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Why Read Moby-Dick

Titel: Why Read Moby-Dick
Autoren: Nathaniel Philbrick
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wiseass who invites us to join him on a quest to murder the blues by shipping out on a whaleship.
    Ishmael is no tourist. As a common seaman, he gets paid for his adventures. “[ B ] eing paid, ” he rhapsodizes, “what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!”
    Getting paid is certainly a bonus, but Ishmael isn’t doing this for the money. He’s in pursuit of an almost Platonic ideal, what he calls “the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself.” “Such a portentous and mysterious monster,” he continues, “roused all my curiosity.” But he’s also looking for the clarifying jolt that comes with doing something dangerous. “I love to sail forbidden seas,” he tells us, “and land on barbarous coasts.” The best way to satisfy this “everlasting itch for things remote,” he decides, is to head for Nantucket, the birthplace of American whaling. “[T]here was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected with that famous old island,” he says, “which amazingly pleased me.”
    Not even a sobering visit to the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford, where he studies the marble tablets memorializing those lost at sea, is enough to make him rethink his decision to ship out on a Nantucket vessel. “Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then?”
    A reckless, rapturous sense of his soul’s imperishability overtakes Ishmael. “Methinks my body is but the lees [the sediment left in wine] of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.” Let God, fate, or what have you do as it sees fit. In the end, Ishmael will prevail. “And therefore three cheers for Nantucket,” he exults, “and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.”
    Later in the book, after he is almost killed when his whaleboat is smacked by a whale before being swamped in a squall, Ishmael decides it might be a good idea, after all, to write his will. And it is here, in chapter 49, “The Hyena,” that he hits upon the approach to life that will act as the emotional and philosophical center of the novel. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life,” he tells us, “when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”
    Ishmael describes this approach to life as a “free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy.” In the chapters to come, Ahab will drag him (and all of us) into the howling depths of the human psyche. In the beginning, however, before Ahab takes hold, we are in the presence of a soul so buoyant, so mischievous, so wise, and so much fun that even after the worst happens at the end of the novel, we can take consolation in knowing that at least Ishmael has found a way to survive. Like Melville, who is one of our country’s greatest literary survivors, Ishmael is still left to tell the tale, and we had better listen to every word.

    W hen Melville wrote Moby-Dick, New Bedford, not
    Nantucket, was the most important whaling port in America. But Ishmael is not interested in the biggest whaling port; he wants to go to the first, to the “great original,” the sandy island almost thirty miles out to sea where it all began.
    Melville drew upon his own personal experiences in his novels, but he was also a great pillager of other writers’ prose. During the composition of Moby-Dick he acquired a virtual library of whaling-related books, and passages from these works inevitably made their way into his novel. The writing process for Melville was as much about responding to and incorporating the works of others as it was about relying on his own experiences. And since Melville seems never to have visited Nantucket before writing Moby-Dick, he was free to create an imagined rather than an actual island, an animated, often antic state of mind that exemplified America’s grasping
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