Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Final Paper Proposal

            For my final project, I plan to revise my essay on Queequeg as a Gnostic symbol within the novel Moby Dick; more specifically, my essay will focus on Queequeg as an incarnation of a bringer of enlightenment and knowledge to Ishmael.  I will do this through using textual evidence in Moby Dick, in addition to at least two separate texts that not only explore the Gnostic elements and symbols within Moby Dick, but also define Gnosticism as a religion in order to gain adequate understanding of the connections between the two that I will be making.  Some of these Gnostic articles and texts will focus on a sect of Gnosticism called the Ophites, who were essentially worshipers of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, who regarded the serpent as a friend to humanity and a bringer of knowledge.  This topic will be good fodder for discussion and argument, because the character Queequeg and his role in the novel is in many ways ambiguous.  Although he is not the main protagonist/antagonist, he plays a pivotal role in the novel and I believe through better understanding his character and the influences that Melville used in order to construct him, the reader may gain further insight into Moby Dick; an extremely complex, and at times, confusing novel.  Queequeg’s beliefs, customs, and his relationship with Ishmael can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, however it is in my opinion that out of all of these interpretations, the argument of Queequeg as Gnostic symbol of a bringer of knowledge and enlightenment is the most appropriate and the most illuminating.
            The reader of my essay should find this argument important and hopefully worthy of thought in that it is a different take on Queequeg’s character than what one usually finds in the literature written on the subject.  Gnosticism in general and its interpretation of well-known biblical stories and characters, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, are at least in my eyes, extremely unusual from the interpretations that I grew up with, and are in that way very fascinating.  The notion that something that I, and many others, have been taught to regard as the ultimate symbol of evil, is in another interpretation, a benevolent and worship worthy character is extremely provocative.  However, I understand that this argument of religious interpretation has the ability to spiral out of control and become too tangential.  I am hoping that through using On Human Nature’s chapter on religion in order to contextualize my argument in that it will allow me to argue for a Gnostic interpretation of Queequeg in relation to the story of Moby Dick.  Although I cannot completely agree to Wilson’s interpretation that culture, and therefore, religion is a mere product of genetics, I can understand Wilson’s argument as religion being an essential and an organizing principle within our lives.  In the end, I think Wilson will be a good way to contexualize and legitimize my interpretation of Queequeg as a Gnostic symbol, and why this interpretation is important for the understanding of the novel, and why Melville may have written him in such a way.
            I plan on making significant changes to my previous revision in this final project.  The first half of my revision, in which I make conjectures that Queequeg is initially a malevolent character whom the reader may interpret as perhaps an incarnation of the devil within Moby Dick will be cut back in order to focus more closely on my main argument which argues that Queequeg is a Gnostic symbol.  However, I plan to edit this part of the paper as well, and will attempt to make the argument more streamlined and concise, in addition to supplying more textual evidence from new sources on Ophites and Gnosticism.  Also, I will have to find an appropriate place for the section on Wilson, and as of now I’m trying to find an appropriate place for the discussion of Wilson’s text and how it relates to my argument, however I think it’s placement will become more clear after I’m finished with the initial cuts and restructuring of my essay.  Overall, through these changes, the inclusion of new sources, and the purging of most of the first half of my essay in addition to any other overly tangential sections throughout the essay, I hope to make a solid, and fascinating argument on Queequeg and his place within the world of Moby Dick. 

 Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. 1851. New York City: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Nock, Darby. "Gnosticism." The Harvard Theological Review 57.4 (1964): 255-279. JSTOR.        Web. 10 Apr.   2012. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/1508563>.

Vargish, Thomas. "Gnostic Mythos in Moby-Dick." Modern Language Association 81.3 (1966):    272-277. JSTOR. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/460812

The Bible. New International Version. Biblegateway.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.                <www.biblegateway.com>.

Rasimus, Tuomas. "Ophite Gnosticism, Sethianism and the Nag Hammadi Library." Vigiliae         Christianae  59.3 (2005): 235-263. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.           <:http://www.jstor.org/stable/1584571 >.

1 comment:

  1. This certainly seems like a fun topic. Because gnosticism within the novel is, by itself, a well-trodden topic, I'm glad to see you being specific with it: Q. in particular as a gnostic symbol (a challenging and interesting argument; the role of *secret*, often coded knowledge in gnostic though seems friendly to this interpretation; the fact that Q often *seems* inarticulate offers challenges) is a good approach. I am unclear on, but very interested in, what you're doing with Ophite gnosticism in particular.

    I recommend Elaine Pagels' books if you're looking for a high level, readable but still academic introduction to Gnostic thought. I've taught (and loved) her book on the gospel of Thomas; her book on Satan might in some ways intersect vaguely with your project.

    One thought: Q. is remarkable not just for how *differently* he thinks, but how clear his thinking is. Two moments I'd recommend considering are the one where he leaves Father Maple's sermon before it's over, and his clear-headed, scientific understanding of the squid (as opposed to Starbuck's superstitious reading) in the chapter "The Squid."

    Gnostics, like other exotic sects, are sometimes understood as harboring secret *sexual* knowledge. In any case, given the signifance of Q. as a sexual figure, the role of both celibacy and sexuality in gnostic thought seems like a possible (though by no means necessary) point of reference.

    Anyway, this sounds good. As you write, remind yourself that you can't and shouldn't try to explain everything about gnosticism, or even everything about gnosticism in the novel - your areas of focus are good, and you don't need to do *everything* else.