Investigating the “erotics of reading” in The Pleasure of the Text (1975), Roland Barthes once pondered why “we do not read everything with the same intensity of reading,” why “our very avidity for knowledge impels us to skim or to skip certain passages (anticipated as ‘boring’) … (no one is watching) descriptions, explanations, analyses, conversations.” Of course, no author, Barthes concedes, can predict in advance what will be skipped:
he cannot choose to write what will not be read. And yet, it is the very rhythm of what is read and what is not read that creates the pleasure of the great narratives: has anyone ever read Proust, Balzac, War and Peace, word for word? (Proust's good fortune: from one reading to the next, we never skip the same passages.)
Certainly, no two readers of Moby-Dick (1851), nor the same reader reading subsequently, nor two screenwriters preparing, forty years apart, to adapt the classic novel by Herman Melville (1819–91) for the film medium, skip the same passages or discover the same text. Moby-Dick, after all, is full-to-overflowing with “descriptions, explanations, analyses, conversations” inviting anything but the avid, easily bored student, the supposedly disinterested but often with an ax-to-grind scholar, and the medium-determined and cost-driven screenwriter to pass on by. But it is by no means certain, as with Remembrance of Things Past, that Melville's text has been the beneficiary of these lapses. There are few great books more often misread or maladapted.