In the article titled, Moby-Dick: Work of Art, author Walter E. Bezanson believes that Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick is often overlooked as a work of art. Melville’s Moby-Dick, is usually seen as a narrative, a moral lesson, a modern source, and a spiritual biography. (641)But Bezanson wants to convince us that Moby-Dick is a work of art because of the text itself and because of the time it was made.(641) Bezanson argues that to ask what the book means would imply that we would need to ask what the book is about, and to ask what the book is about would make us have to understand how art works. (641) He plans on showing us how Moby-Dick is a work of art by giving three roadmarks to observe. These are meter, dynamic, and structure.(641)
When Benzanson talks about matter, he is talking about the subject matter of Moby-Dick. (641) He believes that it’s the subject matter of the whaling industry that makes the novel a work of art. He points that in order for Melville to write a book about, Melville would have to include information on certain phenomena, artifacts, and processes that are involved in whaling. (641) Hence, this why we get large chapters about the natural world,the historical world of whaling, artifacts, techniques, social organization, and the object of the voyage.(642) These are the elements of the whaling industry. Bezanson says that we would often see these things as something independent from communication, but we shouldn’t; especially if we want to see Melville’s novel as a work of art.Art typically uses communication at the heart of its core. Whaling offers where communication can be conceived. (643)
Bezanson claims that there are at least four levels of communication of whaling. (643) The first is the use of the whaling logbook. Here a whalesman would write about the ships position,the weather, which ships they encountered, and how many whales they have caught. (643) The second level of communication is the standard history of whaling.(643) He believes that Melville’s purpose was to compile a lot of data on the history on the economics of whaling and the whale itself. The third level of communication is the use of personal experience.(643) This was useful for curious readers who’ve never been whaling before. As for the fourth level of communication, it relies heavily on the discussion whether or not Melville’s novel is truly a work of fiction. Melville had put in so much time and research when writing his novel that most of the things he writes about the whaling industry is in fact true, and so it cannot be passed as fiction. (643) From this idea Bezanson then begins to talk about the novels dynamic and structure.
When bezanson talks about dynamic in his article, he is referring to the actions of forces on the bodies at rest. (644) For most of the story, there is a dynamic happening on both the narrative and the subject matter. The first force we see is Captain Ahab himself. He is this crazy whaleman who is set out to seek revenge on a whale that took part of his leg, and so he is dynamic because he is acting as a force towards his goal of capturing Moby-Dick.Aside from Ahab, it is often assumed that the whale himself, Moby-Dick is the alternate force. (644) But ultimately Bezanson wants us to consider Ishmael, our narrator of the story as the dynamic force.(644)
Bezanson wants us to realise that there are two Ishmaels within the story. The first Ishmael is unfolding the story for us, which is the older Ishmael, the one that has already gone through this voyage and is now telling his tale to anyone that will listen to him.The other Ishmael is the young Ishmael we see as another character that is a spectator, experiencing everything he sees for the first time as he sets sail on the Pequod. ( 645) But Bezanson wants to mention that there are distinctions between the two Ishmaels, but it would be a mistake to separate them too far because they are after all, essentially the same person. (645) At some points within the novel, Ishmael does drop in and out from the story at time. Almost as if he was thrown overboard and it seems as if we hear the voice of Melville taking over. Bezanson would argue that the reason we feel this is because when Melville wrote this novel, he was not only writing from the research he did to write this book but he was also pulling from his own personal experience while sailing on a whaleship. (647)
Finally Benzanson also makes us consider the structure of Moby-Dick as a work of art. (647) At first he suggests that our narrator, Ishmael, may not have a specific form on how to reveal his story to us, but in the end Bezanson concludes that he does through the use of rhetoric symbolism, and the chapters themselves. (648)
He concludes that Ishmael is using at least four levels of rhetoric, expository style,poetic, idiomatic, and composite.(649) There is also the use of symbolic forms. Facts, events, and images become symbols within the novel, and the symbols have complex meaning to them as well.(650) We see this when Ishmael is talking about the whiteness of the whale. Bezanson notes too that these symbols, especially with Captain Ahab can be used as a structural form to explain his madness. It is symbols that Captain Ahab uses to form his ethics and beliefs, according to Bezanson.(651) It was a symbolic vision that mad Captain Ahab start his quest to find this whale. Bezanson also points out that by Ishmael making his narrative a symbolic mode he suggests an aspect of another structure. Moby-Dick lies close to the world of dreams( 651) We see this when Ishmael recalls a dream he had as a child and he can’t decipher if it was real or not. (651)
Bezanson also points out that the chapters themselve are structural units.(651) He especially points to the two chapter forms that stand out are not novelistic but more dramatic. When he speaks of dramatic means that they are written in a way that is like a playwright. Chapters like “The Quarter-Deck” and “The Candles” chapters are examples of those.(651) Bezanson also points out that we often times see chapter clusters when between two to six chapters are connected by themes and root images.(653) to make his point clear Bezanson refers to the chapters that begin after the whiteness of the whale. After this chapter we see in the other chapters of whiteness in “The Spirit Spout”, “The Albatross”, and “The Squid” chapters. (653)
In all fairness Bezanson’s argument on Moby-Dick being a work of art is strong, but the idea isn’t novel. Perhaps it might be due to the fact that I’ve always considered novels as a form of art that I just don’t see his main argument as something riveting. He does pose good convincing arguments within his deconstruction of the novel in three parts, matter,dynamic and structure.
His most compelling arguments were found in the section where he talks about the novel’s structure as a work of art. Bezanson points us to the four kinds of rhetoric that Ishmael is using to explain his narrative. Out of the four kinds of rhetoric, I think when he notes that Ishmael is using expository style is the best example. He points us toward the expository sentences in the “Cutting In” chapter. The tension is throughout the passage, and you can tell that Melville did this to convey the feeling of uncertainty to readers.(648) I think his example here works because I can see why Melville would include different levels of rhetoric to write this adventure. Forms of rhetoric are used in language to convince the audience of something, and so do works of art, and so it would seem to make sense that a work of art such as Moby-Dick would have rhetoric in it.
Next I think another thing that Bezanson does really well in his structure as a form of art argument is when he’s talking about how the chapters tend to coincide with one another. A few chapters were chapter clusters. They all are rooted by themes and images. I love how he points out that the theme of whiteness can be first seen in the chapter in “The Whiteness of the Whale” and then it continues through in “The Spirit-Spout,” “The Albatross,” “and the “Squid”(653) It appears that there is a relationship between all the chapters and they can be shifting, just as Ishmael is in the process of telling his story. I think this shows how much research and time Melville put into this story to make it so intricate and so great. It feels like he took a great time weaving everything together so there were no loose ends, which sometimes happens in a novel. We might get chapters with a load of beautiful imagery but if we don’t see it throughout the next chapters, we as readers feel lost and ripped off by the author. Thankfully Melville doesn’t rip us off and maintains constant.
Finally I agree with Bezanson when he mentions that he believes that Moby-Dick is an organic form of writing. It does not shape to a specific form like its other novel counterparts such as the Scarlet Letter.(655) It cannot be compared to other novels because it is its own creature.There is nothing like it to compare it to.The development of Ishmael’s story is free forming, much like how an artist sculpts something or painting something. He’s not quite sure how he wants to tell the story, hence which is why it seems like at one moment the novel is trying to be a poem, while trying to be an epic, and while trying to be a drama. And although it is strange because it cannot be compared to other novels, it is its strangeness that gravitates us towards reading it. Ishmael is like an artist and we as readers get the behind the scenes look while he is constructing his art. And just like art Melville’s character cannot be replicated. There can only be one Ishmael, and he is our artist.
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