Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some Background Research on Moby Dick

Well, in preparation for my upcoming read of Moby Dick, I made a little trip out to Melville's home in Western Massachusetts, Arrowhead, and did some research, and, lo and behold, I discovered the identity of the lowly sub-sub of a librarian who compiled the quotes that begin Moby Dick, and I further learned that the sub sub's grandson still lives nearby. I wandered over to the residence, only to learn of the poor sub-sub grand-son's recent death from his widow, who, however, had some papers of his left she was about to throw out but which I managed to save from the trash collector. It turns out the sub-sub's son's son was also a librarian, and had done some work not on Whales, but on Moby Dick itself! I am going to set forth below a few of the quotes assembled by the sub sub's son's son on Moby Dick, thinking they may be helpful for us in navigating these waters:

"The appalling facelessness of the whale as his forehead bears down directly on you with annihilating intent, a wall shoved ever nearer, makes visible a God who in no way condescends to the human condition... This is a God whose face has been doubly denied: the New Testament face of Christ, the image of the unseen God, has been stripped away..." Sacred and Secular Scriptures: a Catholic Approach to Literature, Bayle, N.

"GV: May we now consider Herman Melville? Does the mighty Moby-Dick stir your literary gonads?

ARL: Who better understood the play of reality and mask in figurations of the Native than Melville in the person of Queequeg in Moby-Dick, Scottish-kilted, cosmically tatooed, 'George Washington cannibalistically developed," bearer of war and peace tomahawk pipe, and from 'Kokoroko ... a place not drawn on any map' -- is not that the perfect trompe l'oeil of 'The Indian'?" Native Authenticity: transnational perspectives on Native American literary studies, Madson, D. (ed.)

"The entire text is an analepsis, its opening occuring just after the narrative's ending... The text itself is the coffin that contains the bodies of the crew, who are dead before the novel begins. That coffin, like the one he clings to in the final chapter, is what keeps Ishmael alive... Ahab and the others have to die for Ishmael to be born, yet he is born to tell of their death." Listening on All Sides: Toward an Emersonian Ethics of Reading, Deming, R.

"If you could change any single aspect of the style or the plot of Moby Dick, what would it be? How would you change it?" Moby Dick (Cliff Notes), Baldwin, S.

"After more than sixty years of re-reading Moby-Dick, I have not swerved from my reading experience as a nine-year old; Ahab, to me, is primarily a hero..." Harold Bloom, on himself and Moby Dick

"Then and only then an actual nothing is manifest as 'being', a being which Hegel could know as 'being-in-itself', and which Milton especially embodied as Satan, a Satan whom Blake could epically enact as the Creator, and whom Melville could epically enact as Moby Dick." The Genesis of God, Altizer, T.

"The symbolism of Moby Dick is based on the antithesis of the sea and the land: the land represents the known, the mastered, in human experience; the sea, the half-known, the obscure region of instinct, uncritical feeling, danger and terror... The ocean is the home of demons and symbols of evil too numerous to mention. It is the home especially of Moby Dick, the white whale, the chief symbol and spirit of evil..." Maule's Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism", Winters, Y.

"Melville's obvious ridicule of the Vishnu myth should be sufficient to discourage identification of Moby Dick with Vishnu. Indeed, Melville makes it clear that Vishnu is not be taken as any fish at all....The third word of Moby-Dick suggests the origin of its central myth. For Ishmael's namesake married an Egyptian (Genesis 21:21) and became a patriarch of Egypt. ... The whale is 'physiognomically a Sphinx'; Starbuck is 'like a revivified Egyptian'; 'the earliest standers of mast-heads were the old Egyptians'; 'Ahab seemed a pyramid'; in short 'whaling may well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves pregnant from her womb.'" The Wake of the Gods: Melville's mythology, Franklin, B.

I do not know if the sub-sub's son's son's scribblings are really of any use, but having made the journey I thought it best to preserve the artifacts and share them with you. There are many big words there I don't really understand, but I am sure they shed great insights on the book. Take them for what you may.

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