Supplemental: And now for a little light explication!

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015

Quoting Freud, the trouble with jokes:
In truth, Chapter 42 of Melville’s most famous book isn’t called “The dumbness of the whale.”

We wrote that in this morning’s report. In reality, Chapter 42 is called “The whiteness of the whale.”

You can check it out via this link, which we repeat. We thought the phrase was famous.

We offered our headline for the week—THE DUMBNESS OF THE WHALE—as a cri de coeur (a “cry of the dog”). Also as a bit of an exasperation-fueled joke.

This was our thinking:

When Melville described the whiteness of the whale, he was largely writing about a whale. We aren't writing about a whale this week. Our “whale” is the national press corps, whose dumbness, we’re prepared to suggest, is its defining trait.

The dumbness of the whale! The idea is this—the press corps is a humongous beast defined by its massive dumbness.

Below, we’ll show you what Melville actually wrote. Then, we’ll show you the way we tricked it up, just by changing one word:
WHAT MELVILLE WROTE: Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.

THE WAY WE TRICKED IT UP: Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the dumbness of the whale that above all things appalled me.
We offered that as a little joke. It turned out to be confusing.

The so-called dumbness of the whale is the dumbness of the press corps! As we said this morning, it’s rarely been so clearly displayed, though it’s also largely invisible.

Tomorrow, we’ll lay out some basic facts concerning our nation’s latest consensus scandal. Thanks to the “dumbness of the whale,” these basic facts have been withheld all over the national “press corps.”

The basic facts to which we refer were withheld from that column in the Times. That said, they’ve also been kept from public view pretty much everywhere else.

Fundamental facts have been withheld all over the national press corps! It’s the nature of “consensus scandal.”

In our view, the familiar practice virtually defines the dumbness of the whale.

Two final points to ponder: First, it will always be defined as the fault of the person whose accurate words get ignored.

(Broder: Why were Clinton’s speeches so long? Milbank: Why did Gore use so many big words?)

Second, a dirty little secret:

We the people love consensus. In the end, we always find a way to judge that its purveyors were right.

We believe Dostoyevsky said that, although we could always be wrong.

40 comments:

  1. Didn't Tony Joe White say that explaining your joke is like burning down the barn to get rid of dissected frogs?

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    Replies
    1. Let us review the Monday Bob is having.

      He deliberately altered Melville's words to fit the story he wanted to tell all week long, then when caught, wrote a "supplemental" to explain that it was all a harmless "little joke."

      That's really lame.

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    2. "When caught..."?
      Now, that is really lame.

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    3. You aren't buying the "I thought the phrase was famous" line?

      I thought everybody knew the only famous lines were the opening "Call me, Ishmael," request and the scene where the Ahab looks Mobyus in the eye and says "You humans are a disease."

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    4. Why do you think Bob felt the need for the supplemental to explain away his altering of a passage from a very famous book?

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    5. Let us imagine if Rachel Maddow had deliberately altered a line from a very famous literary work to fit the story she wanted to tell.

      How long would Bob be writing about that crime?

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    6. On a journalistic basis I am not sure whether your Maddow hypothetical would be a crime or a sin.

      I know Bob said Jo Becker committed both crimes and sins. On a journalistic basis. He never said which was which.

      I don't know. Nobody does. Even you.

      Keep calling things crimes like that and you will be compared to someone from Salem. Or Reverend Dimmesdale.

      Delete
    7. Anonymous @ 4:04 asks "if Rachel Maddow had deliberately altered a line from a very famous literary work....How long would Bob be writing about that...?

      This is a trick question.

      Do you mean how many times would he post about it in a row? Do you mean how many "Parts," not including supplementals would be in the series?

      Ot do you mean what would be the duration in time to the mention of that "crime" by Somerby.

      If it is the latter the answer is simple. Until he quits writing the blog.

      Delete
  2. I'm still not sure about our boy Somerby.

    "When Melville described the whiteness of the whale, he was largely writing about a whale."

    I thought he was like totally writing about a whale who was both white and like so totally large he was humongous.

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    1. Dude, he like thought the phrase was famous. The whale isn't even famous anymore.

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    2. I knew a dude who was like home schooled. He knew about Jonah and the Whale, but I don't think the whale had a name in that story. Because what was important in the story was God, not the friggin fish, man. But that story is famous. Cause there are a lot of kids named Jonah. And they largely went to home school.

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  3. Well the idea of the dumbness of the whale is certainly present in the novel. It's expressed by Starbuck. But it's Ahab's reaction to that idea that provides the novel with it's driving force, and gives it, it's overwhelming power:

    ""Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."

    "Hark ye yet again – the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me." (36.38-39)"

    I suppose the question we might ask is whether the press is more like Starbuck's vision of the whale or more like Ahab's?

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    1. I think the press is more like Star Trek's version of the Borg. But I'm merely middle aged, not an ancient mariner like Bob and those who sail with him on Somerby's Quest.

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    2. Exactly. Starbuck's description of the "dumb thing" was an indictment of Ahab and his all-consuming lust for revenge, not the whale.

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    3. Starbucks effort to talk about the white whale in the room, race, was greeted by a tsunami of silence by its largely white clientele, who prefer anything black topped by something white and usually sweet.

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    4. Starbuck is the rational man, the everyday American, in Clintonian terms, the man more like us, or maybe me. But Starbuck isn't the reason we read the book. And I don't think we read it to gain a better understanding of Ishmael's meditations on the concept of whiteness either.

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    5. No, I read the book to gain an understanding how years of obsessive pursuit of revenge will eventually destroy a man.

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    6. I didn't read it. I had no reason to read it.

      I took Gender and Ethnic Studies and the read "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being" instead.

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    7. That one had a lone survivor, too [LINK].

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    8. Wandering TumbleweedMay 19, 2015 at 9:51 AM

      If Bob achieves his quest, and all in the media who sinned against Gore fess up and issue written apologies for Crimes Against Journalistic Ethos, will Bob triumph?

      Or will he merely wither away with like a dog with no further need to cry, an Ahab with no whale, a Matthews with no spittle, or a Rachel who is no longer cute, his enemies and reason for being gone.

      Delete
  4. Warning to casual readers of this blog: The comment section of this blog is infested with dumb trolls lower than whale shit at the bottom of the ocean. If anything in a post bothers you because you don't understand, remember the silently esteemed blogger is a Harvard educated philosopher/comedian. Do not read anything into a blog post Bob Somerby doesn't explain to you in the next post, or three, or four.

    Whatever you do, don't take anyone in the comment box's word for it. Even mine. Starting now.

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  5. "We thought the phrase was famous."

    Yes, it was and still is quite famous. Which is how you got caught so fast with your double-knits and your boxers down around your ankles.

    What you were actually counting on was that it wasn't famous and nobody would bother looking it up.

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    1. @ 4:08 Even an alert third grader or a Freshman* at Miles College would have spotted that.

      * Assuming the Freshman took advanced placement courses in a high school that should not have offered them.

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  6. At least it appears, or at the very least seems, that the blogger reads the combox from time to time. Beyond that, we just aren't sure, or that things aren't as certain as they seem.

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    1. Oh, but don't forget. His readers were the ones who were confused.

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    2. Douchebag Troll Guy said: "Why are Melville and Somerby so long?"

      Disclaimer/Go Away Gal Said: "Squat and squadoosh aren't big words, and Bob repeats them so infesting trolls will leave."

      Delete
  7. Here's something else for Captain Somerby to consider as he continues his own quest for the Great White Whale.

    Who was dumber? The whale who didn't know any better, or Ahab who did?

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  8. Really, Bob. A link to Wikipedia's entry on The Grand Inquisitor?

    You know, I always thought your intellect was a mile wide and an inch deep. Now I learn that it isn't a mile wide.

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    Replies
    1. You were expecting a link to something more useful, like Cliff Notes?

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  9. Lawrence had a nice segment on Hillary and Warren. I agree with Professor Dean. Plus he got Romney into the ring and he wasn't even there.

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  10. Cri de coeur means cry of the heart, not cry of the dog.

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    1. It is truly amazing how our trolls are always right, yet still don't understand.

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    2. When the French were largely referring to the heart, Bob was mixing metaphors with joke explanations.

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  11. I wonder when Somerby will get around to the delicious irony of press coverage (or lack thereof) of Murdoch Family and Newscorp donations to the Bill, Hill, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

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  12. More scary Cold War scandals on the way. Good chance for Hillary C. to recover from her own, show both strength and support for women's rights, and put some distance between herself and that husband who is stuffing rubles in his pants.

    http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/chechen-wedding-scandal-leaders-defiance-put-putin-in-bind/ar-BBjWzj8

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    ReplyDelete