Exploring Moby-Dick, Day 2

Notes Towards Day 6 of Emerging Genres

The Second Third of Moby-Dick


Already we are boldly launched upon the deep;
but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities.
(Chapter 32: Cetology)

I. "Grand contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
Whaling Voyage by one Ishamel.
Bloody Battle in Affghanistan." (Moby-Dick, Ch. 1)

Consider the relevance (and genre?) of
Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" Music Video....

By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State--(in Latin, civitas) which is but an artificial man." Opening sentence of Hobbes's Leviathan ("Extracts," Moby-Dick)

"How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man's ire - by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be - what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life, - all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go" (Ch. 41, p. 158).

"It is clear...that Melville intends to make the crew the real heroes of his book, but he is afraid of criticism...The men were entitled to revolt and to take possession of the ship themselves....The meanest mariners, renegades and castaways of Melville's day were objectively a new world. But they knew nothing...the symbolic mariners and renegades of Melville's book were isolatoes federated by one keel, but only because they had been assembled by penetrating genius....Ahab's totalitarian rule...and Ishmael was an intellectual Ahab..." C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953); qted. Donald Pease, "C.L.R. James, Moby-Dick, and the Emergence of Transnational American Studies," The Future of American Studies, Ed. Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman (2002).

Mark this for next week...the political implications of the novel

Read it as a example of the genre Jessy called speculative fiction,"fiction which ask "what if...there were a society...which had this difference?"

II. Coursekeeping
finish Moby-Dick by Tuesday!?

Paul Grobstein to come on Thursday, talk about emergence theory
read his essay, just published in Soundings, about Complexity and Emergence,
aka Ishmaelean "empirical non-foundationalism"

will take time to finish novel, week after; put off paper til end of week
(also want to have conferences with each of you before paper is due....)

III. Old business
reviewed our expectations of the novel,
how they were confirmed, denied, or adjusted

tone set for the novel by the etymology & extracts
not the ""true sense of the word" (etumon) but
questioning the validity of the novel's central word/subject

open to host of perspectives/"intellectual chowder"
compendium of juxtaposed texts militates against univocal order

largely why the book was not popular/read when it was first published:
"This is an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact. The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition" (London Athenaeum 1252, October 25, 1851: 1112-113).

[for Hannah, who likes chowder!]:
"There are people who delight in mulligatawny. They love curry at its warmest point. Ginger cannot be too hot in the mouth for them. Such peoplee, we should think, constitue the admirers of Herman Melville. He spices his narrative with uncommon courage, and works up a a story amazingly....You will have supper for a very long night's digestion" (London News of the World, November 2, 1851).

"There is so much eccentricity in its style and in its construction, in the original conception and in the gradual development of its strange and improbable story, that we are at a loss to determine in what category of works of amusement to place it. It is certainly neither a novel nor a romance, although it is made to drag its weary length through three closely printed volumes...for who ever heard of novel or romance without a heroine or a single love scene?" (London Britannia, November 8, 1851).

"A difficulty...in Mr. Melville's books, occurs from the double character...In one light they are romantic fictions, in another statements of absolute fact. When to this is added that the romance is made a vehicle of opinion and satire through a more or less opaque allegorical veil..the critical difficulty is considerably thickened. It becomes quite impossible to submit such books to a distinct classification as fact, fiction, or essay" (Evert A Duyckinck, New York Literary World 251, November 22, 1851: 403-4).

Cf. the mid-20th century "recovery" of the novel:
"A linked image cluster occurs thoroughout Melville's works....My aim in this essay is to demonstrate how some recurrent items and topics in "Loomings" carry a few basic strands of thought in the book; how these elements relate to each other; and also how they relate to syntax, rhetoric, and such larger element as the book's character, plot, and thought...The immediate effect of my discussion is to illustrate the dense imaginative coherence of Moby-Dick "(Harrison Hayford, "'Loomings': Yarns and Figures in the Fabric," 1969)

The novel not only questions the wisdom of such coherence/singlemindedness/comfortable resolution,
BUT ALSO the usefulness of literature/written word in general:

*This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read, and therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall...many are the unrecorded accidents. (44)

*Bildad...went on mumbling to himself out of his book, "'Lay not up for youselves treasures upon earth, where moth--'" (76)

*Queequeg counting pages...

*Aunt Charity's books (which none read)

Emerson: "Books are for scholars idle times...and I will be idle no more."

Alex: here I go, already entering into the world of Moby-Dick as a perfect example of what Melville warns his readers not to be: a meaning seeker.

Not exactly, more like a caution about where/how to find meaning,
and about the inadequacy of books...
& usefulness of activity of scholarship in particular
(Chapter 32: Cetology)


IV. Particular questions about a particular KIND of scholarship (and psychological style):

Jessy (and) Stephen Jay Gould, The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox:
Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities
(New York: Harmony, 2003):

invoked Isaiah Berlin (leading liberal thinker of the twentieth century, political philosopher and historian of ideas, 1909-1997), who
invoked Eramus of Rotterdam (greatest Renaissance intellectual, 1466-1536), who
invoked Archilochus (7th c. B.C.C. Greek solder-poet), who said
"Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum (or roughly, 'The fox devises many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy').

Ever since then, scholars have played a common game in designating their favorite (or anathematized) literari either as hedgehogs for their tenacity in sticking to one style or advocating one key idea, or as foxes for their ability to move again and again, like Picasso, from one excellence to an entirely different mode and meaning of expression. The game maintains sharp edges because these attributions have been made both descriptively and proscriptively...

the power and attraction of Archilochus's image lies, rather obviously, in its two levels of metaphorical meaning for human contrasts. The first speaks of psychological styles...Scramble or persist. Foxes owe their survival to easy flexibility and skill in reinvention, to an uncanny knack for recognizing that a chosen path will not bear fruit....Hedgehogs, on the other hand, survive by knowing exactly what they want, and by staying the chosen course with unswerving persistence...

The second, of course, speaks to favored styles of intellectual practice. Diversify and color, or intensity and cover. Foxes...owe their reputation to a light spread of real genius across many fields of study....Hedgehogs...locate one vitally important mine...They then stay at the site all their lives, digging deeper...into rich and richer stores...."

My proposition: Ahab, with his "fixed and unswerving purpose," is the specialist;
Ishmael, writing "intellectual chowder," is the generalist.

Which is Melville?
Does he give us any guide for adjudicating among multiple possible interpretations ...?

For helping us to make meaning?

Let's read a couple of passages closely, in light of Claire's summary:
We also connected this to the rise of the novel being a particular story replacing the general story of Christianity. Christianity is the story of people in general living this life to get to Heaven. A novel follows one particular person on his or her way through life.

    Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Me thinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot. (45)

    What is the lesson of Father Mapple's sermon?

    ...if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying god consists (49)

    Delight is to him...who against the proud gods and commodors of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self....Delight, --
    top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven...and eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who...can say...I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world's, or mine own... (54)

    How are we supposed to use this sermon?
    Is it setting a standard against which to
    judge Ahab and his crew?

    (There's a joke sermon yet to come, Chapter 64, in which Fleece the cook preaches to the sharks to "gobern dar wicked natur.")

What of this matter of the homoerotic?

How do we read the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg?

How do you go about making meaning
of these early passages...?

I found Queequeg's arm thrown over mine in the most loving and affectionate manner. You have almost thought I had been his wife ...when I was a child, I well remember a somewhat similar circumstance...a supernatural hand seemed placed in mind...nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom...seemed closely seated by my bedside (36-37).

...bridegroom clasp...hatchet-faced baby... matrimonial sort of style...henceforth we were married (56).

...there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other...thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg--a cosy, loving pair (57).




Let's assume, for the moment, that their relationship is homoerotic.

What is the use-value of doing so?

Leslie Fiedler, "Come Back to the Raft Ag'n, Huck Honey," Partisan Review (1948): "It is perhaps to be expected that the Negro and the homosexual should become stock literary themes in a period when the exploration of responsibility and failure has become again a primary concern of our literature." Fiedler developed this theme in Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), which argued that our literature is incapable of dealing with adult sexuality and is pathologically obsessed with death.

Let's play the doubting game, and assume, for the moment,
that this is a joke.


"It's queer, very queer" (111).

How do you know if a text is being satiric?

(Reprise: exaggeration? repetition?)

Some test cases:
Chapter 95: The Cassock

Chapter 54--The Town-ho's Story: For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it Lima, to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends....in the morning of the third day from that in which he had been betrayed....but that would be too long a story...."Then I entreat you, tell me if...this your story is in substance really true?....Did you get it from an unquestionable source?"(200, 211, 213)

Chapter 32--Cetology: It is some systematized exhibition of the whale in his broad genera, that I would now fain put before you, yet is it no easy task. The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed....I promise nothing complete...simply to project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder....I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught--nay, but the draft of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience! ( 115, 125).

footnote #1, p. 115: "...a parody of the claims of science to explain the wonders and mysteries of nature."

Is it?


As yet...the sperm whale...lives not complete in any literature...his is an unwritten life (Ch 32, p. 116).

Perhaps this is not a parody.
Perhaps the joke's on us,
for expecting completeness?

Let's play a bit with what acknowledging incompleteness--and not telling premature stories--gets us:

Lisa Belkin, "The Odds of That: Coincidence in an Age of Conspiracy,"New York Times Magazine (August 11, 2002) argues that, especially in age when paranoia runs rampant, we are discomforted by idea of random universe. Finding a reason or pattern where there is none makes it less frightening, because it makes it logical. In a "big enough" world, she suggests, one with a "large enough" denominator, patterns will emerge....the Web has changed the scale of things, has given us the technical ability to gather bits and pieces of information. The Internet makes it easier to collect random noise--and then to find chance patterns in it; it has fed a generation of conspiracy theorists who see highly improbable patterns in large data sets....in the era of the Internet... how do we decide what is relevant, what random? How do we decide when the outlier is a key to a new story or pattern not yet seen?

...whaleman is wrapped by influences all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth...eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from anything that visibly appears (153).

...to any monomaniac man, the veriest trifles capaciously carry meanings (195).

Cf. my senior thesis (College of William and Mary, 1975): "'Serene, Exasperating Sunlight': An Examination of Nature Imagery in Hawthorne and Melville"!

Cf. Megan on website one-upping the "multiple choice" answers and making a mockery of the whole inevitable process of searching for meaning

Consider again Ahab's fixity of purpose:


"Guilded Plaster and Pasteboard Mask," from MSN Encarta

the "pasteboard mask" passage

Ch. 36--The Quarter-Deck: "Hark ye yet again,--the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me....who's over me? Truth hath no confines...." the ship heaved and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings!....Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications of the foregoing things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still drive us on. (140-141)

finish reading the novel,

trying be open (like Ishmael?)

to non-confirmatory evidence...



randomness