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[Comments] (5) : I finished Moby-Dick (Why is the title hyphenated? Was Melville planning to register moby-dick.com?) and it's really good but it's not the greatest American novel of all time. Even within the realm of conventional choices for that honor, I think Huckleberry Finn is better.

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Posted by Jarno Virtanen at Wed Dec 29 2004 00:30

Moby Dick seems to be the canonical prototype of a book (in general) in (American) books of popular science. It just seems somewhat weird from my standpoint (not knowing anything about American culture), so I guess I should read it, or an account of its meaning to American culture, myself, too.

Most recent example is Daniel Dennett in _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_. Dennett describes a thought experiment of a Library of Babel which consists of all possible 500 page books. (Yielding approx. 100^1000000 [100 different symbols in million (500 * 2000) positions] books.) He tries to demonstrate the Vastness of such a library by making us imagine a portion of the library that consists of variations of Moby Dick that have two typos per page (compared to the original). (Such books, of course, really do exist in the Library of Babel.) They are easily recognizable as (variations of) Moby Dick books and should be mostly understandable, too. The size of that portion is unimaginably large, larger than our known universe. (Calculating the exact size of the portion is left as an exercise to the reader.)

It's a fun thought experiment, too, in my opinion. It makes the usual metaphors of vastness sound ridiculous. For example, a word like "astronomical" is in so astronomically wrong order of magnitude that it is funny. Also, imagine all the interesting books the library contains. There is, for example, the full account of your life from your birth to this point (and the countless variations on the them.)

Quine has something to say about the idea too: http://jubal.westnet.com/hyperdiscordia/universal_library.html

Posted by Andy H. at Wed Dec 29 2004 01:30

I've always found the dialect in Huck Finn fairly impenetrable. Interestingly, by contrast, my pleasure in the language kept me reading through the strange and nigh-interminable middle section of Moby-Dick to enjoy the excellent first and last hundred pages.

Posted by John at Wed Dec 29 2004 10:13

I picked up your copy to peruse during my lunch break yesterday. When I saw that it was dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, I knew immediately it was not my type of book. The Scarlet Letter frustrated me beyond reason.

Posted by Rachel at Wed Dec 29 2004 11:37

we are descended from Hawthorne (I felt v tramatized as I struggled through S. L. sophomore year... but that may have been Mrs Cribbs).

<3 Huck Finn!

Posted by Brendan at Wed Dec 29 2004 18:48

Your family is descended from Hawthorne and Eli Whitney?

That explains a lot.

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