(Titled with apologies to Laurie Anderson.)
Well, I still haven’t technically read it, and I daresay I never will. I spent the past two weeks listening to it on CD during my commutes to work, and that was enough to put me off staring at page after page of self-indulgent tone-poem stylings hard on the heels of dry factual recitations.
Unlike some critics, I don’t actually have any problem with the story itself. Is it sexist? The argument could be made, although I wouldn’t make it. I think, rather, that Melville is basically ripping apart absolutely everything he touches on, including racism, religion, sex, politics, and all those other social constructs we get worked up about today. Are there homoerotic overtones? Eh, I suppose. Are there way too many tangents about Types of Whales and Proper Sailing Protocol and so on and so forth? Yes, I’d grant that one, and while I did like some of the stuff he had to say (and to feel moderately amused at how far we’ve come and how much more we know now) I did find my mind drifting a little on some of the longer divergences. Is it annoying that you’re at Chapter 125 before anything REALLY happens? Absolutely.
But what really killed it for me was the writing. This chapter’s written as a play. That chapter’s written as a poem. Another chapter is written as an encyclopedia entry and yet another is an allegory. I find this incredibly frustrating, and while I suppose it could be construed as a mark of great genius, I find it a stunning lack of writerly discipline.
And while some of the language is absolutely gorgeous, and some of the descriptions are quite vivid and inspire amazing mental images, for every one of those instances, there are threefold frustrating and tiresome passages full of repetition. In a book that long, you don’t really need a character going, “Aye, Aye, Aye,” —one “aye” is quite sufficient.
So when you add inconsistent style and turgid writing to the fact that it’s a relentlessly negative work, it’s a big glob to swallow.
Anyone want to take the opposing view?