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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Etymology and Extracts at the New Bedford Moby Dick Marathon

What is the single most shocking thing about the Moby-Dick marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum?  It's that they skip the etymology and extracts with which Melville begins the book. 

I guess I can see the logic behind this choice.  The marathon, which now starts dramatically with an Ishmael impersonator (for lack of a better term) reading "Loomings" in the museum's Lagoda Room, would probably turn off many would-be participants if they had to sit through 15-20 minutes of non-narrative quotations from other authors before even getting to "Call me Ishmael." 

Nevertheless, it doesn't seem right.  A Moby-Dick marathon without "Etymology" and "Extracts" is like a Scarlet Letter marathon without "The Custom-House," or a Giles Goat-Boy marathon without the comic editors' statements on why they should or should not have published the manuscript.  Is it really a marathon if you intentionally omit part of the text?

When I first raised this issue with Gansevoort, he suggested doing a "guerrilla reading" of "Etymology" and "Extracts" in front of the museum before the regular marathon begins.  I like that in theory.  But in the hour before the marathon, most people are too busy getting settled with their gear and what-not inside the building to have any time or attention to spare.  Plus, New Bedford in January is not the best place for standing around reading or listening to yet more Melville. 

Another possibility, now that the museum has started streaming the marathon, would be to have a virtual reading of the introductory material.  Thus, even if it didn't happen live, a reading of the etymology and extracts would at least be part of the marathon in some sense.  And I suppose a third possibility is simply to arrive early and read the etymology and extracts silently by oneself, while waiting for Ishmael to begin.  Who knows, maybe some attendees do that already.

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