The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

Synopsis

"In this study Shawn Thomson undertakes a consistent and deliberate approach to the form of the novel in an attempt to allow its elements, organization, and phenomena to answer questions about larger relationships and patterns. Thomson's approach asks: What is the position of the author in relation to the work, what in fact is a center of consciousness, and what is real in Moby-Dick?" "At the center of the approach is an examination of Ahab's enthusiasm and its parallels to Shelley's sense of the Promethean mission of the artist. Shelley exists as an animating presence, enlivening the fundamental oppositions of the novel: the vertical ascension of Ahab's drama and Ishmael's horizontal integration of feeling, thought, and experience. Thomson explores Ahab's unyielding Romantic imagination - an imagination that will not be obstructed or overshadowed by the gross disorder and catastrophic face of nature. Ahab's passionate idealism is an extension of Shelley's powerful imagination, an obsessive energy that broadens and surpasses Classical and Christian idealism. Thomson's line of inquiry places Shelley's Romantic ontology in the industrial world and hostile environment of Moby-Dick. Ishmael uses metaphor to create an emergent description of the world, building a knowledge of the whale and defining his perspective of the universe. Ahab shows the failings of inspiration. His being is associated with dominating towers, monumental heights of grandeur, and the mythmaking act. Thomson demonstrates how Melville tests and, ultimately, collapses Shelley's passionate idealism and constructs a new reality in its place. Borrowing from Oliver Sacks, Shakespeare, Richard Wright, contemporary art criticism, geology, and geography, this study encompasses this eccentric American novel by building upon traditional approaches and bringing new perspectives into the discussion. Thomson blends science, aesthetics, and theory into an absorbing and full reading of Melville's art." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In a letter to Sarah Huyler Morewood, September 1851, Melville imagines Moby-Dick as an experience built upon the extreme conditions of life and nature: “It is not a peice of fine feminine Spitalfields silk—but is of the horrid texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables & hausers. A polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it.” Melville's comparison of the “horrid texture” of the novel with the “ships' cables & hausers” reveals the tightly wrought connections and coarse elements of Moby-Dick. Its description as a rough-hewn material proclaims Melville's art as unprocessed and unpretentious, something stripped bare and set to some practical and pertinent task. The integrity of his art, its deliberate, even strained, symbolic course—its dramatic push toward a climatic moment—opens up impossibly monumental dimensions. Its force and stature heightens the soft idealistic ruminations and metaphysics of the Romantics, pronouncing instead a rawness of expression that achieves singular clarity and resolution, immersing us in the total experience of Ahab's monomaniacal quest. This coarse material achieves a grandeur in its merging of elements of landscape and history, the blood and dust of national memory, into the grotesquely physical world and passionate idealism of Ahab.

The deep perspective of the novel reverberates with the force of Ahab's quarrel with God. Ahab is the transformative agent of the novel who recasts the everyday world of the whaler—its drudgery, mishaps, and mundane routine as well as the perilous dangers of manufacturing sperm oil for the good of the New England home and hearth—as a vehicle for a symbolic unity and mythic release. Yet the novel puts forth another experience, more intimate and sensual, in the distinctive sensibility of the disguised narrator. As Ahab mines the Western tradition for its veins of deep meanings and discovers its reserves of symbolic power, Ishmael's voice simultaneously explores the fragile weave of self. Through his intellectual, physical, and metaphysical associations and connections to the world of the novel, Ishmael achieves a subtlety that reflects the erotic sensuality implicit in “fine feminine Spitalfields silk.” This distinct, refined sensation . . .

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