Christmas time is a time of reflection, garnished with a splash of philosophical matter. When family matters are done and you´ve passed all obligations, the year drawing to an end, maybe its the same with you as it is with me: The brain starts to work. You can´t go out for all too long anyway as it is cold, wet and unpleasant outside. So you turn up the heating once more, grab into your book shelf and think: “Why not reading a book?” It´s perfect. Wintertime, the house is empty. I, for myself, did it that way and decided to try a classic: Herman Melville´s “Moby Dick”.

I got motivated to do so by two facts: First of all, for my #atlanticloop I am in constant contact with so many great people in the United States right now, helping me to plan the trip, where to go, where to stay, where to sail to. The US is in my mind almost on a daily basis. And secondly, some weeks ago, on a rather boring afternoon, I roamed Amazon Prime again in a halfhearted search of anything faintly enthralling to watch and pounced on “In the Heart of the Sea” which turned out to be a sloppy movie but a very, very interesting story. Namely, the story of Herman Melville himself and the “true” Moby Dick. As such, here we are: I am half into the book and here´s what I think.

Why should you read “Moby Dick”?

First of all: I am German. English is not my mother tongue and although I try to speak, read and listen to English language as much as I can, I will never ever master it the way I should to fully appreciate the richness and great variations of this language. You simply cannot: Just like the same as any of you, dearest non-German readers, would take classes in German language, learn it and try to read Wolfgang von Giethe´s “Faust”, I am sure, you would never fully apprehend the works of him. Nevertheless and disregarding this, in fact, that was the first thing that came to my mind reading “Moby Dick”: Gosh I loved his style and variations of English! It is a true pleasure reading “Moby Dick” just because of the language alone. I know, it´s an old form of English and nobody speaks that way, but it reads so fluent, so nicely that it is absolutely fun and fascinating.

The hunt for the White Whale

Secondly, of course, the story. Melville´s “Moby Dick”, although initially not received very well, turned out to be one of the first true all-American classics. From an historical point of view this book marks a milestone in US history as it helped form a nation, independent, strong, proud and self-determining. The chaos and turmoil of America in the being into a state, sure on its way and aware of itself. A culture being formed, so unique and owned by their people, a rich blend and mixture of all the individuals which make up the nation – in all its glory. And in all its errors. Of course, within the story of Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the White Whale there is this philosophical, all-encompassing layer of Man versus God, Man versus nature. Of Good and Evil.

A time travel issue

Reading “Moby Dick” is an act of something special. I´ve had this feeling reading a book last time when I was in my Twenties, being a painter and determined artist in Berlin those days. My head full of question marks, drunk in both the literal and philosophical way, asking all these questions a young soul may ask, both fascinated and tortured by life. The one book gripping me in almost the same way was James Joyce´s “Ulysses”. I devoured this piece. Knowing that this was a very, very special book. Same here with Melville. Reading his story is an act of something, a devine service of reading. One seldom gets to read such a classic, indeed.

Get a copy with bigger letters …

“Moby Dick” is fascinating on so many levels. There is the big philosophical issue on the one hand and the very like of the story itself. In between it is also a snap-shot (and as such a very detailed one) of the American society back in the day. A colorful painting of the United States as they were, a historical document that is absolutely worth tackling. I can sense the value this book might have for any US America citizen, but it is also such a great history lesson for us foreigners. US history in school is often shortened to Columbus, European colonialism, English colony, influx of religious refugees and extremists, westward expansion, extinction of the Natives and the forging of a proud, gun-slinging nation ruling the Western world. Well, you can do this, but it would be equally inadequate and wrong like reducing Germany to two World Wars, Hitler, Sauerkraut and Autobahn. “Moby Dick” is a window into a colorful, fascinating world and an absolutely detailed look into a Nation in the making. A historical document indeed.

A deduction for everyone´s life

Although the copy I bought is a pain in the ass to read because the letters are so small that I need a strong light behind me and my eyeballs hurt after 10 pages, I simply love the book! It is easy to ready, the lines almost melt into your brain. The English language is like a song, not yet lyrics but shortly before. When closing the book for another pause, I use to lay back for some minutes and let it sink in. In this, the whole story is as well actual even 170 years after it has been published.

A lesson to learn, even today!

Isn´t there an Ishmael in us all? A bored, smitten soul, so unhappy with our daily routines, attracted by the raw, unknown life that is possible out there? A curious, open-minded existence that lures us into false chimeras? Something that asks “is that all? Isn´t there more to my life?” Or Captain Ahab. Can´t we all draw a line to this character? Deeply hurt by something or somebody, full of rage and hate, something that boils inside of us and can never be released, or, in fact, shall never be released? In this, I see “Moby Dick” also as a mirror showing me versions of myself I don´t like to see or think about, versions of me that never came to be. And, long after the book found its place in the shelf again, lingering on in my head. This is something a book seldom achieves. As such, “Moby Dick” may be on the Top 10 list, well-deserved. Thank you so much, Herman.


© Pictures by CPA Media Ltd, Warner Bros


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