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Common knowledge vs Truth

13 Nov

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After a rather busy few weeks, I should really say something more about Moby Dick.

It’s interesting comparing what “everyone knows” about a famous work with what’s actually there. I suspect most people who have not read the book, if asked, would say that it is about Captain Ahab and his fanatical pursuit of the mysterious white whale that ate his leg. They may even be able to quote the opening sentence (“Call me Ishmael.”).

Actually reading the book (which is reasonably long – I’m about 60% through), I would say it is an occasionally-dreamy philosophical look at the life aboard an Nantucket whaling vessel. Early on, the book was very strongly from “Ishmael’s” perspective, but since going to sea it has varied between that, and following various crew members as they discuss their duties. There is much musing on life; the sea; whales in general; the process of chasing, catching, and dismembering a whale; and other such details. Ahab’s mania is almost a “macguffin” – something that motivates the plot, differing only in that it is not really interchangeable with anything else.

It does make me wonder. What other things does “everyone” know that don’t accurately reflect the truth of the thing in question?

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Posted by on November 13, 2010 in Moby Dick

 

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