Saturday, April 9, 2011

For my final project I would like to continue my revision of my paper about scientific description in Moby Dick. I would like to argue that the scientific chapters in Moby Dick contain more than just descriptive background knowledge for the text, and that each of the chapters contains a “spiritual” message that is relevant to the overall plot of the novel. I know that this seems pretty general, and I would obviously like to do more than just make a laundry list of chapters and their inferred meanings. To try and avoid these issues, I would start with a short description of my argument, and then move directly into my counterargument, which is essentially that the scientific chapters can be taken at their “carnal” reading as simply providing background knowledge aimed at giving the reader a more thorough understanding of what he is reading about. As you discussed in your comments on my revision, in this part of my paper I could use Kermode to discuss the difference between spiritual and carnal readings. From there I would describe a number of specific examples from Moby Dick that support my argument.

In my original revision I included chapters about the practices of whaling and whaling technology. For this final project I would exclude these chapters and focus solely on the chapters that describe some aspect of the whale. Although I would not specifically reference all of these chapters, a list of chapters that I would focus on includes Cetology, the three chapters about various representations of whales, The Blanket, The Sperm and Right Whales’ Heads – Contrasted Views, The Battering Ram, The Great Heidelburgh Tun, The Prairie, The Nut, The Tail, Ambergris, Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton, The Fossil Whale, and Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish. Again, I know this is a very long list, and I do not want to cite each of them specifically, but I want to have a wide variety of chapters to choose from so I can make sure that I have the strongest examples in my final paper. However, I would definitely like to use Cetology because I think this is the most obvious example of scientific description in Moby Dick.

The overall structure of my paper would look something like the following:

1. Description of my argument

2. Description of counter argument using Kermode to distinguish between carnal and spiritual

3. Examples from Moby Dick each containing:

a. Description of carnal meaning

b. Description of spiritual meaning

There is probably a more direct way to make my argument without describing the carnal meaning of each of my examples. My goal is just to defeat the counterargument with each example by setting up the carnal meaning and then showing the spiritual meaning as opposed to arguing against the counterargument in one place after the description of the counterargument.

I would still use all of my sources from my original revision, as well as most of my general description of the carnal meaning of the chapters. I would just use my general understanding of the carnal meaning and apply it to my specific examples. Unfortunately, the examples I used in my revision are from chapters that deal primarily with technology, so I would have to use all new examples. However, I think I would be able to use my interpretations and descriptions of my sources and apply them to my new examples.

Although I would prefer to use Marcuse because I find his arguments more interesting, I think it is obvious that Kermode’s text is much more relevant to my argument (if I think of a way to use Marcuse while I’m writing I will try my best to incorporate him into my paper). Most of what I will use from Kermode will come from the first chapter, specifically the very beginning and the second paragraph on page 9 which discuss the difference between carnal and spiritual readings.

I think this argument is important because it pertains to a large section of one of the most well studied novels in American literature. Assuming all of the chapters I listed contain a spiritual meaning, any reader who merely understands the carnal meaning in these chapters is missing out on the spiritual meaning of over 10% of the novel. My argument also attempts to combine two subjects that are rarely studied together: literature and zoology.

My main concerns with this project are that the structure will not provide enough clarity in my argument, and that this argument does not include enough of the texts that we have read this semester.

Possible Bibliography

Beaver, Harold. ed. Commentary to Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Harmondsworth, England:

Penguin Books Ltd., 1972, 689-967. : provides a statement on the carnal reading of the cetological chapters.

Bryant, John. “Melville Essays the Romance: Comedy ad Being in Frankenstein, ‘The Big Bear

of Arkansas,’ and Moby-Dick.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 61.3 (Dec 2006): 277-310.

University of California Press. Jstor. Web. 7 Apr. 2011. : provides another extended example of the spiritual meaning of Cetology.

Luck, Chad. “The Epistemology of the Wonder-Closet: Melville, Moby-Dick, and the

Marvelous.” Leviathan 9.1: 3-23. Wiley Online Library. Web. 7 Apr. 2011.: provides an analysis of the scientific nature of Moby Dick as well as examples of spiritual meanings

Ward, J.A. "The Function of the Cetological Chapters in MOBY-DICK." American Literature

28.2 (1956): 164. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 30 Mar. 2011. : provides examples of spiritual meanings.

Young, N.. He gives us more besides: Reimagining "Moby Dick" as a work of

science. Diss. University of Wyoming, 2010. Dissertations & Theses: Full

Text, ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. : discusses the importance of science in Moby Dick and provides examples of the carnal meanings of scientific chapters.


  1. I am certainly in favor of exploring the cetology chapter, both in its carnal and spiritual dimensions, and I am also in favor of a broader reading of the scientific chapters of Moby-Dick. Cutting out the more technological/whaling chapters seems like it's probably a good idea, which will naturally lead to an at least somewhat enhanced focused.

    The danger here is that you'll struggle to develop a clear argument, which is why the only thing really on my mind now is: what is your spiritual reading? You might begin simply by asking why you are so interested in this material. Maybe it's just the appeal of bringing together zoology and literature - but maybe there's more. You struggled a little with that problem in the previous drafts; to turn it into a successful final project, you *need* to come up with an articulate answer (maybe it's only a contingent or partial answer, but you need something).

    Let me imagine how I might go about doing this. Cetology (I'll keep my example narrow) is straightforward in a carnal way: it describes, sometimes sarcastically, the existing scientific system, including nomenclature, for understanding whales.

    Spiritually, we are surely supposed to think of systems, especially scientific systems, in a more general or comprehensive way. What do scientific systems mean, collectively or individually? Is Melville praising or attacking scientific systems in general (or some particular scientific system)?

    Focus briefly on zoology. Melville is *doing* something here (I propose). Zoology is here because it matters. I'd argue that at least *a* spiritual meaning of cetology is that only whales, but also people (and gods...) are being understood through scientific systems. We might understand Ahab and/or Ishmael as rebels against that scientific system - or as participants in it. Or both.

    Note also that Ishmael is at least *compiling*, if not creating, scientific (zoological) data. What does that mean?

    I hope that didn't ramble too much. I'm just trying to indicate the sorts of questions you might begin to ask, to push yourself into clarifying and defending a spiritual reading.

  2. This seems like a great idea for a revision; it will be very interesting to see how you reveal the spiritual meanings for these scientific chapters. The biggest obstacle I think you will encounter with the revision is, as you have mentioned, the structure. I fear that the paper may become repetitive if you simply list carnal readings versus spiritual readings for the various chapters; it would be beneficial for you to come up with a clever way to discuss the various meanings without sounding repetitive. Finally, think it would be very helpful if you used plenty of research to support your arguments.