reader, i hope he married it.
July 18, 2016 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Tumblr user wintersoldierfell has a whale of a time reviewing Moby Dick.
posted by divabat (98 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Isn't that cute. Sad he couldn't find the Classic Comics version.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:52 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's plenty out there about the gay subtext in Moby Dick. This is, well, some of it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:54 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


the evolution of the tags from first to last post is the best part of this review
posted by karayel at 10:13 PM on July 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


Can anyone recommend a particular audiobook version? I've been dithering between narrators because the top three on audible have nearly equal fervent reviews, but I'd like to get one that has the most fun with the book, because the first chapter I got through struck me as written with more wry humor than I'd expected, and I'd like a narrator who had the same view.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:18 PM on July 18, 2016


I waiting for the version read by Captain Monty.
posted by bongo_x at 10:36 PM on July 18, 2016


The homoerotic subtext of Moby Dick isn't anything new, is it? It should be obvious from the first page, and scads and scads and scads of essays and so on have been written about just that one part of what is a tremendously wonderful, amazing, labyrinthine book.

Or is Tumblr a portal into another universe where this is, in fact, news?
posted by My Dad at 10:43 PM on July 18, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am always excited to tell people who haven't read it how AMAZINGLY GAY moby dick is , and the unpublished novel Billy Budd is just pages and pages of how amazingly beautiful this sailor is and oh the homoeroticism.

Plus the meta-narrative of Melville and Hawthorne having thier weird, prickly mutal attraction /repulsion society and crushes and they're both slightly unfortunate looking middle aged beardos who aren't great at feelings - it's a queer text for the ages I tell ya. Sometime do the sexy show times series.
posted by The Whelk at 10:43 PM on July 18, 2016 [25 favorites]


It's more the style of the review (normally reserved for fanfic or more contemporary culture) that's refreshing.
posted by divabat at 10:44 PM on July 18, 2016 [10 favorites]


Aha! Thank you.
posted by My Dad at 10:45 PM on July 18, 2016


I mean...Melville was some flavor of queer according to everything I've ever read about him. I don't know. LOLGAY + LOLRACIST is not a new set of thoughts about Moby-Dick and I don't think this series of brief Tumblr posts is saying anything new, or even saying it in a new manner.

Maybe I'm just grouchin because this is literally my favorite book in history and I love the gay subtext and the weird sexuality and religiosity of Ishmael's feels about whales, and feel sad that the weirdness and queerness of M-D was a surprise to this reader. And that they chose to express their surprise as if they were the first person ever to notice. I mean, what did they think this was, Austen on the high seas? Was it fucking impossible to conceive of a past in which queer people existed and wrote amazing novels? Humans have always been complicated. Their loves have always been complicated. This shouldn't be news.

But yeah if this person wants to LOLGAY all over a text they definitely ought to read Billy Budd. Hate that book for other reasons, but it's pretty much screaming gay sirens from stem to stern.

I LOVE YOU MELVILLE YOU ARE MY HERO <3 <3 <3
posted by town of cats at 11:15 PM on July 18, 2016 [15 favorites]


Sometimes it's fun to see young people go "What!? There was crazy weird stuff in the OLDEN days!?" Let me tell you little ones, you have know idea...
posted by helmutdog at 11:49 PM on July 18, 2016 [11 favorites]


If only Tumblr had started playing me sea shanties unbidden, instead of whatever the hell that was, I might have kept my account.

(Seriously, if I want your goddamn website to make noise, I'll lick my finger and rub it across the screen.)
posted by Mrs. Davros at 11:54 PM on July 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


This was hilarious, come on. Imagine you're reading it for the first time and don't know what to expect? Because the overtly homosexual nature of Moby Dick is not how it is 'sold.' Which is probably right, the reason to read this book is because it's the greatest, weirdest book. The reason to read this book is because Melville wrote it while on fire.

And if the book is sold to you like this - it's ferocity and greatness and complexly spiritual depth, the homoeroticism is a hell of a surprise, and the racism is a really dismal thing. Though both of these qualities add to the whole experience and without them the book would be the worse for it... actually you know what, the racism could totally go - that shit is a fucking cancer on the book. (How bad? Chapter 64, "Stubb's Supper." the real horror of this chapter is that it is polished to a high sheen - much of the book reads like it was written first draft and an edit, but this chapter is buffed. Leading one to conclude that Melville intended to publish it separately as a sort of advertisement for the book - like people do today. That is, Melville wanted this racist bag-of-shit text to promote his book to the general public. (I always have to pause to take this notion in - it's damning not just of Melville but of Am.culture generally (and the public he was courting was not the street-sweepers and illiterates but the general, been to at least ninth grade and can read and write and have thoughts public. The public that engaged with culture, the public that today would go and see 'Hamilton' So what does this chapter see about them much less of Herman.)) I hate this chapter as passionately as I love much of the rest of the book, but at the same time it is a flaw that is revealing. Melville wasn't writing this book only to wow the elite - dude had churned out three good page-turners and this was going to be the grand-daddy of them all, the book that made his fortune and his reputation. So yeah, he's gotta pander to his public a bit and his public happens to be a revolting stew of prejudices and idiocy. Only of course he didn't have to pander and in doing so he debases both sides, himself and reader. Or, horribly, he really believes what he wrote about old Fleece and, you know, 'what the fuck Herman? All that love for Queequeg but then you go and say this about the cook? Nothing nothing else in the book suggests you're this big an idiot. An ass. But you do it anyway.' And so maybe he was such an ass. It defies everything you think you know about Herman though - it's just so ... strange. As though the axel that has been carrying the book suddenly breaks and we're all thrown in the mud. 'Where the hell did that come from?' From necessity? Damn I hate this chapter. I always imagine that someone suggested to Hermann that he take that chapter, polish it, and send it out - that that someone was all the fuck-wit I want to imagine Melville was not. That, basically, this chapter wasn't Melville's idea but one he went with because he needed parts he could show to a publisher and have them read it and think 'Yeah, this sounds like the spirit of the times, people will definitely buy this book.' though it flies in the face of almost every single other paragraph of the text -
*sigh*
fucking Melville.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:56 PM on July 18, 2016 [39 favorites]


This thread is like a perfect encapsulation of why I love Tumblr and largely hated my literature classes.

I can't believe a (probably) young person being surprised and delighted to find that their own minority identity reflected in a piece of the Western cannon of great literature, which is almost exclusively advertised as by and for straight white upper class men, and talking about it in a humorous way, is being met with snobby-sounding, "Why didn't this person already know about this?" Because that. That attitude right there. That is why they didn't already know about this.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:41 AM on July 19, 2016 [80 favorites]


Sorry, I think I just overstated the tone of this thread to make my point, there's definitely folks who are balancing out the "why didn't they know about this", but seriously how can you be anything other than delighted by someone making a surprise discovery in a book that's sold as "classic literature" e.g. boring.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:42 AM on July 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


"Was it fucking impossible to conceive of a past in which queer people existed and wrote amazing novels?"

Uhhh, yeah. That's how it's been taught to everyone, because of society???? Speaking as a queer person, it was taboo to even read about LGBT people in our curriculums, it was never even mentioned, and it was seen with looks if people asked. I went to high school between 2006 and 2010, by the way, so this is recent history. Erasure through omission and silence had a deadening impact on me for so many years, simply because normative people didn't think it was an issue to not include them, and the people who aren't emboldened to speak out and advocate for it, or didn't realize that was an option, just simply stuck with the dreadful nourishment that passed for literature in our classes. Tumblr has made it really easy to have our voices reflected and amplified, to be able to speak up and talk about inclusivity on a level that I would have not been able to dream about 5-6 years ago.

Even in my English major classes, unless the professor specifically pointed it out and asked us to consider it, it was also an unwelcoming space to bring in queer analysis. I remember trying to do my queer feminist analysis in another literature class, where the professor literally went, "Oh, I am not familiar with that" and had a visibly confused look on their face. Like, wow. Queer people do exist in literature, even if they exist in literature that you really didn't pay much attention to while assigning it for the syllabus.

This is cute, because I actually didn't know anything about Moby Dick being like this. This tumblr post represents what would be my actual response too, and I have written 20 page language in fine academic language. There is space for both reactions. MeFi can be full of curmudgeons, geez.
posted by yueliang at 12:47 AM on July 19, 2016 [26 favorites]


The author's latest post: *waves at MeFi*/about that Moby D

Speaking as a literature instructor, I'd be thrilled if all my students found the classics as revelatory and delightful as that blogger finds Moby Dick.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:12 AM on July 19, 2016 [59 favorites]


The author's latest post: *waves at MeFi*/about that Moby D

I admit, I took a certain glee in seeing MetaFilter being called out for being so MetaFiltery by someone who isn't connected to MetaFilter.

I mean, I love you guys, but the tendency toward collective assholeism on this website can be a bit daunting for people who don't know the culture.
posted by hippybear at 1:29 AM on July 19, 2016 [65 favorites]


This was charming, as was the metafilter callout. I'd like to give a little signal boost to the audiobook version they mention, the Moby Dick Big Read, by Plymouth University. Completely free, available in a buncha podcast apps and wonderful.

The readers vary in quality a bit - though more than one is reading it on a fishing or research boat, which is cool- but there are some kind-of celebrities involved. David Cameron does the pipe chapter for some reason, China Mieville does the one on the squid (because of course he does), David Attenborough does the chapter about fossil whales and conservation, Stephen Fry does the sperm-squeezing one the blogger mentions, and John Waters (!) does the one where the sailor capers about wearing a whale's foreskin.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 2:01 AM on July 19, 2016 [18 favorites]


Or is Tumblr a portal into another universe where this is, in fact, news?

The average Tumblr person is, like, 19. Everything is news.

Every reader encounters even well-known literature and attendant facts or opinions or interpretations about it for the first time. When a reader, be they 14 or 74, twigs to the fact that The Rocking Horse Winner is masturbating or the Hills Like White Elephants is about abortion or that Moby Dick is a homoerotic wankfest, this is exactly the kind of critical analysis and reading of subtext that makes that book or short story the reader's own.

This Tumblr is a joy. This Tumblr should be tacked to the wall of every library in every English-speaking country in the world.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah some of you Melville lovers may have forgotten that Moby Dick is "sold" as the most boring book in the American canon, by virtue of being hundreds and hundreds of pages about whaling, and perceived as being a Herculean feat of reading that people mostly finish to brag about having finished.

I finally read it two years or so ago and was totally unprepared for it to be a ROLLICKINGLY entertaining and engrossing read. Totally unprepared! My Facebook posts of the time are increasing delight and enthusiasm as I go "Holy crap you guys this book is wildly entertaining, I did not even notice I just read 80 pages on whale anatomy because I was so busy being entertained."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [22 favorites]


ok, I'll bite. I've never read Moby Dick so maybe it makes sense in context, but what feels racist about the "Stubbs Whale" chapter? it's written in dialect, possibly cribbed from minstrel shows, but the point is to make a jab at Christianity and call Stubbs a shark. the black character is dignified and perceptive and the white character is imperious and full of avarice...
posted by ennui.bz at 2:39 AM on July 19, 2016


Metafilter: I hope you fucking never talk to anyone else that way
posted by diziet at 3:28 AM on July 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


I did Moby Dick ages and ages ago for a friend who had to read it in school. It is no longer on the internets except in the wayback. Sample quote: "I mean honestly. We've done spiced groves before and ONE tiger doesn't go in many groves. One tiger per grove, if you please, or perhaps many tigers in one grove. I don't see how ONE tiger can be in many groves unless he moves around really quickly." (referring to " the tiger of Bengal crouches in spiced groves of ceaseless verdure" from chapter 119.)

Moby is fun to play with because there is so much to do with it. Lots of toys in the box.
posted by which_chick at 3:59 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


DarlingBri: The average Tumblr person is, like, 19. Everything is news.

The average age of Tumblr users is 34.6 years old.

Still, that has no bearing on how delightful these posts are, or how obnoxious some of the responses here are. What a shame, too, because I bet this person would have made a great MeFite.
posted by tzikeh at 4:00 AM on July 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


In a nutshell, Stubb treats Old Fleece like shit and Melville gives no indication that Stubb's behavior is abominable (Ahab is regularly and, at times floridly, elaborately called out for being a psycho asshole. Stubbs? Not so much.)

from notes I made for a longer piece about Moby Dick:

"Stub is only presented to us as an ardent whaler: hard-working, not cruel, and basically with no signal, negative qualities. Old Fleece we've not yet even met, so he's a sort of blank slate – we quickly learn he's old, 'black' and unhappy about having been woken up. (And we never see any deeper into him than that - and he's an ostensibly interesting character ("You belong to a church?" "I passed one once...")) Stubb then treats Old Fleece like shit, making a fool of him, ordering him around, abusing his authority over him. The dichotomy is clear, antagonist (Stubb), protagonist (old Fleece). Except Melville in describing these characters, how others react to them, how they interact with the rest of the crew, never paints Stubb as the asshole he's being – and (Melville) never acknowledges Stubb's atrocious behavior as such. There are no ramifications for his ill-treatment of the cook, no one scowls at him or calls him out on it. Melville never comments, through other characters or in the narrative/narrator as to what it might mean to him for Stubb to behave this way. It denigrates 'old Fleece' in a way I simply never would have expected from Melville. It's like he thinks Stubb is the protagonist!

Which forces the question, why is 'old Fleece' treated this way when Queequeg and the other harpooners are given so much more respect – is it just because the harpooners have more important jobs? No - because he'd say as much and instead Fleece is never more than caricature.

It's a rather perfect depiction of racism and how it functions.

The curious thing is that through all the other depictions of people/characters who Melville could as obviously consider 'other' (the harpooners, obviously) he never holds them in as such objectified and dehumanized contempt (the harpooners are heroes.) Why old Fleece is treated this way forces you to consider that Melville holds the same obliviousness/blindness towards him (and by reasonable extrapolation all African-american men (and I think this cultural construction is maybe the point, sadly)) as Stubb does.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:03 AM on July 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


If you enjoy this, read "Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!" by Leslie Fiedler. You'll never watch a buddy cop movie the same way again.
posted by OrderOctopoda at 4:35 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


dorothyisunderwood: "Can anyone recommend a particular audiobook version? "

Frank Muller's version. Anything Muller reads is wonderful.
posted by chavenet at 4:38 AM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: BOWTIE-QUIVERING OUTRAGE
posted by chavenet at 4:44 AM on July 19, 2016 [27 favorites]


My dearest deceased father-in-law was a Melville scholar and collected Moby Dick first editions, which are now all living at the New England Bedford Whaling Museum where they do the annual Dick-a-thon reading of the great canon aloud.

Anyway I was an English major and when I read it thought:

1. This is SO boring
2. Oh please, this is SUPERGAY

which did not endear me to my professors or my father in law. Anyway, now I teach high school English and even though I wouldn't force MD on any of my kids, I will force them to read wintersoldierfell's insightful and hilarious critique when we learn how to think critically about literature.

Thanks, wintersoldierfell. This is all sorts of awesome.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:50 AM on July 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


Stub is only presented to us as an ardent whaler: hard-working, not cruel, and basically with no signal, negative qualities.

except that he's described as a shark, by "sage ejaculation" at the end:
"Cook, give me cutlets for supper to-morrow night in the mid-watch. D'ye hear? away you sail then.- Halloa! stop! make a bow before you go.- Avast heaving again! Whale-balls for breakfast- don't forget."

"Wish, by gor! whale eat him, 'stead of him eat whale. I'm bressed if he ain't more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself," muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock.
Personally, I think the (negative) picture of Stubb in this chapter is painted fairly clearly, but I was expecting the passage to be a standard minstrel-show caricature of the bumbling foolish old black man and the portrayal of Fleece is exactly the opposite. I mean, you can make an argument, but it doesn't strike me as OMGracist in any way... which is how the chapter was advertised. I mean, it seems like the "dialect" is shocking, like Tom Sawyer. Except that Mark Twain was trying to talk about race, possibly badly, whereas this chapter is really about christianity and greed.

The curious thing is that through all the other depictions of people/characters who Melville could as obviously consider 'other' (the harpooners, obviously) he never holds them in as such objectified and dehumanized contempt (the harpooners are heroes.)

Does Melville hold Fleece in contempt or does Stubb hold Fleece in contempt?
posted by ennui.bz at 5:05 AM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


amazing how all the sexual connotations of words stayed stable for 150 years
posted by thelonius at 5:11 AM on July 19, 2016


amazing how all the sexual connotations of words stayed stable for 150 years

Which is precisely how one should define a classic.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:26 AM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh my god.

So, I had loved and reblogged this post days ago. (Because, yeah, when Moby Dick was taught in my high school? It was taught as excerpts and best believe the excerpts were NOT the super-gay ones, and as a queer adult reading the whole thing some years back I was surprised and amused and delighted by it. For a variety of reasons including but not limited to the entire passage about sperm-squeezing.)

But now having read the author's Tumblr post back to MeFi, with the "what is a legacy? it is whalefucking that you never get to see" tag, I am even more delighted. A+ tagging, would follow this person on Tumblr if I hadn't already done so a couple of days ago.
posted by Stacey at 5:32 AM on July 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


Can anyone recommend a particular audiobook version?
I'm a big fan of Frank Muller, and I thought he was great here.
posted by MtDewd at 5:49 AM on July 19, 2016


I was put off a bit by the LOLmanonwhaleaction, but I do think that MD is the perfect booby-trap book. Almost no reader goes into it expecting the sheer bizarre joy of reading it (I'm still amazed and worked up about pages and pages of evidence that the whale is not a fish concluded with 'well, I still think the whale is a fish'), and every reader who survives the journey finds their own bit to chew over. It might be the best American novel ever -- beautiful and repellent, full of kindness and cruelty, always surprising and infuriating.

If you haven't, already, you might read China Miéville's Railsea, a retelling of MD (and MD criticism) on a train with some fantastic musical sentences (although it really should have 30 pages on giant mole anatomy).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:51 AM on July 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


I went to high school in Canada, where required reading every year in English was (a) a 'great' novel, (b) CanLit and (c) Shakespeare; (a) was never Moby Dick. My knowledge of Moby Dick comes from:

- The movie Heathers, which may have slyly been doing something with homoeroticism ("I love my dead gay son!") through the reference, but if it was I never picked up on it;
- The Bill Sienkiewicz Classics Illustrated, which is glorious, but less "homoerotic" and more "every ocean nightmare you've ever had fed into a wood chipper";
- A couple of YouTube clips of Orson Welles yelling;
- Vague knowledge that it's a super long book about the sea.

So I thought it was basically a lot of seafaring salty dog types chasing after a big whale and a shouty man with a peg leg and all that.

I don't find it at all astounding that somebody may be approaching the novel for the first time and not know that it is, apparently, super gay.

And also, this is hilarious and thanks for posting it.
posted by Shepherd at 5:57 AM on July 19, 2016 [11 favorites]


The author's latest post: *waves at MeFi*/about that Moby D

BURNED

Seriously, that was awesome tumblring. Amen, wintersoldierfell, A-to-the-Mo-to-the-by-D-men.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


GenjiandProust recommended Railsea to me and I read it and it was great! I think it's probably the most accomplished of the lighter Mieville novels and it is also a retelling of The Scar, my favorite but not the most organized of the Mieville novels.

Also, it has illustrations! And giant burrowing owls!

It just shows to go you, though, that different places generate different experiences - I grew up in an intensely conservative, intensely homophobic town and yet grew up just sort of....knowing that Moby Dick was a big weird novel with a lot of queer themes. And this sure was not because everyone was all "let's talk about queer themes in literature".

You know what else is a children's book with echoes of Mieville? Joan Aiken's Nightbirds on Nantucket. Although I would say that The Stolen Lake is much more haunted by the weirder bits of Mieville and also has a lot of queer subtext. Aiken's novels are not totally without their problematic parts, too, and so I don't really recommend them as general-interest books, but they are wonderfully weird.

In re Melville and race: my favorite professor taught a class which drew heavily on Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic and talked about how there was in fact a utopian, anti-colonial reading of the life of the whaling ship - that it was a place where, to an extent, the various oppressed classes of the land world could create new identities and new solidarities. In retrospect, I also realize that she was doing quite a lot out of CLR James's Mariners, Renegades and Castaways. There's definitely some really important Melville scholarship by Black scholars which complicates some of the immediate readings of the book.
posted by Frowner at 6:49 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Austen on the high seas?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of an old-fashioned Nantucket three-master, must be in want of a whale.
posted by Segundus at 6:50 AM on July 19, 2016 [23 favorites]


sometime do the sexy show times series

Does anyone speak Whelk? The tumblr author is also confused by this.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:02 AM on July 19, 2016


And actually, in re tumblr, Melville, etc:

I think we'd all benefit from practicing generous reading - reading a thing with the starting assumption that it's written sincerely, with a reasonable degree of careful consideration, with a reasonable degree of control over rhetorical choices and with positive intent*. So basically, not falling into the trap of automatic struggle against a text, like we have to defeat it or show that it is inadequate in some way.

I think it's often better to read with, at least at first, than read against (assuming that, like, you're not reading something that is avowedly against your beliefs).

But I do think that goes for reading novels written pre-about-1930 too - sometimes I feel like people read older novels as if the writers could not possibly have had any awareness or control over their themes and we're being wonderfully clever to catch them out (as it were) in their unconscious writing about teh gay sexx, race, etc - as if no one writing before about 1930 could intentionally have written about that stuff with any complexity, and therefore our work as readers is to unpack the unconscious of the author.

Admittedly, I say this as someone who confidently told their sophomore high school English class that of course the characters in [some Thomas Hardy novel, it escapes me now] could not possibly have actually consummated a sexual affair, because no novelist would have been allowed to write such a thing "back then". (I had only the vaguest grasp of Hardy's actual dates, for one thing, but still.)

*Obviously, you don't start reading everything this way - there are plenty of people and publications where you can't assume any kind of good intent, care or sincerity - so use your judgment, but probably on metafilter we could stand to read generously more often.
posted by Frowner at 7:05 AM on July 19, 2016 [19 favorites]


(Also, do you think China Mieville was drawn to Melville out of unconscious interest because their last names sound alike?)
posted by Frowner at 7:09 AM on July 19, 2016


BOWTIE-QUIVERING OUTRAGE

Ha this is awesome! Not only does wintersoldierfell suss out / enjoy Moby Dick, they were pretty much able to figure out Metafilter in a baker's dozen of comments! Good thing he didn't start by reading one of the more charged threads (like about Zizek or something).
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:13 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you are still reading this soldierwinterfell please consider joining and posting here. I probably won't be the only person to offer to send you $5 for your membership fee.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:17 AM on July 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


unfortunate looking middle aged beardos

Also, okay, I should be such an unfortunate looking middle aged beardo.

I'm sorry, The Whelk, but you are wrong in your assessment.
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Loved Railsea and Frowner, you have bumped Mariners, Renegades and Castaways up my to-read list. RE: names, Mieville did have that short story about getting eerie letters addressed to a Charles Melville, so I'd say he's dealt with it all his life...

A take on Melville (and related to Mieville I guess) that should be of interest in terms of the sheer weirdness of Moby Dick is Zak Smith's short piece on Melville, Lovecraft and Freud (possibly NSFW for the blog title and a big ol' etching of a whale dick). It puts the similarities well:

There’s a scholarly young man in New England who lets restlessness and curiosity drag him into a quest for a terrible sea monster rumoured to lurk in the Antipodes. He has a series of adventures, each more spooky than the last, involving half-mad sailors, derelict ships, strangely-shaped animals, the threat of cannibalism and the deep existential terror of having to interact with people from the Pacific Islands. By the time he realizes what a bad decision he’s made it’s too late and he’s pulled inexorably into a confrontation with the monster, which kills everyone aboard the ship except for one man who’s left alive to tell the tale.

Which is really interesting to me because I first read Moby Dick by way of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. It had blown my mind and in the search for critical thought on it I quickly came upon all the comparisons to Moby Dick. This meant that 18 year old me experienced Melville intrigued and prepped for gore and weird theology, where I had previously thought of it exactly as Eyebrows McGee said and soldierwinterfell expected, a dull period piece to be conquered. And it was amazing!

It would be fascinating to hear from someone who first experienced Melville through Lovecraft. The cosmic stuff, Ahab's soliloquy, the weirdness of the whole thing; all these are just as unexpected as the homoeroticism.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 7:25 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


(Also, do you think China Mieville was drawn to Melville out of unconscious interest because their last names sound alike?)

I do, and I would guess it’s not entirely unconscious. There’s a story in Looking for Jake (“Reports of Certain Events in London”) narrated by someone named Miéville who gets drawn into a mystery when he mistakenly gets a package addressed to Melville. (Not Herman Melville, but still.) He's probably had people get his name wrong as Melville his whole life.
posted by miles per flower at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2016


I'm sorry, The Whelk, but you are wrong in your assessment.

This is why we should have a sexy Showtime series about the life of Melville and invent some beard-pulling affair with Hawthorne. Make Historical America Gay Again.
posted by The Whelk at 7:38 AM on July 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


Sadly, it's hard to be that beardy and also as waxed as modern sexy prestige TV requires. I've been watching Black Sails and I'm pretty sure the piracy is to cover the bills for all the dipillatories. And The Tudors was an order of magnitude worse.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


sexy Showtime series about the life of Melville

With episodes directed by Bruce La Bruce or Xavier Dolan. With special guests Walt Whitman (played by a beardy John Waters) and Abraham Lincoln (played by Charlie David).
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:46 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


What surprised me most about Moby Dick was not how funny it is, or how gay it is, but how postmodern it feels. The hilarious quotation wall-of-text up front, collected by a sub-sub-librarian. The well-known natural history lecture chapters, but also the play script chapter, the sermon, the aforementioned dialect chapter. Ishmael contains and records multitudes, is bawdy, unreliable, tells fart jokes, and once you get into the lingo of the time, feels like such a contemporary writer. Have we learned any new tricks since Melville? Maybe that Jonathan Safron Foer book with holes in the pages?

But people think they know what it is without having read it, more's the pity. (Personally, I think it's a book to be read off the page. I don't think I could catch half the intent from an audiobook.)
posted by rikschell at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


If you get a chance, read a copy of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent.
posted by exogenous at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oops, ocular shenanigans beat me to it.

I love Moby-Dick, and people being surprised by its gay subtext or by how weird it is or by much they enjoy reading it, and Railsea (subject of my very first MetaFilter comment!), so this thread & FPP are bringing me an awful lot to be happy & thoughtful about on a day when I need that.
posted by miles per flower at 7:53 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


With episodes directed by Bruce La Bruce or Xavier Dolan. With special guests Walt Whitman (played by a beardy John Waters) and Abraham Lincoln (played by Charlie David).

Tom Ford as series developer and historical body hair consultant
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Why old Fleece is treated this way forces you to consider that Melville holds the same obliviousness/blindness towards him (and by reasonable extrapolation all African-american men (and I think this cultural construction is maybe the point, sadly)) as Stubb does.

Oh, come on. Melville was one of the least racist people of his very racist place and time; he hated slavery and made a lot of digs at racism (though not openly, because he wanted to sell books). I urge you to read a good bio (I'm in the middle of Andrew Delbanco's, which has detailed analyses of texts and is very good on MD—in fact, I reread it because he got me so excited about it).

And yes, the Tumblr is great and "*waves at MeFi*/about that Moby D" is maybe the best smackdown we've ever gotten. And I agree with Frowner about practicing generous reading; I'd be a lot happier about MeFi if we did that more consistently (or, frankly, at all).
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on July 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Related:
http://fozmeadows.tumblr.com/post/147597044741/awed-frog-honestly-though-the-best-part-of

As recently as last week I was telling my classmates about the classic Hollywood stars that were gay. And most of them had no idea. Used to be I would say these things in a hushed voice, awed, excited, like what, this person everyone loves is actually gay?? Am I really allowed to say this? Am I insulting them? I've been told it is an insult, and slanderous.

Now I'm not so hesitant to have those conversations but I still chose to say it on our group chat instead of out loud because as recently as last week I still felt a certain pressure to not talk about it.

And yeah, I read the abridged version of Moby Dick when I was 9 and I didn't think I was missing anything. When i saw this Tumblr post last week, that was when I found out what I was missing.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Can anyone recommend a particular audiobook version?

I am currently listening to The Big Read, which features a different person reading each chapter—Tilda Swinton does the first chapter, for instance. I've read the book before so someone listening for the first time might like a single narrator, but I am very much enjoying this version.
posted by not that girl at 8:24 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


As recently as last week I was telling my classmates about the classic Hollywood stars that were gay.

I recently re-read The Celluloid Closet, and was reminded not only of how many were gay, but of how conscious filmmakers were of the possibility that relationships between men would be read as gay. That tacked-on, completely unconvincing romance sub-plot? Put there deliberately as a defense against such readings (see also: Steve Rogers' creepy kiss with Sharon Carter in Civil War).

My new favorite though is that I just started reading Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World, which is about the history of the belief that there was a gay conspiracy to take over the world. The book begins with an 1869 letter from Engels to Marx which says, "The paederasts are beginning to count themselves and find that they make up a power in the state." Apparently Engels and Marx spoke more than once about the possibility of a gay (though obviously not using that word) takeover, and, with a mix of horror and tittilation, what the New Homosexual Overlords might demand of them:

"It is only luck that we are personally too old to have to fear that on the victory of this party we must pay the victors bodily tribute."

My partner and I love that phrase "bodily tribute" and have adopted it. "I'd love to pay you bodily tribute tonight, honey. You up for it?"

I also sometimes have this, "Seriously? Is everybody who's anybody queer?" reaction. I hadn't known about Sergei Eisenstein, for instance, and had that reaction when I heard about it.

I will now go enjoy the tumblr of which we speak. But not as much as Ishmael enjoyed "waking next morning about daylight, [to find] Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner," or "unwittingly squeezing [his] co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally."

"I could squeeze that sperm all day," indeed.
posted by not that girl at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


Our friend wintersoldierfell is listening to The Big Read as well.
posted by not that girl at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2016


And wintersoldierfell's takedown of this thread so far is spot on.
posted by not that girl at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


"It is only luck that we are personally too old to have to fear that on the victory of this party we must pay the victors bodily tribute."

One is never really too old. Some people are into that.
posted by Frowner at 8:46 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


That is a beautiful beautiful smackdown. As is the original post about Moby Dick (which somehow I never read in high school nor as an adult).
posted by Kitteh at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2016


Hey I just met you, and we just set sail, but here's my number, so ☎ me, Ishmail.
posted by zippy at 8:55 AM on July 19, 2016 [20 favorites]


MetaFilter: beautiful and repellent, full of kindness and cruelty, always surprising and infuriating.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 AM on July 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'd like to nth The Big Read's version as a great audio version of this book.

I'd also like to say that, as a non-English major, I was surprised as hell at the homoeroticism in Moby Dick. Not because I didn't think there were gay people in the olden days. And not because I didn't think that they wrote great fiction.

It's surprising because this is an undisputed classic of American literature. Published in a time so backwards that Americans still thought it was OK to own black people. It was made a classic by being hailed by the kinds of people for whom homosexuality would very much have not been ok. It's set as part of the curriculum for a "classical education" in academic environments where anything otherwise "against" Christian moral values would have been banned, if not actively sought out and burned.

Add that to the fact that for some reason people think of it as "boring." So, when you finally read/hear it, independent of all of the analytical texts that have been written about it by people smarter than you in the past, it seems goddamned shocking that it is what it is and was even allowed to be a thing.

With works like The Scarlet Letter, or Lolita, or Lady Chatterley's Lover, the "scandalous" nature of them is part of what the general public knows about them. No one is going to be surprised when they read them. With Moby Dick, if you haven't read it/about it, you think it's hundreds of pages about whaling and why it's bad to hold a grudge.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:01 AM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


A very funny post, and much my same reaction when listening to Moby Dick on audiobook. Though the chapter on types of whales almost derailed me.
posted by Peach at 9:29 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's set as part of the curriculum for a "classical education" in academic environments where anything otherwise "against" Christian moral values would have been banned, if not actively sought out and burned.

I think we see the power of narrative here, because if you look without the "gay characters cannot appear in canon" narrative, there's gay characters in canon everywhere you turn - some of them sympathetically depicted, some not - in Carson McCullers, in Hart Crane, in EF Benson and MR James, in innumerable detective novels, Willa Cather, John Cheever...in bestsellers (The narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany is gay - this is pretty clear in the text but has also actually been noted by the author.) I always used to read such kind of books hoping that the characters were "really" gay because they seemed gay to me. Henry James, Proust, Edith Wharton - if you want some gay text - like, it is not subtext - you can read The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. I think every major character in all of them is pretty much textually gay. Also they are pretty good ghost stories, IMO.

It's the same thing that Joanna Russ observes about women's writing - that one of the ways that women are marginalized as writers is this forgetting-narrative, where we are perpetually "rediscovering" that yes, there were significant women writers in the past, and then as soon as there's a big cultural moment of rediscovery, the mainstream starts forgetting again and the work is all to be redone. Whereas the culture does not "forget" that there were, for example, significant novels written by California novelists and then have to have a big argument proving that they really did exist.

The narrative restricts what we can see, because we have been told that of course books with actual gay people in them could not make it into the canon.

It also totally restricts our understanding of gay history - I wish I could dig around and link to it because it is very appropriate to the tumblr in the OP but it is also both historically accurate and, like, super pornographic, but there's this really very good Captain America fanfic (and it's what we used to call a novel-length fic, and pretty wrenching) that is a very well-researched story about Steve Rogers the femme working class gay guy in Brooklyn in the 1930s (and then the present happens, too, but I got wrenched by the whole thing and had to take a break)....and anyway, it's not like gay people were a secret in working class Brooklyn in the 1930s.

I feel like it was the goddamn 1950s, really - I at least inherited a story of gayness which said that gay people had not only always been discriminated against but had always been invisible and unmentionable. This is not even remotely true! Sure, gay people have been discriminated against and subject to violence, but we have not been unknown, and there have been plenty of places and times where we were actually pretty visible and sometimes safe. The 1950s/1980s story that gayness is unmentionable, secret and has no history is really about making being gay seem so terrible and alone that no one will come out.
posted by Frowner at 9:40 AM on July 19, 2016 [15 favorites]


"Oh, grassy glades! oh ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye,- though long parched by the dead drought of the earthly life,- in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:- through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it. "
posted by storybored at 9:40 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Frowner: are you thinking about Known Associates? (From a thread here a little while back---I couldn't quickly figure out which one.) One of the things that impressed me about that fic is how effective it is at evoking a particular lived experience. Reading about the '40s is one thing, but what was it like to be there, and for the period to feel ordinary?
posted by golwengaud at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think it was Known Associates - I have to say, that whole thing read like it could have been dropped into some kind of Coming Out Under Fire prequel. I should go and finish it - it sort of wore me out after a while because it was so emotionally engaging and my emotional muscles are stringy and underdeveloped.
posted by Frowner at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I prefer Dopey Dick, the Pink Whale.
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2016


MeFi user The Whelk, googling “do the sexy show times series” just led to a lot of popups (walked into that one). If you meant something specific that isn’t porn, let me know? I would like to watch some hot gay literary criticism.
SETTING          Late at night. A small apartment somewhere in New York City

THE WHELK     My time has come.

(THE WHELK cracks his knuckles; opens bookmarks folder. )
posted by schmod at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


So now that we're past all the lit crit theory stuff can someone explain what they collected whale sperm for?
posted by GuyZero at 10:11 AM on July 19, 2016


So now that we're past all the lit crit theory stuff can someone explain what they collected whale sperm for?

Perfume.
posted by clawsoon at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


We're whalers on the moon, and we carry a harpoon... Well there ain't no whales so we tell tall tales and sing a whaling tune.
posted by thewalrus at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not actual sperm, like in the male DNA packages delivered during sex. It's spermaceti, a goo found in the heads of whales that was useful in a lot of ways before the discovery of useful hydrocarbons from other sources.
posted by hippybear at 10:25 AM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Fuck yeah fic rec for my birthday this is a good day
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, the perfume thing... that's ambergris, which comes from the digestive system of whales, and is not related to the spermaceti.
posted by hippybear at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Dammit, and I just invested in whale sperm perfume stocks. My retirement is ruined. :-(
posted by clawsoon at 10:29 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


But I do think that goes for reading novels written pre-about-1930 too - sometimes I feel like people read older novels as if the writers could not possibly have had any awareness or control over their themes and we're being wonderfully clever to catch them out (as it were) in their unconscious writing about teh gay sexx, race, etc - as if no one writing before about 1930 could intentionally have written about that stuff with any complexity, and therefore our work as readers is to unpack the unconscious of the author.

Ugh, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this Tumblr person.

I am annoyed for basically the above reason. Not because they appear to be Impugning The Classics but because they are making the automatic assumption that Melville didn't intend for the homoerotic subtext to be there, or that the racism is effectively satire, or the general assumption that any of the forward-thinking views expressed in his work are unintentional and we are the first people to have ever believed these things and everyone then was simply backward.

At the same time, I recognize I was pretty fortunate in late-middle and high school to be exposed to some advanced literature classes with fantastic teachers who encouraged us to engage in the text with "generous reading" as you describe, and it's not necessarily the norm. I remember the overwhelming delight I felt in high school the first time I realized that Hawthorne and Melville were basically 50-100 years ahead of their time in their views about gender, race, and sexuality. It was akin to how I felt when I first read Margaret Fuller and W.E.B. Du Bois and realized that the cultural narrative was totally wrong. You know, the cultural narrative that the historical deprivations of different minority and oppressed groups meant there were no brilliant thinkers prior to 1950 or so that were female and/or non-White. It got me really emotional, frankly and in retrospect is a perfect example of your point about the marginalization of these writers and their ongoing "rediscovery".

Anyway, so remembering that feeling, I can understand how someone reading Moby Dick could be bowled over by these themes. Especially if they are buying into the idea that classics of literature are all written by stuffy, conservative cis-het white dudes who just perpetuate the ideas of whatever time period they're in, and anti-bigotry and feminism and queerness are completely new and radical ideas rather than beliefs that have existed throughout all of human history.
posted by schroedinger at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


feminism and queerness are completely new and radical ideas rather than beliefs that have existed throughout all of human history

Whenever there's a disaster, mefites always quote that "look for the helpers" thing. I think that in the ongoing disaster that is human history, we should also always look for the helpers - you are so right, there have always been people who have sought to relate to others in decent, humane, full-subject ways instead of just scrabbling for the best place they can get in the pile. I'm not saying that we should hold up people who were, say, feminist but also racist - I'm saying that there's always been the Lucy Parsonses, the Roger Casements, etc, who may have had their flaws but did not endorse a large-scale kind of brutality and injustice.

I guess in re the tumblr: I think tumblr rhetoric is tricky and privileges a faux-naivete that can be hard to parse. (Like So Sad Today on Twitter.) So I'm not entirely sure that what is written is what is meant in any straightforward sense.

As a boring nerd, though, I sometimes feel like as a culture we expect any kind of enthusiasm about a difficult subject to be couched in "OMG guys guess what!!!!" because we as a culture are so strongly inclined to be all "oh, a book, I guess that's cute that you like some kind of musty old tome that normal people can't get anything out of". I certainly feel that whenever I talk to anyone in activist or queer circles about, like, anything difficult* I really need to do a tiny pep rally for the topic because the assumption going in is that it's some boring stupid useless thing that only a Frowner could love.

*Not because my analysis is so great and complex - just let's say that I'm reading, like, some kind of big history book.
posted by Frowner at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2016 [9 favorites]




My memory of Moby Dick (it's been a few years since I read it) is that there was gay subtext, but some of what we read into it as modern readers is seeing a change in norms. Queequeg and Ishmael sharing a bed as travelers is not as unusual as it seems. Space, heat and light were all at a premium, so doubling up in a bed was not unusual. On the other hand, the descriptions of Queequeg from Ishmael, etc. do give plenty of subtext, enough that we don't have to be all "OMG two men shared a bed, they must be screwing!"

As for Heathers, originally, in the script, they wanted Catcher in the Rye. I assume they ran into rights issues and decided to go with a book out of copyright instead.
posted by Hactar at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


So now that we're past all the lit crit theory stuff can someone explain what they collected whale sperm for?

Lighting, pre-kerosene.

I am intrigued by the notion that the oil industry saved the whales. Not wholly convinced, mind you (Star Trek IV still had to happen) but I could see things being worse for big mammals if petroleum based lighting hadn't bridged the gap to the electrical grid.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not because they appear to be Impugning The Classics but because they are making the automatic assumption that Melville didn't intend for the homoerotic subtext to be there, or that the racism is effectively satire, or the general assumption that any of the forward-thinking views expressed in his work are unintentional and we are the first people to have ever believed these things and everyone then was simply backward.

I mean, are they? Regarding the homoerotic subtext anyway I think a big part of what just happened was that some people here misread the tumblr poster as having a much shallower take than they actually do.
posted by atoxyl at 11:36 AM on July 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Re Whelkisms: Wasn't a Showtime series, but maybe this two-parter from 2011? Oh, and here's another two-part production from 1998 that had Gregory Peck as Father Mapple...
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2016


Moby Dick was very liberating for me. It was the first book that I got halfway through and then abandoned. I just looked and it's not on the shelf so I think I must have thrown it out as well.
posted by StephenB at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Metafilter - Terrifically tough Tumblr takedown trumps tormented tricksters.
posted by Chuffy at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2016


The average age of Tumblr users is 34.6 years old.


Thank god. I've been worried that maybe I need to pretend to be more grown up and not laugh at how hilarious younger people are, and stop looking things up on urban dictionary.

I love this Tumblr.
posted by discopolo at 3:49 PM on July 19, 2016


Man, his reply post to metafilter...ouch and spot on considering some of the comments. And highly entertaining, as were his origional posts. I read Moby Dick for the first time a couple of years ago and can relate to his enthusiastic reaction whole heartedly. It is such a crazy read, so unlike any other book of that time. His post tracks the wild ups and downs of reading that insane genius of Melville perfectly.
posted by branravenraven at 4:46 PM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you want super homoerotic Melville, give Typee a spin. In between the fears of native Tahitians and tattoos there's tons of very enthusiastic "rubbing of wood" to make flames while naked dudes are all socializing together (and the ladies are bathing together).
posted by TwoStride at 5:20 PM on July 19, 2016


My memory of Moby Dick (it's been a few years since I read it) is that there was gay subtext, but some of what we read into it as modern readers is seeing a change in norms. Queequeg and Ishmael sharing a bed as travelers is not as unusual as it seems. Space, heat and light were all at a premium, so doubling up in a bed was not unusual. On the other hand, the descriptions of Queequeg from Ishmael, etc. do give plenty of subtext, enough that we don't have to be all "OMG two men shared a bed, they must be screwing!"

People love to say this whenever the possibility of same-sex love or sex prior to 1900 comes up. But the idea that this bed-sharing was just a culturally normal thing between Queequeg and Ishmael is undercut significantly by all the explicit marriage imagery Melville uses to describe it; by Melville's pretty well documented long unreturned passion for Hawthorne; by the explicit and not culturally-typical male/male sensuality elsewhere in the book and in Melville's other books; by the fact that people in the 19th century weren't so unaware of same-sex relations that they could do anything at all with perfect innocence; and by comparison with other texts produced at the same time. Yes, people expressed themselves emotionally to others of the same sex in ways we don't, and yes it was common to share beds while traveling. But I have read a lot of 19th century literature in English (also literature in English from the previous centuries), and I can tell you that for all that it was common for men to lie down together in a common bed, it was not at all common to write about it as Melville does.

I have come to think that this "but it was just a different culture then!" is a way to avoid seeing the same-sex stuff that was indeed going on, and it always seems to come from people who don't know much about literature; about the biographies of the writers in question; or about the history of sexuality in general or queerness in particular. I am astonished by how often someone will tell me this with regards to Whitman, for instance, and we literally know the names of some of his male lovers, and have handwritten drafts of poems like "Once I Passed Through a Populous City," which describes an encounter with a man in Whitman's drafts but is gender-switched to be about a woman in the published version.

It is true that we can never know for sure that, say, Melville's feelings for Hawthorne were sexual or romantic. Whatever they were, they made Hawthorne uncomfortable, and were unrequited. And it is certainly too easy to say that men just talked to and about each other that way back then, and nobody meant anything by it. Because sometimes they did mean something by it, and sometimes they might have meant something by it. Also, as is often true in situations where behavior is tightly-regulated, these feelings might not always have been perfectly understood even by the people feeling them, who might have felt sexual or romantic feelings but had no name for them, or possibility of expression.

I'd love it if [straight] people who are quick to repeat the idea that "it wasn't homosexuality, it was a difference in language and behavior norms" would consider why they might be invested in the idea of that a given writer, or artist, or historical figure, was not gay, and why they feel the need to interject this comment early in any conversation where the possibility is raised.
posted by not that girl at 2:46 PM on July 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


I read Moby Dick for the first time a couple of years ago and can relate to his enthusiastic reaction whole heartedly. It is such a crazy read, so unlike any other book of that time.

One of the things that surprised me when I read Moby-Dick last year was that it was hilarious! Practically all great literature is, I find, and yet somehow this is overlooked.

Also, you're right about it being a crazy read. Melville was so structurally creative. I'd always known about his mix of "Let me tell you know about the whale" (and some of the funniest parts are in this supposedly dry and out of place material) and "here is the story," but I hadn't known about things like one chapter suddenly being in the form of a two-person play script, for instance. It didn't all work, I don't think, but it was dazzling all the same.
posted by not that girl at 2:49 PM on July 21, 2016


Guys guys I'm reading The Confidence Man now and if you loved Moby-Dick you have to read this book! It's absolutely hilarious and I'm starting to think every single character is a con man. He knew his America, all right. Why didn't he write any more novels after that??
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why didn't he write any more novels after that??

After the failure of Moby Dick, which he had depended on selling well and boosting the family's precarious finances, he needed his next book would sell well. He thought it would, but the reviews were vicious. Some readers and reviewers described it as the raving of a madman. He couldn't get his next novel published. The Confidence-Man wasn't at all well-recieved and he spent some time trying to find another way to support his family.
posted by not that girl at 5:49 PM on July 22, 2016


I know, I know, but other writers have kept stubbornly writing despite rejection. He died leaving Billy Budd, Sailor in his desk drawer; why not more? I want more!!
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on July 23, 2016


All I remember about Billy Budd from English class is, "Christ figure." And that it was mercifully short.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:59 AM on July 27, 2016


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