I have had a rotten cold for three weeks or so, which has slowed down my reading pace somewhat; I have advanced to chapter 23 in my Moby Dick re-read, so we’re onboard the ship, Starbuck has appeared, and the narration has done one of the weird shifts it does. Melville does not use a consistent voice through the book; as early as the third chapter we get a shift from first to second person:
“Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned old craft. On one side hung a very large oilpainting so thoroughly besmoked, and every way defaced, that in the unequal crosslights by which you viewed it, it was only by diligent study and a series of systematic visits to it, and careful inquiry of the neighbors, that you could any way arrive at an understanding of its purpose.”
and then back to first:
“Upon entering the place I found a number of young seamen gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full—not a bed unoccupied.”
In chapter 23, Ishmael directs questions directly at other characters, though he’s not speaking to them:
“Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?”
It’s an interesting set of techniques, which serve to draw you into Moby Dick’s strange world. If you’re paying attention you gain insight into the book’s territory. It’s both a fascinating trick and creates a kind of atmosphere few books have. I think, also, it’s one of the reasons people see the book as ‘difficult.’ Melville is a bit of a madman as a writer; he’s expecting the reader to keep up with him. I’m reminded of “The Recognitions” but Moby Dick is an easier read, in some respects.
It’s also a notoriously ‘difficult’ book with insanely short chapters. A “long” chapter in Moby dick is like maybe 5 pages. If you’ve thought about reading it, but have been put off— go grab a copy. Read a chapter a night. It’s filled with beautiful prose and is a rewarding read. Maybe even speed the plough a little bit and catch up with me. It’s gonna be a few days before I think I’ll be able to focus on it.
No list of what I am reading, as it’s the same as last week.
Cough cough cough.