What Reading Moby Dick Taught Me About Life Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By tomorrow, I will have finished reading one of the most heralded works of fiction in the annuals of American literature. For the past month of so, I’ve taken on Herman Melville’s monumental classic, Moby Dick, otherwise titled, The Whale.

Being engaged in a masterpiece like Moby Dick compels the reader to focus on one body of work.

As for my critique, that may happen in some form later this year, after I complete the next course in my “quest” (felt it appropriate to use such a superfluous noun, given the plot of the aforementioned book) for my Master’s degree in English. Upcoming this Fall: “English 507 Theory, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: Unthinking Signification.”

Taking on a novel, or any voluminous fiction or non-fiction work the size and scope of Moby Dick requires dedication and patience. The hardcover University of California Press edition I’m reading spans 577 pages and includes some informative illustrations of ships, big fish and the men who sail the ships in order to hunt big fish.

Furthermore, Melville’s prose is not what I would rank as “light reading.” Symbolism aside, this is serious, yet compelling, prose, as detailed in this passage from Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale:”

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and from more portentous — why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind.”

Someday, my prose may be this good. Someday. Maybe.

Now, let me direct this conversation to what reading Moby Dick has taught me about one aspect of life today. On my weekday commute on the CTA Blue Line, I observe fellow passengers and ascertain that they would not have the patience to read a novel, especially not a gargantuan work like Moby Dick. Most fellow passengers, not all, ride handheld in hand, dexterously swiping between Pinterest and texts, Facebook and Candy Crush Saga.

Do these folks — young and old — read novels or other long-form literature?  Will they ever? Will a significant number people from future generations only absorb information through images and videos, subheads and captions, texts and instant messages? And, perhaps more vitally, will they ever learn to savor reading a masterwork without responding to an incoming digital message?

Without question, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are studying this relatively modern phenomenon. Assuredly, there are plenty of options for conducting primary research, beyond the Blue Line el.

Now, as noted, I still have a few chapters to go. So, please don’t respond with the fate of Ahab, Ishmael and my favorite character Queequeg — much less the big white whale.

Of course, I could quickly consult my handheld and have the answer.  But, nawh! I prefer to savor and learn, page by page.