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Old 8th-March-2015, 05:24 AM   #1
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Default Moby Dick Discussion

The people have spoken and we have begun reading Moby Dick. This thread shall serve as the venue for discussion. Have at ye!

It appears I'm further ahead than everyone else so I won't remark on the plot. I am surprised though by how funny it is - definitely was not expecting to find myself laughing from this one just based on my preconceptions of it.
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Old 8th-March-2015, 05:41 AM   #2
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Ahab was one of the most real people I have ever met. I truly feel as though I met him after "Moby Dick." Why is that? Why do characters like that consistently seem more real than real people? How did the author do that? What was the author trying to say about the world when he created Ahab?

What did you think the inspiration for the whale was? Was it a personal struggle the author was going through, or was he at least channeling some of his own experiences into the characters? Was Ahab strictly his own interpretation of what he'd observed as a sailor?

Also, that book gives such an interesting perspective on perspective. Being unable to dive extensively and film, etc., it's interesting to see what they thought about whales.

Why did the author argue so passionately in favor of classifying whales as fish?

(It's been a while since I read "Moby Dick...")
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Old 8th-March-2015, 06:03 AM   #3
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Ah, thanks Abs.

Well, I find the book astonishingly progressive for it's time in terms of the author's view on people, societal conventions and beliefs. He seems to have a very keen eye for the comical in any situation (I was also surprised by this), which may be quite deliberate on his part as the book could have been perceived as very challenging at the time. The humour takes the edge off his sharp and critical observations which are delivered very softly.

The ship/marine metaphors are everywhere too - giving it a prevailing feeling of being immersed in seawater, seaweed and murky darkness; perhaps another metaphor for the darker side of humanity...? One almost feels like Jonah inside that whale at times, and then by the next paragraph, one is suddenly relieved by the grace of humour, like God shining his mercy upon Jonah as he finally repents.

...or perhaps I am reading too much into it....
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Old 8th-March-2015, 06:36 AM   #4
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

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Originally Posted by Polaris View Post
One almost feels like Jonah inside that whale at times, and then by the next paragraph, one is suddenly relieved by the grace of humour, like God shining his mercy upon Jonah as he finally repents.

...or perhaps I am reading too much into it....
I doubt you're reading too much into that, especially when the narrator chooses to be called Ishmael. I get the feeling that he's using this heavy-handed foreshadowing in order to distract us from the more subtle things.
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Old 8th-March-2015, 06:51 AM   #5
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

^ Good point.

Why do you think he would want to distract us?

With respect to the subtleties, they seem to be everywhere - are there any that stand out for everyone? (Yeah I know - oxymoron)

By that I mean there are certain passages that belong to a sub-narrative, which I often find more interesting.

Last edited by Polaris; 8th-March-2015 at 09:06 AM. Reason: added clarification
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Old 8th-March-2015, 02:46 PM   #6
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I've read it several times years ago. A couple random thoughts.

My favorite is the relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael, I closely identified with both of them.

The story I found a little hackneyed. Such as the obvious foreshadow from the street person and the over dramatization of Ahab.

More interesting than the book is the backstory on it. Melville got the idea upon hearing about a whale that stove in the ship Essex. The poor crew made off in the life rafts and little gear. Their story involved desperate cannibalism and abandoning crew on Henderson and Ducie islands.

There's a nice little Penguin book I have on the events, with reprints of the logs and writings of the survivors. Why did the whale attack that ship in such an uncharacteristic way? Nobody knows.
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Old 8th-March-2015, 06:56 PM   #7
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

The part I enjoyed was the end of chapter seven, in which I took Ishmael to exhort us not to take our lives for granted pursuing mundane pleasures or stale devotion. It was as though he took the intensity of the voyager life and gave it spiritual meaning. It was like he was saying that the edgy frontier of life was what has real meaning. His use of watery imagery, which we mistake for mundane life in my interpretation, turns the ocean into the ultimate quest, and people's perceptions of the life journey as the thinnest of air. That is what we might rightly call a fatal mistake, killing life before it even began.
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Old 9th-March-2015, 04:55 AM   #8
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Quote:
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^ Good point.

Why do you think he would want to distract us?

With respect to the subtleties, they seem to be everywhere - are there any that stand out for everyone? (Yeah I know - oxymoron)

By that I mean there are certain passages that belong to a sub-narrative, which I often find more interesting.
I have always enjoyed novels written in and about this era, especially ones that revolve around oceanic endeavors. I've noticed that Melville mixed many of the popular genres of the time. Most prominently, he took the anti-hero narrative style of writing that was just beginning to gain momentum and the foreshadowing of mystery/ghost stories, and he seems to be building them up to have a biblical significance. I think his encounter with the two churches are huge clues, and I would guess that his observations regarding Queepueg are also supposed to run an early contrast to future prejudices.

On another note, this book has me wondering about the baseline of cultural competency of the time. I mean, there are things that people with a nominal education are expected to already understand when reading a book or newspaper. Things that the author isn't obligated to explain. There is a lot in this book that Melville clearly didn't think needed explaining, and if I didn't have background knowledge in the particular subjects of the novel, I'd be a little lost. So how much was the average U.S. citizen in the 1850's expected to know about the life of a sailor?
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Old 9th-March-2015, 06:50 AM   #9
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I've noticed that Melville mixed many of the popular genres of the time. Most prominently, he took the anti-hero narrative style of writing that was just beginning to gain momentum
yeah...melville experimented a lot with literary form and themes, his works seem to be parodies of their own genres. this is probably more clear in pierre than in moby dick tho.
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Old 9th-March-2015, 06:18 PM   #10
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

//in for subscription purposes (and a bump to help fellow readers find).

I've just begun, have a lab report due tomorrow and a midterm paper due this week, but I expect to be mostly caught up very soon.
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Old 14th-March-2015, 03:22 AM   #11
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

So I read the next installment (I'm sure I'm behind the rest of you at this point, but without discussion, we'll never know).

It seems to be delving heavily into the differences between being a religious adherent and being a good person. First, our narrator, the open-minded Presbyterian calling himself Ishmael of all things. Then, Queepueg, who for a lack of coherent religion (first, he's appears to be an animist of some sort, then he's doing a day of Ramadan (though, it could just be the word he picked up from others at sea to express his own ritual)) appears to be most "decent" person of the bunch. Also, there are Quaker whalers. Finally, this creepy Elijah fellow is thrown in.
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Old 14th-March-2015, 03:49 AM   #12
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I just finished chapter 20 after getting interested in the Hebrew Book of Isaiah.

I used to work with Quakers, so I know about their general demeanor. My boss converted to Quakerism after an acid trip in which she gained an understanding of the divine. They capture the essence of the inner mystery of the Gospel while ignoring the anti-revolutionary practice.
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Old 14th-March-2015, 06:00 AM   #13
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Part of my family is Quaker and has been since Quakerism became a thing, apparently. They're awesome six days a week. Sundays are boring. The idea of a Quaker being a whaler is bizzare to me. They eat meat and all (and blood pudding..ick), but I think they'd consider whaling to be senseless death.

And I don't know what you mean by the inner mystery of the Gospel, but I find that they cling to the hippie stuff and ignore the cruelty of the Bible.
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Old 14th-March-2015, 06:55 AM   #14
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

im in chapter 14
i think its really bold of melville to include queepueg's views of his exposure to christianity as something that has made him impure rather than a salvation, says a lot about how prejudiced and close minded people were back then...so far, it seems to me that this book is a social commentary of its time, especially with its antithesis to prejudices, mainly religious ones. i like the scene where ishmael joins queepueg in his idol worship, i wonder how much outrage this scene caused at the time when it was published
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Old 14th-March-2015, 07:41 AM   #15
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I agree. I wonder if it was intended as shock value. I mean, he seems to be toying with a number of literary boundaries, so I suppose a few more weren't going to hurt.

I just realized though, how much this book must have paved the way for writers like Conrad to further discuss the anti-heros, prejudice, superstition, and the way sea travel made the world shrink.
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Old 21st-March-2015, 05:58 AM   #16
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k everyone ive decided i will name my sons ishmael n white whale
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Old 25th-March-2015, 10:12 PM   #17
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I'm sorry, I've been slacking off on my reading. Big surprise (kind of) audit coming up at work in a few weeks.
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Old 27th-March-2015, 03:46 PM   #18
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Well... I had a whole post typed up... then I guess my browser wanted to go back and I lost everything. In summary:

- I've read up to where Ishmael meets the quaker captains. I think Melville's commentary on Christianity is bold, and is a major talking point.

- I enjoy Melville's style, particularly his ability to add humor throughout a book that is otherwise serious in content (religion, sailing, whaling). I like that it's still funny to me now - reading other authors from this time period, their humor seems forced or just not relevant.

- While reading, I was wondering why it was so poorly received when it was first written. Basically this book was the first step in dismantling Melville's literary career, yet now it is regarded as a classic of all time. I haven't really gotten to the core of the book yet, but it's been a pleasurable read so far, albeit at times a little... quirky.
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Old 28th-March-2015, 02:42 AM   #19
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Do any of you find yourself framing things in your life with the context/environment set in the book?
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Old 28th-March-2015, 09:21 PM   #20
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

What exactly do you mean, OrLevitate? What do you mean by framing things? As in, projecting myself into the shoes of, say, Ishmael in certain situations?

Do you have any examples of this happening to you?
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Old 28th-March-2015, 09:36 PM   #21
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Quote:
- While reading, I was wondering why it was so poorly received when it was first written. Basically this book was the first step in dismantling Melville's literary career, yet now it is regarded as a classic of all time. I haven't really gotten to the core of the book yet, but it's been a pleasurable read so far, albeit at times a little... quirky.
A bit of controversy can be the best advertising for a book, there are many books with grand stories that are doomed to a fate of obscurity simply because they never capture the zeitgeist of their time like a controversial book does.
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Old 28th-March-2015, 09:47 PM   #22
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I've flipped to a random page in the middle of Fifty Shades of Grey, the protagonist was considering whether or not to be in a highly submissive relationship that's more like a contract with an asshole of a guy that she adores for some reason and it's none of this that bothers her, it's the prospect of the pain she'll have to endure for the sake of his kinks.

Well fuck, now I know what the fuss is about

And I'm actually quite amazed that I got all that context from one page, that's some very impressive writing.
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Old 28th-March-2015, 11:03 PM   #23
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OK that's cool, but I'm asking why NOW is it popular? Are you just saying that when it was studied again in the 20th century it hit on some sort of controversy that it didn't hit on directly after its release?
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Old 29th-March-2015, 12:29 AM   #24
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

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Do any of you find yourself framing things in your life with the context/environment set in the book?
I do, but as I said before, I love nautical books set in this time period (and up to 50 years prior). Of course, I have to imagine myself a man and not an INTP (unless I get to be Stephen Maturin).

I have a hard time seeing myself sympathizing with or being a whaler, however. Melville implies that even then it was considered gruesome work.
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Old 30th-March-2015, 04:24 AM   #25
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Well he does have the whole chapter devoted entirely to defending the integrity (among other things) of whaling (The Advocate, chapter 24)

What is everyone's take on the cetology chapter? (32)

I'm interested in seeing what y'all think about that one. I'll hold my comments until someone else talks.
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Old 29th-April-2016, 11:23 AM   #26
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Did anyone manage to finish this? Or is still interested? I feel bad that I was one of the initial advocates but wasn't able to participate.

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What is everyone's take on the cetology chapter? (32)

I'm interested in seeing what y'all think about that one. I'll hold my comments until someone else talks.
That's where I'm at right now actually though I haven't started it for lack of time.

One thing that struck me was Ishmael's description of his nightmare after sleeping with Queequeg, it seemed an awful lot like what a sleep paralysis experience entails. It makes me wonder what the earliest recorded description of sleep paralysis might be.

Quote:
At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it- half steeped in dreams- I opened my eyes, and the before sunlit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bed-side. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it.
I thought these quotes were succinctly profound:
Spoiler:
And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid.

In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.



I have also collected some humorous excerpts, though half of it may be mine own puerile interpretations.
Spoiler:
In this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern.

I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like a bench on the Battery. At one end a ruminating tar was still further adorning it with his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working away at the space between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship under full sail, but he didn't make much headway, I thought.

It was now about nine o'clock, and the room seeming almost supernaturally quiet after these orgies, I began to congratulate myself upon a little plan that had occurred to me just previous to the entrance of the seamen.

Suppose now, he should tumble in upon me at midnight- how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?

But to-night he went out a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him so late, unless, may be, he can't sell his head
"Broke," said I- "broke, do you mean?"
"Sartain, and that's the very reason he can't sell it, I guess."

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood?
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Old 24th-May-2016, 05:45 PM   #27
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

I finished the book about a year ago, now. I remember reading that initial bit (the sleep paralysis) but didn't think much of it at the time (probably because it was early on in the book and I wasn't quite into it, yet). I think your take on that is good - it certainly does seem like a description of sleep paralysis. Given Ishmael's propensity towards prophesy, I wonder if there isn't something more there than just a description of paralysis.

As a side note, I also remember the paid/paying excerpt, and found it profound, as have you. I would strongly recommend continuing this book (not that you need my advice) as it turned out to be one of my favorites of all time.
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Old 28th-May-2016, 09:45 PM   #28
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Default Re: Moby Dick Discussion

Thanks for popping in . I plan to finish it.

There might be a deeper meaning but I saw it as that he wants to experience life with no sense of entitlement, that he's a true adventurer and observer seeing the gifts the world has to offer.

A less certain interpretation I have is that he has a guilty conscience and that's where the other quote about repentance fits in as well, he wants to be paid with cosmic punishment.
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