Academic journal article Visible Language

Chasing the White Whale, the Moby-Dick Marathon; or, What Melville Means Today

Academic journal article Visible Language

Chasing the White Whale, the Moby-Dick Marathon; or, What Melville Means Today

Article excerpt

CHASING THE WHITE WHALE, THE MOBY-DICK MARATHON; OR, WHAT MELVILLE MEANS TODAY David Dowling Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2010 ISBN 978-1-58729-906-3 Paperback, 242 pages, a few illustrations, black and white, $24.95

As a Moby Dick fan, I simply couldn't resist this book when I read the promotional statement and now I find it fulfills its promise to connect Melville's themes to contemporary life. But first, the occasion for the author to write this book was the marathon twenty-five hour, nonstop reading of Moby Dick at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. New Bedford was a primary site for mid-nineteenth century whaling, so having the marathon at the museum and at the Seamen's Bethel, a chapel, in proximity to amazing whale skeletons and the local lore was perfect. People volunteer to be readers; it is an egalitarian reading with academics, a Melville descendant, children of various ages, politicians, enthusiasts of various stripes and locals. People come and go, but the hardcore last for the full revelation of Melville's magic.

Many cite Moby Dick and Thoreau's Walden as touchstones of American fiction. The marathon reading is less a celebration of whaling and more a meditation on man's relationship to nature and culture and the search for meaning in life. The people who attend the reading are a passionate and devoted sub-culture. And it is a marathon; it is a slow, inconvenient, unabridged, uneven absorption of a long difficult piece of challenging literature. In a section titled The Politics of Mass Reading, 2009, Dowling asks:

Why would a politician [Barney Frank] be interested in promoting 150-year-old fiction? Is there a nationalistic agenda at the reading to promote American patriotism, especially considering that Moby-Dick was recently legislated as the state novel of Massachusetts? Is this event democratic? How does it ritualize its own hierarchical structure? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.