Episode #549

Ishmael, Ahab, Moby

« previous episode | next episode »

Saturday, December 04, 2004

This American Icon continues to resonate in our culture more than 150 years after it was written. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick survived his battle with Captain Ahab only to surface in the works of contemporary filmmakers, painters, playwrights and musicians. Kurt Anderson explores the contemporary influence of Herman Melville’s brilliant novel, with the help of Ray Bradbury, Laurie Anderson, Tony Kushner and Frank Stella, among others.    


Edward Herrmann

Call Me Ishmael

The composer and performer Laurie Anderson was so taken with Moby-Dick, she composed a strange, cool, modern opera called Songs and Stories from Moby-Dick. Anderson tells us how Melville hooked her in the first few pages. Thanks to KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic.


The Original Improvisor

Music historian Stanley Crouch includes Moby-Dick in his lectures about jazz history at Juilliard, even though the novel was written over five decades before jazz developed. According to Crouch, Melville was an expert at improvisation. Produced by Ave Carrillo.



Studio 360 presents the world premiere of Moby-Dude from David Ives, the master of the short play. Mark Price plays a contemporary teenager who summarizes the great American novel for his English teacher ... in two minutes flat. Produced by Jonathan Mitchell.


Elizabeth Schultz

University of Kansas Professor Elizabeth Schultz is passionate about Moby-Dick. According to Schultz, Melville would have appreciated David Ives’s short play Moby-Dude — Melville was something of a prankster himself.


Tony Kushner

Playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) says that Moby-Dick had the single greatest impact on his own writing.


Political Resonance

In the dark fall of 2001, images from Moby-Dick surfaced in the press, as a strange literary footnote to the most shocking event of the last half century. Producer Trey Kay speaks with Professors Andrew Delbanco and Samuel Otter about a metaphor that is undeniably powerful and impossible ...


The Pequod vs. The Enterprise

In her modern opera, Songs and Stories from Moby Dick, Laurie Anderson compares two great sagas about America — Moby-Dick and Star Trek.


Frank Stella

In 1986, legendary sculptor and painter Frank Stella defied Melville’s instruction not to paint the White Whale, and then spent the next twelve years chasing an artistic obsession that Stella says nearly destroyed him. Produced by Leital Molad and Edward Lifson.


He Rises

Ray Bradbury talks to Kurt Andersen about adapting Moby-Dick for the big screen.


The Grand Armada

Professor Elizabeth Schultz discusses her favorite passage from Moby-Dick, from the chapter titled "The Grand Armada," where Ishmael and his companions are dragged into the center of a huge pod of whales, and find peace in the midst of the bloody terror of whale-hunting:

And thus, though surrounded by ...


Special Guest: Edward Herrmann

Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor Edward Herrmann is our voice of Ishmael. Herrmann boasts an impressive career that spans more than 30 years in theater, film and television.


Bonus Feature: Rinde Eckert

Composer Rinde Eckert’s opera And God Created Great Whales is a meditation on creativity, memory, madness, and Moby-Dick. Produced by Jeff Lunden.

Audio coming soon


Special Thanks

Special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support of Studio 360's American Icons. Special thanks also to Mary Beth Kirchner, Sarah Lilley, Barbara Taylor, Andrew Delbanco Tom Lewis, Elizabeth Schultz, and Calvin Skaggs.