Friday, April 8, 2011

Final Project Proposal: Revision of “Parable of the Leviathan”

Final Project Proposal: Revision of “Parable of the Leviathan”

My final project will serve as a revision of one of my existing revisions; particularly I will revise “Parable of the Leviathan”, which is the revision of “The Leviathan”. For this revision (possible title: Melville’s Midrash) I will use Kermode’s “The Genesis of Secrecy” to argue that Herman Melville’s novel, “Moby dick”, is basis for a biblical midrash, particularly a midrash of the Book of Job; I will no longer discuss “Moby Dick” in terms of biblical parables but instead midrash. I will keep the basic format of “Parable of the Leviathan”, which I argued that Melville “illustrates the biblical notion of the Leviathan”. However, I will go into more detail using Kermode to explain that the characters are a function of the plot in “Moby Dick”; they were created to develop Melville’s biblical intent. For example, I could revise by discussing the characters in relation to one another: making use of the plot roles that Kermode discusses, I could possibly argue that Ahab functions as “a Receiver” while Pip functions as “a sender”, “A sender communicates an object to a Receiver, the object being what the Receiver lacks” (Kermode, 80). This argument would be based on Ahab’s pride, or lack of humility (looked down upon by God) in contrast to Pip’s humility; that is just one example, but I could use various characters from “Moby Dick” to show how Melville uses the novel as a midrash for the events that occur in the Book of Job. My overall argument is important for readers because it shows how the carnal reading of “Moby Dick” is cleverly intertwined with its spiritual reading.

Not surprisingly most of my work with Kermode will originate from the fourth chapter in “The Genesis of Secrecy”—the chapter entitled Necessities of Upspringing. I will argue that “Moby Dick” was developed as a midrash by using specific passages within the novel and from Kermode: “Such midrash presupposes belief in the continuing relevance of Old Testament texts, a relevance that is brought out by remolding it, and setting it in a new narrative context , where it will enhance the truth and power of the doctrines…The basic assumption is that the present is the end-time, when all the figures and prophecies will be fulfilled…” (Kermode, 82-83). This passage can aid with the argument that God’s prophecy--“He [leviathan] looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud”—is fulfilled with Moby Dick’s destruction of the prideful Ahab. Ahab is “possessed by his narrative role”, that being pride (Kermode, 85).

Counterargument: all of the characters that appear in “Moby Dick” do not match/account for those that appear in the Book of Job. This counterargument may attempt to debunk my main argument (“Moby dick”, is a biblical midrash, particularly a midrash of the Book of Job). However, I will address this counterargument using Kermode as reference: “…yet there is always the possibly of being original about the subject” (77). Perhaps I could address this counterargument using an even better passage from Kermode: “Moby Dick’s” plot in relation to the Bible in its entirety is “a plot founded on occult connections between the new narrative and many old ones, a plot not at all dependent on sequentially or plausibility. There may be a constellation of texts, of which the new one is the essential illuminant, that which confers an ultimate, unsuspected meaning” (86).

Bibliography (possible sources)

Pardes, Ilana. "Job's Leviathan: Between Melville and Alter". Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, 27.2 (2007): 233-53.

New International Version of Holy Bible

Herman Melville. Moby Dick. New York, NY: Baronet, 1990.

Kermode, Frank (1979), The Genesis of Secrecy: on the Interpretation of Narrative, Cambridge, Mass.; London, Harvard University Press. (see above for usage)

Pardes, Ilana. "Remapping Jonah's Voyage: Melville's Moby-Dick and Kitto's Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature." Comparative Literature 57.2 (2005): 135-57. (This source will help with my biblical comparison to “Moby Dick”. Melville’s spirituality and appreciation for religion is discussed in some depth)


  1. I enjoyed the previous versions, and being a Melville nerd as well as a Bible nerd, I'm thrilled that you're taking this project on. In general, I like your proposal, both how it fits in with your previous work and how it takes it in different directions. You're using your previous versions as raw materials and as a starting point, which is a productive attitude.

    Rather than just telling you that everything is great, though (although I am happy), I need to say that one thing bugs me here. It seems that your argument would absolutely need to focus on why (or for what) Melville is performing this Midrash.

    A Midrash doesn't just exist because someone can reinterpret/reimagine an existing text: it serves a function. What is that function? Is Melville performing a midrash in order to apply some lesson from Job to America (or capitalism, or industrialism, or the western world, or science, or etc...)? Or is he performing a midrash in order to learn some lesson about God (God does not exist, God exists, but in a different way than we understand, etc...). Those are examples from off the top of my head. But what do *you* think the Midrash is for?

    Also, you should have a strong grasp of Job itself in order for this to work as well as it can. I'd suggest reading at least one commentary on Job. If it were me, I'd read over something like the HarperCollins Bible Commentary's discussion of the book first.

  2. At first when I read your proposed argument, I was wondering if you would have enough substance to talk about midrash instead of biblical parables, but with the examples you gave it seems like you'll have a lot more when you expand them into essay format.

    Your counterargument is a little confusing to me. I didn't see many details about the Book of Job in your proposed argument, so why would adding it into your counterargument help your overall purpose? Unless you plan to talk in detail about Job in your actual argument, which would make sense. I just did not get that from your proposal.

    Lastly, why is it important to show that the carnal reading is intertwined with spiritual reading? What can the reader get out of knowing this?