Friday, September 13, 2013

Thinking about Moby Dick alongside Digital Culture

I thought my colleague Gideon Burton's presentation on digital culture was tremendous. The previous meeting, members of our class will recall, I introduced Moby Dick. And on the surface, those two subjects are very different.

But then again, they're provocative to consider alongside one another -- even before we get to the digital afterlife of Melville's text. In our initial discussion of Moby Dick, we posed the question of how to categorize that text, and ultimately, and with the help of Georg Lukacs, placed it somewhere between epic and novel. Such categories tend not to mean much when taken as ends in themselves, but they open new avenues for thought when imagined as windows onto intellectual and literary history. Here we must ask ourselves some interesting questions about the breadth and depth of human expression. For example, what is the logic behind different literary and rhetorical forms? Why do they develop? What do they imply? In the case of Moby Dick, we said, the tensions between epic and novel tell us something not only about literature, but also about the history of the idea of technology, even converting Melville's text into a technology in its own right.

This is important to bear in mind in a class that perhaps reflexively equates technology with digital culture. So next week, we'll pick up where our discussion last time left off.