Call Me Ishmael

Image of Moby-Dick Audio Book Cassette BoxSome years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

On my way to write a sermon last night I actually was waylayed by some audio readings of Moby-Dick I had digitized a little while back. Almost twenty years ago I would obsessively listen to an excerpted audio book of Moby-Dick. It remains on of my favorite pieces of audio of all time, and to listen to Keir Dullea (of 2001: A Space Odysssey fame) read the opening chapters of Moby-Dick, especially “Loomings” and “The Spouter-Inn.” It’s masterful! And upon listening to this and Father Maple’s sermon (the beginning of this diversion—though Welles’ rendition of that in John Huston’s 1956 version is still my favorite—and I will post this one too shortly), I began to realize just how much the sea and all the metaphors of exploration, discovery, horror, and freedom it represents. We’re all searching for the the White Whale, and I find myself growing grim about the mouth at times. But it’s not impossible to imagine and implement real alternatives, it can’t be. Otherwise it’s all for naught, and I refuse to accept that fatalistic logic that we all must submit. I can’t believe the only ship we can travel on is the ship of fools envisioned in The Confidence-Man—a book I have been taking around with me on trips, but still can’t find the heart to read again.

So, here’s the audio (I’ll pull a Cultra Rare here and say it’s not currently available in digital format and has been discontinued, so I am just doing a cultural/archival service), if you have an extra half-hour sometime, don’t miss it:

Download Opening Chapters of Moby-Dick as read by Keir Dullea

P.S. –This style of writing/thinking/performing is something I really miss in my daily readings/scannings of RSS feeds and 140 characters or less. It’s manna for the soul, and that why I believe in the humanities, and why I continue to labor on.

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2 Responses to Call Me Ishmael

  1. Ted Major says:

    Thanks, Jim–

    I don’t usually do books on tape because I just can’t pay attention to long talks (I guess that’s why I wound up in the humanities–readings and discussions, no lectures), but for the Greatest Novel Ever, I’ll give it another try. Got a road trip coming up this weekend, so I’ll see if it doesn’t make those highway miles a little easier.

  2. Brian says:

    I listened to this last night just before sleep, and the textures of the reading really bring out the text. Is there a version where he reads more of the book?

    I’m also inspired to reread the book itself, it’s been nearly fifteen years now (!) and listening to this I realize I no longer live with Moby Dick as part of me the way I once did…

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