Thursday, October 20, 2011

The big kahuna

''I will have no man in my boat,' said Starbuck, 'who is not afraid of a whale.''
Everywhere I look, a great, white, fictional whale is staring me in the face. My friend Marilyn, an early e-book adopter, chose Moby Dick as her first foray into Kindledom. (Since then, she's been suspiciously silent on its merits.) Then Melville's creature and his pursuer were apotheosized in a mad/brilliant work of homage by Matt Kish. To produce Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, this former high school English teacher, blogger, and self-taught artist created an image a day (see above and below) corresponding to each page of his Signet Classics paperback edition—552 in all. His media were pages from discarded books and tools ranging from ballpoint pen to crayon to ink and watercolor.
"Call Me Ishmael."
'...and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains...'
'But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive.'
And the pièce de résistance? Today's date marks the 1952 debut of Peter Mennin's Concertato for orchestra, subtitled "Moby Dick." The composer describes it as conveying "the emotional impact of the novel as a whole rather than musically depicting isolated incidents." (According to Composer's Datebook, Bernard Herrmann wrote a Moby Dick cantata in the late 1930s, with a text taken from the novel itself. And in the late 1990s, performance artist Laurie Anderson mounted a two-hour multimedia opera, Songs and Stories from 'Moby Dick.')

To date I have resisted a re-perusal of this iconic work of American fiction, which I held at arm's length during high school due to what I perceived as its longeurs and its frequently disgusting explications of blubber rendering and such. But just today I came across a title that may yet convert me and people of my ilk: It's Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. In his previous book, Heart of the Sea, he told the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write the tale of the pale behemoth and the men who set out to bring him down.
Kish at work.


  1. What an enormous undertaking! Almost as intense as reading the book itself:)

  2. Well, he got a book deal out of it, so it paid off!
    Almost as obsessive as Ahab :)