Sunday, October 16, 2011

what is accomplishment?

The number one obstacle to my writing here is the fact that I have not yet finished reading Moby-Dick. I am at chapter 127, about fifty pages from the end of the book, and I have not yet finished reading it. 

I haven't read Moby-Dick for weeks. Reading this book has taken me the better part of a year, and not because the book is long. I read a bit and then spend weeks or months away from it, away from the catalogs and lists and asides and reflections; away from the doomed pursuit of that awful whale. 

For months I have been imagining the blog post I will write after having finished the book: Book I have finally finished will be the title. The content: Moby-Dick. That will be the entirety of the post. Nothing to it, but the thought of writing it gives me such satisfaction. 

I both long for and dread the completion of this book. I want to have read it, to be able to say "I have read Moby-Dick." A check next to the title and I can move on to some other beautiful piece of literature. Still, I know I have not yet finished this book for the same reason I can't bring myself to read Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, and the rest of the sonnets--I don't ever want Moby-Dick, or the corpus of Shakespeare's writings to be complete. I want to sail in the unmolested Pequod forever, always in search of that legendary whale, my days filled with hard work alternating with peace and unparalleled beauty. I don't want to have to think of the next stage of my life off of that ship, beyond the ship, in a world in which the ship no longer even exists.

Imagine an Ahab for whom possession and dominion were not paramount. Unimaginable, I suppose. I know that, having read Moby-Dick once, I will not have possessed the book, will not have cracked it open and forced its secrets from it, will not have unwoven the rainbow and pinned its every miracle to some eternal mounting board. In a world with so many books I have not yet read, how can I avoid behaving as though this were the case? Who has the time to absorb through unpossessive rereadings and many meditations the miracles of even one book? Of even one poem, ever? 

The Pequod in which I am sailing cannot be eternal. The best I can do is to follow Ishmael and continue to re-visit the tale of Moby-Dick. Future rereadings (which I already anticipate) will never have the quality of that first voyage. The memory of that first voyage will color every future visit, adding layers of experience and sentiment and meaning. I will do well to look forward to this; I must keep Ishmael in mind: if I do not leave the Pequod, I will die thereupon.

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