PS's introductory lecture outline notes, on Melville and on Ishmael
Moby-Dick (1851): the early works (esp. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life) were best-sellers and made the author famous. But Moby-Dick received mixed reviews (some praise, with one calling the book the author’s best, but there were many expressions of exasperation and one suggested the author had gone insane). Only 2,300 copies sold: yet Melville needed to sell books to support his family. From a later (1904) assessment of Moby-Dick, although it judged the book as Melville’s best and overall a “very noble piece”: “the reader ... is harassed by the frequent interpolation of a transcendental mysticism which often ill-fits the mouths of the rough tarpaulins, who are made to deliver their minds of the sublimated fancies which appear to oppress them even more than the brine-hardened food they consume.” (Norton Critical Edition, pp. 624-25).

M. revising his conception of Moby-Dick after a first draft: after he read more deeply a collection of Hawthorne’s short stories called Mosses from Old Manse. What little we can tell from letters etc. (full manuscript versions of early vs late drafts not available): Beyond a whaling chronicle: heightening his investigation of the industry of whaling, the whole system & enterprise; greatly increasing the role of Ishmael and esp. Ahab. From a first-person narrator to a book with Ishmael as nominal narrator but in many different voices, even imitating a Shakespearean play at several points.

from Melville’s letters to Hawthorne in 1851, while he was completing Moby-Dick:
“What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,-- it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.... I’m rather sore, perhaps in this letter; but see my hand!--four blisters on the palm, made by hoes and hammers within the last few days....”

“My development has been all within a few years past. I am like one of those seeds taken out of the Egyptian Pyramids, which, after being three thousand years a seed and othing but a seed, being planted in English soil, it developed itself, grew to greenness, and then fell to mould. So I. Until I was twenty-five, I had no development at all. From my twenty-fifth year I date my life. Three weeks have scarcely passed, at any time between then and now [1851; Melville in his early 30s], that I have not unfolded within myself....”

“Shall I send you a fin of The Whale [novel] by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked-- though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book’s motto (the secret one): --Ego non baptiso te in nomine....” [cf. ch 119, The Candles].



Notes on Ishmael: "survival through style" [Tanner's term]
ISHMAEL central principles: improvisation, reciprocity, multiplicity

improvisation and reciprocity
ch 1 “Who ain’t a slave” paragraph
indignities of world: from separate to shared; the circle of massaging hands
scales of the New Testament: shifting perspective as survival technique
comedy: reducing world’s violence to a “thump”
compare later chapters, esp. 72 (Monkey-Rope) and 94 (Squeeze of the Hand)

shift in perspective as comic restitution, recompense: the Pythagorean maxim joke
vs I’s humility and sense of humor (newspaper headlines that follow, with “Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael” in small print


last paragraphs of chapter 1:
seeing free will as an illusion vs I’s emphasis on improvisation

I’s response: mutuality vs isolation (Isolatoes islands unto themselves): Ishmael and democratic theory

Ishmael and Queequeg and Ishmael’s principle of reciprocity

clear hierarchies of civilization (progress from ‘savage’ to ‘civilized’) vs mutuality, reversal, sharing different perspectives, languages, cultures “all interweavingly working together” (cf the Tony Tanner essay)

ch 10 beginning
culture = exterior or epidermis; soul = interior, universally shareable & understood?
“unearthly tattooings” vs shared universals (heroism, independence) that allow for cross-cultural communication

Or are these “universals” really culturally bound?
“Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed”

Yet end of ch 10: “I was a good Christian, born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church....” a comic syllogism of the equality of all religions that are truly religious rather than deludedly self-righteous

In short, be skeptical of reading Ishmael as making steady progress toward divesting himself of his ‘Western’ prejudices?? Not as simple as stepping in or out of clothes!
[also relevant: near end of ch 4; p 34 bottom]

ch 4 the counterpane description in the first paragraph, comparing the quilt pattern to Queequeg’s tattoos
the meaning of Ishmael’s ‘dream’ about the hand holding his...?

Ishmael and multiplicity (“Leviathanism”)
understanding the world differently from Ahab and from the ships’ investors, though Ishmael also partakes of both of their ways of knowing and interacting w/ the world

end of ch 1: floodgates of the wonder world metaphor
flooding and destruction, a kind of death of conventional ways of measuring and knowiing => whale’s mystery => a kind of Noah’s ark or salvation: knowledge or faith that does not destroy you

Tanner essay: converting the whale into texts and texts into Leviathanism (capturing the whale in language vs. producing an uncatagorizable multiplicity releasing the whale’s power)

Ahab’s views of the whale? the investors’? common sailors who must at great risk to their lives and body-parts must do the dangerous physical work?

Ishmael’s writing project incorporates all these ways of seeing the whale, the investors’ and the laborers’ ways of seeing it, then it adds a flood of other ways of knowing and ‘using’ including an investigation of the limits of each way of knowing, each discourse or world-view....

survival lies in shifts in perspective, improvisation, multiplicity

Tanner: Ishmael’s “survival through style,” his principle of Levianthanism (multiplicity)


Examples of Ishmaelean multiplicity of languages & ways of knowing
ch 32 and chs 102-05

ch 32 (Cetology)
paragr 1-2: systematized exhibition’ parallels Pequod’s quest compiling all the ways of classifying the whale, with the assumption that this will allow a synthesis [vs exposing chaos and contradiction]

a few pp. later, paragraph beginning “Now the various species of whales need some....”
easy outlines vs intentional incompeteness and stress on the failure as well as the power of categories and systems discuss paragraph
in short, play and improvisation: Ishmael’s serious unseriousness

self-referentiality and Ishmaelean multiplicity
comparing whale categories to kinds of book sizes (larger vs smaller volumes: Folios, Octavos, Duodecimoes [folded pages]

Ishmael and 18th-19th century natural science (pre-Darwinian)
medieval classification systems; Linneaus and his successors’ classification of species using external features and behavior and uses, vs growing stress in the 19th c. on internal organs etc.

cf Foucault, The Order of Things

Ishmael’s “mistakes” from a 21st c perspective: “mistakes” arguing that a whale is a fish w/ lungs etc

Note: categories of knowledge also include how humans ‘use’ the whales, or know it: hump back oil not valuable compared to sperm whale oil; humpbacks near coasts; different swimming techniques & “lighthearted” appearance

ends chapter with categorizing “half-fabulous whales”

Note: one whale known to Melville via rumor only, categorized as fabulous: the Blue Whale

Also, Melville did not know whales could ‘sing’ and communicate. Imagine the chapters Ishmael would have written on this topic!

end of ch. 32: the draft of a draft: Ishmael and ‘openness’


chs. 102-05 more whale studies and multiple perspectives: from measuring skeleton, to looking at fossil whales, to the issue of whether the whale has “degenerated” in Time: the issue of species stability: permanent, progressive, degenerate?

Biblical time and chain of being, vs. 19th c. geologic time

Laurie Anderson’s use of the sentence about the Alabama slaves discovering a whale skeleton

ch. 104: “When I stand among those mighty...” paragraph
cf flood reference at end of ch 1

Note also Melville’s arguments for why the whale can’t be threatened by extinction: 19th century naivete? yet M’s text also reveals all the mindsets and the tools that would eventually lead to the whale’s endangerment in the 20th C.


CLASS DISCUSSION FOCUSING ON ISHMAEL:
Ishmael on the Pequod, 4th paragraph in ch 16
“You may have seen many a quaint craft in our day...”

antiquities from around the globe
a cannibal of a craft
whaleteeth all round the gunnels of the ship, like one continuous jaw: the Jonah motif
epic: cf. Achilles’ shield in Iliad



Ishmael’s comic anthropology: on the crew hierarchy (chs 26-27)
representation of all the races and many of the cultures of the world on the Pequod: the ship as the USA

yet hierarchies: people of color as harpoonists/laborers superviors as Irish and Anglo-Saxon

I’s interest in rituals reaffirming place and position in social hierarchy, vs. actions that challenge or subvert?


35 Ishmael atop the mast. cf. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress: “The unbeliever sleeps on top of a mast.” Ishmael’s varying responses to his experience, his survival techniques


Exceptions to the above generalizations re Ishmael?:

Ishmael unable to escape the prison-house of language and world-view: his inconsistencies re Queequeg, cf the colonialist language of the anti-Malay rants at the beginning of ch 87 (The Grand Armada)

Ishmael’s pessimism and ‘hypos’ (blues) in ch 1 and elsewhere, despite his optimism: multiplicity as courting chaos, vacancy
cf. ch 42: Ishmael’s vision of violence, vacancy, randomness---and his undoing of the valuation of ‘whiteness’ in Western culture

the side of Ishmael drawn to Ahab
becoming Ahab, recreating A’s quest wielding words rather than weapons, while also ‘surviving’ him

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