The Moby Dick Variations

Just listened to the latest episode of NPR’s Studio 360, about Melville’s Moby Dick and the artists and writers who love it. It was full of ideas ideas that touched me right where I’m working. My two favorite bits are about what you can learn from taking on a masterpiece.

First the playwright Tony Kushner on why Moby Dick is “the greatest single influence on his own writing”:

I felt completely overwhelmed by the excessiveness of it… I love that it shatters the form of the novel. It seems to offer license for complete indulgence but now that I’ve read a lot of Melville I know that it’s something he repeats over and over again: that it’s better to make a terrible mistake, it’s better to make an utter fool of yourself and to risk catastrophe than to be safe as an artist.

Word. Then later in the show sci-fi mandarin Ray Bradbury, who turned the book into a screenplay back in the 1950s, on the art of translation:

Well what you try to do when you adapt anything is get it into your bloodstream, get it into your subconscious. You can’t intellectualize about it, that won’t work. But if you read a book 80 or 90 times, which I did, and some sections 120 times and you put that all into your bloodstream and then you ignore it and let it come to the surface, emotionally, passionately, so you become the chaser and the chased.

Whoa. Okay no way am I getting into the triple digits with my Dead Souls reads – maybe that applies more when you’re writing movie scripts? But I love the part about letting things work on you at a level below conscious thought.

Anyway the whole episode is worth a listen, whether you’ve read Moby Dick or not. It’s definitely on my reading list for 2012.

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