There is a lot of religious subtext in Moby Dick with the whale being like an omnipotent God for some that is constantly a place for them to place their fears and hopes and the embodiment of evil for others, particularly Ahab. On page 193, Pip says that "that anaconda of an old man swore 'em in to hunt him! Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!" (Melville). I took this statement as he was referring to Ahab as a God figure, but it could just as easily be the whale. Would it be possible for any of these men to consider Ahab a Godlike figure? Is he just referring to the actual God? Or could he be referring to Moby Dick?
Currently my biggest question in reading Moby Dick is why the change in perspective. Until page 182 where the chapter begins “I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks where’er I sail.” We have received all of our information from Ishmael in Ishmael’s point of view and colored and philosophized upon by Ishmael. Even the chapter “The Pipe” and “Queen Mab” could have been overseen and overheard by Ishmael or others who told Ishmael, but in Chapter 37 we seem to get a transcript of Ahab’s thoughts, things Ishmael would not know. This continues with “Dusk” and “First Night-Watch” where we get a glimpse into the mind of the First and Second Mates before we go back to hearing the reactions of the crew. I like the chapters; they give us a glimpse into the mind of the characters such as in Shakespeare’s soliloquys and I can see the purpose of the chapters but I do not understand why Melvile sets up the story as from Ishmael’s perspective only to suddenly give us chapters clearly out of Ishmaels reach without an explanation. There is no justification such as, I was told these things by such and so. This for me stops the reality of the transcript and the fantasy and I do not understand the change.
Until chapters 36, the novel is told in the first person. However, there are several times when Ishmael digresses, attempting to better understand the sailors around him, so much so that it appears that Ishmael becomes so engrossed in these tangents the reader, (or perhaps this is just me) loses track of the story line momentarily. In chapter 34, when he attempting unravel the reason behind Flask's being "the last person down at the dinner, and Flask is the first man up." Ishmael then goes into a tangent, discussing the Flask's reasoning behind this, stating that "flask once admitted in private, that ever since he had arisen to the dignity of an officer, from the moment he had never known what it was to be otherwise than hungry." Then Ishmael recounts Flask's thoughts, as if Ishmael himself has been inside Flask's head, "I am but an officer; but how I wish I could fist a bit of old-fashioned beef in the forecastle..."Ishmael has a tendency to go into tangents, but this is the beginning of something wholly different than merely discussing the science behind whales. Now, it appears Ishmael has the power to, at the very least, know the thoughts of others. This process goes a step further, to the point that we are entirely detached from Ishmael, and are instead confronted with Ahab narrating a monologue about his own madness, followed by a monologue in Starbuck in chapter 38, Stubb in Chapter 39, and a virtual play in chapter 40, all without the narration of Ishmael.This could suggest many things; perhaps this entire story is of Ishmael's creation, or at the most, partially based off of actual occurrences and it is Ishmael who is twisting the these events into somewhat of a biblical/Shakespearean narrative. Or, perhaps, Ishmael is still narrating, but is wholly acting as an observer, merely writing down what he is observing in the best possible way to truly represent the way in which they occurred. Perhaps something in Chapter 40 would have been lost if it was told through the perspective of Ishmael, so instead he decided to detail it all as a play. Another option, perhaps, is the somewhat weird idea that since this is being presented in a way that is to be preformed and recited, and there is also a healthy amount of talk of prophesy within the novel, that this section of the novel is especially Shakespearean in a MacBeth sort of way, of a tragic figure (Ahab) whose goal of destroying essentially, the king of the seas, will end in misery and ruin, and Ishmael is recounting this part of the novel in that way in order to further emphasize the point. This part of the novel, for me, proves so far to be the most mysterious, and I'm curious as to what everyone thinks Melville is trying to do here.
"Most of the scientific drawing have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride of hull and spars"(314)My question this week relates to the issue of images - in particular the imagery associated with the whales in Moby Dick. From my reading to this point, I find myself often overwhelmed by the details he provides in description. During the readings, I have been googling images of whales in particular to create a better mental image for myself. I'm wondering what opinions people have about a present day reading of Moby Dick and the issue of the imagery of the whales. What difference is there in the reading of the descriptions of the whale now as compared to a reader in the eighteen hundreds? Ishmael discusses how there isn't an accurate even scientific representation of whales, so do this make Moby Dick more incredible or incomprehensible to a reader?
Homoerotism comes up several times in Moby Dick. Homoerotism is a very common theme throughout history with men at sea. Men are away from their wives for months at a time, and have to find some way to entertain themselves sexually. In the book, Ishmael says, “Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy we were. " (57) They are seen in bed several different times, and also referred to as “wedded” This reminded me very loosely of the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein and Walton, because clearly their relationship contained a homoerotic undertone. What role does homoerotism play in Moby Dick? What is the relationship between sex, men, and the sea?
Melville’s paranoia is seemingly pervasive throughout Moby-Dick. Even technically before the book even begins, we are told, concerning the extracts, that much “has been said, thought, fancied, and sung of Leviathan, by many nations and generations, including our own” (Melville, xil). Through this claim and his subsequent listing of various whale references and quotations, Melville seems to want to convince the reader that his subject is, in fact, appropriate for over 600 pages of exploration (even when only nearly half is in any way narrative). This seems appropriate enough, but Melville doesn’t stop there. Subsequent chapters continuously ground the narrative and seem to anticipate any criticism that would come (i.e. the chance that a whale, escaping after being harpooned by a whaler, should ever again see that sailor is defended in Chapter 45 The Affidavit, two entire chapters on why whaling itself should be honored, various chapters on whale biology, various chapters on whale mythology, etc.). In fact, if one were to flip open Moby-Dick to any page, they would stand a fair chance of reading Melville in the middle of defending or explaining some portion of the novel. My question is, why, exactly? One would suppose that the extensive glancing that Melville does over his narrative shoulder serves a literary purpose, but, in fact, this attention to detail seems highly uncharacteristic of Ishmael, and I cannot help but read it as Melville himself speaking. Most of it serves to ground the narrative: “this” can happen. Whales are important. Whaling is not easy. What purpose does this serve? Is this Melville speaking more or less directly, although not without artistic flair, to the reader with the purpose of convincing them of the value of his subject? Or is this in turn more allegorical, a penchant that may serve as a reminder of the numbing qualities of the quest for knowledge, much as Shelly embodied in the character of Victor Frankenstein?
Chapter 31 in Melville brought up a number of questions for me about the novel as a whole and the greater significance of the chapter itself. The chapter is adequately entitled Queen Mab, whom is a fairy that brings dreams, because the chapter is all about Ishmael’s shipmate Stubb recounting one of his dreams to Flask. In the dream Stubb has an altercation with Captain Ahab which involves Ahab kicking Stubb with his ivory leg. My first question when I read this passage was do the details of this attack have any greater significance to the novel as a whole? Is Ahab using his ivory leg, which is a symbol of his detrimental obsession to hunt whales and the horrible result of it, to harm Stubb a sign that Ahab’s obsession with the pursuit of the whale will also harm him and the other sailors as well? Does this show that the pain that Ahab endured with be inflicted on his crew somehow? Another slightly more intriguing question that arose when Stubb told his dream to Flask is why Flask described the attack as an honor. “No, you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It's an honor; I consider it an honor.” (Melville 143). Why does Flask think that is in an honor to be kicked by the Captain and does he urge Stubb to be picked by him and not to kick back. Even when Flask claims that this is analogous to the practices in old England I still saw no reason to believe that a kick from anyone would be an honor. I wonder if this means that Flask wants any affliction that Ahab brings, that he welcomes them and that they are considered something to be respected. And finally what is the significance of describing Ahab as a pyramid. I know we discussed the significance of pyramids in our earlier reading as a symbol of great empires and hierarchies, I am just wondering if it is used in the same capacity here.
"Artistic alienation is sublimation. It creates images of conditions which are irreconcilable with the established Reality Principle but which, as cultural images,become tolerable, even edifying and useful. Now this imagery is invalidated. Its incorporation into the kitchen, the office, the shop; its commercial release for business and fun is, in a sense, desublimation--replacing mediated by immediate satisfaction (Marcuse, 72)."In this week's readings, Marcuse discusses a topic that I found very compelling. Marcuse discusses in-depth the supposed desublimation of art and literature that was occurring during his time. He asserts that society has assimilated the subversive truths that these works contain into mass culture. No longer validating different ways of thinking and living,these pieces are seen as separate from the reality of life, invalidating the truth that they are meant to convey. Art and literature have become viable as goods for the mass culture to consume. My question relates how desublimation of the arts still exists today. Has this desublimation gotten worse with the advent of the internet and devices such as the iPod and the tablet? Or have these devices simply allowed people to seek out music or the arts on their own time, creating an environment where people can choose what they want to get out of these works? I feel like either answer to these questions may be correct. One can argue that such technologies have only increased the desublimation the Marcuse discusses because the arts are incorporated into our mass culture to a much greater degree than in Marcuse's time. But one could also argue that these technologies have allowed for a more individualized consumption of the arts, perhaps allowing for more personal contemplation that may allow the truth of these works to shine through once again.
The dual extremes of religion between Ahab and seemingly everyone else in Nantucket draws my attention. From the very beginning of the text we are presented with an island full of very religious Quakers, even going so far as to adopt the dialect of the King James Bible. There is concern of the relationship to God and religion that is distinctly absent when it comes to Ahab. When Ahab makes his "introductions" to the crew he offers a flagon for all to drink from, "Short draughts—long swallows, men; 'tis hot as Satan's hood" (179). As if this drink is some final oath to join Ahab in his quest for vengeance and damnation and he later crowns his three mates "sweet cardinals". So my question is is Melville attacking or defending religion? We know that Ahab will die, does his death mark his transgression against God? Is Melville critiquing the outcome of the American promise of the "freedom of religion" in favor of a "freedom from religion"? Even if that freedom leads to Ahab's fall he is by far the most interesting character in the entire novel.
Why is Moby-Dick good?I know that seems like an overly simple, cop-out question, but I genuinely mean it. Moby-Dick is by far my favorite book we have read this semester, and it is also becoming one of my favorite novels overall. Whether you are enjoying it or not, you have to acknowledge (even by its accolades alone) that it's profoundly important to the history of American literature. But by all accounts, it should be a disaster of a novel-- Melville is not easy. Understanding Ishmael is not an easy, nor is he a strictly traditional protagonist: he's unreliable, he digresses like crazy, he's not always likable, and he becomes (in many ways) simply a commentator once aboard the Pequod. Also, the narrative strays into flat out non-fiction at times (and arguably tedious nonfiction at that). In all of these ways (and more) Moby-Dick the novel takes on the characterization of the whaling ship: an unpleasant situation that is still, somehow, inherently interesting. But why? Is it simply that Melville is that good of writer? He's not doing anything particularly original here in terms of the themes of death, fate, and God. But it's still a classic. We're still reading it. And I for one am very much enjoying it. Why?
Although such themes have been explored already in the previous questions, I think that the monolithic importance of the whale in the mind of Ahab could potentially tell us something about his mindset with regards to religion. Specifically, is the voyage and the potential capture of the whale an attempt on the part of Ahab to come closer to his God, or perhaps approach the level of a divine figure to some extent? Is the whale a microcosm for the challenges and burdens one experiences as a mortal, and would Ahab somehow transcend the limitations of humanity through conquering the whale? Although Ahab is a generally pious man, I can't help but think that his pursuit of the whale carries more significance for him than simply being a remarkable accomplishment within his earthly realm.