Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rereading Moby-Dick: Chapters II-VII or Are We On the Boat Yet?

So are we on the boat yet? No. Not even close. Which means we’re miles (leagues?) from that white whale.

Back in grad school I had a great screen writing professor who would constantly yell, “When telling the story of Goldilocks, bring on the bears!” He was wrong. Well, he was right but also wrong. What he probably meant was get to the point, get to the action, quit navel-gazing at how sensitive a writer you are and how girls just don’t get that…hypothetically that’s what he meant. But that’s also horrible advice. What kind of shitty story would Goldilocks be if she just walked into the house and the bears immediately burst in and said, “Hey, get out of my house”? Those precious moments when Goldilocks is wandering around eating their porridge and breaking their chairs and snuggling their beds is the sweet spot--it’s glorious anticipation. Because as a reader, you know she’s going to get it. And your anticipation of what’s going to happen next is invariably better than whatever happens next.

In these chapters of Moby-Dick, we get, not just Ishmael trying out all the bear options of the whaling towns from the inns and the streets and the chapel, where we get his comic view of life, one that will be hard pressed on the Pequod, but we also meet Queequeg. Queequeq!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rereading Moby-Dick: Chapter 1 LOOMINGS


“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

How can there be a better sentence? Who doesn’t want to methodically knock people’s hats off? And that involuntary pause before coffin warehouses! That’s got to be one of my favorite sentences in the English language. That is right up there with some Joycean faintly snowfall and Cormac McCarthian horrible legions.

Enough of that, let’s talk hyphens! Is it Moby-Dick or Moby Dick? According to this, the novel is Moby-Dick with the hyphen, and the whale inside the novel is Moby Dick, no hyphen. The title was a marketing addition to the original title The Whale. So now you know. Don't knock anyone's hat off.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rereading Moby-Dick: The Beginning

So I have started Moby-Dick. But first I had to get through Elizabeth Hardwick’s introduction, which thankfully was short. Short but strangely summative. Why summarize a story most are familiar with even if incorrectly (Ahab chases a white whale…whale’s probably God). I do admire some of her ascertains like for example that it is “the greatest novel in American literature,” but how can you measure or defend such a thing? I’m at age where I’m beyond wanting to fistfight people over their impoverished taste in books, music, and film—well almost at that age. Why even bother measuring at all? I prefer more Rockwell Kent’s illustrations.
Also the intro and the biographical sketch barely give a sense of Melville’s artistic despair. Here’s a man that told Hawthorne that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated.”
And don’t get me started on Hawthorne! That prick. I’m not one for judging people’s art based on their personalities or morality (because if you do that you should just burn everything), but Hawthorne is a shit and so is his work, and I’ll fistfight anyone who says otherwise. Here’s Hawthorne’s observation on seeing the starving Irish flood through Liverpool: they were “as numerous as maggots in cheese.” Here’s Melville’s view: “endless vistas of want and woe staggering arm in arm along these miserable streets.”
But still Melville was friends with & in awe of Hawthorne. Even dedicating his masterpiece to him: “In Token of My Admiration for His Genius This Book Is Inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
Anyway, where was I? The beginning. Which as we all know is not “Call me Ishmael.” That’s the first line. But to get to that first line you have to go through the too often skipped etymology and extracts. There are some great selected whale quotes in the extracts. Like the non-sequitur-ish “Very like a whale” from Hamlet. Or a nice description of whale breath from Ulloa’s South America: “and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain.” But the bit I love best about the Extracts is the character he ascribes their selection to: “Supplied by a Sub-sub-librarian.” And as with the Irish, Melville elevates the lowly, imagining a special place in heaven for such thankless workers.
This is to say nothing of the Etymology. I was so taken with it as an undergrad that I wrote a concrete poem. That’s right, a concrete poem. Are you familiar with concrete poetry or shape poetry? It’s poetry that looks like stuff. Like a butterfly or wings. Can you guess what mine was in the shape of? There it is over there. It’s a whale!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rereading Moby-Dick: Day 1

So I'm rereading (or should it be rererereading?) Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale. I read it--though I suspect abridged--in some honors English course in high school, once in undergrad, and once in grad school. Since then it's just been grazing on my favorite bites like the first page where Ishmael talks about the violent itch that sends him to sea and, of course, The Whiteness of the Whale chapter. And recommending it obnoxiously to people and equally obnoxiously defending it.

Here's a picture of the copy I'm reading, though Lord knows I have a ridiculous amount of editions(more later). That's a real whale on the cover, which kind of bugs me. The way seeing a young girl on the cover of Lolita bugs me. Literal-mindedness. I put the ISBN into Goodreads to do the currently reading deal and the new edition has an artistic rendering, so that's something.

To the whale.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Me in Puerto del Sol

So my short story "Curse of the Mummy" is in the current issue of Puerto del Sol (47:2). The story is not about a mummy. It is about a girl who is into mummification. So sort of a mummy. And Amway.

This Puerto del Sol also has a great section on utopias.

I'm thrilled to be in an issue with writers I admire, like Michael Kimball and Peter Trachtenberg. And even Kim Stanley Robinson!