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.

Friday, January 12, 2018

MDM22 "post-mortemising"

It's the most fun I've ever had without laughing.
                                                        - Alvy Singer
This year's MDM felt self-possessed—calm and assured, like a virtuoso taking the stage after twenty-one rehearsals. It was great to be back, to take refuge from the tempestuous political/cultural world "outside."
Message to He Shan-Jun, owner of Japanese ship Dan He Wan,
translates roughly to Have Compassion for All Mankind.
Plaque, ca. 1880. NBWM, 00.169.26
Credit for the apparent effortlessness of the proceedings goes to the museum staff and volunteers. Most were familiar from past years, though I know only a few by name. Sarah Rose, VP of Education & Programs, seemed to be everywhere at all hours. Michael Lapides, Dir. of Digital Initiatives, got very little sleep due to a video-streaming gizmo that apparently was not designed to run non-stop for twenty-five hours.

The MDM attendees also deserve credit. They are respectful toward the text and toward each other, and they are interesting folks. High-school teacher Dallas, came from St. Paul, Minnesota (to gather motivation for his students?). British artist Caroline Hack spent most of a week in the museum, gleaning grist for her creative mill. Dutch couple Tjitske and Tonnie returned for their eighth consecutive MDM. Ed Camara read for his twenty-first time, the record!

The number of attendees is always weather-dependent. The ice-sheeted roads and sidewalks of New Bedford seemed to keep the numbers "manageable." A few of us all-nighters were stymied by the new ban on backpacks. (My guess is that backpack wearers underestimate their rearward dimension, and collide with exhibits behind them; hence the ban.) The all-night snack & coffee stand was moved to the outer room at the back of the Harbor View Gallery, claiming what used to be a sleeping area. Most sleepers crashed in the brightly lit area behind the podia.

A quick recap of the 2018 Moby-Dick Marathon

Note that the museum's Facebook page has photos, video clips, and links to media coverage of MDM22; Twitter hashtags for the event are #mdm22 and #MDM2018; video of the reading is archived here.

Saturday morning started with Stump the Scholars of course!
Emcee Michael Dyer (Curator of Maritime History) gave another in his series of imaginative, witty introductions to two teams from the Melville Society:
  • Fast Fish—Mary K. Bercaw Edwards (Mystic Seaport, Univ. of Connecticut), Jennifer Baker (N.Y.U.), Tim Marr (Univ. of North Carolina)
  • Loose Fish—Robert Wallace (Univ. of Kentucky), Wyn Kelley (M.I.T), Chris Sten (George Washington U.)
This "competition" is always a great demonstration of these scholars' detailed knowledge of Melville's works (e.g. How long does it take Stubb to behead a whale?), as well as their broad understanding of the historical context and critical analyses of his works. Some of the questions generated as much discussion among audience members as among the panelists.

How fortunate we are to have these scholars, the entire Melville Society Cultural Project committee, on-hand for the MDM weekend year after year! What would the MDM be like without them!?

One memorable question stumped everyone: What rock-and-roll legend owned a first-edition Moby-Dick?
Answer: Jim Morrison. His copy still may be for sale online, for $39,900 (plus $10 shipping).
. . .

11:30 AM - "Stump" concluded, we are in the Lagoda Room for the opening six chapters.
5:00 PM - Seamen's Bethel and Lagoda Room sit vacant.
The Maratona em Português has ended. The full reading continues in the Harbor View Gallery.
5:30 PM - While the reading continues, chowder and beer (nice!) are served in the Jacobs Family Gallery.
Midnight - Chapter 58.
In the Harbor View Gallery, the crowd thins.
Midnight - The Lagoda Room is quiet, but too chilly to nap there.
2 AM - Chapter 73.
In the heart of the Graveyard Shift—readers stand a good chance of getting a second turn at the podium.
9 AM - Chapter 112.
The crowd swells.
9:25 AM - Tjitske reads in Dutch.
11 AM - The Chat with Melville Scholars adjourns.
Both Saturday's and Sunday's "Chats" were lively and well attended.
12:44 PM - Michael Dyer leaves the podium after reading the Epilogue.

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