The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan...
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
Those words are as evocative to fans of James Joyce's Ulysses as "Call me Ishmael" is to us Marathoners. This day, June 16, is celebrated the world over as "Bloomsday," commemorating the Dublin day described in in Ulysses.

I can find no reference to Joyce having read Moby-Dick, or any Melville. Neither is mentioned in Richard Ellmann's definitive biography of Joyce. But that doesn't prohibit some disjointed blather...

It's no secret that most folks regard both Moby-Dick and Ulysses as over-praised, over-long, incomprehensible, boring, obsolete, and irrelevant. (I forgot "phallocentric.") (Years ago, when I mentioned to my boss that I was in a Ulysses study group, he, unbelieving, asked, "Why?") Public admission of reading either book marks you as someone who doesn't own a jumbo, flat-screen TV; maybe someone who doesn't have a TV, period!

We're told that Ishmael began his journey "some years ago—never mind how long precisely..."  reaching New Bedford "on a Saturday night in December," but Joyce is specific. Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and company roam their city on Thursday, June 16, 1904, between 8:00 AM and sometime after 2:00 AM the following morning.

While Moby-Dick inundates the reader with details of whaling and whales, Ulysses does a similar thing with details of Dublin and its inhabitants. (This kind of "aggression against the reader" can be seen as the modern author's intentional destruction of the novel as a literary form; death by over-feeding. That's a post for another time.)

It's odd that Moby-Dick has an established marathon reading in a city through which its author-to-be simply passed on his way to somewhere else, while Ulysses rarely receives a public cover-to-cover reading in the city it describes in loving detail.

In Dublin, Bloomsday is celebrated with walking tours, re-enactments, concerts, and a mass "Irish breakfast," but is publicly read only in parts. Perhaps, as Lemuel suggests, it is the culturally ingrained "Calvinist mind-habits" of New England that make the MDM possible.

If the Pequod is the Moby-Dick equivalent of Ulysses's Dublin, the ideal MDM would be the annual read-through aboard the retired whaleship Charles Morgan.  Not that I'm arguing for fleeing New Bedford—an old whaleship lacks the space and comfort of the Whaling Museum, not to mention New Bedford's Bethel and the warm-hearted museum volunteers.

He rests. He has travelled.
Sinbad the Sailer and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and ...

1 comment:

  1. Sinbad the Sailor through to Binbad the Bailer reminds me of the following from Fatboy Slim's cover of The Joker:

    "an' I'm a joker/I'm a smoker/an' I'm a fa shizzle dizzle ma nizzle fizzle bizzle/I give my lovin' on the run"

    Ah, Joyce. He was ahead of his time.