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  • 2 weeks later...

Totally without realizing that we were on the 200th, I decided to take a swing at teaching Moby Dick this semester. It's a class on "the novel," and I decided to try something I've wanted to do for a long time--take one novel and spend a whole semester on it.

I'm starting to get daunted, though, the closer I get and the more I prepare.

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17 hours ago, NBooth said:

Totally without realizing that we were on the 200th, I decided to take a swing at teaching Moby Dick this semester. It's a class on "the novel," and I decided to try something I've wanted to do for a long time--take one novel and spend a whole semester on it.

I'm starting to get daunted, though, the closer I get and the more I prepare.

I've done this before, though not with MD. If you want to discuss, feel free to send me a PM or e-mail.

 

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  • 6 months later...

Frank Muller's narration for Recorded books is just so damn stellar. It's real hard to listen and not get drunk on Meville's prose. 

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  • 1 year later...

I finished Moby-Dick up in late January. Was first time reading it and took around two months to complete. What an achievement. I'm going to quote from my Facebook post at the time because it sums up my thoughts on it as a "difficult novel."

Quote
I finished up Moby-Dick, which took me around two months to read. I guess I feel somewhat accomplished, considering it's a long and dense work that's considered one of the great American novels. But I'm again mostly struck by thoughts similar to those I had after reading Ulysses in 2017: it's not as difficult as the popular conception will have you believe it is.
 
I don't mean this as some of kind of humble brag about me finding a difficult novel easy to read. I'm just being honest about how my experience didn't mesh with the popular wisdom. Now, I get it. Not everyone reads novels, and if they do read them, they may not want to spend several months on one novel that foregoes conventional narrative structure and character approaches. But if you simply dive into the work and allow the prose to wash over you (forgive the trite metaphor), you get onto its wavelength pretty quickly and it becomes quite enjoyable to learn about the history of whaling, ponder the frightening nature of existence, and view the power of the natural world through this particular lens. It doesn't become easy, per se, but it's not inaccessible by any means, and it is often exciting and funny and suspenseful and even conventionally entertaining in ways that are almost never mentioned when the book is discussed in popular culture. So, basically, don't be daunted if it seems daunting to you.
 
I need to read more during the tail end of this pandemic. Perhaps not another 700 page novel (or a 1,300 page one like The Stand, which I read last spring), but if I cannot find time for reading a large book during a stay-at-home order, I'm not sure when I'll ever find the time. So might as well take advantage of it and go on an immersive trip in my head.

 

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

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Aren, I do think the nature of Melville's prose is harder than average. We're probably more accustomed to stylistic shifts in tone or the move away from plot, but the diction and sentence-structure can be convoluted (deliberately so, I think) to the point of frustration. 

If you liked it, I recommend "Billy Budd" as shorter but still having some similar qualities.

 

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I read Moby-Dick around 5-6 years ago, and I agree both with Aren and Ken on two points: to Aren, Moby-Dick is more entertaining, more enjoyable, and more accessible, in the sense that it speaks to things that people might find interesting *if* they allow themselves the time and space to think—than the popular conception of the novel is. So, absolutely. The elitist notion of Moby-Dick is to some degree a construction of distance. To Ken's point, I think what you're getting at is that people are not used to reading complex sentences and to a non-literary culture such as our social media culture (i've been reading a bit about oral psychodynamics and societies of primary orality versus literary, viz. Walter Ong, for my courses) and regardless of the untruth of the popular conception of Moby-Dick, many people will find it a slog. Because they will find even breezy, straightforward literature difficult. It's not a value-judgement, simply a fact, supplemented by anecdote of teaching first year academic communications the last 4 years.

But yes, to Ken's recommendation: After watching Beau travail last year I picked up the Penguin edition of "Billy Budd" and other stories and further fell in love with Melville. "Benito Cereno" strikes me as one of the most powerful works on the limits of our own perception in relation to race and slavery that I've ever read.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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22 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

Aren, I do think the nature of Melville's prose is harder than average. We're probably more accustomed to stylistic shifts in tone or the move away from plot, but the diction and sentence-structure can be convoluted (deliberately so, I think) to the point of frustration. 

If you liked it, I recommend "Billy Budd" as shorter but still having some similar qualities.

 

Yeah, I agree with you Ken that it is more difficult than what most people want in prose writing in our modern day. But I always want to push back against these pop-culture notions of books like Moby-Dick and Ulysses or anything really being "unreadable," especially when it's so enjoyable on so many other levels, as Anders gestures at. Thus, it's why I posted on Facebook, hoping to inspire even just one person to make the commitment and actually read the book.

Yeah, I really liked "Billy Budd" when I read it several years ago. Also, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" has to be one of the funniest, most frustrating short stories ever written.

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

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I sometimes cite this passage in "Billy Budd" as an example of the "difficulty" of Melville's prose:

 

Quote

But the thing which in eminent instances signalizes so exceptional a
nature is this: though the man's even temper and discreet bearing would
seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject to the law of reason, not the
less in his heart he would seem to riot in complete exemption from that
law, having apparently little to do with reason further than to employ
it as an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational. That is to
say: Toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness of
malignity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool
judgement sagacious and sound. These men are true madmen, and of the
most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not continuous but occasional,
evoked by some special object; it is probably secretive, which is as
much to say it is self-contained, so that when moreover, most active, it
is to the average mind not distinguishable from sanity, and for the
reason above suggested that whatever its aims may be--and the aim is
never declared--the method and the outward proceeding are always
perfectly rational.

I acknowledge that difficulty is a relative thing, and we are more used to certain conventions because of the influence of Melville, but that's not to discount that that there are objective ways in which his writing is difficult and that descriptor is not just a lazy stereotype.

Of course, some people like difficult in art -- I do on occasion. Part of what makes something pleasurable is that it makes you work a little. 

But anyhow, the complex sentences, the repetition of "seems" to render the description ambiguous (is he saying it is that way or that it appears that way but is actually not) causes a lot of what reader-response critics call deferring meaning. Combine that to long sentences, contradictions,abstractions, and even use of nominals and nominalizations, and the prose is challenging. (I think deliberately so.)

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