Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let's Read: Pierre, Or the Ambiguities

I know I'm still on holiday from blogging, but I've got an idea.

Just this afternoon I finally finished a nonfiction cinderblock called A Consumer's Republic. It was smashingly astute, it should be required reading for Americans (or pretty much anyone brought up or embedded in a consumer culture), and you can look forward to lengthy excerpts posted here sometime next month.

But after reading nothing but nonfiction, poetry, and short story collections for four months, I'm feeling spiritually anemic. It is time I read a novel. A good novel.

It is time I read another Melville novel.

I've never read Pierre. I know nothing about it other than that it was written and published after Moby Dick and is deeply tinged with Melville's bitterness at the poor reception of his magnum opus. Most critics of the day hated Pierre (as they had Moby Dick) and, in addition to denouncing the novel, took the liberty of diagnosing its author with insanity.

The top-rated Amazon review reads:

Pierre is perhaps the strangest novel of all time: bizarre, to say the least, but brilliant in its extravagence. At a minimum, it is one of Melville's central novels that deconstructs the entire myth of pre-war American society in its explorations of incest, patricide and psychosis. It is almost inconceivable that Melville really believed that it would be popular (which he did), for it shows the impossibility of writing as an American author, the impossibility of originality, and the impossibility of self-reliance. Beware: it is not for the faint of heart. It is demanding, relentlessly challenging, and very rewarding. 

Some months ago, a reader suggested I use this blog to pull together a reading group. Today the call goes out: who wants to read Pierre with me?

We can determine procedures and schedules later on. (We might also have to make sure we're all reading the same version -- apparently Melville adding a bunch of padding at the demands of his publishers, which some subsequent editors have removed from the text.) For now I'm just trying to gauge interest. Post a comment if you think this might be something you're willing to do!


  1. Hell yes! I don't think I was the one who suggested it, but a Beyond Easy reading group has been something I've lusted after for a while now. Is the Penguin version alright?

  2. I would be interested in this as well. Though, I've never read a Melville book before, which may tarnish the experience somewhat.

  3. Sure, I'm in. I just finished a mass of zombie fiction and I suppose a change of pace would be good.

  4. Moby-Dick might be my favorite book, so I would definitely be up for something else of Melville's.

  5. Fer sure. I still maintain that Moby-Dick is the perfect novel, but I'll admit I haven't read Pierre either.

  6. Count me in on this. Upfront I'd prefer the unadulterated version of the novel if it exists and is available (sacredness of the author's intent, bla bla bla), but I'm ultimately fine with whatever. I'll need advanced knowledge of a week or two to get the book from Amazon of course, and otherwise I guess just an indication or something towards the aim of our dialogue or a particular angle to attack the text would be nice. I've hardly got a grasp on Melville trivia (in fact, a practical virgin to Melville) or cultural history in general so even an indication of the general direction of our discussion'll help me find some supplemental material.