Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Call Me Melville.


The Albany Academy, where Herman Melville attended for one year, and the Albany Academy for Girls are sponsoring a Why Melville Matters Now symposium. According to the academies, Melville matters because “The questions he posed are the same issues that inspire contemporary writers, artists, and thinkers today—the vexed relations between humans and their environment, racial and social injustices, capital punishment, psychological alienation, and the new frontiers of science and globalism.”

No matter that the questions Melville posed most were theological and philosophical. Is God good or is he malignant? Does man truly have free will or is everything predetermined? Why do good things happen to bad people?

Moby Dick has more than 250 Biblical names, quotations and allusions, the first one showing up in the third word of the opening. Ishmael is supposedly the first Arab and the ancestor of Muhammad. Now there’s relevance.

Anyway, some good will come out of this symposium, even if Melville’s life long quest to resolve religious issues raised during his Calvinistic upbringing has been relegated to the category of irrelevant. There will be a 24 hour reading of Moby Dick and you can get a free T-shirt if you volunteer to read. William Kennedy will be the first reader and the Great White Whale himself, Andy Rooney, another alumnus of the Albany Academy, will be the last reader.

Maybe hearing parts of Moby Dick will inspire some people to read the entire Moby Richard for the first time, and they can decide for themselves if Melville thought Ishamel and Queequeg were a gay couple, or if Starbuck had survived the sinking, whether or not he would have been the founder of Greenpeace, instead of lending his name to a coffee company.


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