Saturday, March 31, 2012

Questions on Marcuse/Ellison, Week 1

Prompts for this week and next week

Yes, there's a reason it's all in one post.

For this week and next week (the assignment will be the same), you have three options.  I strongly recommend that you do option #3 (in either week), but this is not required.  You ARE required to do it, but if you'd rather discuss a briefer or more tentative proposal with me, possibly slightly later than either blog entry is due, I'm ok with that (in this case, it won't be formally graded).  You must, however, submit some kind of proposal to me in the next couple weeks - I'll send out reminders.

Option 1:  Focusing on a limited set of cited passages, but displaying knowledge of the larger text, use Marcuse to make an argument of your choice about Ellison.  Optionally, you might include research.  Your argument should either be distinct from our class discussion, or move beyond it in some clearly defined way, or challenge it in some clearly defined way.  Anything is fair game as long as it has an argument, uses specific passages from Ellison, and makes use of Marcuse.

Option 2:  As the epitaph at the start of the novel shows, Melville was a major influence on Marcuse.  Another interesting note:  Butler, like Ellison, is a famous and influential African American author with a deep interest in science and technology, who is often understood as operating in a particularly white-dominated area (science fiction now; "literary" or "high literary" fiction then.  Use these observations as a guideline to make an argument about Ellison which is influenced by Melville, or an argument about Butler which is influence or conditioned by Ellison.  For instance, we might argue that we can understand the narrator's position in Invisible Man, especially in relationship with the hospital machine (you'll know it when you read it), through Ahab's monologue on Prometheus.  Again - the details of the argument are up to you.

Option 3:  Write a proposal for your final project.  This proposal might be a little shorter than our usual blog entries (it should still be more than a page long, however).  It must include the following:

  1. A bibliography (see below for the number of sources) of your proposed sources, with a sentence or two each regarding how you plan to use those sources.
  2. A clear statement of your proposed argument, or a limited number of alternative arguments, or a clear question which is intended to lead to an argument.  This should include the following:
    1. A clearly stated counterargument to your position stated in (2) above, or a discussion of why your question in (2) above is a reasonable way to generate an argument.
    2. A clear statement of why your reader should care about this argument.  It might have small or large significance, but it should be clear why you think it's worth making.
  3. A clear statement of the role that Marcuse, Lewontin, or Wilson will play in your essay, including a discussion of at least one passage from the appropriate work.
  4. If you are revising an earlier draft (again, see below), a paragraph explaining, with specifics, what you plan to keep and what you plan to change, and why.  If you are not revising an earlier draft, just explain your argument at greater length.
You can use an outline, or just a regular text document, or a mix of the two.  You will be evaluated on this plan, as with any other blog entry.

Explanation:  My hope is that everyone will get a head start on their final project this way, but that those of you who need an extra week to start formulating your ideas will have it.  I am not going to require, but I will recommend, that everyone do a proposal for one of their blog entries either this week or next week.

Final Project Guidelines:

Your final project should offer a serious contribution to the work of the class.  It should show both that you understand our collective work, and that you have have your own direction or role within it.  You should have a clear, interesting, and worthwhile argument, which you make using both external sources and texts which we read as a class.  Ideally, you will draw on your own individual strengths and interests in this project (including, for instance, material from your own fields of study).  You may either begin a project from scratch or revise one of your existing essays, including existing revisions.  You should ideally do work which interests you, and which you feel contributes in some way to the class as a whole.

Specific guidelines:

  1. Your project must be at least 8 pages long, including at least 5 pages of new material (if you are revising).  8 pages is sufficient; I prefer that you not go above 12 pages, but this is preference, not a requirement.
  2. Your project must include at least 2 additional academic sources (generally, academic books and journal articles) beyond any that you might have used in an earlier revision.  If you feel that you're best off with non-academic sources, please discuss that preference with me.  You should, however, do as much research as your argument requires.
  3. Your project must include some close readings of particular passages from at least one literary figure we have read collectively (Ellison, Melville, Eliot, Shelley, or Butler).  Some projects, though, will need more close reading than others.  Some highly research-oriented projects may do relatively little; some may revolve primarily around close readings.
  4. Your project must make sustained use of either Marcuse, Wilson, or Lewontin.  This does not mean that you need to agree with them, however.  "Sustained use" does not mean that Marcuse, Wilson or Lewontin need to dominate your argument; they do, however, need to be part of the conversation, and you do need to show a good understanding of one of them.
  5. You should display a good understanding of all of your chosen texts, as well as of any relevant class discussions.  I don't expect perfection, and I do expect differences of opinion, but I also expect you to know your material.
  6. Your project should make a single sustained argument from the first sentence to the last.  This does not mean you cannot make use of any tangents, nor does it mean that you must continually remind us of where you are, at a particular moment in your project, within the larger argument.  Your goals and direction should, nonetheless, by clear, even if they might sometimes become subtle.
  7. Think of this as your lasting contribution to the class, and your opportunity to teach something to 

I'm sure questions will arise about all of the above; I'll do my best both to answer questions you raise in comments, and to revise as needed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Importance of Cetology

On first glance one may assume that Chapter 32: Cetology is a surprising detour from the path of the narrative. It can seem kind of dry and unnecessary to the narrative as a whole. However, this is far from the case, Melville uses this chapter as a point to revert back to when the barrage of his imagery becomes too much to comprehend. Although Moby Dick is a work of fiction Melville uses this and subsequent science based chapters to give us a concrete foundation from which to build from. J.A Ward a professor at Tulane University in his paper The Function of the Cetological Chapters in Moby-Dick agrees, to a certain extent, that this chapter is Melville’s attempt to keep the readers grounded. The chapter Cetology legitimizes not only Ishmael’s knowledge regarding whales but legitimizes the novel as a whole. It grounds the reader and makes the depiction of the whale more real. The chapter acts to give a root of non-fiction to the fiction of the novel.
From the opening sentences of the novel we are given reason to be skeptical of our first person narrator. He begins his narrative with ambiguity and inaccuracy which gives the reader cause for concern in regard to whether we should trust him. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely.”(Melville 3) With the phrase “Some years ago” it gives the beginning of the novel an element analogous to the cliché fairy tale introduction “Once upon a time.” It makes the novel seem like a myth recounted by a grandfather to his grandkids with added anecdotes and embellishments.  By not being able to recall how long ago these events took place we begin to wonder how accurately he documented them. We wonder why the time frame is unimportant and we begin to lose all faith in our narrator. Then, initially and I would argue most importantly, we are not even fully confident that the authors name is the one he gives us. He starts off with “Call me Ishmael” not a confident and definite phrase like  “My name is Ishmael.” By recognizing all of these elements, with the first eleven words of this novel we are given no reason to trust our narrator.
Then we are presented with more information about our narrators current mind state. When we first meet Ishmael he is portrayed as a dark and dismal individual. We see that he is feeling a “November in [his] soul” and finds him self bringing up the rear at funeral procession and pausing at coffin warehouses. (Melville 3) We are given even more information that we should not trust our narrator because now we see he is an emotionally troubled individual. The impulsive reasoning Ishmael gives us for joining a whaling ship makes us more likely to believe that he is anything but puerile. “I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”(Melville 3) With all of this we can only assume that Ishmael is infatuated with violence and death and seems to be seeking a means of assisted suicide when joining the crew of the Pequod. He seems impetuous and childish and we have little reason to believe he is intelligent or and accurate narrator.  Initially one could easily believe that Ishmael has deliberately chosen a dangerous trade that he was inept in in order to harm himself. We learn later that Ishmael has some experience with sailing but we can still assume that he is ignorant to the art of whaling and the knowledge it takes to succeed at it. But when we arrive at Chapter 32 we see that Ishmael is not only an intelligent individual but he is also quite educated in the art of whaling.
One function that the chapter Cetology has in analyzing and understanding the novel on a whole is to establish Ishmael as a knowledgeable whaler. This chapter also establishes Ishmael as and intelligent individual and legitimizes his narrative.  Initially one could claim that these were the memoirs of a depressed self-destructive individual and it would be permissible to be skeptical of the text. Ishmael separates his knowledge in to not one but three distinct books, the Folio, Octavo, and Duodecimo, in order to further prove how well read he is on the science of whaling. With this chapter we see that he is not such a depressed character but on the contrary an erudite whaler. This chapter validates Ishmael’s account of the tale of the Pequod and makes the text and the narrator easier to believe. 
 We see that Melville wanted to use the chapter on Cetology to legitimize Ishmael as a narrator but also and more importantly to legitimize and center the novel. J.A Ward has a similar take on this chapter and the way Melville uses it to texture his novel. “In every aspect of the novel Melville's effort to balance the extra- ordinary with the ordinary is evident. For example, we notice in the microcosm of the Pequod a variety of attitudes toward the white whale, a variety of attitudes toward reality and man's place in the universe.” (Ward 170) In the same way the Melville uses Ishmael’s empirical intelligence to balance out his gloomy impulsiveness in the beginning of the novel he uses chapter 32 to center the novel and balance out the mysterious symbolism he uses throughout it.
When we arrive at chapters like “Moby Dick” and “The Whiteness of the Whale” at times we can become lost in the elaborate web of metaphors and similes that Melville presents us with. We become torn between what the whale represents to us, what the whale represents to the characters and what Melville wants the whale to represent.  As J. A. Ward said previously and Ishmael confirms in the chapter “Moby Dick,” many of the characters have many different opinions of what the whale is and the power that it has. Ishmael while recounting the opinions of other whalemen states that “Moby Dick [is] not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time).” (Melville 198) According to Ishmael this whale, which was originally assumed to be a mortal being, is really omnipresent and impervious to all weapons. Considering that this whale might be a god among men we begin to question the validity of the narrative again. We also begin to wonder why any man would go on a journey to catch a whale they cannot kill. When presented with situations like this I believe that Melville would urge us to go back to chapter 32 and chapters like it. We should use those sections as grounding points to affirm the idea that this whale is real, that it can be killed and that the members of the Pequod are valid in attempting to do so.
Melville continues to give us instances where we should refer back to “Cetology” in order to ground ourselves. As we move on to the next chapter we see more examples of instances of Ishmael attempting to use a type of allegory to define the whale:
“Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows -- a colorless, all- color of atheism from which we shrink?” (Melville 212)
When reading this and passages like it we wonder what Melville wants us to think. Does the whale represent colorlessness, emptiness, immensity or the full meaning of the universe? Even Ishmael begins to question what the whale means to him so it is impossible for the reader not to. We begin to lose touch with the foundation of the novel when we are presented with passages like this and that is why Melville included the chapter on Cetology, to give us basis from which to work from. J. A. Ward would also agree these chapters are here to give us a physical basis on to which we can build our metaphysical understanding. Which I would contend is these chapters’ biggest strengths.
 “In the same way, the cetological chapters give the illusion of objectivity and the effect of a wide view of life…. [t]he physical reality of the whale is contrasted with the metaphorical and mythological references such a chapter as "The Whiteness of the Whale, which establishes Moby Dick as a creature of spiritual as well as physical dimensions. Melville creates a world cosmic in scope but spiritual in centre but his starting point is earthly and physical”
This is one of the major and more vital functions of the chapter Cetology and chapters like it: to give the reader a base of non-fiction from which they can begin their journey through the fictional world that Melville creates. Although the book is entitled Moby- Dick we see very little of the whale in the novel at all. When we do receive actual glimpses of the beast we do not get any understanding of its objectives, emotions or point of view.  What we do get is the feelings and perspective of Moby-Dick’s human characters about the whale. We see what the whale is supposed to represent to the world and what it means to the characters through the characters. Over time in the novel the whale can begin to become more of a myth or an intangible entity rather than an actual central character. The symbolism and metaphors surrounding the whale can become muddled up and it becomes hard to find a veritable point in the text.  Melville wants to take the reader on a journey that involves the intangible, the poetic and the abstract but he wants to also give us a nonfiction foundation from which to expand on. Moby-Dick is a novel about personal perspective, contemplation and symbolism but is still a novel about whaling. Melville is extremely concerned about giving different evidence for what the whale represents, to every character and the reader, but he also wants us to build that connotation from a factual basis.                    
            J. A Ward would agree with this, and I find many places in his article where his and my theses coincide, but there is one point in his argument where I find Ward to be incorrect. Ward draws are attention to the fact that in his cetological explanation Ishmael leaves things incomplete and unfinished. He does not give a full and concrete definition of Moby Dick and here is where Ward is claiming that Melville is trying to reveal the inability of science to define the whale. The complexity of the whale goes beyond sciences and Ward believes that this shows the insufficiencies of empirical knowledge. Ward goes as far as to say that “Melville's symbolism is a truer knowledge than that … of Ishmael at the tryworks because it does not superimpose meaning on concrete reality but, draws out the truth latent in reality.” (Ward 181) Here is where I would strongly disagree. I do not feel as though Melville’s symbolism can be truer than facts, and scientific evidence. His symbolism is simply an interpretation of reality and I do not think it can be a truer more potent version of it. Ward is saying that where science fails Melville and his imagery succeeds but really Melville takes the things that science cannot define and gives his poetic version of it. He does not create a more absolute truth he simply gives his rendering of an incomplete truth but that truth is based in empirical knowledge.
       Moby Dick, the whale the Melville created has an enumerable amount of meaning and metaphors around it.  With all the symbolism that is connected with it we begin to forget that the whale is a real being.  Thus, Melville included this chapter; he wanted to layer his novel in level after level of depth and mystery but he needed to base those layers in something real and tangible. Melville’s portrayal of the whale, even though it is eloquent and masterful can also be somewhat  bewildering at times. When you begin to recall the chapter Cetology the idea of the whale becomes more realistic, tangible, and relatable; this adds even more depth to the novel. Much of the information in the chapter comes from the real life experiences of Melville who was also a sailor, which simply legitimizes the narrative further. For those reasons when reading the chapter Cetology and chapters like it they should be used as a grounding point from which to begin our fictional journey and legitimize the novel. 

Linnaeus, Darwin, and Melville

Melville’s Moby-Dick can be interpreted as a forward thinking piece of literature in the field of classification of species and in the early field of evolution.  From this perspective, Melville presents opinions that represent a more scientific way of considering species as did Linnaeus when coming up with his classification system.  The consideration of whales in Moby-Dick also shows the type of thinking that Darwin employed to reach the logical conclusions of survival of the fittest and evolution in On the Origin of Species, published eight years later. Melville, Linnaeus, and Darwin, as Ishmael in Moby-Dick,  may be seen as prophets spreading information and a new way of thinking, but rather than this mentality coming from God, stemming from direct observation and rationality.
Cetology is the first chapter in Moby-Dick with the purpose of classification of the whales as a species.  This is the first chapter when the issues of species are presented and the chapter is presented in a text book like fashion.  Classification of species as a science during this period in history was booming with the high rate of discovery of new species through the acquisition and exploration of new lands.  In this chapter, major scientists in the field who created the theoretical environment possible for Darwin to make his discoveries are mentioned including Linnaeus, Beale, Lyell, and Cuvier.  Darwin himself wrote later in life “Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods”(Young 47). Even though they did not exactly present ideas that would agree with evolution, they provided pieces to the puzzle for Darwin to put together (Young 47).   When discussing the classification of animals, one cannot ignore Linnaeus as he created the system of division, classification and nomenclature of animal and plant species beginning in the 1730’s that has been used for over two hundred years (Young 48).  Linnaeus set out to create a classification system that reflected the natural ordained order and the result was a convoluted tree-like system of all the species.  When created, it was seen as a clean way to organize god’s creations, however Linnaeus stumbled upon many difficulties which led to the doubt in the belief that species were distinct entities.  The constant influx of previously unknown organisms with the discovery of new lands during the colonial period provided a mess of the job of creating order and bringing together species upon deciding which similarities to classify based on and which differences to ignore.  Melville presents this issue in Cetology in the problem with classifying the numerous species of whales.  In discussing which part to use to classify as “whale” it is stated “in various sorts of whales, they form such irregular combinations (of characteristics); or, in the case of any one of them detached, such an irregular isolation; as utterly to defy all general methodization formed upon such a basis”(Melville 176).  The solution to this as presented by Ishmael is to then “boldly sort them”(176).   And in Cetology, these distinctions are crudely shown by comparing some whales features to the others and creating three vague groups in which to organize the species.  While Ishmael goes on to describe twelve types of whales in detail, he concludes by presenting a list of uncertain whales of which he does not know enough about to classify and states that perhaps they can be fitted into the already loose arbitrary system of classification.  This difficulty with distinguishing the types of whales shows the problem of classification and the problem with the traditional concept of a species.  As Ishmael stumbles across the difficulty in Cetology, so did Linnaeus in defining what are supposed to be separate entities yet when looking at all the differences and similarities, defining a species is done by drawing a crude line for organizational purposes rather than reflecting god’s perfect order. A species, and the species that Linnaeus set about to define was one that was distinct and perfect, made by God during the seven days of creation.  Yet all this variation provided a complicated picture of creation and a more complicated picture of other biblical events such as the story of the flood and fitting two of every animal onto a ship.  In a time when the Bible was to be considered fact, discovery thousands of new species provided logistical problems.   Linnaeus’ tree of classification then became more a suggestion of a “family tree, a genealogy”(Weiner, 23).
            Linnaeus is directly mentioned in Cetology in regards to the classification of whales as being distinct from fish.  Ishmael states in a critical way “of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shads, alewires and herring, against Linnaeus’s edict were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan”(Melville 171).  He then further goes so far as to hint that this classification is “humbug” and then glosses over the difference between whales and fish as “lungs and warm blood” (Melville 172).  This is a very interesting place for Melville to mention and disagree with Linnaeus, as even though it may seem counterintuitive place water dwelling animals on a similar level as warm blooded mammals like deer and even humans, Linnaeus is correct in distinguishing based on similar heredity in isolating whales.   Where this point may seem to be a step backwards in representing a forward thinking evolutionary text, the whale is classically a puzzling organism in evolutionary study and it may be enough that this issue is brought up in the text.  Why it would make sense from an evolution standpoint for an organism with lungs to develop through being better suited to the environment to live underwater, is a wonder, but the question can be flipped to ask why an all knowing god would create a creature with lungs to live in the sea, which is a question answered in the asking.  While perhaps it is easier to see a link between species such as dogs and wolves when beginning to understand inheritance and evolution, it is understandably more if not the most difficult to comprehend whales into this scheme.  Additionally Ishmael is not Melville.  Linnaeus in the process of study would be much more able to make claims about whales from a library. Ishmael a fictional character in the whale industry working with fisherman would be laughed at if he gave this assumption.  In this way perhaps Ishmael can be excused for his comments against Linnaeus as being a fisherman and given the strange nature of whales as creatures of evolution in general.   After leaving the point in Cetology concerning the whale being warm-blooded, more forward thinking on the matter is present in later passages on the subject.
In addition to the classification problem presented, the way in which the whale is described first by the function of its features makes Moby-Dick a forward thinking evolutionary text.  Understanding the function of features of animals is essential to evolutionary study as a feature that is better for performing a function for passing on genes is the mechanism by which species developed.  Function is less important to the fixed Biblical understanding of species because function was not the sole determining factor in their creation.  It is one thing to wonder at how god created such intricate animals that are perfect for their environments.  But understanding function and small differences between those of a similar species leads to understanding that species are suited for their environments because those environments of their ancestors created their genetic history.  When discussing the tail of a whale after commenting on its “appalling beauty” and “titanism of power”, Ishmael proceeds to outline in great detail the five motions of the whale’s tail:  “First when used as a fin when used as a fin for progression; second, when used as a mace in battle; Third, in sweeping; Fourth in lobtailing; Fifth in peaking flukes”(Melville 438).  Interpreting this from an evolutionary way, the five specific and important motions of the whale’s tail can be seen as a testament for how this sort of appendage would be advantageous for a creature like the whale to develop including as mentioned by Ishmael, for protection and for fights over mates.  In evolutionary theory, all features serve some survival or reproductive purpose.  The outline given of all of the intricate uses the whale has for its tail and how essential it is for survival brings together again the idea of function being directly tied with the creation and definition of a particular species.
 Another interesting passage to consider when discussing form and function is when Ishmael is describing the Right Whale and the Sperm whale and their differences as they are being suspended from the ship.  This sort of comparison of similar species is interesting because it is along the same lines of what led Darwin to write On the Origin of Species (Weiner 27).  In the chapters The Sperm Whale’s Head – Contrasted View and The Right Whale’s Head – Contrasted View, Ishmael presents the differing features of the two types of whales including their size, jaws, and the presence of lack of oil and teeth.   When describing the Right Whale, Ishmael discusses a possible purpose to the hairy fibers that are present in this type of whale rather than teeth as being “through which [it] strains the water, and in whose intricacies he retains the small fish”(Melville 392).  While the purpose of the teeth in the sperm whale are not considered in these chapters, it could be speculated as defensive would is mentioned briefly in the passage with the squid.  The fact though, that the function and differences between the two species is considered shows and the depth in which they are considered represents an objective way of approaching the study of species.  Listing the facts and minute details through observation and previous knowledge shows a scientific approach to the study of species.  This is different from the crude classification system employed earlier as it is more detailed oriented and is similar to way that Darwin was able to come to his conclusions through careful reason and tedious observations (Weiner 27).  While going back and forth on the ship, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to imagine Ishmael having similar thoughts concerning the differences between these two types of whales as Darwin did when comparing finches.
A final, and perhaps the most prophetic, way  in which Moby-Dick represents a progressive text in the field of evolution is the way in which understanding the characteristics of whales, allows Ishmael to criticize texts from the Old Testament.  The chapter Jonah Historically Regarded presents criticism of the biblical passage as historical fact.  First Ishmael presents confusion as to the type of whale that could possibly have swallowed Jonah and the problems with the anatomical description given in the Bible.  Then he asks “Jonah was swallowed by the whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and after three days he was vomited up somewhere within three day’s journey of Nineveh, a city on the Tigris, very much more than three days’ journey across from the nearest point of the Mediterranean coast.  How is that”(Melville 427).  This question is a direct criticism to the facts in the Bible and is a bold one to ask.  Yet this criticism is based on the logical knowledge of whales from objective observation of those in the whaling business.  The answer to this question  Ishmael gives by saying “For by a Portuguese Catholic priest, this very idea of Jonah’s going to Nineveh via the Cape of Good Hope was advanced as a signal magnification of the general miracle”(Melville 428).   This incredible voyage of the whale, though not presented as the real miracle in the Bible can be explained as part of the miracle.  Ishmael correctly states that in religion, when things cannot be objectively understood or when they conflict with known facts, a god can still be the answer as by most religions’ definitions, god is all powerful.  Through classification and study, Linnaeus and Darwin came across similar more serious conflicts with religion.  Trying to tie in religion with new scientific knowledge was difficult.  Linnaeus in particular strove to keep the two together by becoming imaginative.  His picture of the great flood became one with the creation story in which there was a mountain with all of the climates necessary for the different types of species (Young  53).  The answer to the conflicts of the system of classification and later evolution with the Bible became more miracles.  Though to the scientific minds of Linnaeus, Darwin and arguably Melville, the miracle explanation cannot have been a satisfying one.  A scientific mind requires doubt and observation and a miracle requires the suppression of both.  In that way, the chapter about Jonah in Moby-Dick mirrors the problem that was beginning and hasn’t ended with evolution and science and religion.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003.
Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Young, David. The Discovery of Evolution. Cambridge:University Press, 2007.

The Moral Compass and Frankenstein

            We need heroes and we need villains, we need to polarize characters of fiction to establish where our sympathies and anger, as readers, should lie.  For mass consumption the simplest explanation is the easiest to swallow.  Why do we fight the war on terror?  Because everything the Islamist Extremist stand for is in direct contradiction to our very way of life.  Why must we stop Hitler?  Because he is the single greatest threat to the freedom and safety of a Democratic world and he is a madman.  These reasons are simple easy to internalize, it’s us against them.  But these distinctions are superficial at best and the reality is much more complicated.  We cast people, ethnicities, and even entire nations as villain because it’s “politically convenient” because we need something to fear and because we need something to point at and say “Look at that, I am nothing like that.”  Why do we fight the war on terror?  Because of our “vested interest” in the Middle East, because 40-50 years ago we had to stop the spread of the Red Terror throughout Asia by supplying Afghanistan with arms, because we need access to the oil which has become so integral to the function of US economy.  Why must we stop Hitler?  Because post World War I we created a condition in which the German people had been brought to extreme poverty and were prepared to listen to anyone who could get them out of it, because the fear of a war as devastating as the last had crippled the ability for other nation of Europe to prevent his rise.  The reality of these villains is that they are not an embodiment of evil they are people, the same person who would work themselves to death to provide for their family are the very same people who would oversee a camp for murdering thousands of Jews.  People are not binary.  People are a complicated messy affair.  So how should we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?  Do we see the Creature as villain Frankenstein as Victim or the inverse?  Perhaps we need to remove this all too simple understanding of these two characters and judge them not only for their actions but their histories.  That Shelley isn’t telling a simple story of a mad scientist and his evil creation but one that paints Creature and Creator with shades of Grey instead of Black and White.
            The common conception of Frankenstein as a character is derived from the many film adaptations of the text.  Often abandoning any direct relation to the text the films characterize Frankenstein as the mad scientist bent on creating life and the Creature as a mostly mindless kill machine.  Unfortunately the intricacies of the actual Frankenstein are lost in the translation.  The Frankenstein of the films has completely lost his mind in his desire to create life he robes graves, moves into a castle to perform his horrific experiments, adopts a disfigured man as his assistant and spends his time running around in hysterics.  Clearly a very evil man but the Frankenstein of the novel is from it.  Here we have a man who begins his career in science as a simple fascination with the natural scientists that have come before him.  When he finally latches onto the goal of all his research, to create life, he states “A new species would bless me as it creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.  No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (Shelley 49).  Hardly the ideas of a madman Frankenstein appears almost poetic in his conviction.  To create life, to bring something into this world has always been looked upon as some special, something to be treasured.  Women become pregnant, families are made “whole” and new wonderful people are added to the growing joy of the world.  There is an entire industry based on the fact of just how important this new baby is to the family and everyone else, baby showers, gendered clothes and bedrooms.  Some would argue the greatest achievement of mankind is to create new life and Frankenstein takes that to its logical conclusion.  Frankenstein is adopting the role of a woman here, since he can never “create” life in the traditional sense by circumstance of his gender he attempts to harness the sciences to contribute a new existence to the world.
But upon awakening the creature the Good of Frankenstein fails him as he flees and hides from the Creature and that he “felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me” (Shelley 55).  If we subscribe to the narrative of the evil mad scientist this would mark the occasion where Frankenstein would exclaim “It’s Alive!” and begin his plans to create more for world domination.  If we subscribe to the narrative that Frankenstein is the hero of the novel here he has to actions available to him, he could honor his role as Creator take the Creature under his wings and teach him the ways of the world or due to sudden realization of what he had actually done could destroy the Creature and all of his research.  But no instead Frankenstein chooses to flee and by extension Shelley choose for Frankenstein to flee.  If Frankenstein were an absolute paragon of Good or Evil we would have seen him at this particular scene take up the necessary mantle, instead we are given a coward.  From this coward we have a Frankenstein who is not capable of understanding what he has done or accomplished, all of his endeavors to create life were the whimsical interests from his childhood, “The raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfillment of which I most eagerly sought” (Shelley 32).  Frankenstein, like us all, is molded and directed by experiences from the past.  We do not exist as static but as learning and changing creatures.
After sometime the Creature makes contact with his Creator having attempted to ingratiate himself with normal human life and finding himself shunned he demands of Frankenstein to create female so that they may live together in collective misery.  But here Frankenstein makes a choice to ultimately destroy the mate at the horrors of some possible future whether the Creature and Bride make more of themselves or they each become a wild and dangerous nightmare.  But if we understand the Creature as alive, since he clearly is, and the line between life and death has already been broken down already Frankenstein has just murdered someone.  In his essay, The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science, Christopher Toumey argues that Shelley marks Frankenstein progression as a character “from foolish irresponsibility, through increasing responsibility for one’s actions, to ultimate responsibility” (Toumey 425).  If Toumey is arguing that Frankenstein takes “ultimate responsibility” for his actions, making him the Paragon of Good, how does he account for the end of the novel where he constantly goes back and forth between admitting his own faults to demanding that Captain Walton carry on his work of hunting down the Creature?  If Frankenstein was the Paragon of Good he would have never wavered from his conviction to see the Creature destroyed, there can be no ultimate good if there is doubt.  And if Frankenstein were the Paragon of Evil he would have made his new species and presumably taken over the world.  But here Shelley doesn’t want or need a character of pure Good or Evil.  It is too easy to fall into that trap of clichés where the hero conquers all instead we get Frankenstein that enters science with a childlike understanding and dies still fighting his inner demons to reconcile his past with his present.
Like a compass spinning atop the North Pole in a pitiful attempt to find direction people are not set.  Absolute Good and Evil are illusions of convenience something that we use to explain the world and our relation to it.  In fact the reality is far more complicated we are not binary, we operate amongst the grey between emotion and reason.  Too simplify everything about life as this or that does a great disservice to each other and oneself.  Frankenstein wasn’t wholly good and he wasn’t wholly evil he was something else something much more complicated.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mumbai: Wilco Publishing House, 2002. Print.
Toumey, Christopher.  The Moral Character of Mad Scientists:  A Cultural Critique of Science.  Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Autumn, 1992), pp.411-437.

Ishmael, a Man Between Religions

      “Call me Ishmael.” (Melville 1) This is perhaps the most famous sentence of any piece of American Literature and so I feel we must examine the question of why we should call our narrator Ishmael? There are actually six men named Ishmael in the Christian Bible.  A descendant listed in (1 Chronicles 9:44); the father of Zebadiah (2 Chronicles 19:11); one of the murderers of Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor over the remnant in Judah (2 Kings 25:25); and a priest who divorced his foreign wife (Ezra 10:22). So we know Ishmael is not an uncommon name; however, the most famous of any of these is the Ishmael of Genesis, the son of Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 16:3).  This Ishmael of Genesis is a central character in Western religion; he is present in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and is a central turning point in the cultural history of Muslims and Jews and thus a figure in the division and unity of the West from the Middle Eastern, and in the commonplace from the exotic.
             The most famous Ishmael, of Genesis, is the byproduct of a promise God makes to Abraham in Genesis 12:2 where God said Abraham would be the father of a great nation. As Sarah, Abraham’s wife, remained barren she had him conceive a child with her hand-maiden or slave Hagar.  The fertility of Hagar while Sarah remained barren caused Sarah to despise her and Hagar fled only to be approached by an Angel of God who told her “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude… thou [art] with child,… and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction… And he will be a wild man... and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (Genesis 16:1-13) When he was 13 years old Ishmael was circumcised as part of Abrahams covenant with God and again promised to be fruitful, this time also promised to beget 12 princes, like the 12 tribes of Isreal but the covenant would be with his half-brother Isaac. (Genesis 17) However, after Issac is born Sarah has Hagar and Ishmael thrown out of Abrahams house (Genesis 21:11-13).  Out in the wilderness of Beer-sheba the two soon ran out of water and Hagar wept. "And God heard the voice of the lad" and sent his angel to tell Hagar, "Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation." And God "opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water", from which she drew to save Ishmael's life and her own. "And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness."(Genesis 21:14-21) 
This story marks Hagar as one of the few women to receive a message from the Jewish God and yet the story of Ishmael and his decedents is one of strife with the Israelites. His son Kedar, father of the Qedarites, is according to tradition, the ancestor of Muhammad and the Quraysh tribe (Schaff 502) thus marking Ishmael as the father of the Muslims and Isaac the father of the Jews. Ishmael is mentioned over ten times in the Qur'an, often alongside other patriarchs and prophets of ancient times. He stands with Abraham to set up the Kaaba in Mecca as a place of monotheistic pilgrimage (II: 127-129) and Abraham thanks God for granting him Ishmael and Isaac in his old age (XIV: 35-41).  In Christianity on the other hand, in my experience Sarah’s lack of faith is condemned and Ishmael and his children considered a punishment to all Jews for attempting to manipulate the will of God.
The story of Ishmael’s birth, if not his purpose or calling, is one of the few points on which Jews, Christians, and Muslims agree.  I think this is an important point in Moby Dick as it is Ishmael that is comfortable between the two worlds of the heathen cannibal and Christianity.  He worships idols with Queequeg as the Biblical Ishmael’s Arab children worshiped idols and yet he himself is a Christian and claims to believe in the Biblical God as does his namesake. Despite his Christianity and his attempts to get Queequeg in church Ishmael does not insist on the correctness of his own beliefs over Queequeg’s but instead focusses on the unity of religions and the brotherhood of man.  He is a mid-ground between two if not three different religious worlds which more often than not view the others with suspicion if not open hostility.
Ishmael, unlike other men of his time period does not view Queequeg and his religion with suspicion but with curiosity, “Surely this was a touch of fine philosophy…I began to find myself mysteriously drawn toward him.”(Melvile 56-57)  He admits time and time again that Christianity is not the answer to all the world’s problems.  The line “Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” (Melvile 26) is one of his quotes that humanizes both cannibals and Christians, making both religions simply made of fallible and drunken men, instead of being made up of either good or evil as others would have seen them as.  This quote also makes an interesting point if we compare the foreign cannibalism with the foreign Islam as it is against the Muslim religion to consume alcohol (al-Maa’idah 5:90-91).  If alcohol more than cannibalism  makes an unsavory bed partner and the cannibal is compared to the Muslim than the cannibal is a better man than the Christian and that is indeed what seems to be shown throughout this novel with the heroics of Queequeg if not Fedallah.
The connection between Queequeg’s cannibalism and Islam is made several times throughout Moby Dick.  This is most obvious in chapter 17, which is titled “The Ramadan”. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is known for being the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours. Queequeg’s “Ramadan” is only a day and also seems to restrict movements and fluids and yet Ishmael calls the religious holiday Ramadan.  We assume Ishmael must know something of Muslim tradition or wish us to connect the two or he would have connected Queequeg’s practice with the early ascetic Gnostics or others Christians who practiced great restraint instead of Islam. Melville’s calling of Queequeg’s religious observance Ramadan is then not merely drawing a parallel but asking us to draw a comparison between the religion of Queequeg and the religion of Ishmael’s children, Islam and thus his role in unification of religious worlds.
Queequeg’s religion is again brought into comparison with Islam when Ishmael decides to be polite and to worship with Queequeg to the little idol and “salamed before him twice or thrice;” (Melville 58).  This salaaming goes against the first two commandments from the Christian bible, Thou shalt not have any other gods before me and thou shalt not bow down to any graven images. Ishmael considers it harmless as he does not actually believe in the little black idol but this is very clearly pagan act. The fact that respect for Yojo is represented as a Muslim salute is again drawing a connection not only between Queequeg and Muslims but also Ishmael and Islam as he is the one who is said to “salam” or salaam before the idol.
This use of salaam also redraws the connection of Ishmael as a unifying figure between religions as the salute which we call salaam or salaaming is named from the Arabic word salām which means "peace".  By accepting Queequegs religious observance and participating in these actions Ishmael shows us a new way to achieve peace and harmony between religions. What Ishmael is doing may be considered Idol worship to some but to him he is making peace respecting Queequeg by doing as Queequeg wishes. He is learning from other religions and cultures much as Queequeg originally tried to do with Christianity.
The name Ishmael is a compilation of two elements: The first part comes from the verb (shama) meaning to hear, listen, obey. The second part is (El), the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God. So “God that Hears” (Hitchcock) is a common translation as well as “He Will Hear God” (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names).
Throughout the tale of Moby Dick Ishmael is exposed to many gods, the idol god of Queequeg, the oppressive god of Ahab, the Christian god of the Quakers, and the gods of the various crew men on the ship.  He seems to accept all and none of these gods as his own.  He claims himself a Presbyterian and yet bows to an idol.  He calls Fedallah a “fire worshiper” and relates that the crew thinks he is the devil but leaves him be and believes his prophesies or at least relates their meaning to us.  Ishmael does not have the fanatical adherence of the Quakers or the different beliefs of the foreign crewmen and yet he exists between all of them and at peace with them all.  He is among many religions but he seems to have no real classification.  Like the Ishmael of the Bible Ishmael partakes in many peoples religion but seems to not be true to any one religion.  His namesake was the son of Abraham yet not a Jew, his children the fathers of Islam yet he was before there time.  Yet despite both Ishmaels ambiguous religious stances the  Ishmael of Moby Dick’s role as the sole survivor of the ship means that we can perhaps infer that he, whatever combination of beliefs he holds, is the one who knows the truth.  As his namesake wondered through the wilderness and hears and is protected by the hand of God. Ishmael wanders and is protected perhaps because he is the one who has heard the voice and will of the real god.
As a blessed child of Abraham who fathered the Jews, and the ancestor of Muhammad who came down off the mountain an Ishmael is in a unique spot between gods and religions.  Melville uses this name and this connection to the Old Testament to pull us from our understanding of religions to a new understanding built on respect and peace in a world of violence and vengeance much like Old Testament times. A not quite, Christian and a not quite cannibal Ishmael brings us away from our accepted notions about what is right and wrong in religions; such as, showing respect for another’s gods and declares his actions correct in the eyes of whatever power exists by his very survival of the Prequod.

Hitchcock, Roswell D. "Entry for 'Ishmael'". "An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names". . New York, N.Y., 1869. (

Causations and Correlations in Moby-Dick.

What is immediately obvious in Moby-Dick is that Melville has done a very thorough job when it comes to describing the whale. This completely exhaustive exploration of the whales’ insides, outsides and abstractions mirrors the complete fervor with which Ahab hunts the whale: all in all, Melville is mimicking or feigning monomania in a book that deals largely with monomania. With all of his talk regarding religion, Melville’s narrator (which I will refuse to call Ishmael, despite the text’s initial urging) seems to have found his own religion within the whale itself, more broadly, within the sciences. Indeed, the narrator has long descriptions of, among other things, whale biology, whale anthropology, whale psychology, whale phrenology (!), whale physiognomy, whale ecology, etc. Through the lens of the whale, Melville touches upon nearly every science that existed at the time (with obvious exceptions – not even Melville could make whale chemistry sexy). What results, and what is germane, is he provides a relatively complete list of the ways in which a whale, or subject, could be depicted.

“But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab’s broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished” (Melville, 201). This quote appears, quite appropriately, in the Chapter from which the title of Melville’s work is derived: Moby-Dick. Famously, Captain Ahab has only one agenda, to capture the white whale that took away his leg several voyages ago. This monomania is extensively flushed out throughout Melville’s work: in fact, the entire plot hinges upon Ahab’s ridiculousness. Indeed, the phrase ‘white whale’ has entered into our vocabulary (at least I’ve heard several individuals employ it) as something that a person is obsessed with to a sometimes destructive degree. The work has a monomaniacal character essential to the plot and also a narrator whom treats the subject of monomania with equal fervor. If Melville the writer exists in any of his characters, it is not Ishmael, it is certainly Ahab. Regardless of all of the criticizing of monomania throughout Moby-Dick, the novel suffers heavily from its own lengthy digressions concerning the science of the whale.

What is at work here is a problem of description or representation. Whether or not Melville meant to purposefully explore this idea in Moby-Dick, the narrator has profound difficulties in describing the whale, or whaling, in a way that he finds sufficient. What he does is offer the best he can – a slew of depictions of whales through just about any major line of inquiry that existed at the time. What furthers this is smaller, less non-fictiony representations of whale throughout Moby-Dick­ which extend beyond the form of literature (in ways). The very last extract is that of Whale Song, a musical description. Within the first few chapters we have a soliloquy on a painting of a whale, itself a description of whale through visual art. I don’t doubt there exist more. Melville’s own monomania concerns his knowledge of a whale. He does not want to kill a whale, nor capitalize (at least directly) on the whale, but he constantly obsesses over his ability to describe the whale.

It is perhaps important here to highlight the fact that I am periodically blurring the distinction between the concepts of knowledge, that is, epistemology, and description or depiction (mimesis), which is an outward projection of that knowledge. What is troubling, daunting, and exciting about Moby-Dick is not only that it constantly switches between the historically contrasted diegesis (the narrative itself) and the mimesis of the whale and the whaling industry, but that it so often conflates them. The conflation arises in how exhaustive the mimesis attempts to be: Melville asserts himself as an authority on the subject, and arguably has gathered the appropriate knowledge available in his time to appropriate such a title, yet the general obsession of the mimesis mirrors and contributes to the concept of monomania which is firmly anchored within the diegetic portion of the novel. Although the novel is certainly engaged with the question of whether or not a full knowledge of whale (or anything) can actually be achieved, it further complicates this by asking the subsequent question of, if such knowledge is obtainable, can it be properly described?

The whale was in 1851, as it still is today, a fantastic subject/object through which to ask these questions. The majority of individuals are fairly infrequently exposed to the actuality of a whale, its habitat being far removed from our own. Had Melville chosen a pedestrian subject that any reader could experience daily, Melville’s plight would have been diminished, it is the otherness of the whale that makes it a fascinating subject (to both the narrator and the reader). Yet, assuming that many readers have not experienced a whale, Moby-Dick yearns to substitute for that direct experience.

Largely, this is an argument for science’s or art’s failure to fully understand or represent a subject. Yet it is perhaps also a comment on the faultiness of science/art’s claim that it indeed can fully understand/represent a subject. Through his employment of various disciplines towards the whale, many of which claim to describe the whole through an analysis of the parts (both material and abstract), Melville illustrates the inherent impossibility of mimesis.

Much of Aristotle’s theory of knowledge rests upon his ‘four causes’ of an object (Metaphysics) and his analysis of our construction of knowledge is a particularly adept lens for examining Moby-Dick. Aristotle’s first two causes are the material cause and the formal cause. Within the whale, the material cause would be what the whale is physically made of, which Melville writes of extensively, e.g. baleen, spermaceti, various forms of blubber, etc. The second cause is the arrangement of these things, which Melville highlights as well: the shape and form of the whale (particularly its head). The last cause is the final cause, which is its purpose or aim. For the narrator, this cause is strongly tied to economics, for Ahab, it is violence, and for Melville himself, it is the subject of his work (quite a purpose). The narrator struggles with the third cause. Aristotle’s third cause is the efficient cause, which is roughly an object’s source. Clearly the source of any whale is its respective parental whale, although clearly Melville thinks this to be insufficient. The real efficient cause of the whale, for many a devout reader in Melville’s day would clearly be God. Which raises an important point regarding Ahab’s world view versus the narrator’s, especially concerning the whale.

For the narrator, the whale’s causes, and therefore the proper knowledge of the whale exist within science, that is, they are heavily grounded within the material and the formal cause. The efficient cause is perhaps hinted at, but is far underdeveloped when compared to the first two causes. Ahab, on the other hand, focuses entirely on the third cause. He believes the whale to be either an agent of God or the Devil (either or – recall class discussion) and openly shows disdain for the first two causes of the whale. Starbuck, although somewhat tertiary in this regard, focuses primarily on the final cause of the whale: the economic potential. Through these characters Melville, not the narrator, actually presents all four of Aristotle’s causes when it comes to the whale. However, the effect of this seems not at all demystifying.

What is important, perhaps, is that Melville illustrates each of these causes within different characters. Not any one character shows a breadth of understanding of each of the four causes of the whale, and many show not one. Melville is perhaps critiquing Aristotle’s theory of causes throughout Moby-Dick, showing that a thorough understanding of a thing’s material causes by an individual is often entirely contradictory to that individual’s through understanding of a thing’s efficient causes. It is important that Melville’s work arose during a time of great scientific revolution, namely Darwin’s theory of evolution which appeared, basically, to form a bridge between the first/second and third causes and perhaps Moby-Dick serves as either a prescient example of the scientific positivism that was already somewhat underway during the period in which he was writing (or maybe he was critiquing it – sometimes it’s hard to tell with Melville).
This leads to the observation that the reader themselves are left to guess or grasp at the final causes of the whale. Indeed several are offered: Starbuck’s economic cause, the quelling of Ishmael’s ennui, Ahab’s persistence through his own life and beacon through navigating his handicap, yet each are given and, at the end of the book disproved. For the reader is completely imbued with descriptions of the first three causes of the whale, through endless monologues and soliloquies, yet the final cause of the whale with regards to the reader is hardly hinted at. Why, exactly, is the reader given such long-winded descriptions? To what purpose does their understanding serve the reader, if it does at all? Ishmael wants to describe the profession of whaling as contrary to the popular belief of the time that it was “a rather unpoetic and disreputable pursuit” (Melville, 118). The long digressive moments in the book are the narrator struggling to bring the rigidity of scientific study to bolster the profession of whaling. If it is, as I believe, entirely necessary to separate the narrator from Ishmael, perhaps this is the most concrete manner in which to do it: Ishmael is present in the boat and views the whale, quite passively and objectively, as that which the pursuit of which will clear Ishmael’s eyes at the mast-head and improve his mood, whereas the final cause of the whale for the narrator is a channel for the interjection of science into a profession he holds dearly and sees as in need of serious P.R.

The reader, while understanding these final causes through the perception of the novel’s characters, is forced to consider what the final cause of the whale may be according to her. A great deal of whale-studying is arguably performed when Moby-Dick is read, yet Marine Biologists do not turn to the text for reference in any serious way (at least in the modern age). From a literary standpoint, the causes of the literary whale (particularly Moby-Dick himself) can be structured within the process of writing and the subsequent perception of the reader. If it can be argued that to fully understand or have knowledge of the whale, we must understand each of its four causes, the same must be said for Moby-Dick, and therefore Moby-Dick. The material cause is the writing process itself. The reader has a flickering perception of original process throughout the book, as Melville continuously and neurotically analyzes his own sections and provides insight into motive and intertextuality moments explicitly within the Extracts section and more sporadically throughout the novel. This is what the literary whale Moby-Dick is constructed of: Melville’s experiences, beliefs, etc. The formal cause is the arrangement and pattern of this knowledge and thoughts: precisely the structure or form of the novel. Word choice, syntax, all of the high-school grammatical analysis terms one can conjure perform the function of the formal cause of the literary whale. Here too, is where the scientific descriptions of the whale come into play: they are all, if divorced from their more theoretical purpose, descriptive techniques meant, sometimes, to provide the reader with concretizing details of the whale: Melville for all purposes arranging his knowledge.

I will here only briefly skim over defining the efficient cause of the literary whale, i.e. where it comes from or arises from. I partially avoid this because such analysis would mostly culminate in the garden-variety lit-crit hermeneutical tautology, bouncing meaning (and therefore source) of the text between reader, writer, and document. The only thing, hardly worth mentioning here, is that the publisher that manufactures the reader’s specific copy could be seen to contribute to this, or at least could be frivolously considered among other efficient causes.

Which brings us to the final cause of the literary whale. My argument here, for I do have one, is that the final cause of the whale is essentially identical for all nearly all characters within the novel and the reader. This final cause is teleological in its essence: the whale provides an end. While the economic, spiritual, and vengeful final purposes of the whale serve as fine final causes, they seem absolutely subservient to the teleological purpose of the whale within the literary framework; thus, both the reader and the characters arrive at a full understanding (knowledge) of the whale: the whale as end. Both the narrator and Melville seem keenly aware of this: “I do not know where I can find a better place than just here, to make mention of one or two other things which to me seem important, as in printed form establishing the reasonableness of the whole story of the White Whale, more especially the catastrophe” (Melville, 223). The descriptions and lectures seem infinitely more purposeful when viewed through the lens of teleology: they are nuanced depictions of the agent of change within the work. Not only does the whale reveal its final cause to be that of killing nearly all characters within the book, it in turn writes the final causes of those characters: to be killed by Moby-Dick and bolster and continue the legacy. For the reader, the final cause of the whale exists in the same way; the whale serves to end the book, in a way that would teeter upon deus-ex-machina if there weren’t such atheistic threads throughout the preceding narrative.

Regardless, Melville presents the whale as known – when in fact the reader is left with a great sense of not-knowing of the whale (although certainly a great sense of knowing a whale) – everything that comes with an actual physical encounter is present within the novel, yet the actual, physical encounter itself is inherently absent for the reader, presenting an odd and entirely uncomfortable form of knowledge.

 Melville, Herman. Moby Dick or, The Whale. 1851. New York : Penguin Books, 2003.

Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vols.17, 18, translated by Hugh Tredennick. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1933, 1989. 
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