01 December 2009

Moby Dick

It being Christmas and all, I think it is time for a new obsession. How about Moby Dick? I have been listening to the American Icons series on Studio 360 and was reminded how obsessed people get with this novel of obsession.  It's one of those 'books about everything' that I love.  Plus Nantucket, 19th century, madness, cultural relativism, simple joy versus the consuming dark, God, the nature of evil, the barbarity of man, the indifference of Mother Nature, the power of the unknown, the meaning of suffering, the finality...or not... of death, bizarre ephemera, the white man's plunder of the planet, the lure and call of the sea, and a black ship covered in the remains of whales.  Among other things.  What's not to love? I had a mini obsession with the story of the whaleship Essex, especially the wonderful book by Nathaniel Phibrick, and of course being a Coffin I have a genetic pull to Nantucket Island.  I visited there, once, and found that while my body type and choice of apparel have no place among the current inhabitants, the whale bloodied and oil soaked ground do in fact have something to share with me.
 I have tried to read Moby Dick several times, and every time I do, I think, what a weird fricking book- which someone actually also says on the Studio 360 podcast.  It is unlike anything else I have read.
Something I learned from the podcast is that artist Frank Stella got obsessed with Moby Dick in the late seventies and spent 12 years creating a series of pieces based on the chapters of the book.   Though generally not a fan of Modern, angular and abstract art, I was intrigued by his idea: creating a piece of work to accompany every chapter of Melville's book.  All of them.
The titles of the chapters are themselves so evocative and romantic they nearly eclipse the need for the book.  And they can be misleading, as this McSweeney's bit points out.  Maybe I should try it. I am, of course, no Frank Stella, and realistically I can commit no more than 5 minutes a day to any artistic endeavor.  Moreover, I lose interest quickly.  

Chapter 1:
In Belfast I once attended a sermon in a church with a high, high looming pulpit, dark stained wood, and a definite portent of doom.  Below is the preaching scene from Moby Dick with Gregory Peck. (It's Orson Welles preaching, though.)  This is not at all how I pictured the church when I read the description in the book.   The church in my head, like the empty, draughty one in which I spent a boring two hours in Belfast, is dark, brooding, hopeless, damning, and threatening.  It is a coffin ship.