Entry begun on Sunday, July 26, 2015, l:00 pm
This my second book-length blog. I will soon be starting a third, so I have had to think about why I have conceived of the first two blogs as separate from each other, as well as from a third that is likely to follow, even though the three are closely related. This question came up in discussions with the editors of the Emily Dickinson Electronic Archive 2 in advance of their posting this blog on their site in August 2015. For an account of some of the issues involved in that discussion, see my entry “Logs, Blogs, and Epilogues” that begins part 7 of the present blog (https://dickinsonandmobydick.wordpress.com/).
Because many, if not most, blogs are unending, I had to figure out why I had ended the first one, and now wanted to end the second one, before submitting it to the Dickinson archive. The short answer, which I will briefly summarize here, is length, purpose, and navigability.
A book-length blog is long enough. Especially since its reverse structure (last entry coming first) makes it difficult to read sequentially. I began my first blog, Sailing on the Whale Ship Charles W. Morgan, in April 2014 and concluded it in August of the same year. Documenting the experience of that voyage was the primary purpose of that blog, though its fifty-plus entries did much else along the way. That blog ended with the report I had been required to submit to the joint sponsors of the voyage, the Mystic Seaport Museum and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed writing the blog as much as I had sailing the ship, so I began a new one when the time seemed right.
I began the current blog on Dickinson and Moby-Dick in August 2014 and am preparing to finish it in August of this year. Its primary purpose has been to document the experience of creating two exhibitions of artwork by students in my literature classes at Northern Kentucky University during the last twenty years. The Dickinson exhibition opened in February of this year, followed by the Moby-Dick exhibition in April. Each exhibition was the occasion for an Arts Fest that included a Marathon Reading, a full-color catalog, and variety of programs (including some combination of song recitals, artistic presentations, symposia, receptions, and tea parties), all of which are covered in this blog. Although spin-offs from these events are likely to continue in the future, I feel the main thrust of each initiative is ending as NKU approaches the beginning of a new academic year in mid-August 2015.
The best way I can convey the nature of these first two blogs–and of the third that is likely to follow–is to say that each is a separate voyage taken by a single voyager, each time with a separate, though sometimes overlapping, crew. The Charles W. Morgan made its maiden voyage from New Bedford in 1841, the same year in which Herman Melville sailed from the same port on the voyage that was to result in Moby-Dick ten years later. One of the mates of the Morgan kept a log of its first voyage that I had arranged to examine at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum before sailing on that same ship’s 38th Voyage, from Vineyard Haven to New Bedford, the next day. The log of the Morgan’s first voyage combined words and images. The words recorded the specifics of the ship’s navigational history: dates, times of day, weather, course on the compass, other ships encountered, whales encountered or killed. If a whale was killed, it was represented in the log by a stamp in the shape of a whale–inside of which is written how many barrels were filled with that whale’s oil.
Wyn Kelley, a colleague in the Melville Society Cultural Project in New Bedford who was also a 38th Voyager on the Morgan, once mentioned that our term blog derives from the term weblog, which itself is a variation on the idea of a nautical log. This association has helped me to see that my first two book-length blogs, which I was already thinking of as separate voyages, can best be characterized as electronic voyages, which in a digital world might well be called eVoyages. I have therefore decided to refer to my Whale Ship blog as eVoyage1 and my Dickinson and Moby-Dick blog as eVoyage2. Each will be related in significant ways to whatever may eventuate as eVoyage3, but that electronic voyage will be driven and shaped by a different overriding purpose than either of its predecessors (just as Moby-Dick differs.from Melville’s other novels by following the “chief motive”‘ that Ishmael announces for embarking on this voyage in the opening chapter: “the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself”).
Applied to the whaling industry, the analogy with separate but interrelated eVoyages would be quite exact. As soon as a ship returns to port and begins to unload its oil casks and other cargo, its owners are busy planning its next voyage–where in the ocean to send the ship, what species of whales to hunt, with what kind of crew and captain. Ishmael captures this overlapping dynamic in a single sentence in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter as he sails away from the city of New Bedford for his first whaling voyage: “Huge hills and mountains of casks on casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came the sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye.”
Melville in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter was of course writing about literary voyages as well as whaling ones. In 1849 he had published Mardi and Redburn, followed by White-Jacket in 1850. Moby-Dick in 1851 was followed by Pierre in 1852. Wikipedia’s entry for blog indicates that Peter Merholz coined the word in 1999 as a “truncation” of weblog, coined by Jorn Berger on December 12, 1997. Whale ships in the 19th century used nautical logs to record their motion and interactions the world-wide ocean. Wikipedia defines the 21st century blog as “a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web” (whose “discrete entries” are “typically displayed in reverse chronological order”).
When Ishmael opens “the great flood-gates of the wonder-world” at the end of the opening chapter of Moby-Dick, he is creating plenty of sea room for the story he is about to tell while also anticipating the capacious imaginations of those who were to coin the terms weblog and blog 150 years later. The oceanic flow of Ishmael’s story moves through approximately 210,000 words. By February 10, 2014, according to Wikipedia, the World Wide Web was hosting approximately 247,000,000 blogs. Each of those bloggers could say, with Emily Dickinson, for whatever reason, “This is my letter to the World” (J 441).