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Moby Dick- Nope, No Material to Work with Here!

May 1, 2011

We at Dysfunctional Literacy do not tell Moby Dick jokes.  We’re not above telling a good Moby Dick joke.  We’re not too good of people to tell a Moby Dick joke.  We’re not too sophisticated to tell a Moby Dick joke.  It’s just that Moby Dick jokes are best told in private, and since this is a public site, we must have some decorum here.


“Call me Ishmael.”

That’s truly a great opening.  I can walk into a room and proclaim, “Call me Ishmael!” or “Call me anything else!” and everybody gets the reference.  That’s what makes a great opening.

Unfortunately, the book goes downhill from there (from a dysfunctional literate’s point of view).

Some people can’t get enough of Moby Dick (That’s not meant to be a Moby Dick joke. I’m serious!).  They say the writing is beautiful, and the themes and symbolism and imagery are deep (See?  I told you I was serious).  If you’re into that, fine.  To dysfunctional literates, the book is overwritten, and it isn’t as deep as those who claim to love Moby Dick say it is (or if it is deep, we don’t  understand it without a ton of research which we don’t have time to do).  It’s the kind of book that gives classics a bad name.

It’s great to understand references to Moby Dick; it’s even better if you can understand (or make) the references without ever having read the book.


In order to be a classic, old literature must still be relevant.  Moby Dick is relevant for three reasons.


People like to tell Moby Dick jokes.  If Moby Dick were titled Moby Foot, then dysfunctional literates couldn’t make Moby Foot jokes because Moby Foot jokes aren’t funny.  Without that initial instinctive reaction to Moby Dick, it might just be another old book… except for two other reasons.


Moby Dick is relevant because truly literate people say it is.  We dysfunctional literates might not get the symbolism behind the color white to Ishmael or understand the meaning behind the name of the ship The Pequod, but that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.  If these people who are willing to read the book and study it claim that it’s a classic, I don’t have the time or knowledge to disagree with them.


“Call me Ishmael.”  Again, if people can quote the opening line of a novel over a hundred years after it’s written, then it’s a classic.


UPDATE- June 20, 2018

Yeah, I know this is a lame blog post.  As tempting as it is to delete it (and it’s tempting), I’m leaving it up to show my development as a blogger/writer.  Yes, I know this post sucks.  I’m pretty sure I knew it sucked when I wrote it, but back then I saw this blog as practice because I knew nobody was reading it and I could experiment a little.  Some experiments go horribly wrong.

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