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Why Read Moby-Dick

Titel: Why Read Moby-Dick
Autoren: Nathaniel Philbrick
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Nantucket. During what was known as a gam, a meeting of two or more whaleships at sea, the crews were given the opportunity to mingle and talk, and Melville was introduced to the son of Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex and the author of a narrative about the disaster.
    Chase’s son offered to lend Melville his copy of his father’s book. That night Melville read the story of how an eighty-five-foot bull sperm whale crushed the bow of the Essex into splintered fragments and how after taking to three twenty-five-foot whaleboats, the twenty-man crew discussed what to do next. Given the direction of the wind, the obvious next move was to sail to the islands to the west, the closest being the Marquesas. But Chase and his shipmates had heard rumors of cannibals on those islands. Better to sail to a civilized port on the western coast of South America, even if it was against the wind and more than three thousand miles away.
    Three months later, when just five survivors were plucked from two sun-scorched, barnacle-encrusted whaleboats, they were no longer the same men who’d refused to sail to an island of hypothetical savages. They had become what they most feared. As made plain by the human bones found in the hands of two of the survivors, they were cannibals. Melville later wrote, “The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, & close to the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect upon me.”
    Almost a year later, Melville first glimpsed the islands that the crew of the Essex had chosen to spurn. On June 23, 1842, the Acushnet arrived at Nuku Hiva, part of the Marquesas group. Melville and the rest of the crew stared at the green spectacular peaks as swimming native women surrounded the ship. According to Melville’s later, inevitably fictionalized account of his adventures, the whaleship’s deck quickly became crowded with these beautiful young girls, who offered themselves to the sailors for bits of cloth. Not long after, Melville decided he would do exactly the opposite of what Owen Chase and the other crew members of the Essex had done. He would desert the ship that had been his home for the last nineteen months and live among the so-called cannibals.
    Nine years later he published Moby-Dick, a novel that begins with the protagonist, Ishmael, finding himself, to his initial horror, sharing a bed with a tattooed cannibal named Queequeg. In a winningly comic distillation of the experience that had forever changed Melville’s life in the Marquesas, Ishmael comes to the realization that artificial distinctions between civilization and savagery are beside the point. “What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.” This startling insight was revolutionary in 1851 and is still wickedly fresh to us today, more than 150 years later, as globalization makes encounters with foreign cultures an almost daily occurrence.
    But Melville was not able to laugh away the lessons of the Essex . Despite its comic beginning, Moby-Dick quickly moves into darker and more harrowing metaphysical territory, and it is the moral isolation of the Essex crew members, afloat upon the wide and immense sea in their tiny whaleboats, that underlies the fated voyage of the Pequod . In the chapter “The Lee Shore,” Ishmael speaks of one Bulkington, a sailor for whom the land has proved “scorching to his feet” and who heads out once again after just completing a previous whaling voyage. It is only amid the terrifying vastness of the sea that man can confront the ultimate truths of his existence: “[A]ll deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea. . . . [I]n landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God. . . . Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain?” For Melville, and for any thinking human being, this is more than a rhetorical question.

    Desperado Philosophy
    H e tells us to call him Ishmael, but who is the narrator of
    Moby-Dick ? For one thing, he has known depression, “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” But he is also a person of genuine enthusiasms. Like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, he is wonderfully engaging, a vulnerable
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