Photo of G. Cotkin and C. Waitinas

Written by Victoria Billings on October 19, 2012

Revenge of the white whale

Cal Poly author and history professor George Cotkin shared his own eccentric, extensive and often hilarious relationship with Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick” on October 12 at Kennedy Library’s first Conversations with Cal Poly Authors event of the school year. The podcast is below.

Cotkin, in a conversation with Catherine Waitinas, associate professor of English, discussed how in reading “Moby Dick,” he was inspired to write his book, “Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby Dick”. Cotkin’s book follows the infamous white whale chapter by chapter through American history, pop culture and even Twitter.

Photo of Dive Deeper book displayCotkin was motivated by the ways in which “Moby Dick” has influenced culture over the last 160 years, he said, impacting each generation differently.

“(People in my generation) probably remember Ahab looking like Gregory Peck and other generations perhaps like Patrick Stewart,” Cotkin said, referring to movie versions of the story.

Cotkin wrote the book by focusing on one facet or symbol in each chapter in “Moby Dick” for every chapter of “Dive Deeper,” he told the 60 people in attendance Friday. It’s a method of literary critique that has perhaps never been tried before, said interviewer Waitinas.

The writing method was also ideal for Cotkin, he said, because he never had to focus on one topic for too long.

“It came very quickly because I realized I don’t have a very long attention span,” Cotkin said.

Melville’s masterpiece is ideal for this kind of exploration, Cotkin concluded, because the book is such an “open sea” for interpretation.

If you missed last Friday’s event, Cotkin’s and Waitinas’ discussion of one of the most intriguing literary works of all time is a podcast. To hear the full discussion, click play below.

This podcast was recorded on October 12, 2012.

Visit Conversations with Cal Poly Authors to learn more about the series and George Cotkin and Catherine Waitinas to learn more about the faculty featured in this conversation.

Check out “Dive Deeper” at Kennedy Library!

You can also hear actors (Tilda Swinton!) and other readers in the Moby-Dick Big Read.

- Victoria Billings

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