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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 33: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 32: Day 33: Cetology

“But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!” 




This is a curious passage at the end of Cetology. It appears that Melville, the writer, has pushed Ishmael out of the way to give us his philosophy of writing. If Ishmael is the author of this Cetology, we are reminded of what he said before – this is an incomplete Cetology. But he equates it to the grand Cathedral in Cologne, also left unfinished.

Then Ish waxes poetic. Small things can always be finished, but big, important things, must be finished even beyond the creator. Ironically I think Moby-Dick does just that. We take the ‘first architect’ (Melville) and we readers complete the build.

Then Ishmael seems to step aside while we get the quote about Moby Dick being a draft. Why would Ishmael say that? And it’s Melville who would be concerned about all the things he complains of – lack of time, strength, money, patience. Would Ishmael the first time whaler be concerned?

I’m not complaining. Just noting how much more Melville seems to insert himself into the narrative as the book goes on.

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