Sounding the Whale: Moby-Dick as Epic Novel

Sounding the Whale: Moby-Dick as Epic Novel

Sounding the Whale: Moby-Dick as Epic Novel

Sounding the Whale: Moby-Dick as Epic Novel

Synopsis

Sounding the Whale is Christopher Sten's comprehensive account of his own close encounter with Moby-Dick. Originally a long, self-contained chapter in The Weaver-God, He Weaves: Melville and the Poetics of the Novel, just published by the Kent State University Press, this chapter-by-chapter study of Moby-Dick evolved as a book within a book. Sten argues that Melville not only was familiar with the traditional forms of narrative but that he refined them and appropriated them to his own original purposes. For Moby-Dick, he fused the heroic qualities of the ancient Homeric epic with the spiritual qualities of the early modern form found in Dante and Milton, then cast the whole enterprise in an unprecedented poetic prose form. Thus he formulated the first prose epic of its kind, and the only religious epic on the subject of whaling anyone is likely to write.

Excerpt

As a quest epic, Moby-Dick is Melville's most ambitious novel, and his most challenging. As such, it requires the most careful and responsive reading imaginable. But care and responsiveness, good Ishmaelian virtues though they are, are likely to take one only so far into the labyrinth of The Whale. For a clear apprehension of the intricacy and depth of Melville's story, of the rewards and dangers, the subtle ins and outs of the quest, one is likely to need a guide, as Ishmael did when he undertook his first whaling voyage in the company of Queequeg. This book is intended as such a guide.

Originally written as a long chapter in a larger study of Melville's major fiction, The Weaver-God He Weaves: Melville and the Poetics of the Novel (1996), this essay took the form, almost from the beginning, of a chapter-by-chapter account of my own close encounter with Moby-Dick. and as it grew, I realized I was writing a book within a book that might prove useful in its own right to readers of Melville's most difficult and perplexing narrative. So far as I know, there is nothing quite like it, no scene-by-scene discussion, anywhere among the shelves of books devoted to this extraordinary novel. Happily, the editors at the Kent State University Press, publishers of The Weaver-God, agreed to the idea of issuing this chapter as a separate volume. the only change in the present volume is a change in title, from "Sounding the Self" to Sounding the Whale, a modification that permits the essay to stand more squarely on its own and perhaps more clearly points to the organizing idea in Melville's narrative, namely, that the Whale is Melville's great symbol for the self, his ingenious image of the soul--the object, as his Transcendentalist contemporaries should have recognized, of all meditation.

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