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All Astir

On October 10, 2012, the opera Moby-Dick, with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Gene Scheer, had its San Francisco premiere, the first of eight performances at the War Memorial Opera House. The opera was first performed in Dallas in 2010 and then traveled to Adelaide (Australia), Calgary, and San Diego. I had the privilege of leading a panel discussion with the composer and librettist at Berkeley on the afternoon following opening night. I was joined by Robert K. Wallace (whose book Heggie and Scheer's Moby-Dick: A Grand Opera for the 21st Century, with photographs by Karen Almond, will be published in April) and John Kapusta of the Music Department at Berkeley. Among other topics, we discussed the allure and the challenge of translating Moby-Dick to other forms of art, the ways in which Melville's book is and is not "operatic," the collaborative process, the choices made in moving from book to opera (such as setting the opera entirely at sea, having the action unfold in the present rather than in retrospect, and centering on the relationships between Ahab and Starbuck, Ishmael and Queequeg), and the composition of the vocal parts. The Moby-Dick opera is a compelling work of art in its own right and also a remarkable meditation on Melville's book. As I sportively proposed at the Berkeley discussion, the opera's creators have made Moby-Dick into a better novel than Melville did, if by "better novel" we mean a work with more focused plotting, symmetrical form, and sustained character development. Heggie and Scheer help us to see more clearly the story embedded in Moby-Dick about leaders and followers, fathers and sons, and the lost and the found, and their version alerts us to the novelistic satisfactions that Melville's book withholds, pressing us to think further about its intricate and multiple forms. They spoke eloquently about their collaboration, their fascinations with Moby-Dick, and the art and business of opera.

If you would like to see a taped version of the Berkeley discussion, you can find it on the web at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PASr2g21ORs. You also can hear the opera set designer, Robert Brill, talk about his search for the most effective ways to represent the ship and the whale, with the aid of production slides; his presentation occurred during another event last October linked to the San Francisco opera premiere, this one at the California Academy of Sciences: http://video.calacademy.org/details/547. The opera has been filmed in San Francisco for broadcast on the PBS "Great Performances" series this year or next, and releases are planned on CD and DVD. [End Page 96]

"Moby-Dick is everywhere," declared Nina Martyris in an October Huffington Post article. "Moby-Dick breaches ubiquitous at this moment," announced George Cotkin in a November blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education. (You can find the pieces at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nina-martyris/thar-she-blows-everywhere_b_1989920.html and http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2012/11/13/moby-dick-in-the-mainstream/.) The Heggie and Scheer opera is only one recent instance of a phenomenon—the resonance of Melville's book in U.S. culture—that continues to fascinate and currently is surging (and invites explanation).

The first New York City marathon reading of Moby-Dick occurred Nov. 16-18 (commemorating the first U. S. publication on Nov. 14, 1851) at three independent bookstores: WORD, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe, in Soho; and Molasses Books, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We include in this issue's "Extracts" a report from Aaron Calvin on the events. The New York Marathon joins, of course, the annual reading marathons in Mystic Seaport, Conn., and New Bedford, Mass. (more on the latter below).

In late January, after 135 days, the web "Moby-Dick Big Read" concluded with a reading of the book's "Epilogue" by the poet Mary Oliver. Over more than four months, each of the book's chapters was read aloud and broadcast online in a series of downloads, free and accessible to the public at http://www. mobydickbigread.com/. Organized by Philip Hoare (author of the prize-winning Leviathan or, The Whale) and artist Angela Cockayne and hosted by Plymouth University in England, the project's readers included actress Tilda Swinton ("Loomings"), actor and writer Simon Callow ("The Sermon"), British Prime Minister David Cameron ("The Pipe"), literary and cultural critic Andrew Delbanco ("Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah"), playwright Tony Kushner ("A Squeeze of the Hand"), filmmaker John Waters ("The Cassock"), and broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough ("Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?"), not to mention assorted fishermen, teachers, schoolchildren, and a vicar. Seeking a chapter for the British Prime Minister to read that would not generate controversy (shades of the British expurgations of 1851!), the organizers finally settled on the four-paragraphs about Ahab becoming dissatisfied with his pipe. Each day, along with the audio file of a chapter, the organizers posted a related image by a contemporary artist, many of which were made specifically for this project.

The chapter-a-day "Big Read" follows Matt Kish's image-a-day drawn for each page of his Signet edition of Moby-Dick and posted on the web, brought out in book form as Moby-Dick in Pictures (2011).

Martyris reports in the Huffington Post that British director Lynne Ramsay has secured financing for her film "Mobius," a 3D science-fiction version set [End Page 97] in outer space, and that American director M. Night Shyamalan has received a green light from NBC to make a pilot episode for a Moby-Dick-inspired television series titled "Lost Horizon."

Such manifestations seem to echo the chapter of Moby-Dick titled "Moby-Dick": "One of the wild suggestions referred to, as at last coming to be linked with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous; that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one and the same instant of time."

The Melville Society Cultural Project (Jennifer Baker, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, Wyn Kelley, Timothy Marr, and Robert K. Wallace; Christopher Sten was unable to attend this year and was missed) led a double life at its annual meetings in New Bedford. Members shuttled between the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford and the MLA Convention in Boston, where they attended the two Melville Society panels, the Executive Committee meeting, and the Melville Society dinner. While in New Bedford, they greeted Pilar Martinez Benedi, who holds the 2012 Walter E. Bezanson Fellowship for study in the Melville Archive. Pilar, a native of Spain who resides in Rome where she is pursuing her PhD in American Literature, remembered by many attendees of the 2011 Rome conference, will be reporting on her sojourn at the Archive in our next issue. At the New Bedford Marathon, she delivered her lines from Moby-Dick in Italian. The MSCP committee participated energetically in the Marathon and developed future projects in their now over-a-decade collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum and its Research Library.

The seventeenth annual Marathon followed last year's record-breaking success with new flourishes. Matt Kish, the illustrator of Moby-Dick in Pictures, lectured on Friday, January 4, narrating his self-willed artistic trajectory towards the colossal enterprise of illustrating a page every day from Melville's text. The MSCP has purchased sixteen of his drawings for its Archive and was pleased to work with the New Bedford Whaling Museum to bring Kish to the Marathon.

As in the past two years, the events this year began on Saturday morning with an animated session of "Stump the Scholars," as the team of Jennifer Baker, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, and Timothy Marr squared off against the team of Wyn Kelley, Matt Kish, and Robert K. Wallace, attempting to answer questions about why sailors cry out "There she blows!," what color socks Pip wore, and who captained the ships encountered by the Pequod. More philosophical questions arose as well, of course, and both teams strove valiantly. Surprising themselves as much as anyone else, Kelley, Kish, and Wallace carried the day. [End Page 98]

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Artist Matt Kish lectures at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on his Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page (2011). In the background is projected his illustration for page 538 of his Signet edition of Moby-Dick (from "The Chase—Second Day"). Photo courtesy of Robert K. Wallace.

The MSCP started the Marathon by reading "Extracts," warming up the crowd for the appearance of retiring Massachusetts congressman, the Honorable Barney Frank, who read the "Loomings" chapter. The weekend unfolded with its usual delights: sermon at the Seaman's Bethel, performance of "Midnight, [End Page 99]

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Members of the Melville Society Cultural Project read in New Bedford's Moby-Dick Marathon. From left to right: Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, Robert K. Wallace, Timothy Marr, Wyn Kelley. Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinez Benedi.

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Mass. Rep. Barney Frank begins the narrative at the Moby-Dick Marathon with "Loomings." Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinez Benedi.

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Joseph Fruscione and John Matteson (signing a copy of his new biography, The Lives of Margaret Fuller) at the Society's MLA dinner. Photo courtesy of Dennis Berthold.

Forecastle" by New Bedford's Culture Park, appearance of chowder and sandwiches for hungry readers. The MSCP members conducted two sessions of Chat with a Scholar, both well attended by young and old, seasoned and fresh admirers of Melville. Just in time for this year's Marathon, the MSCP recorded their second audio tour for the Whaling Museum, and it was made available to visitors. Written by Jennifer Baker and recorded by Jennifer and Wyn Kelley, this tour provides a Melvillean perspective on the Sperm Whale Gallery.

Whaling Museum President James Russell confirmed the institution's strong support for the Society's Archive and the Bezanson Fellowship program. Meeting later with staff in the Research Library, MSCP members discussed [End Page 101] cataloguing the collections, updating the mission statement, and developing protocols for lending materials and storing papers. The Archive continues to expand and deepen. MSCP members have received generous donations from the families of Douglas Robillard and Joyce Sparer Adler, as well as runs of American Literary Scholarship, American Literature, and American Literary History, given by Dennis Berthold. The Society continues to be grateful for donations from members and friends.

Johns Hopkins University Press, the new publisher of Leviathan, is now handling membership to the Melville Society, which includes a subscription to the journal. Information about joining the Society or renewing membership can be found on our website (http://melvillesociety.org/publications/leviathan-a-journal-of-melville-studies) and at the Johns Hopkins Leviathan site (http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/leviathan). Robert Sandberg, the Society's Web Editor, has added photos from the recent MLA Convention to our web galleries, which can be viewed at http://melvillesociety.org/galleries.

Melville's Marginalia Online, edited by Steven Olsen-Smith, Peter Norberg, and Dennis C. Marnon, is the co-recipient of an NEH Challenge Grant newly awarded to Boise State University's Arts & Humanities Institute. The grant will help pay for server expenses, web design and development, and graduate student support. In addition to institutional and private collections currently represented on the project's website, the Princeton University Library and Yale University's Beinecke Library have begun scanning their holdings of Melville's books for publication on the site. Several new titles have recently been added, including Melville's copies of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Dramatic Works, James Field's History of the County of Berkshire, and the heavily illustrated Works of Eminent Masters. Also available is the New York Society Library's copy of W. J. Neale's History of the Mutiny at Spithead and the Nore, with erased marginalia attributed to Melville. Additional news and updates are available through the project's Facebook and Twitter feeds. Please visit the site at http://melvilles-marginalia.org. Tax-deductible donations made to Melville's Marginalia Online through its support page will contribute to the NEH Challenge Grant's federal matching requirements.

A one-day conference on "Melville and Americanness" was held at the University of East Anglia on June 29, 2012. Robert S. Levine (Maryland) delivered the keynote address and presenters came from the United Kingdom, Croatia, Belgium, and the United States. The event was organized by Sarah Thwaites, who will be guest-editing a special issue of Leviathan featuring essays developed from conference papers. [End Page 102]

Betsy Sherman and Will Garrison, with the Berkshire Historical Society at Arrowhead, report that, thanks to a grant from Housatonic Heritage, the Melville Trail In Pittsfield has been updated and interpretive panels have been posted in four locations: Arrowhead, Monument Mountain, Pontoosuc Lake, and the Berkshire Athenaeum. The Historical Society has received two different grants, totaling almost $80,000, to continue restoring Melville's home in Pittsfield. With support from the Massachusetts Historical Commission's Preservation Projects Fund, work will focus on the façade of Arrowhead, including clapboard and trim repair, sill replacement, and repainting in historically accurate colors. The most dramatic change will be recreating the appearance of the front entryway, circa 1870. With support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the driveway and restrooms will be renovated, making the museum more accessible to all visitors. Arrowhead's Writer-In-Residence, Jana Laiz, will be working with students from the Pittsfield Public Schools to talk about Melville and encourage the love of writing. The Berkshire Historical Society looks forward to summer 2013 and their recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, composed of African-American volunteers, which saw extensive service in the Union Army during the Civil War. Many of its members lived in Berkshire County. For more information about the Berkshire Historical Society at Arrowhead, please visit www.mobydick.org.

Richard Kopley's Moby-Dick-related short story "The Hideous and Intolerable Bookshop" was shortlisted for the Lightship Short Story Competition and ranked as one of the top submissions. The story has been published by Alma Books in Lightship Anthology 2.

In this issue's "Extracts," we include abstracts from the two Melville Society panels at the MLA Convention in Boston in January 2013: "Melville and Protest" and "Melville Occupies Wall Street," both organized by Hester Blum (Penn State).

We look forward to the Ninth International Melville Society Conference, "Melville and Whitman in Washington: The Civil War Years and After," which will be held in Washington, D.C., June 4-7, 2012. Information about the conference can be found on the Society website and on the conference Facebook page. [End Page 103]

Samuel Otter
University of California, Berkeley