Wednesday, October 10, 2012

George Cotkin's "Dive Deeper"

George Cotkin is a Professor of History at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His books, in addition to his just published Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick, are William James, Public Philosopher, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900, Existential America, and Morality’s Muddy Waters: Ethical Quandaries in Modern America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Dive Deeper and reported the following:
How do you approach a classic work like Moby-Dick about which oceans of books and articles have been written? You have to take up Melville’s imperative to dive deeply and creatively. After rereading Moby-Dick a few years ago, I wanted to spend more time with it. So I began to think about the immense waves that the book has created in American culture (from classical music to rap, in various films, from pop-up books to comics, in fictional works, in scholarly approaches, in art). The meaning of the novel, in part, is a function of its resonance with readers over the last century and more. As I read each chapter in Moby-Dick, I caught a theme, phrase, symbol, or emotion, and I then wrote a chapter in response. In the end, that meant 135 brief chapters, along with extracts, etymology, and epilogue), starting with Camus and comedy (Ishmael contemplates suicide and offers some humorous remarks in the first chapter) and ending with Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream song (where he imagines Captain Arab discovering America).

With these preliminaries out of the way, what then do I find when I open to page 99 of Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick? That page deals with Chapter 51, “The Spirit Spout,” in the novel. Captain Ahab walks the decks of his ship, “The Pequod,” and, as Melville puts it, “every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap.” Tap, tap, tap led me to think about rap, rap, rap. In my research into the reception of the novel, I had come upon the existence of a highly educated rapper – or, to be more precise, a post-punk laptop rapper – named MC Lars. He has a tune called, “Ahab”. It goes like this:
Call me Ahab, what, monomaniac

Obsessed with success like Steve Wozniak

On the hunt for this mammal that once took my leg

With my warn down crew and my man Queequeg
Learn more about George Cotkin's Dive Deeper at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: George Cotkin.

--Marshal Zeringue