I like to think of Melville’s Moby-Dick as the Internet before the Internet.
If Melville lived today, and if his great novel had not yet been snatched from the spiritual miasma by some other author, young Herman may have Googled “Whale.” He, like me, would have waited 0.19 seconds for the great white search engine to return 118 000 000 results. Wikipedia. Youtube. Twitter. News. Blogs. NGOs. Myriad other sites. A vast and moving and still only partially known ocean of information and ideas. Melville could have cut and pasted each of the 118 000 000 sites containing some reference to “Whale” and accomplished something like his novel (like, but certainly less than). I mean, Moby-Dick is like a pre-Internet collection of stories, encyclopedic entries, cross-cultural allusions, and more and more that is not unlike what we get from the Internet, on any given subject. To use a term of the great Guy Davenport, Moby-Dick, like the Internet, is a thing of fantastic, enlightening, even frightening, “harmonic disarray.”
So thanks to Google for acknowledging the 161st birthday of it’s intellectual and methodological predecessor with this attractive “Google Doodle”: