Melville, Archives, and Bad Handwriting
This semester, if you've talked to me at all especially in the last few weeks, I've been doing a lot of work with Herman Melville and Moby-Dick, which is eventually going to culminate in me going "Melville! Existentialist! I swear!" Following this mode of inquiry, I had the experience on Friday of going through microfilm, reading the correspondences between various members of the Melville family and the diary of one Duyckinck, a nineteenth century new york literati. It was a time.
I don't know if any of you have ever used microfilm (the woman at the library said that if I hadn't used it since I was elementary school someone would be able to show me how, and then laughed, but I never used microfilm in elementary school, and I just don't know where she was reaching with that comment), and I don't know if any of you have ever done so to look through old handwritten letters and papers, but let me tell you—it was much less interesting than I anticipated and I spent nearly half an hour just trying to decipher Herman Melville's handwriting ("How the hell is that a P?!").
|Among text that decides to randomly change its rotation, there is here a fragment of Bartleby. I swear.|
I shared this experience with a friend of mine who shared a similar experience about going through archives on James Joyce: "After twenty hours you start to be able to read it, but pretty much only because you start to memorize what certain words look like."
I hope none of this is to sound ungrateful to the New York Public Library—in all actuality, I had little business being in the manuscripts division using their microfilm, which is typically something reserved for graduate students and nonfiction writers—the experience was really interesting, but I walked away from it about as confused as this post might seem—or as the collection of things on these microfilms, actually, which went from correspondence between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Melville's wife and their neighbors to Melville's father's surveying notes (for whatever reason). I'm not even sure what I'm trying to get across with this post—I don't know what I'm typing anymore——I'm still just trying to read that Bartleby fragment——what—the entire venture left me scratching my head. But, if ever I were to become important enough for my journals to be scanned and put into library archives, please, let them be more readable.