The Clare Spark Blog

June 20, 2010

NYT mismatches image and text

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 2:43 am
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The imagined denouement of Moby-Dick

Our newspaper of record has done it again. This picture illustrating Randy Kennedy’s article of June 11, 2010, comparing the BP oil spill to Ahab’s pursuit of the whale is related only vaguely to Melville’s novel, and not to the movie either. And the text under the painting refers to the sea after the Pequod is sunk by the White Whale.

[Text beneath photo:] “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” — “Moby-Dick”

Stay with me, shipmates. Was Ahab pursuing whales in general or a very particular White Whale, fraught with symbolism? Was he money mad, or a seeker after hidden truths?

Fellow Melvillean Phil Walsh  tells me that it is a painting by I. W. Taber and comes from the frontispiece of an 1899 illustrated edition of MD published by Scribner. In that edition the painting is captioned “Moby Dick swam swiftly round and round the wrecked crew.” Phil’s source was “Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art,” Elizabeth Schultz, 1995, University of Kansas Press. The Taber painting is Figure 1.1, shown and discussed on page 19. Thanks, Phil.

   I recall that Schultz presented a Sam Francis painting entitled Red Ahab. Googling it I found a quote from Peter Selz’s study of Sam Francis, who reportedly said he used his brush like a harpoon. Q.E.D. every Ahab blog on this website.

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