On the Narratology of Concept-Being, Lecture 2: Moby Dick, or Herman Melville’s “Loomings”

by Joseph Nicolello

The Word Made Blubber: G.W.F. Hegel and Melville’s “Loomings”

Et miraris quod paucis placeo cui cum paucis convenit, cui omnia fere aliter videntur ac vulgo, a quo semper quod longissime abest id penitus rectum iter censeo.

 [And you wonder that few men like me, even though I only get along with a few men—I who perceive almost everything differently than does the crowd and who always consider the right path to be the one that is as far as possible from the crowd].

Petrarch, Epistolae de Rebus Familiaribus, XIX: VII.

Perhaps the central question that the Philosophy of Nature seeks to address is this: given the otherness of nature, why should we care about it at all?

Jeffrey Reid[1]

           Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Last time we met for a longer talk we discussed Hegel and the Natural Law on the way to a better understanding of where literary practice stands, might stand, or once stood, as concerns the essence and structure of narrativity. We subsequently, online, confirmed that one has never understood why it must be capitalism, fascism, or socialism; that all three are terrible, and worse, proof that the tentacle-stupidity of mankind is a thirst that shall only be at last quenched with Apocalypse. Likewise, moving past mere preordained economics, I broached the notion that there are no ‘real’ characters in a given text but ideas and ideals processed through intertextual dialectics, or from the dialogical point of view, the oscillation between technological nihilism and the interpretative being of the world. No character ‘is’ anyone. Collective perception remains subjective; for every being who thinks that they are a character, well – such is singular universality. And the dialogical is fomented in struggle, which really creates a goldmine of our own age, beneath the veneer of its psychopathologies and simulations, often one and the same. For if all beings did not relate to all characters there would be no book, or being, as being is a essentially a work of literature. Keeping with the notion above of tentacles, I thought we’d remain submerged under water while moving toward what is called literature, namely an old friend of mine, one of the few who never let me down, in Herman Melville. Thus now we circumnavigate Moby Dick, the first chapter “Loomings”, while incorporating such of the philosophical directions glossed in the previous lecture.

            “Why did the poor poet of Tennessee,” Ishmael asks in the opening chapter of Moby Dick, “upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach?” (29). This is part of Ishmael’s broader meditation on the allure of the sea, which focuses the novel’s opening chapter. This allure, however, is not only felt by poor poets, and indigent novelists, but also by the numberless masses of Wall Street, who are “pent up in lathe and plaster, tied to counters, nailed to benches, clenched to desks.” All of these, for Ishmael, are yearning to be at sea. Here the chapter’s title, “Loomings,” refers both to Ishmael’s meditations, but also more specifically, in its nautical sense, to the coming into view, coming into clarity of, in Ishmael’s case an idea, but also quite literally the coming into view of a ship. The ship that comes into view for readers of Moby Dick is, of course, the Pequod, the whaling vessel we step foot aboard in Chapter 16. But what exactly is the Pequod?

            In the novel’s critical history, the ship has been read in various terms: Calvinist, arithmetical, cosmopolitan and Zoroastrian.[2] Perhaps the most familiar reading is to think about the ship as a version of the nation-state, and more particularly, a version of America itself.[3] This of course relates to the novel’s canonical status as the American novel, and so not only the Pequod but virtually every aspect of the novel can and has been read in terms of American national identity. But in what follows, I would like to propose a different way of thinking about what the Pequod might represent, one that draws upon Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirt (1807), and in particular, Hegel’s notion of the Geist. For Hegel, the Geist is a spirit moving through time, but one that can be seen as embodied by certain historical actors and forces. This embodiment is hardly stable, it is an instance in itself, it is a culmination, and it is a signal of a future development. One oft-cited example of this is Hegel’s supposed viewing of Napoleon on horseback entering Jena in 1806, the sight of which prompted him to say, “There is the world-spirit.”[4] For Hegel, this meant that Napoleon represented a culmination of history and also a complete destruction of that history (and reality as it was known for the people there) as the world-spirit, embodied by Napoleon, pulled them into a new unknown reality. What is notable about Hegel’s words is that there is nothing particularly new about an invading spirit; what is new is that Napoleon represents a new way to understand the history of the world.

            Hegel’s thoughts, I would suggest, allow us to think about the first chapter of Moby Dick in ways that depart from the tradition interpretation of national identity. In the first instance, there is nothing particularly new about a novel opening with a sailor longing to go to sea, nor about a sailor ashore looking about himself and feeling restless. But this time it is different.  Just as Hegel sees Napoleon on horseback looming into sight, representing so much more than an instance of military invasion, so too does the sea voyage looming into sight for Ismail represent so much more than vocational opportunity. What we find in “Loomings” is the convergence of a future that will be revealed to us over the next several hundred pages, and an aftermath that Ismail now lives within. In Hegel’s terms, in other words, “Loomings” functions narratively as culmination, destruction, view of a yet unknown future. The trauma that drives Ishmael to Ahab is inestimably magnified in the character’s years before the close of Moby Dick and his famous opening words. In her book Mourning Sickness: Hegel and French Revolution, Rebecca Comay notes: “My interest is philosophical trauma… with the “German misery” as its exemplary model and Hegel, of all people, its most lucid theorist… [t]he German encounter with the French Revolution is an extreme case of the structural anachronism that afflicts all historical experience. The clocks are never synchronized, the schedules never coordinated, every epoch is a discordant mix of divergent rhythms, unequal durations, and variable speeds” (Comay 4). With “Loomings” as the initial – and thus key – aspect to the narrative scaffolding for Moby Dick, we at once make the Hegelian turn to Melville’s imaginative theodicy and eschatology, epitomized in Ishmael’s dual poetic and philosophical style with which he introduces himself to us.

While it is perhaps a poet’s obligation to exude what Jonathan A. Cook, for instance, observes in his Inscrutable Malice, “[That] Melville was long concerned with the injustices of the human condition and the problematic nature of modern Christianity.” However, it is what follows that makes Cook’s observation a prescient meditation on a dual historiographical concept: Melville’s fictional use of it, and Melville’s austere place within it: “[I]n his preoccupation with evil we may class him in company with some of the leading philosophical and creative minds… of the two general attitudes toward evil – the “rationalist” and the “empiricist” – [like Hegel, Melville] envisaged the realm of history as a setting for overcoming human suffering (273).[5]

As with Cook, the author sees something of a justifiably neglected ven-diagram when it comes to the narratological prospect of distinguishing genre, difference, and authorial architectonics in both the philosopher and prose poet, or fictive practitioner; for in a sense it appears less insane than thoughtful to consider the philosophy of Moby Dick and the plot and characters of Hegel’s Phenomenology. Both writers are ultimately concerned with an ontic liberation that transpires inwardly, and through which Ishmael is the closest thing to a totality of its aesthetic expression.[6] Taking Melville’s oft-neglected place as a leading literarily philosophical mind into consideration alongside Cornel West’s recent observation(s)[7] we arrive at a parallel in Hegel’s rejection of philosophy’s then-contemporaneous post-Kantian presuppositionless ambition (Bristow 207); but the parallel is the character of Ishmael and his ideology of rejection, epiphany, and freedom. Furthermore, the conceptual notion which Hegel and Melville envision cannot exist without an exterior/state apparatus whose inescapable crisis is a manufactured dependence upon religious collective memory[8] as laid out in Halbwachs.  

Likewise, Moby Dick circumnavigated through both key and scarcer elements of Hegel’s system and aesthetic thought lead us straightaway to the other side of the pond: industrial pluralism breaks down for Ishmael; its problematic dissemination of Numerical Being, as in the case of the Hegelian author Alexandre Kojeve, paves the way for a global petrification and is directly tied to the problem of individual and suicide (Atheism 70).  Poetical transubstantiation comes at the cost of banishment and is, furthermore, a bestowed scarcity rather commodity exchange; it is preferably dealt with posthumously, rendering an avalanching effect down the mountain of time, history, and literature.

Melville and his reader are well-equated with textual circumnavigation; but in “Loomings” a surmounting deleterious havoc is heightened by Elizabethan rhapsody and has a way of buoying as the Pequod is anchored, thereafter becoming a style spontaneously paralleling the reflective psychic anxiety of narrative-nautical pursuit. Melvillean style – King James Version, Shakespeare, Milton – is in a sense Rabelaisian, fitting as Melville greatly admired Gargantua and Pantagruel (Lawrance 19); it is a joyous gob of spit in the generational moral propagandists proclaiming the ‘prohibition of laughter’ (Rabelais ix). Both authors – Melville and Ishmael – shall now break with contemporaries; they have ‘made up their minds to be annihilated.’ Ishmael’s scattered dialogism is for a moment frozen, and thus revealed: Method precedes purgatorial cetology, incongruity making way for totality; the abstract essence of triumph conjoins astonishment and bliss. His vanishing and reappearing can be taken as a play on the sailor’s typological interchangeability; but it can also be understood that Moby Dick is about the World-Spirit that is the Pequod, whose guests are chronicled in narratological time range from Miltonian apocalypse to Elizabethan superfluity, cetological data entry to proto-existential satire. If we are to grasp his process and reality, we are to do so through the topoi of Hegelian – technological-feudal – alienation, a recurring theme in a host of contemporaneous literary-theoretical scholar conceptualizing Hegel’s foundational role in the prehistory of Theory.[9]

                For Ishmael, a host of symbolic and typological explanations converge to hoist the reader in by way of calamitous universals – all men’s frenzied desire to escape society – proceeding from his litany of epigraphs. Either spectacle – Emperor and Pequod – attracts crowds; but the masses differ when it comes down to participation, especially with regard to those “seemingly bound for a dive.” There is a duality of imminent carnage in soldierly participation, debris of passersby and those caught in the crosshairs that goes beyond the shipyard’s magnetic pull in peacetime with its chance for perishing not immediate but obscure. On the one hand there are mountains of corpses, and on the other ocean floor. Nevertheless, beneath the land that has given way to its other, water, resides a mythic nemesis whose manifestation gives way to its opposite’s object of terrifying reverence: the Napoleonic Force, and all its cumulative firepower, against the vastest of mammals in the Whale. Sightseers pace straight for the water; the soldiers pace straight toward homicidal subjugation. Former wars have given way to Geist; its posthumous particle showers have culminated in this invincible unit of unlimited ammunition and lunging, gleaming sword; its compression will in the end reduplicate, giving way to the imperceptible. But for the present either man – authorial philosopher or philosophical author – must be content with textual structure, moving toward eclipse of dialectical reason, or the extremest limit of land. The conceptual horizon of organic futures has given way to assumption and subjectivity falling apart in the form of establishment collapsing into termination.

That Ishmael’s case the opening words are, like Hegel’s Preface, ‘written last’, is worth noting (It is something more than incidental in transcending horizontal, vertical narratology, culminating rather in epiphanic circularity); and moving from mammalian apocalypse to superfluity. If we are to grasp his process and reality, we are to do so through the topoi of alienation. His collage-like recollections mirror coffin shards; he realizes through authorial cognition that he became a metaphor long ago, standing before those very warehouses that granted him escape. In the opening lines we are granted snippets of the seaman’s life, flickering shadows in the daunting, all-engulfing shadow of whale in ascendancy. In comprehending the lights, like aspects of Hegel’s Science, Ishmael apprehends that which disables him from mere Fiction (As Hegel moved from Text to System). Method precedes purgatorial cetology, incongruity making way for totality; the abstract essence of triumph conjoins astonishment and bliss.

We discreetly learn that Ishmael has taken some years (“never mind how long precisely”) since the Pequod’s apotheosis, and in this time he has found the voice in prose that he could not find on the street: graced with alienation, he can at last make himself understood in narratology. This mutual incompatibility – fish and whale, Ishmael and onlookers – supplant one another’s station through rhetorical interiority. Ishmael, like Hegel, is engulfed in otherness. This mutual alienation is intensified by familiarity; Hegel’s Napoleon on the eve of philosophical breakthrough, Ishmael in the conscience of approaching a body of water that is an end for all but himself, for whom it is but the beginning. Incompatibility – dockside fish and whale, philosopher and emperor, Ishmael and onlookers – supplant one another’s station through rhetorical interiority. Despite appearing near-ready for a dive, the men go against their Industrialized Sirens; their objective is to get as close as possible to the water without falling in, and through mutual necessity invoke that piratical and fluid nature that is seafaring, as the sailors arrive preferring to march past them, offering a glimpse of the nautical spirit of a sifting anarchical hermitage. The very act of walking for Ishmael shakes up stagnation, although it must be a walking that is not predicated upon the bondage of returning on time to wherever it is one was briefly granted leave. Rather, it must for Ishmael be like the very act of sailing itself, for he shuns the notion of anything other than ‘going as a simple sailor.’ This notion is akin, in the Hegelian sense, to the experiential formulations of developing consciousness.

As with Hegel’s conviction that the end of history is not unlike universal vindication through causality’s last, triumphal act, Ishmael’s end is apprehended with pneumonic self-emptying and rendered an indexical system. This system, or memory theater, is of course the novel and its chapters; but its stages on the way to freedom indicate that an apparent immemorial freeing up is a matter of seaside proximity. It is upon us. By walking with a sense of redemptive, cosmic locality about him, Ishmael becomes at last the polar opposite of men chained to desks, benches, tied, nailed, clinched. For now Ishmael knows that misery lies in paralysis; that paralysis dwells in fear; and that fear eats the soul; and that, lastly, it is fear of the concept of fear that is the history and truth of the clinched and the nailed become crystal clear where once incomprehensibility abounded. Neither nailed nor clinched, crucified nor married, beholden to neither money nor property, his boundless joy is that of the Desert Fathers; their forefathers – Ishmael’s once-ambitions – slaughtered by Nero in particular on down, the blood worked like rain upon soil, formulating the indestructible roots of sainthood, and now alive to witness the twilight of the gods: Geist shall soon have the nails removed from its wrists, the looming Pequod’s anchor in time shall rise.

Working against time in another fugitive realm, now writing forward and thinking backward, Ishmael’s narrative sifts from one specter of hiddenness to the next in Wall Street down to the Pequod. From Corlears Hook one looks out upon Williamsburg. Walking clockwise, Ishmael saunters down to Coenties Slip, what with its view of Brooklyn Heights. He has supplanted the statuesque with the cadence of a lyrical mutiny. Passersby are given glimpses into what appears reality in the latter, watching international ships pack up and unload, whereas at Wall Street we are offered glimpses of Bartleby’s source of eventual rebellion, first chronicled by Ishmael: Thousands upon thousands of men, like silent sentinels (28), watching what they are unable to cherish. They in turn accept rejection, and therein reject acceptance, as ship after ship grows microscopic then vanishes; comprehension of life at sea degenerates into little lunch break disagreements in perceptivity. The little fish turn up for bait, their captors never grasping nautical proximity to its distant, infernal machination in the White Whale. Men are, in their seaside variations, objects of a future museum. By rejecting abstract thought for the sake of picturesque solicitude, they have sacrificed themselves by failing to envision themselves in a thoroughly cosmological light. Obelisks of the flesh, even unchained from their desks there is a collective aura about them, frozen in time to Ishmael, embodying manifest movements and yet rearising, forever, at nothing outside of assimilated negation. There in the shadows of towering concrete, angular chrome, he dreams of mother whale eyeless, walking through the unhappy consciousness, and into Geist.

Subjective idealism for Ishmael converges with – again in the Hegelian sense – the realization that there is no being that is entirely independent and self-sustaining; and that this is a linguistic contradiction (McGowan 90). Ocean reveries, foregone myths, mental pictures of folkloric vindication; such useless servanthood is for Ishmael the rejection of life in the spirit. He is convinced that they all seek the same thing: to reject the family, the state, its origins and its eschatologists, to abandon landmen and landswomen altogether, and be at one with seamen, at last, in useful servanthood. But they cannot move from their stationary windows, when all the Geist demands that the window be thrown out of the window. Seaward peeps; their tragedy is lessened in its tense. But en route to looming shipyard it is the unhappy consciousness all over again, trapped between Augustinian immutability and Keatsian ode, men unable to commit to greatness, bound by lath and plaster; it is an industrial misreading of Shelley’s “Triumph of Life”, spectators equal parts magnetized and damned by torture of unreason. “On fairest bosoms & the sunniest hair/Fell, and were melted by the youthful glow/”Which they extinguished; for like tears, they were/A veil to those from whose faint lids they rained/In drops of sorrow.” Of course, the green fields are not gone, although it is a curious question on Ishmael’s part. Firstly, it is aimed at persons climbing high atop the riggings of anchored, docked ships. Secondly, their ascent is a perfect symbol of tragic contradiction, forever climbing in order to display perceptive disfigurement; thereby it remains an austere, locked horizon. Having been the Idea, degeneration renders it novelty item (No shipyard or religious architecture is ever built specifically for daytrip touristry; yet neither escapes this fate). Thirdly, its celebratory gesturing indicates a ponderous implication, like a new lens for a broken camera. Likewise, what if green fields do remain from some observational vantage point? That is for Ishmael a twofold dead-end, neither sea (Freedom) nor stoic freedom (Thought of Freedom) from the agony of power and its World Spirit’s bondsmen made free from its burning sphere of numerical beings, i.e. Napoleonic soldiers and Ahab’s seamen: “the world spirit progresses from lower determinations to higher principles and concepts of its own nature, to more fully developed expressions of the [aforementioned] Idea” (Introduction 63).     

The Cook – with all his later subterranean readings of Judges – is, perhaps more-so than the Stoic, warranted the chance of ‘considerable’ glory. We see that the cook is also something of an officer. That in attending to foodstuff, reading his Judges in isolation, the literal cook of the Pequod has about him the cavernous polarity of an Ahab, albeit to a much more subdued extent. The cook’s wisdom is in his care for the interior of the exterior – the seamen’s needs which subtract them from the Pequod’s daily, nightly tasks in order to take in periodic supping – whose developing narrative in mimetic culmination of harpooning disaster is granted incremental peace by way of the cook’s concoctions. That Ishmael links roasted river horse to the Egyptians is itself rather interesting from a literary-historical point of view; for throughout War and Peace panicked periodicity is often exemplified in the characters’ varied, albeit united, fears of having to eventually eat their horses. For Tolstoy’s characters the sacrifice and subsequent devouring is the last act before death. For Ishmael the ancient Egyptian processions are a testament to a living death, bound the museum of fascinating, albeit odious, eyes of the tourist. Proto-Tolstoian hindsight furthermore bestows upon Ishmael chronicles of Napoleonic Russia – where the World Spirit begins its own end, mirroring the Pequod, in a destruction wrought by monomania, occultic vindication, the twilight of the gods and all its religious fervor, ending in the guillotines dismantled and the installation of ecclesiastical industrialism. The ‘end of history’, from Hegel to Marx and Fukuyama, is revealed temporal eschatology at odds with itself; and the return to eschatology, as with Melville and Hegel, exclusively vindicates that dialectic of desire and recognition. Judiciously buttered onto a judgmatical salting and peppering – but of course! The cook, as vessel of the vessel, is that odd culminated symbol of commodity exchange. Be it interns, cooks, factory workers, cashiers – it is always these vital organs who are deemed fit for manipulation; it is a woeful exchange, dating back to those Egyptian bricklayers. The tables are forever skewed: it is less capitalistic than it is anthropological. For who recalls the very bricklayers of those bake-houses? Who recalls the cook, the simple sailor? None! Unless he has sold his coat, bought a sword, and brandishing some leftover coin, acquired loose-leaf, pencils, and sharpener.

            As we see in Ishmael’s coffins, tombs, and other ‘idolatrous dotings’, consciousness changes throughout the hieroglyphic ages by breaking free from the illusion of bondage to alien powers. False predictions tally up as persons first singularly, then collectively recapture their senses in the painful process of reconsidering dogmatic facticity, be it religious or its opposite. It looks the negative in the face and dwells with it: “[The] life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative, as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being” (Hegel 19). As with Hegel, come the third chase day’s end we shall see that mind alone is infinite by means of cognition that begets record-keeping; but the record is itself fallible, rendering chroniclers an aura of endurability rather than impenetrable. Authorial mind as aura of eternity is, at last mirage; yet conviction in the mirage appoints one likelier to tap into the hermeneutic circle as pertains to the content of one’s medium. That the end is unfathomable lends congruency to the text (Mind); through contemplating this finite circularity one is thereby closer to the process of resolution by way of fictionality. In other words, Hegel is not writing about the mind.[10] And Melville is not writing about Ishmael’s memory. They are both writing about Mind, having apprehended that in achieving what was only a possibility, their objects become their own truths.

The sailor’s goal, formed by Ishmael’s experience with pedagogical stoicism, wears off in time (30). At a glance it mirrors Stoicism-as-school, which according to Ishmael – who ends with Job – can serve as nothing more than a doctrinal prelude to sense-certainty and perception. The Hegelian key is that Stoicism discerned, actualized, and lived, brings one to the cusp of culmination in its authentic freedom of thought: “Stoicism is just as free in a slave in chains (Epictetus) as in an emperor on the throne (Aurelius)… it is a step in the right direction, but it is not really an emergence from servile consciousness – or, at best, it is a very partial emergence” (Lauer 114). That Ishmael is able to make the complete break from schoolmaster to sailor entails the seeming contradiction of revealed religion: that whoever loses his life will find it. Hence decocting stoicism, despite the durability of Seneca’s work and the implied societal crisis that entails both structural reputation and reputational structure – the schoolmaster – enables the ‘simple sailor’ the idea of fulfillment of the unseen. This source of conceptual understanding, moving from Athens to Jerusalem, curtails the dialogical melancholy woven into the fabric of an exhausted ‘sense of honor.’ For Ishmael, as for Hegel, it’s been abandoned alongside circuitous, monetary benches in a sawdust debris of nails, limbs, hammers, cloth, and staples. Reliance upon the unfolding Spirit again enables the Christological prospect for Ishmael (Who has already asked, ““What does this amount to, say, in the scales of the New Testament?”) of God riding a lowly ass, when the peoples expected Homeric warhorse; of God befriending fishermen, lepers, and prostitutes, and setting doves loose from cages; of the schoolmaster, therein moving from Seneca to Logos, bypassing Wall Street for an apocalyptic odyssey that shall make no sense until it is recorded (And that shall be left to the Fates alone – Ishmael was well-versed and lived in circumnavigated horror stories – where annihilation renders textual procession onto the next freed-up, scrivening seaman). 

Rather than stagnate, Ishmael apprehends the intuition of the instant, cognizant but disillusioned as concerns the American tycoon bloodlines. This temporal lucre wears off for Ishmael less to subside than to transform itself into a textual chronicling of atrophied moguls, provided ideological ammunition by an external system of poetical philosophy; it takes sequential root in the seaside consternation between irony and gravity might be seen as undergoing a matter of imaginative alchemy. For now he is brought up for air, having been baptized by the fire of the mind, the instantaneous price on his head be damned. Ishmael’s historical-Hegelian retribution shakes loose its own decaying bloodline flashbacks into a narrative of authentic  philosophical inquiry’s elimination of the contingent: “We must bring to history the belief and conviction that the realm of the will is not at the mercy of contingency… we find a hollow reality which ought to accord with the spirit but does not yet do so; and for this reason, it must be destroyed” (Introduction 28-9). Therefore, in destroying the aspect of himself that sought in a sense the Promethean bondage of the factory window or school-desk, the anarchic hermit draws the ire of a nation’s titans. He ruins his name, and thereby cements it. He goes down to the dogs, and sees they are but shadows of dogs. He has killed confusion by killing options.

Thus, for Ishmael the physical or metaphysical point of view of truth sets aside temporal persons, stages, motivations, and renders the careless sailor less oceanic troubadour than capable of ontological justification. Ishmael’s necessity of aim becomes less abstract than demonstrative; insubstantial reflection begins to surrender, therein mirroring his conceptual existence. His next assertion is swift, dispelling contradiction: “the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck” (31) are aspects of nautical ontology that intuition reverts from epiphanic dialogism to a sense of dissolved alienation. Weary of Cartesian circuitry, Ishmael declares mutiny upon both dogmas and empiricism; this allows him to reconsider what it means to believe anything at all, and thereby to apprehend eternity and death, rendering it foundation. The exercise of not-being grants the alienated sailor an experience that religion can no longer consistently distribute. Ishmael’s Absolute, the Sea, parallels Hegel’s as it is “not to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited” (Hegel 4). This cannot make complete sense to us (Not unlike the vanishing ship as seen from spectator’s eyes) unless we consider Ishmael’s “Finally” (31).

Without either saying it a summit is reached by World Spirit on the one hand, landlessness on the other, and both in their ways a lived freedom from the Jamesonian prison house of language’s dialectic of Identity/Difference.[11] Governance and expression, as desired by Ishmael, are borne of a proximity to Spirit, or Pequod; it is transcendence and overcoming over both the immediacy of conceptual religion and the ideological crisis of doctrinal probity (Houlgate 266). Satisfaction and security cannot coexist with this Hegelian criteriology. Melville’s cognition of the lived universal manifests itself through a seismic inner change. Gazing himself out at the sea of reliability, he knows nothing less than extremity will at last beget prerequisitional agency of selfhood, collective memory, give way to spiritual deconstructing of the history of the concept of time. Whereas Hegel employs Philosophy, Melville wagers Fiction. Both, done well, unlock the nature of both nominal thought and chaos at the eschatological end of Thought, or flesh. Conception and oblivion proceed as one; becoming unfolds into prevalence, astern winds, and Pythagorean beans (31). For Ishmael’s narrative, like Hegel’s, is a reconceptualization of differential suppression: “The invisible police officer of the fates” (31) extends its varied bait to arouse the desire to bite: wealth of substance attained in epiphanic deconstruction has had an effect like that of Plato’s cave. It is not that Ishmael or Hegel has seen anything new, but that they have tasted, seen, period.

For either writer, consciousness of the state-endorsed reality is revealed not least of all by the psychological equivalent of placing every written word in quotations marks. Linguistic amputation thus conceptualizes what was previously experienced as a wealth of substance, rendering it formational, multileveled scaffolding, and presenting the narratological opportunity to both seek and find more than worms, dirt, and water (Hegel 5), and “It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances” (Melville 31). Moving from the world-as-is, a providential thread of light becomes one or the other: heavenly providence, or imperceptible futility. There is middle-ground, and it is in fact near unanimously agreed upon; but Ishmael cannot help equating it with nonexistence. The Pequod thus fulfills the light’s direction, offering a lived community in the world but not of it. Posthumous anxieties give way through a glass cleared of fog, coming face-to-face with the Spirit, not unlike Nennius, a history extracted from its shallow grave.

The Whale has likewise stolen the intents of the Spirit’s passengers. But it is a good thief, like Plato’s noble liar, or better yet a Thief in the Night. Its vindication is that compact mass of blubber, all stinking ton after wretched ton of it, an avalanche of black, boiling blubber on fire, for pails, vomitous buckets, singed nostrils, swinging lanterns, cracking candles, old midnight hair gel, spit shine and a glass of mist, moonlit skull by mirror, with young men crying, screaming, old hobos being whipped at the rungs, cannibals with clad-iron, invisible men contemplating suicide in the crushing halls of blubber, breathing blubber all day and night, out in the middle of what is called an ocean upon what is called a planet, that word made blubber – which fulfills once-empty depth and breadth through sheer force[12] and multiplicity, as yet skirting negative asymmetricalism, otherness and negation (Bowman 244). Superficiality – cognition of an unrealized Concept – likewise remains landlocked (Bowman 58). Stargazing is natural and its egg basket vainglorious, there where the spirit of otherness has been abolished both in the street and in collective memory. Commodified, empty husks, distillation and distraction, high tragedy and jolly parts in farces (31) – it is all apprehended in the Hegelian submersion of transformation’s labor, where Spirit – Pequod – is only as great as its [commemorative-imaginative] expression. But Ishmael sees both spirit and object in his hazy rapture. Foggy, untrammeled terrain lends itself to prophetic talk without limit; for where the parameters exist for negativity’s sake there can be no home in finitude, and thus no lack of thievery. From there Ishmael escapes in order to Escape, much later, blubber without restraint.

Working from Shakespeare’s world-stage, the Spirit takes hold in a fashion of Judgement and Comprehension: this dialectical fusion is the essence of Pequod, and oneself as another, in effigy: the burning of Thomistic straw,[13] or coming to the end of one’s self. High tragedy – that too is Rabelaisian tissue. For Ishmael the culture industry and all its pilloried marble demand the person become a fragment – a mere passenger, or cook (29-30) – and thus had for so long proceeded as a numerical self, eyes without a face. Principles and general points of view are out of the question for industrial culture; this would lead to a general conception of oligarchical systematic and would thence in a fortnight see it razed to the ground. Differential classification precludes the true nautical desire in proceeding as a simple sailor. Other than this, prospective employment begets lifelong structuring of station, and thus do not render one the lowly freedom to jump from spar to spar like a grasshopper in May meadow (30). Penetration by means of a thoroughgoing narratological descent into knowledge and judgment is in the cards; but the shape of the truth may be defined by nothing other than comprehension of its construction and science.

Ishmael’s next assertion is swift, dispelling contradiction: “the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck” (31) are aspects of nautical ontology that intuition reverts from epiphanic dialogism to a sense of being-not, or the negation of unconscienced historicism. The exercise of not-being grants the alienated sailor an experience that religion can no longer consistently distribute. His thoughts upon Manhattan stroll grant access to a special knowledge: carnivalesque vindication of the mind. Ishmael’s Absolute, the Sea, parallels Hegel’s as it is “not to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited” (Hegel 4). This cannot make complete sense to us, as with vanishing ships seen from spectator’s eyes. Whatever may transpire is thus preordained, predestined: “I abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever… the invisible police officer of the Fates…” (Moby 29, 31). Aesthetic martyrology is thus connected to a sense of purity, itself reconnected to the sense of danger, in an effort to cleanse the world; and as this is impossible, they resurrect the aforementioned golden chain, granting restoration to the next individual who, having undergone the understanding that community does not possess the consciousness of what it is (Phenomenology 477). The not-author, then, seek Eliadean sacrifice, and find one at the core at on the initial hand, archaic ontology, and on the revealed hand, picture-thought: “If, then, in the picture-thinking consciousness the inwardizing of natural self-consciousness was the real existence of evil, that inwardizing in the element of self-consciousness is the knowledge of evil as something implicit in existence. This knowledge is, of course, a genesis of evil, and is therefore recognized as the first moment of reconciliation” (Phenomenology 474).  

            In transitioning from “Loomings” to “The Carpet-Bag” Melville, like Hegel, “understands division and synthesis as a process of actualization that entails externalization and recollection” (Zambrana 42) in self-negation. This self-negation is critical to both Melville and Hegel, who undergo the mysteries of death and resurrection in their texts. But this is no matter of cliché, or a nostalgia for the present. Rather, this is the culmination of objective incidentalness, paved in deliberate steps, and summoning the reciprocal individual. Dasein, then, paves posthumous groundwork; mediated being establishes the nature of nature, finally comprehending that recollection is the activity of synthesis in two senses, dialectically opposed, distinguished, and reproduced in annulled time (Zambrana 43-6), and in essence takes the form of counteractive nothingness, thrust into what is called ‘the world.’ World-Concept is revealed both Master and Whale. It reveals itself as pragmatic and prescriptive but is pulled toward contradiction like a magnet, seeking yet comprehending neither the noumenal character of nature’s unchangeability, destabilized by the end of the end, nor the past annihilation of discursive thinking and life as such (Nuzzo 353-8), unto Geist, like a snow hill in the air, or Whale: “By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and, in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air” (Moby 32).

Both Melville and Hegel lay the groundwork for an ontological alienation. The phenomenology of mind’s threshold is imbedded within semiotic limits not unlike an ocean floor as the sea, like cosmos, reveals and retracts; and then Ishmael begins to tell us all about his Origenian carpet-bag.[14] Like Melville, Hegel “[charts] a social transformation over the course of history, the end point at which slaves recognize themselves and recognize their masters as being dependent on slaves” (Cole 77); and in this regard Melville replicates Hegel’s own speculative method, which he referred to as a circle (Cole 55). Its beginning is enmeshed with the end, “The end occurs when the process of self-completion in which the substance-subject (Which for Hegel is the ‘essence’) engages, finally fulfills its task, that is, when the whole is complete or established precisely as the whole” (Nuzzo 264-5). The end of days implicates the structure whereby days may well end; but this structure is incapable of receding, for it is the days thereof whereby one ponders nonexistence in light of the immovable. Finitude’s delinquency is constitutive rather than criteriological; it is conscious of what it can’t know. Its ceilings are in years revealed doormats: “Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep/I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there? / Just ease these darbies at the wrist, / And roll me over fair. / I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.”[15]

As we are dealing with an autobiographical excerpt from Hegel’s letters and what it implies, let us for a moment recall Ishmael’s maker; to read the dreadful affair of Herman Melville’s life in the wake of Moby Dick’s composition and publication evokes a simultaneous familiarity at once human and inhumane. For in his unforeseen, then-imperceptible[16] literary-dialectic of transcendence (Stewart 23) the author of exotic seafaring novels brought forth a book from which there is no escape (Young 87); and like Hegel, he sought the acquisition by the individual of the experience of the species (Young 470), for Melville both did the miraculous by setting the eternal into words[17] through autotelic Elizabethan dialogism on the way to reconceptualizing novelistic epistemology (Holquist 17), whilst posthumously sacrificing himself upon the secular altar of prosaic pleroma and metaphysical poetics: “I am quick to perceive a horror – would they let me – since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in” (Moby 32); and of equal observational distinction, in the words of Henry Murray, ‘… lucky it was for the tongueless sailors that this sensitive and manly fellow stepped out of his class to live among them, and then returned to embody their best sentiments in language that had stuff in it’ (Spark 4); and paralleling Homeric portraiture, ‘he tells stories that could never happen in real life but because he has a conception of man that experience alone could not have given him’ (Auerbach 3), like G.W.F. Hegel Herman Melville ‘identifies in this caesura a reconciliation between humanity and divinity’ (Comay 46); for, in the words of the first Frenchman to translate Moby Dick, ‘a life’s work is of no interest unless it’s a relentless struggle with the great unknown’ (Giono 45). 

We begin with a society synonymous with alienation, therein offering Ishmael a choice: suicide or evacuation. With this arrangement Moby Dick establishes its own structurally dialectical and societally enmeshed ontology as the novel of a man who, in hypothesizing – and later meeting – the worst case scenario with opprobrium nuclei, now prepares to go down in the company of Old Testament prophets (Lawrance 54), with Melville having preliminarily written that, “Every age makes its own guide-books, and the old ones are used for wastepaper” (Redburn 180). Further rumblings are detected in White Jacket, where Melville announced his heart’s comradely yearning, understanding for one “bolted in the mill of adversary” (White 83); but through the simultaneous destruction and epiphany of authenticity’s becoming, Melville’s nautical consciousness purveys the masochistic totality of middle-ground cetology while setting an ecliptic scaffolding for a labyrinthine stage, preparations in the nail in the coffin for inquirers contemplating this word and object. It is from these seeds that today one is able to situate both the nature of philosophy[18] and the philosophy of nature[19] through characters within the kraken’s shadow. And it is thus appropriate that Ishmael, when we meet him, has been gazing upon coffin warehouses (Moby 27): the outcome of his author’s text.

By historically placing oneself within the Ishmaelean realm of Egypt, Seneca, the Old Testament, we are on the road to the early Christians. We might then pause to turn toward Hegel’s Aesthetics, wheretheir dialogical deficiency is perhaps the purest account of a wedded insanity and mirth available in Christological historiography. Though a second wave comes to us in the Crusades, particularly with Runciman’s accounts of Peter the Hermit, as far as getting to the holy insanity of Christ and his colleagues, the first handful of centuries suffice. Incidentally, they reach an unparalleled canonical account in Augustine. It is is with great interest that we turn in closing to Douglas Finn’s work on Hegel and Augustine. For instance, Ishmael’s seaside sauntering, transcending the workers, offers us a chance to take that Melvillean establishment of the heroic one step closer to emancipation in Hegelian light: “For Hegel, the heroes are the vital agents of change, because through their singularly passionate drive, they give concrete universal reality to the rational idea, in whose light their otherwise vastly destructive actions come to make sense” (Finn 127). The passage invites a Melvillean hypothesis, whereby we ponder just how not just the crew Ishmael shall soon meet are agents of internal change, but the agents of change Ishmael passes by and through on his iconic walk on down to the shipyard. Ishmael’s thoughts, like Finn’s Hegel and Augustine, give tangible reconsideration to the concept of the balanced idea, in whose light their otherwise vastly destructive actions come to make sense. Nearby in the text Finn makes an observation that is startingly prescient in conclusively recalling Hegel’s Napoleonic vision in light of the Pequod: “Spirit, the universal, can realize its ends only by means of the particular, and passion is what drives the world historical individual to strive wholeheartedly to actualize the universal in the world. Thus, from Hegel’s point of view, the hero does pursue personal ends, but they are the same as that of Spirit” (Finn 125).[20]

Ishmael sees the fundamental sickness of society present, as Hegel saw the fundamental structures of feudalism present (Cole 75-7), and both affirmatively deal their diagnostic cards. This allows us Melvillean nautical culmination concerning the interior conscience of a surmounting technological feudalism and Hegel’s proximity to the French Revolution, both from which the state’s medieval origins are brought further to the dialectical light of theory. It therefore all the more effective that is unclear until culmination that Ishmael is writing after the fact, and in this regard Melville replicates Hegel’s own speculative method, which he referred to as a circle (Cole 55). Its beginning is enmeshed with the end, “The end occurs when the process of self-completion in which the substance-subject (Which for Hegel is the ‘essence’) engages, finally fulfills its task, that is, when the whole is complete or established precisely as the whole” (Nuzzo 264-5). He would have to first meet Ahab and the crew, float the shipwrecked in casket, as adrift and as alone whence he began, but at last now with a book to write. The narrative’s opening words clarify that stability has nothing to do with innovation, where refined as perpetual latter is, it is too thereby curtailed by manufactured disbelief. This mass production of objects, then as now, vacillates industrial culture’s mirroring the machinations of psychological and laborious automatism, in applying the technical acceleration of machinery to language. This exilic annihilation of the individual is for Melville, Ishmael an etymological matter fixed in orphanage and social ostracization. Authentic invention cannot be, for it is; thereby Ishmael cannot stay where he is coming from outside of mind. Ishmael has at last come to breathe the air of Socrates – know that he does not know, and thereby knows all – but it will take a tattooed cannibal, ponderous religious topography, before he can embrace the prosaic Dionysian tub in earnest. His opening remarks reveal a rejected world that is itself as familiar as it is foreign, pragmatic as it is prescriptive, but in which genuine intellectual probity is pulled toward contradiction like a magnet.[21] Ishmael is seeking yet comprehending neither the noumenal character of nature’s unchangeability, destabilized by the end of the end, nor the past annihilation of discursive thinking and life as such (Nuzzo 353-8), unto Geist, like a snow hill in the air, or Whale.

And the word was made blubber. For Melville had written a wicked book and felt as spotless as a lamb; such was the summit of his Pauline elaboration on “freedom of will within the divine law of predestination” (Lawrance 24). In a perfect instance of critical reverse typology, Ishmael is the lamb who is decidedly not sacrificed. His maker, Melville, went the other way; that of Schopenhauer’s target no one can see. Like the Lord of his lifelong, haunting Calvinism (Lawrance 4-6, 18), he was contemporaneously sacrificed at the profane, Pharisaic altar of intellectual despotism. Stoned and dethroned, the White Whale went over about as well as Christ’s chorded whip,[22] Melville therein going the way of prophets: condemned, exiled, and at last admitted self-evident. In joining the sacrificial ranks of secular martyrdom, he lost everything for the sake of chance of being recalled, something traced in the earlier Redburn.[23] Comprehending Melville is obligatory in assessing the pre-Hegelian conceptions of Theory, and comprehending Melville is, further, comprehending Ishmael. Likewise, Hegel’s ploughed gaze upon Napoleon converges in Ishmael’s looming proximity to the ship. Here – from the point of view of one authoring the Conception of Theory – the ashes of the Second Temple reignite in the flames of Revolution; the blood that waters the tree of martyrs is mixed in with the sacramental wine of both philosopher and author. The former gives way to the Phenomenology, latter Moby Dick. Geist is made variationally incarnate in the Pequod. Ishmael, through Geist, gets his hands on the controls of selfhood. The holy sacrifice of altruism is conceived, commenced; its dogmatic empiricisms are at last granted trial by fire before the phenomenological mast.


Atashi, Laleh. “An Ecocritical Reading of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.” 

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Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Indiana Univ. Press, 2009.

Bowman, Brady. Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015.

Brenner, William H. “Theology as Straw: An Essay on Wittgenstein and Aquinas.” New Blackfriars, vol. 93, no. 1046, 2012.

            Butler, Clark (ed.) Hegel: The Letters. Purdue Research Foundation, 1984.

            Cole, Andrew. The Birth of Theory. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2014.

Comay, Rebecca. Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution. Stanford Univ. Press, 2010.

Cook, Jonathan A. Inscrutable Malice: Theodicy, Eschatology, and the Biblical Sources of Moby-Dick. Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 2012.

Edelstein, Sari. ” May I Never Be a Man”: Melville’s Redburn and the Failure to Come of Age in Young America.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 59.4 (2013).

Finn, Douglas. Life in the Spirit: Trinitarian Grammar and Pneumatic Community in Hegel and Augustine. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2017.

Giono, Jean. Melville: A Novel. NYRB Classics, 2017.

Habib, M.A.R. Hegel and the Foundations of Literary Theory. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019.

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Herbert Jr, T. Walter. “Calvinism and Cosmic Evil in” Moby-Dick”.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1969).

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Hurh, Paul. American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville. Stanford Univ. Press, 2015.

Kojeve, Alexandre. Atheism. Columbia Univ. Press, 2019.

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Lubac, Henri de. History and Spirit. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017.

Mane, Shashank B. “A Marxist Reading of Melville’s Bartleby.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 10.2 (2019).

McCall, Corey, and Tom Nurmi. Melville Among the Philosophers. Lanham: Lexington

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McGowan, Todd. Emancipation After Hegel: Achieving a Contradictory Revolution. Columbia Univ. Press, 2019.

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—. Moby Dick. Barnes & Noble Classics Series, 2003.

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Parker, Hershel. “Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius.” Living with a Writer. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2004.

Patell, Cyrus RK. “Cosmopolitanism and Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick.” The Turn Around Religion in America. Routledge, 2016.

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Reid, Jeffrey. “Comets and Moons: The For-another in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.” The Owl of Minerva 45.1/2 (2013).

Spark, Clare L. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. The Kent State Univ. Press, 2006.

Thompson, Lawrance. Melville’s Quarrel with God. Princeton Univ. Press, 2015.

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[1] Reid, Jeffrey. “Comets and Moons: The For-another in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.” The Owl of Minerva 45.1/2 (2013): 11n25.

[2] Herbert Jr, T. Walter. “Calvinism and Cosmic Evil in” Moby-Dick”.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1969): 1613-1619; Hart, Sarah. “Ahab’s Arithmetic; or, the mathematics of Moby-Dick.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1903.12102 (2019); Patell, Cyrus RK. “Cosmopolitanism and Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick.” The Turn Around Religion in America. Routledge, 2016. 45-62.

[3] Hurh, Paul. “The Uneven Balance: Dialectical Terror in Moby-Dick.” American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville. Stanford University Press, 2015. 161-202; Brian Yothers’s Melville’s Mirrors Camden House, 2011, cf. “Aspects of America: Democracy, Nationalism, and War”, pp. 119-49.

[4] [October 13, 1806]: “I saw the Emperor –this soul of the world– go out from the city to survey his reign; it is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrating on one point while seated on a horse, stretches over the world and dominates it.” Butler, Clark (ed.) Hegel: The Letters. Purdue Research Foundation, 1984, p.114.

[5] In other words, I wager that while it is difficult to pry the mythical, solitary author from a singular, often damned, historical place, that it will be helpful to consider Cook’s observation more generally as pertains to Melville scholarship. Or, that his singular, tragic place is-itself because there has not been much of a move to consider Melville alongside much of anyone in the 19th besides Hawthorne. Melville’s historiographical style, then, might be well reconsidered in what I have referred to in a forthcoming talk (“Kinsmen of the Flesh: Flaubertian Aspects of the Fathers”, 2020) as ‘formalistic perceptivity’, a method constructed in the spirit of M.M. Bakhtin and Fredric Jameson. Through it we wrestle with Melville’s way of describing historical events; then we reconsider Melville’s place in literary historiography; then we are one step closer to be prepared to consider the philosophy-qua-philosophy of his ‘fiction.’

[6] See also, of course, Knox’s two-volume translation of Hegel’s Aesthetics (Oxford, 1998). Also forthcoming: “Tracing Ishmael in Hegel’s Aesthetics: On Melville’s Creative-Poetic Intuition in the 15 Chapters Before the Pequod Sets Sail”

[7] “We live in the age of Melville – an age of spiritual blackout and moral meltdown against the backdrop of an American empire in cultural collapse and political breakdown” (McCall 123).

[8] Ishmael’s American is anchored as a literal and figurative sightseer, rejecting freedom for its opposite: overworking through an addiction to abstract rather than concrete. Such persons cannot answer why one does precisely what one does. For Hegel, a similar (Albeit less self-inflicted, due in part to Germany’s age and reluctance to abandon feudalism with the brevity of her neighbors) paralysis for persons’ inability to process the reality of revolution and the ontology of money. This is amplified by contrived religion’s creation of an unhappy conscious. Both authors – again, we might even consider the Phenomenology of Spirit as a novel in some regards (As done by Henry Sussman, SUNY Press 1996) – chronicle the Numerical Self, submerged in the industrial mustard-seeded dirt of what today has become the full-blown manufactured subculture. Its dependency is hereditarily opposed to the self-evident wellness of a people. They must, then, be unwell; and such, until the mythical epiphanic moment of collision, is the Joycean trailing navelcord of unhappy consciousness.

[9] Three writers working with Hegel and Literary Theory to whom I am indebted include Andrew Cole, M.A.R. Habib, and Angelica Nuzzo (Nuzzo working with Hegel and Melville, specifically). Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory (Chicago, 2014) and Angelica Nuzzo’s Approaching Hegel’s Logic, Obliquely (SUNY Press, 2018) are briefly referenced in this lecture’s version; for time – for the time being – prohibits a proper systematic treatise, or response. Nevertheless, Habib considers Hegel’s place in literary criticism thusly: “Theory’s critical instrument is derived from Hegel himself – the dialectic as arrested in its second or ‘negative’ phase. [M]ost modern European systems of thought arose as modifications of, or reactions against, Hegel’s dialectic. Hegel has enabled our worlds of thought on many levels, even those that are vehemently opposed to him… His system inscribes and prefigures the internal structure of capitalism, its ability to absorb everything else – art, literature, religion, love, socialism, other cultures – into its own structures of economic value and significance, into its own expansive and ever-changing identity” Hegel and the Foundations of Literary Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2018) pp. 5-11. Therefore, a prospective Hegelian reading of Moby Dick simultaneously re-envisions literary history while apprehending what Rita Felski calls critique’s ‘limits.’ See also Stephen Houlgate’s Freedom, Truth, and History: An Introduction to Hegel (Blackwell, 2005): pp. 12-20, 51, 164-82.

[10] See Kolakowski’s “The Origins of Dialectic” in vol. 1 of Main Currents of Marxism (Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 57-65.

[11] “a relatively synchronic phenomenon, the relationship, in a given moment of time or history, of the literary system to neighboring and more distant ones in the totality of experience… But where all history is understood as the operation of a single mechanism, it is transformed back into synchrony, and time itself becomes a kind of a-historical, relatively mechanical repetition” (Jameson 96).

[12] See also Robert Brandom, who puts it – Hegelian ‘force’ as a logical-scientific formalism – thusly: “The moves made under the headings of the ‘doubling of forces’ and the ‘play of forces’ must be understood so as to apply to genes and bosons, qua purely theoretical – that is, exclusively inferentially accessible kinds of things – as well as to literal forces… [t]he ontological categorical conception of particulars as substrates of many sense universals also envisages unobservables knowable only by inference from their observable manifestations. What the allegory of force and its expression is allegorical for is the relation between purely theoretical, postulated entities and the observables on the basis of which those theoretical entities are inferentially accessible.” A Spirit of Trust. Belknap Harvard: 2019, p. 175.

[13] Shortly before his death Thomas Aquinas reflected on his life’s work, referring to it as ‘straw’: Brenner, William H. “Theology as Straw: An Essay on Wittgenstein and Aquinas.” New Blackfriars, vol. 93, no. 1046, 2012, pp. 412–425.

[14] Whereas Andrew Cole worked through Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Nicholas of Cusa in terms of a systematic gloss of the prolegomenal Hegelian foundations in Theory, the scholar would likewise benefit from its unpacking. Here Origen (d. 253) is linked in the pre-Plotinian conception of Theory, and in this case a full-length study of Melville and various other works through the lens of a pre-theoretical dialectic of Identity/Difference in History and Spirit (for our purposes, Geist): history exhausts itself as it unfolds. This conceptual exhaustion contradicts the notion of universal progress; it is not something that flows concurrently into living consciousness, but a realm of shadows and symbols which is preparation for something else. The order of history introduces us to truths, for Origen, but never the history of the order of truth. It is spirit in as much as it is analogy. Origen, like Ishmael, foresaw the addiction to arbitrariness; he was as inconceivable to the Hellenic mind as ours. See Henri de Lubac’s History and Spirit, esp. pp. 317-25. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2007.

[15] Melville’s Collected Poems, Library of America (2019), pp.

[16] This is not careless, flowery language but instead a literal description of the text in Melville’s lifetime: a future comparative study that engages Chapter 16 of Moby Dick with the first dozen pages of the Phenomenology after Hegel’s “Preface”, and a survey of receptions and authorial perspectives of reception.

[17] By this it is meant that Moby Dick has such a universal appeal that were America to cease existence, scholars and divine amateurs – Parker’s way of putting it in Melville Biography (Northwestern University Press, 2012) – would preserve Moby Dick. In one sense it is like Joyce’s Ulysses in this regard, a guide for rebuilding Dublin should it Borgesionally vanish. Thus, in thinking of the text as historical object, there is a Hegelian counterpart re: method of apperception in Michael Forster’s apprehended totality of the Phenomenology, whichmirrors our narratological theory: “[T]he character of the Phenomenology as a wholetends to be passed over rather quickly, and where dealt with dealt not particularly well. This is very unfortunate because many of the most philosophically interesting ideas of the work are to be found at the level of the work as a whole and are not at all clearly visible from the standpoint of particular sections” (2-4), elucidating both the impressiveness and attractiveness of text as architectonic whole.

[18] Atashi, Laleh. “An Ecocritical Reading of Melville’s” Bartleby the Scrivener”.” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences 73 (2016): 7-16.

[19] Mane, Shashank B. “A Marxist Reading of Melville’s Bartleby.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 10.2 (2019).

[20] See also: “Hegel detects a connection between Trinitarian theology, martyrdom, and religio-political oppression; as a theoretical counterproposal, he introduces the world historical individual, who becomes the true martyr of Spirit on its way to free self-conscious realization in the modern state.” (Finn’s “Grace and Forgiveness: The Hero as Hegelian Martyr” / 114-128) 

[21] “Even if it doesn’t lead to authoritarianism, the great danger of modernity is not a powerful state that impinges on individual freedom but the failure to recognize the state as a state and to mistake civil society for it… The danger that Hegel saw in 1821 has come to fruition.” Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel (Columbia Univ. Press, 2019), p. 205.

[22] See Parker, Hershel. “Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius.” Living with a Writer. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2004. 202-222. Furthermore, while Christological aspects of Hegel and Melville are another lecture (course?) entirely, Douglas Finn’s book on Hegel and Augustine seems to provide something of a groundwork commenced in a working chapter on “The Carpet-Bag.”

[23] Sari Edelstein makes her case with the unlikely but amicable novelistic source. This article also takes into account a history of the adolescent male’s growing up in 19th c. America. ” May I Never Be a Man”: Melville’s Redburn and the Failure to Come of Age in Young America.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 59.4 (2013): 553-584.