Moby Monday — The Westport (CA) Whale

Whale TK
Last year, outsider artist Kyle Siler had a vision: to build a roadside attraction that would put tiny Westport, California on the map. A seaside village nearly four hours north of San Francisco by car, Westport is currently best known as the home of an annual rubber ducky race.

But Siler, a/k/a Carlos Amigos, a/k/a Relis Elyk, has a bigger non-fish to fry. By his 40th birthday in June of next year, he plans to build a cement sperm whale named “Queequeg,” after the Polynesian harpooneer in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Siler is blogging about the project, which now consists of an empty moat and a cement pad for his future whale. There’s a link on the blog where you can support the effort by paying $20 for a personalized, whale-shaped tile to be cemented into the future attraction’s sidewalk. (We’ve got ours.)

When he saw his vision last September, Siler had never built anything like this. But since then, he has set about learning the crafts of whalemaking—including creating a metal skeleton for the hollow structure—with a monomania worthy of Moby Dick’s would-be assassin, he says. “I feel like Capt Ahab in my pursuit of Cement Sculpture,” Siler wrote in an email yesterday. “I’ll be welding next week!”

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — A Bower Near Withernwick

No locks on the trapdoors and shutters yet
We just got word from Yorkshire that the sperm whale skeleton described in Chapter 102 of Moby-Dick is once again on display at Burton Constable Hall, the same English country house where author Herman Melville located it in 1851. Melville described the skeleton as “articulated” and capable of being swung open and shut “like a great chest of drawers.” He also wrote of a plan to install locks on the skeleton and charge up to sixpence for a peek at it.

The whale as currently constituted—in a new, permanent display after years in storage—still seems to be awaiting its locks, but we don’t advise “swinging all day upon his lower jaw,” even though Melville said you could. The viewing fees, while more than sixpence, sound reasonable: Admission into the estate’s grounds (where you can see the whale) is £2.50 for adults; £1.25 for children; and £6.25 for a family ticket. Burton Constable is open three seasons of the year, including every day but Fridays through October 29. (It opens again from November 21 through December 6 before shutting until Easter.)

Photograph courtesy of The Burton Constable Foundation.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — Crowdsourcing Emoji-Dick

Next stop: Klingon
Emoticons are fine as far as they go, but they do not express the whole range of human experience—our hopes, our dreams, our heartbreaks; our recycling, our maple leaves, our bananas. For that, you need emoji, which are Japanese emoticons for people with a lot of stuff to express (and maybe a lot of time on their hands).

In fact, emoji are now used by Japanese texters as a form of written language. This gave Fred Benenson an idea. The product manager at Creative Commons decided to have a book translated entirely into emoji, using the micro-contracting site Mechanical Turk for labor and the micro-funding site Kickstarter for scratch. But for a translation subject, he went decidedly macro: with enough backing, Benenson plans to produce a translation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the English language’s premier text on recycling, maple leaves, and bananas.

Benenson estimates the cost of translating Melville’s 1851 novel at $3,500 and is currently seeking pledges of $5 to $200. If enough backers sign on by October 19, their donations will be accepted and work will proceed. In the end, supporters will receive benefits based on their investments. Five-dollar backers will get a PDF file of the final product, while $200 backers will receive a color, hardcover limited edition Emoji-Dick book, numbered and signed “by the author.” Wonder how Benenson is going to swing that one?

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — (Whale) Killer iPhone App

Shake for giant kraken

Speaking of iPhone apps, what would your Moby-Dick application look like? The iTunes store offers a few downloadable versions of the text (though, sadly, no annotated version yet) as well as audiobooks, musical recordings, a schweet study guide by Shmoop, and the whole 1956 film starring Gregory Peck … but no app that really brings the book to life in a new, iPhone-specific way.

Anna Leach of the blog Shiny Shiny proposes one such app: a simple whale-locator service that would identify any nearby whales and take you to their blogs (or, we’d add, their Twitter feeds).

Some friends and I had a different idea: a Moby-Dick video game. Blogger Matthew Wasteland has previously laid out the inherent problem with such a product. If you allow for alternate endings to Ahab’s quest, have you leached out of your game all the greatness of the novel?

That’s what makes our Moby-Dick game app idea so brilliant (if we do say so ourselves). It’s mainly just a view of the sea—sometimes calm, sometimes stormy, throw in a little St. Elmo’s fire now and again—and you only ever see the white whale after you’ve been playing nonstop for … what, hours? months? It’s theoretically possible to harpoon the sucker, but by the time you get a chance to do it, you’ll be begging for Ahab’s (virtual) fate.

Anyway, that’s our concept. If you have a better one, let’s hear it in the comments.

Margaret Guroff is the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Moby Monday — “Call Me Mr. Potato Head”

"Landlord," I whispered. "That ain't the NOUN, is it?"
It’s the best work week of the year, IMHO. I’m zazzing my bike through deserted city streets and getting seated at schmantzy restaurants without a reservation: the rest of the world is at the beach!

Here’s something to keep you occupied, whether you’re blissfully away (miss ya!) or staffing the ghost workplace at home: the world’s longest Mad-Lib, built from the first four chapters of Moby-Dick.

See you in September!

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick. (Image via.)

Moby Monday — Ishmael Tweets You Back

Your new pen-pal?
First came Moby-Dick as a Twitter feed. Then came a newspaper piece that reimagined the novel as a series of tweets from its narrator, Ishmael: “We’re all having a ‘whale of a time’ here! (That’s right, I WENT THERE. Sue me!)”

Last week, Thomas Watson of New Orleans went all 2.0 on the concept with TweetMeIshmael, a Twitter feed in Ishmael’s 19th-century voice. Not only does this Ishmael note his key observations as tweets, but he responds in character to Twitter users who @reply to him (by typing “@TweetMeIshmael” at the beginning of a post). Here’s a convo about Chapter 16:

TweetMeIshmael Yojo, Q’s little black god, has tasked me with finding a whaleship. Three suitable ships in harbor: Devil-Dam, Tit-Bit, and Pequod.

jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?

TweetMeIshmael Laughing aloud! RT @jmsullivan “Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?”

TweetMeIshmael Learned a/b Pequod: owners (Peleg, Bildad); captain (pegleg Ahab)

jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Pretty sure those are names of Assyrian demons. Would be _very_ wary of this ship. Sounds ominous. What was wrong w Tit Bit?

TweetMeIshmael @jmsullivan Then Yojo shall have some company. re Tit-Bit: Its seaworthiness concerned me. What chance has a tit-bit against a spermaceti?

Watson, who is reading the book on his Blackberry, first thought of the feed as a way to take notes on author Herman Melville’s turns of phrase. Surprisingly, this will be his first time through the book—if he makes it through. Watson read part of the long, dense narrative during one summer vacation and always intended to finish, but it wasn’t until he picked up Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction masterpiece In the Heart of the Sea recently that he felt ready. Philbrick’s gloss on the lives of Nantucket whalers “filled in a lot of the gaps I’d had,” Watson writes. “If I were a teacher, I’d make In the Heart of the Sea required reading before Moby-Dick.”

At press time, 30 Twitter users were following TweetMeIshmael. Watson plans to post at least one tweet for each of the book’s 135 chapters, though he may post more as time and inspiration allow. “If this little project helps me finish Moby-Dick, I’ll consider it a success,” he writes. “If a few dozen people enjoy Ishmael’s missives in their Twitter feed, so much the better!”

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick. She tweets about artistic responses to Moby-Dick at

Moby Monday – US premiere of Conor Lovett’s One-Man Moby-Dick

Conor Lovett channels Ishmael
Irish actor Conor Lovett—known for his one-man versions of Samuel Beckett’s spare, absurdist plays—will be in California this week performing his newest piece, a solo Moby-Dick. Wife Judy Hegerty Lovett directed the two-hour play, which is showing on Tuesday and Wednesday at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre and on Thursday at the Carlson Family Theatre at Viewpoint School in Calabasas.

A reviewer for the Irish Times was “spellbound” by Lovett’s Ishmael at the show’s April premiere. Us, we’re stunned even to contemplate boiling Herman Melville’s massive tome down to two hours. We just hope they left the naughty bits in.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.