In Ann Arbor, I’d been known as “the Alaska guy,” which now felt like a pose. Feeling too Alaska for the MFA book-world had supplanted how much of my life I’d felt too book for Alaska. Maybe that was why I’d been unable to progress on my novel. I’d left this place, after all. Had I ever really loved it, or just the way it let me represent myself?
The Hamburger Bahnhof is not a train station now, and never was in Hamburg. It’s a museum of contemporary art in Berlin. It’s also a good metaphor—in name and in content—for this city where nothing is quite as advertised. Though a very fine layer of general German Ordnung covers everything here, it gives way easily to a jumble of rules without regulation, a mass of juxtaposed and unlikely objects of which I am also, and only, one.
In January, I shared with regular readers of this blog my experience reading as many editions of Moby-Dick as I could get my hands on in a university small town. I found fancy illustrated versions, and even fancier illustrated versions, and modest versions for the 1930s Everyman, and versions that had been subjected to undergraduate scribblings, and even a children’s pop-up version—albeit one so intricately cut and lovely that you would cringe to see a toddler’s hands pulling on its riggings and sails. Each edition different from the next, in its own distinctive way. And yet, they each share one thing in common. None of them know how to speak Hebrew.
Moby-Dick does not belong to Melville—not anymore. Like any popular or important book, the idea of Moby Dick has long resided at least partially in the public consciousness. But when the text itself is owned by all of us, it becomes as malleable as its wide readership. A recent tour of Moby-Dick editions, many of them from the Rare Books collection at my university library, revealed to me just how varied the textual experience of such a book can be. In the space of a morning, with a book cart in front of you, it is possible to encounter many Ishmaels.