, Shakespeare, classification theory.... well, a bit of everything there! But this also makes reading very rewarding, as you can be proud of yourself for knowing things nearly every page! :) That's if you enjoy indulging your snobbishness, which I do.

Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in productive subjects, grow the chapters.
The good news is that composition complexity makes reading easier rather than more difficult. The book is divided into 136 chapters, the smallest consisting of only 6 sentences! So you'll read through them pretty fast. The diversity of styles also helps a great deal: here you have memoirs, action, drama, encyclopedia, affidavit, historical and literary investigation, etc. all mixed up, so you'll never get tired of the style.

As I now reread everything I have written so far, it seems to be an argument in favour of reading the book rather than a review. Well, maybe it is so because there were a lot of moments I wanted to put the book down and I'm so happy I didn't! I enjoyed some (mostly philosophical) parts of it very much, and I feel very accomplished and proud of myself now ;) And the ending is unbelievably strong, although I will not include any spoilers here.

No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.
H. Melville 
And this is a truly great volume, written on no flea.


  1. This is pretty much how I felt after reading Moby-Dick. It's the journey that's important, and even the boring parts were worth the time.

    Great picture, by the way!

    1. The picture was my favourite artwork from the whole Big Read project, so I felt I must share, because everyone must see it) Great that you like it too!

  2. I have never read Moby-Dick, nor had much interest in doing so even though I enjoy reading about what others think of it. It's very odd. The marine vocab I imagine would be a challenge, but I don't suppose that would be any different than the books I read that are peppered with words in other languages.

    And I agree with Marian that the artwork you included is fantastic!

    1. Well, I have this urge to read whatever is mentioned around me)) So I envy your tranquility when you just read what everybody else say))

  3. This is a book I've always wanted to read, but always been a little intimidated by. I know both the language and the philosophy are difficult, and I've never quite worked my way up to reading it. Way to go finishing it though! It must be a lot harder in a second language!

    Well, wish me luck finding the gumption to read it. :)

    1. Well, good luck to you! It is not that difficult if you find some commentary, that works for you)


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