[KB] Burke and Moby Dick
brud0025 at umn.edu
Wed Dec 5 12:26:44 EST 2007
Reguarding Eds comments (12/04/07) on "Conflicted Possession: A Pentadic
Assessment of T. E. Lawrence's Desert Narrative," by Jason Ingram, and its
relation to Melvilles story of possession.
Ed says in part:
--It is about how "obsessive purpose" can, and often does, take a
"self-destructive turn," how action tragically metamorphoses into motion
when humans heedlessly focus on one or two dimensions of pentadic
motivation, say "act" and "purpose," without due regard for other
dimensions, particularly recalcitrant "scene."
The assumption here is that a whole vision would avoid such a tragic
metamorphosis of action into motion. But I think one can make the opposite
argument that a whole vision, in its very thoroughness, could lead in the
same direction. I say could, because thoroughness wouldnt have to lead out
beyond the human.
So, how to account for Ahabs obsession? In Chap. 45, The Affidavit,
Melville strains to make credible the notion that the whale is more than a
dumb brute, is itself capable of intelligence and design. The narrator
Ishmael states very clearly the importance of establishing the
reasonableness of the whole story of the White Whale, more especially the
catastrophe. For this is one of those disheartening instances where truth
requires full as much bolstering as error. So ignorant are most landsmen of
some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without
some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the
fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse
and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.
I think what counts as non-allegorical in Moby Dick is Ahabs belief that
he is in mortal combat with the supernatural. David Langston on 10/19/07
made this critical point, which was very helpful: Ahab CLAIMS to be
rending the phenomena and HOPES he is charting a course into the noumenal.
Ed refers to the whale as the recalcitrant scene, and this is an
allegorical reading, another way to read the signs.
Melville in The Affidavit, recounts several actual stories of whales
attacking ships, among these is the Captain Pollard story and the Commodore
Jay story. Melville wants to emphasize the fact that there were cases in
which the whale, if allowed to rally, acted not out of blind rage but with
willful, deliberate designs of destruction. We know, however, that animals
will protect their young, or if cornered will attack, so it is a stretch to
make the reader believe that Moby Dick is an actual supernatural
antagonist. Therefore we draw the conclusion that it is Ahabs tragic flaw
that he has read the supernatural into what is apparently a marvelous tale.
This is what precipitates the Pequod into the abyss.
What Melville seems to be defending is the reasonableness of the existence
of madness in the world. Thats my safe reading. Such catastrophes are
corroborated by plain facts of the present, Melville reiterates. These
marvels, like all marvels, are mere repetitions of the ages, so that for
the millionth time we say Amen! With Solomon, verily there is nothing new
under the sun. (My Old Testament knowledge isnt exact. Perhaps Melville
is identifying Solomon with Ecclesiastes? Or, since his knowledge was
supposedly extensive, perhaps he is deliberately misquoting here?).
What aside from obsessive revenge is Melville getting at by enlarging on
Ahabs madness? Might it be that a tinge of madness is at the heart of a
charismatic leaders power? As the guarantor of the truth and the
more-than-reasonable-ness of said power? Lump enthusiasm, passion and
madness together if you will, what they have in common is a seductiveness
that is near irresistible and commands assent almost as a Dracula or a Pied
Piper commands a plague of rats. Ahabs action metamorphoses into rats
motion, a rapid spreading of disease.
>From Chap. 37, Sunset: They think me mad. Starbuck does. But Im demoniac;
I am madness maddened, that wild madness thats only calmed to comprehend
This strikes me as not quite madness, pre-madness maybe. Sunset. Ah yes, I
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