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Being-in-the-Ocean: Moby Dick, Spatiality and Unheimlichkeit

October 21st, 2008 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

In this essay I will advance an interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick based on the work of the Weimar-era philosopher Martin Heidegger. I have no compunctions about taking such an approach. It is unlikely one can say anything completely new about Moby Dick, much less some of the other texts I examine herein (such as the Odyssey and the Book of Exodus), and there is no point simply in juxtaposing one text against another. This does not preclude the need for, or invalidate the utility of, all attempts at deep analysis beyond the text’s workable surface. The “most powerful and apposite readings of literary works may be those that treat them as philosophical gestures by teasing out the implications of their dealings with the philosophical oppositions that support them.” (1) If Heidegger’s analysis of what he calls “the question of the meaning of Being” is as pervasive as he wants for it to be, then it should be a foundational template for analyzing all fictional texts (at least in the Western literary canon) – if only for the reason that the characters in those texts necessarily must express the meaning of their own being, just as their authors do in writing the text.

I will start by summarizing Heidegger’s basic concerns. The themes he develops suggest two ways of looking at Moby Dick, which are the related concepts of existential space and homelessness. I will examine and then apply each in turn.

Being. Heidegger primarily was interested in “ontology” – the Greek word for “being” (οντο-) combined with -λογία, which means science, study or theory. (2) The purpose of ontology is to describe what it is for anything to exist, all the way from rocks, art, icons, what Heidegger called “equipment” (things we deploy to accomplish outcomes, like using a hammer to drive in a nail, although his definition is much broader than “tools” conventionally understood), and people (including oneself).

Human beings are unique in that they are the only class of beings who attempt to discern the “meaning of their own Being” – not in a “conscious” way, but through what they do.  For example, one might discern the meaning of his/her being as a scientist or teacher at a university, a construction worker, an executive for a corporation, an artist, a parent, etc. It’s not a goal or an outcome like getting a degree, finishing a building, completing a deal or winning a race. It’s an ongoing process throughout the duration of one’s entire life, as one “pushes into the possibilities” the future temporally presents.  While of course there are times when one has reflected on this activity, more basically one “acts it out.” Conscious reflection comprises only one aspect (and a small one) of what one does and how one constantly “is in the world.”

A “world” has three essential characteristics: It is a totality of interrelated pieces of equipment, each used to carry out a specific task such as hammering in a nail. These tasks are undertaken so as to achieve certain purposes, such as building a house. Finally, this activity enables those performing it to have identities, such as being a carpenter. These identities are the meaning or point of engaging in these activities.” (3)  In Heidegger jargon, these might be called one’s “for-the-sake-of-which,” a series of concentric circles of increasingly-expanding concerns that structures one’s life and gives it meaning. (4) They comprise the way the world becomes meaningful.


An important aspect of being-in-the-world is how we orient ourselves spatially. It will take me several steps to outline Heidegger’s account of this phenomenon, and then apply it to Moby Dick. I will start by explaining Heidegger’s distinction between Cartesian space and existential space. I briefly will discuss the two strategies (which Melville contrasts) that one can use to orient oneself within in them, which I will characterize as “technological navigation” versus “positional navigation.” Heidegger actually has a concept of what it must be like to be an animal (such as a whale), which I will briefly set forth. As it swims throughout the ocean, the whale instinctively deploys a form of positional navigation. Finally, I will examine Ahab’s abrupt transition from technological navigation in Cartesian space, to positional navigation in existential space, and show how this is an important element in the novel’s dénouement.

Cartesian space and existential space. One of Heidegger’s concepts in Being and Time is the difference between Cartesian (5) space and existential space. “Cartesian space” is res extensa – objective space. One assesses it using terms like “inch,” “meter” or “light year.” “Existential space” is the realm of our practical environmental concerns. One does not position oneself as “a physical body located at a certain point in objective space.” Rather, things in the world “show up as having a certain accessibility – that is, a certain nearness or farness – according to my ability to ‘grasp’ or ‘procure’ them.” They are “near” or “far,” or to the “left” or “right,” and one situates oneself by using these directions. Physical, geometric space is derivative from our “interested dealings in the world” whereby we “disclose pragmatic spatiality” (Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World 133).

Ahab’s Concept of Cartesian Space. Here’s how this applies to Moby Dick. There could be no space vaster than the ocean Ahab contends with as he pursues the whale. He begins the Pequod’s voyage engaged with the ocean as Cartesian space. Melville describes Ahab’s navigational technique as follows (Chapter 44): “[Y]ou would have seen him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table. Then seating himself before it, you would have seen him intently study the various lines and shadings which there met his eye; and with slow but steady pencil trace additional courses over spaces that before were blank. At intervals, he would refer to piles of old log-books beside him, wherein were set down the seasons and places in which, on various former voyages of various ships, sperm whales had been captured or seen. … Almost every night they were brought out; almost every night some pencil marks were effaced, and others were substituted.”

Technological Navigation. The way one locates oneself within the Cartesian space of the ocean is by using instruments of technological navigation, such as Ahab’s “roll of yellowish sea charts” and “piles of old log-books.” He also deployed other technologies of his time, such as a quadrant (Chapter 118) and a compass (Chapter 124) to fix his location (a quadrant measures latitude by showing the angle of a star, such as the North Star, to a flat plane, which is the surface of the ocean). “When the navigator takes a compass bearing on a landmark from the bridge of a boat he has a real point of view on a real space.” (6) Those technologies were culturally-specific. An outcome of eighteenth-century rationalism and positivism, they “required that nature be objectified and placed at a distance so that it could by systematically studied” and comprehended “nature as a mechanical system.” (7)

Heidegger was famously dubious about technology (here, the charts, log-books, the quadrant and the compass) and the role it plays in a society’s relationship to nature. (8) He criticized “consumption for the sake of consumption” and even castigated the peasants of Germany’s dark forest for having radios and televisions. Setting aside these specific outcomes, his more serious issue with technology is the belief it will solve all of our problems. Technology lulls us into thinking we can understand natural phenomena (such as the ocean and Cartesian space), and master them. It restricts our “way of thinking” (impairs our understanding of the meaning of Being). We can overcome this effect only by stepping outside of it and its associated analytical/calculative methodologies. Having done so, we can see technology for what it is – a precipitate of our current cultural practices, our “latest understanding of being.” (9) As I will show, Ahab later undertook just this exercise.

Positional Navigation. The way one gets through existential space is positional navigation, using variations of the directional indicators Heidegger postulates. It is how one finds one’s way when one is bereft of the instruments of technological navigation.

Although they phrase it differently, this precise distinction has intrigued anthropologists who have studied seafaring cultures, such as those of Micronesia. The example of the South Pacific is pertinent because it is a vast area of ocean through which Ahab navigated (Chapter 111). Melville sailed there and wrote about it in Typee (1846), Omoo (1847) and Mardi, A Voyage Thither (1849). In addition to topics such as cannibalism, other aspects of its culture must have permeated his thinking. (10)

Micronesian navigators use positional navigation to travel in a way that is completely different from Western navigators. They “routinely sail hundreds of miles out of sight of land without the use of charts, tables, or any of the other instruments.” From the standpoint of cognitive science, they may “use an elegant system of superimposed mental images.” (11) These mental images comprise a “global representation of the locations of the various pieces of land relative to each other.” They create an “abstract representation of a space” and then enable one to assume an “imaginary point of view relative to the abstract representation” (Hutchins, “Understanding Micronesian navigation,” 206).

It might be possible to regard this as a kind of “mental map,” because all the navigator has to do is imagine it. There is “little room or need for innovation. Navigation requires the solution of no unprecedented problems. The navigator must be judicious and perceptive, but he is never called upon to have new ideas, to relate things together in new ways.” (12)

These different types of “mental navigational maps” are culturally-specific: “Western researchers have questioned the rationality of the Micronesian navigators, saying that their techniques are logically incongruous, or that the Micronesian navigator does not let logical consistency or inconsistency, insofar as he is aware of them, interfere with practical utility. However, it can be shown that the models used by Micronesians operate in a different frame of reference and on the basis of different fundamental representational assumptions from those that are common in the Western world.” (Hutchins, “Material Anchors for Conceptual Blends,” 1568).

Even without the notion of a “mental map,” positional navigation is fundamentally different from technological navigation. It relies on intuitive strategies for discerning location within existential space, instead of explicit knowledge about how to utilize instruments to establish coordinates in Cartesian space. It might be characterized as an “egocentric representation of an environment;” the latter, a “sociocentric ‘god’s eye view’.” (13) As a Westernized mariner, Ahab had no alternative other than to begin the Pequod’s voyage using the tools and techniques of technological navigation through the ocean, conceived as Cartesian space.

Whales-eye navigation. Whales are unable to use such tools and techniques, or imagine any strategy of technological navigation. They are creatures of nature with inexpressible ascriptive predicates (Chapter 42), and the ocean is their natural ecology. They situate themselves in it, and survive and function within its environmental constraints, on animal instinct. They (clearly) do not use technological instruments (because they aren’t humans). They (probably) do not use “mental maps” (for the same reason) (assuming we do). Their navigational strategy more closely resembles a form of positional navigation within their environmental space. They are much more like Micronesian navigators (and vice versa), then Ahab when he left Nantucket.

Heidegger had quite a bit to say about animals, consistent with this approach. (14) Animals exist somewhere on a spectrum between inanimate objects and people. The animal “is poor in world on its own terms, poor in the sense of being deprived.” Being an animal is better than being a rock, because the rock has no “access” to its surroundings. It lacks the possibility of even having a world to be deprived of, but animals do. A lizard, for example, warms itself in the sun by “basking on a warm stone.” It is more than simply “there,” in the sense of being physically present. “It actively seeks out the stone upon which it lies. And if the lizard is removed from the stone and placed in another, cooler area, it will not stay put as the stone does, but will in all likelihood try once again to seek out a warm stone or another place to bask in the sun.” It “has a responsive and interactive relation with the environment that surrounds it.” (15) If the whale were human, Heidegger would say it was absorbed in coping with its environment and transparent to its surroundings (coral, seaweed, plankton, other fishes, etc.).

Whales may be smarter than Heidegger thinks they are. “Despite a deep evolutionary divergence, adaptation to physically dissimilar environments, and very different neuroanatomical organization,” cetaceans “show striking convergence in social behavior, artificial ‘language’ comprehension, and self-recognition ability.” (16) Nonetheless, it seems safe to conclude that whales cannot circumspectively consider their environment or comport themselves towards it, as can a human. “When we lie out in the sun … the sun is accessible to us as sun, and rocks are accessible to us as rocks in a way that is simply not possible for the animal.” In principle, an animal can never “gain access to the other entities it encounters in its environment as entities” (emphasis in original). If by world one “means accessibility to other beings, we can say that the animal has world; but if ‘world’ is in some way related to having access to the being of beings, to beings as such, then the animal does not have world.” For these reasons, animals (such as whales) “have a radically different mode of being-in-the-world than do humans” (Calarco 23). Let us call it being-in-the-ocean – a way of existing that is wholly determined by environmental constraints, and the necessity of positionally navigating within the aquatic world.

Ahab’s Transition from Cartesian Space to Existential Space. Ahab dramatically illustrates the difference between Cartesian space and existential space. As the Pequod’s voyage progresses, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable and fidgety within the realm of Cartesian space. Melville describes this conflict as follows (Chapter 44): “Now, to any one not fully acquainted with the ways of the leviathans, it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one solitary creature in the un-hooped oceans of this planet. But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all tides and currents; and thereby calculating the driftings of the sperm whale’s food; and, also, calling to mind the regular, ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes; could arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching to certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground in search of his prey.” [Emphasis added.]

Ahab was adrift in the “maze of currents and eddies” of Cartesian space. Instead of using its objective reference points, discerned by technological navigation, his existential space became contoured by the project of locating the whale (Chapter 36). His task was “absurdly hopeless” in the realm of Cartesian space, but made perfect sense to him within the framework of his own existential space. In this respect, Ahab came to function in the same milieu as Moby Dick. He stopped thinking like a person, and started acting like a whale.

There came a time when Ahab explicitly made the transition from Cartesian space to existential space and became a positional navigator, as opposed to a technological one. He abruptly began to “schematize an alternative mental model” – a “dynamic, graded and egocentric map,” using bearings that “radiated out” from his own point of view. Having crossed this bridge, it was “literally inconceivable that the bearings might intersect” at a point anywhere but his own immediate location (Shorr 279).

Ahab completed his estrangement with Cartesian space by actually destroying the Pequod’s instruments of technological navigation. He declaims (Chapter 118): “Curse thee, thou quadrant!” dashing it to the deck, “no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship’s compass, and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye,” lighting from the boat to the deck, “thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!”

Later (Chapter 134) he even attempts to persuade the crew they’re going east, instead of west: “Thrusting his head half way into the binnacle, Ahab caught one glimpse of the compasses; his uplifted arm slowly fell; for a moment he almost seemed to stagger. Standing behind him Starbuck looked, and lo! the two compasses pointed East, and the Pequod was as infallibly going West. But ere the first wild alarm could get out abroad among the crew, the old man with a rigid laugh exclaimed, “I have it! It has happened before. Mr. Starbuck, last night’s thunder turned our compasses — that’s all. But chancing to slip with his ivory heel, he saw the crushed copper sight-tubes of the quadrant he had the day before dashed to the deck. “Thou poor, proud heaven-gazer and sun’s pilot! yesterday I wrecked thee, and to-day the compasses would feign have wrecked me. So, so. But Ahab is lord over the level loadstone yet.” [Emphasis added.]

This is the single most important passage in the entire book. By destroying the quadrant and magically thinking he can change the direction of the compass, Ahab completes his disconnect with Cartesian space. He literally overthrew the technology (the quadrant and the compass) that enabled him to position himself in it. He might as well also have thrown overboard the yellowish sea charts and piles of old log-books, and perhaps he did.

In doing so, Ahab dramatically evidenced the dichotomy between Cartesian space and existential space. Estranged from the former, he completed the arc Melville anticipated at the onset of the voyage. Ahab persists in attributing malevolent intention to the whale, when it simply is an animal. Whereas most whalers simply were “bent on profitable cruises, the profit to be counted down in dollars from the mint,” Ahab “was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge” (Chapter 41). The pursuit of this objective required him unhesitatingly to follow the whale, wherever that might lead. It was the meaning of his being. His concern was not the Pequod’s objective location, but how near or far it was from Moby Dick. He no longer wanted or needed to situate himself positionally in Cartesian space. (17)

This leads to the sequence of events on the third day of the chase (Chapter 135). Ahab abandoned any effort to understand the ocean, or Moby Dick, on a scientific or even rational basis. The ocean is deep, dark and inscrutable. It is the whale’s natural ecology as a marine mammal. An inveterate mariner, Ahab envied the whale’s facility, relying on instinct, responding to the intuitions it suggests. Unlike Moby Dick, Ahab is constrained by the conventions of Cartesian space (among other issues, he can’t breathe underwater). He finally becomes part of the whale’s world. He gives up the spear and responds to the whale’s imprecations to join him, only to perish. (18) In doing so he resolves the juxtaposition between himself as a sentient being and the whale as a non-conscious, insensate beast.


To this point I have argued (and, I hope, demonstrated) that one of the distinctive attributes of existential space is positional navigation of the sort instinctively deployed by Moby Dick, and (eventually) by Ahab. Both caromed through the ocean like billiard balls or bumper-cars at a county fair, configured by their respective orientations and objectives. I now would like to extend this line of reasoning to another concept, which is the phenomenon of “not-being-at-homeness.” Heidegger called this Unheimlichkeit, which is German for the experience of “eeriness” or “uncanniness” (Heidegger, Being and Time). For him, there could not be a more important concept. It is an “inescapable feature of the human condition … a shadow over our being.”

Wandering through the world – being homeless – in turn is one of Moby Dick’s explicit themes. (19) All of the key personalities experience it – Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, and Moby Dick himself. It is the single most shocking (and frightening) aspect of the book. It is the place (or rather, lack of place) where any Heideggerian analysis of Moby Dick must resolve.

To demonstrate this, I first will establish what Heidegger means by Unheimlichkeit and why it is a fundamental modality of being-in-the-world. I will explain the alternative Heidegger opposes against it, which he calls “dwelling.” The motif of Unheimlichkeit is pervasive in the epic narrative tradition preceding Melville, and of which he is a part. I will look at two of its foundational strands, which are Homer’s Odyssey and the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Each of the important characters of Moby Dick encounters Unheimlichkeit differently, and iterates important aspects of the phenotypes of Odysseus and Moses. I also will account for the ways each resolves the problem of dwelling, to the extent they do.

Unheimlichkeit. Unheimlichkeit’s source is “thrown-ness,” the anxiety we experience in the face of the inevitable prospect of dying and the essentially arbitrary nature of human culture and institutions. It is a sense of estrangement. (20) It is disruptive because it “entails a displacement or disruption” of one’s “smooth unreflective functioning in the world.” (21) One “feels fundamentally unsettled, that is, senses that human beings can never be at home in the world” (Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World 37) (emphasis in original): “The things that once evoked commitment – gods, heroes, the God-man, the acts of great statesmen, the words of great thinkers – have lost their authority. As a result, individuals feel isolated and alienated. They feel that their lives have no meaning because the public world contains no guidelines. … The only way to have a meaningful life in the present age, then, is to let your involvement become definitive of reality for you, and what is definitive of reality for you is not something that is in any way provisional – although it certainly is vulnerable.” (22)

Dwelling. The radical insecurity of Unheimlichkeit is balanced by Heidegger’s concept of “dwelling,” which means “safety,” “to be at peace,” “to be protected from harm and threat,” “safeguarded” and “cared for and protected.” (23) Dwelling is where one ends up when one stops wandering. It facilitates the development of conventions and traditions. (24) It is “where the articulation of the nature of things” (such as material culture) occur. (25) It results in what the sociologist Albert Borgmann calls “focal practices” or “joint commodities” – ways in which human activity becomes concentrated through use of objects, attribution of meaning, and the development of a sense of community. (26)

It does so by “attuning” our sensibilities – putting them into an appropriate mood for making sense of things and people. Attuning brings “things and people into their own” by grounding situations and making them matter to us. (27) It “gives us access to certain everyday phenomena that we would not want to live without.” (28) It is our everyday, common-sense understanding that enables things to show up the way they do, and for us to be the way we are. “The shared practices into which we are socialized … provide a background understanding of what matters and what it makes sense to do, on the basis of which we can direct our actions. This understanding of being creates what Heidegger calls a clearing in which things and people can show up as mattering and meaningful for us. We do not produce the clearing. It produces us as the kind of human beings that we are.” (Dreyfus, “Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology and Politics”). Heidegger’s word for clearing is Lichtung, literally, a place where there is light. Culture is such a clearing – the background of explanations and narratives within which we all reside, and that makes different meanings possible.

The Judeo-Christian Tradition. Heidegger identifies Unheimlichkeit as a malaise of contemporary culture. Properly considered, though, it is one of the widespread themes of the entire Judeo-Christian Tradition (as it has temporally unfolded). What we call the Judeo-Christian Tradition initially was developed by the ancient Greeks (Heidegger was fascinated by them) (29) and the archaic Israelites. Heidegger came to characterize it as “onto-theology,” which is the idea that the being of specific entities can be explained in terms of other specific entities, such as a god.” (30)

Melville consistently incorporated myths, mythologies, comparative mythology, and mythological theories derived from the Judeo-Christian Tradition, in his major works. They determine and define large parts of Moby Dick’s structure and meaning. (31)

Melville was well versed (in epic poetry forms) and appropriated them to his own highly original purposes, indeed, that in this novel he set out to fuse the heroic qualities of the ancient Homeric epic with the spiritual qualities of the early modern form found in Dante and Milton, all in an unprecedented poetic prose – the first such prose epic of its kind. … Moby Dick is a ‘spiritual epic.’ … Moreover, given Melville’s symbolic technique, which in an epic work is designed to infuse the quotidian world with significance and elevate mundane matters to the supernatural plane, the theme of the quest for the soul takes on an overriding importance. … As an epic of the universal story of mankind therefore, Moby-Dick is … comparable for its time and place to the Odyssey of ancient Greece or the Aeneid of early Rome. (32)

In composing Moby Dick, Melville “undertook a doubly ambitious plan, bringing together the two main traditions in the form, the ancient national epic of combat, as exemplified by the Iliad or Beowulf, and the modern epic of spiritual quest, as exemplified by the Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost.” It is “an epic of the universal story of mankind.” (33)

Seen in this light, Odysseus and Moses are particularly appropriate examples. They shaped our present concerns and even our sense of what counts as human perfection; they are our “Judeo-Christian inheritance.” (34) They still are “alive to us, are contemporary with us, in a way that no earlier figures are. Our cultural world and the great traditions that still in so many ways define us, all originate” with them. (35)

Within their respective traditions, each was a catalyst or “world discloser,” in that they facilitated the attunement of their respective cultures to the paradigms they established. World-disclosers take over “whatever perceptual material is available in order to express the power of the feeling of a particular situation,” thereby controlling the “affective aspect of common meanings.” By doing so they can “transform states of affairs.” They direct our attention to “the way things gather us to them, the way they draw us to regard them with a certain attunement” (Spinosa, Heidegger on Living Gods, 224, 216). They supply an “understanding of what matters and what it makes sense to do, on the basis of which we can direct our actions,” a space in which “things and people can show up as mattering and meaningful for us.” (36) They “make history possible by giving everything that shows up a certain tone which thought then seeks to articulate.” (37)

They also are prototypes for the main characters in Moby Dick, who are composites of several of their most important ascriptive predicates, as I will describe.

Odysseus. The motif of Odysseus is pervasive and it is “difficult to overstate” its influence. (38) He is a “model and a mirror of both individual and cultural self-definition” (Schein, “Introduction,” Reading the Odyssey 3). The aspect of Odysseus that most captured Melville’s imagination “was not his strength, his resoluteness, or his cunning, but his eternal wanderlust.” (39) As Odysseus traveled through strange worlds, confronting barely human creatures, he became the prototype for “every subsequent explorer of sea, land or indeed outer space.” (40) Even as he inhabited them, he was alien to them; they offered him “no social function” he could “recognize and accept.” (41) Nonetheless, he managed to survive, just like Ishmael survived his confrontation with Moby Dick. (42)

Odysseus’ voyage illustrates the futility of using a map, or even having a sense of direction. He wandered. He had no instruments of technological navigation. Where he landed next entirely was up to the gods (or, at least, out of his hands); Poseidon determined his navigational strategy. He was not homeless (he dwelt in Ithaca). His purpose was to return to his home, and he realized it.

Moses. Around the same time as Odysseus (43), Moses and the chosen people peregrinated about the Sinai. Moses was as important to the archaic Israelites as Odysseus was to the ancient Greeks. (44) Like Odysseus, Moses wandered and had no instruments of technological navigation. Yahweh determined his navigational strategy through the desert (his ocean). A cloud led him by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Unlike Odysseus, he remained within a single world with only one god who led them through it. (45) Also unlike Odysseus, Moses was homeless; he had no dwelling. His purpose was to lead his people to the Promised Land. He realized it (though he dies on the eastern shore of the Jordan River and did not cross over into it, Bible, Numbers 20:12).

Wandering, Homelessness, Dwelling, Navigation, Purpose.

The characters who populate Moby Dick instantiate different aspects of Odysseus and Moses, their world-disclosing predecessors. They exemplify different facets of the argument I have developed to this point. Wandering is a basic feature of Unheimlichkeit, and the characters of Moby Dick are every bit as much wanderers as Odysseus and Moses. They have odd adventures and encounter disconcerting phenomena. (46) They become forgetful of their purpose. (47) They pursue the meaning of their being. More broadly, Melville’s point is that we all are cast out, just like the Biblical Ishmael. All of us are “guests” on the earth. (48) One is fortunate if one is able to find, and come to inhabit, a dwelling that is suitable and congenial to one’s purposes – like Odysseus, Moses, and the characters of Moby Dick. I will devote the remainder of this essay to discussing these topics.

1. Moby Dick. Moby Dick wanders. He is not homeless. He dwells in the ocean. He positionally navigates it as he follows the “driftings” of his food. There are “ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes.” One can “arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching to certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground in search of his prey” (Chapter 44). He does not, however, have any kind of non-instinctual objective. He’s a whale, and whales don’t have “purposes.”

2. Ahab. Ahab wanders. He is not homeless. He dwells in Nantucket (Chapter 16). He starts off navigating technologically through Cartesian space. He loses directionality when he segues to positional navigation through existential space. At that moment his dwelling changes from the terrestrial to the oceanic, which is the same as Moby Dick’s. He remains intent to the end on his objective, which is to exact revenge on Moby Dick for biting off his leg. Viewed as a goal or an outcome, he does not realize it. Moby Dick destroys the Pequod, Ahab drowns, and Moby Dick swims off (Chapter 135).

3. Ishmael. Ishmael wanders. He is homeless. He has no dwelling. (49) As a sailor on the Pequod, he is captive to Moby Dick’s and Ahab’s navigational strategies. He has no purpose other than to “sail about a little and see the watery portion of the world” (Chapter 1). He achieves it and survives the catastrophe (Epilogue).

4. Queequeg. Queequeg wanders. He is not homeless. He dwells in Kokovoko. He too is captive to Moby Dick’s and Ahab’s navigational strategies. He has no purpose other than to “see something more of Christendom”) (Chapter 12). He achieves it, but perishes in the process. (50)

The following table summarizes these findings:


Culture. Melville envisions a culture that permits these different perspectives to cohabitate. He imagines a world in which purposeful human activity is balanced with the factors that constrain it, both natural and social. Culture is produced by interactions between people, such as the squeezing of the hands (Chapter 94). On such occasions, we attune ourselves to communal practices and become sensitized to the corresponding intuitions they evoke. They are created, manifest themselves, and we become aware of them (to the extent we are) only within the space of this “clearing.” They are a precipitate of dwelling, standing against the Unheimlichkeit of wandering.

Although not referring to Melville, two modern social theorists have expressed this idea with particular clarity: Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor. In his essay “Civil Religion in America,” (51) Bellah elaborated on Rousseau’s definition of “civil religion,” redefining it as “a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity.” It is “neither sectarian nor in any specific sense Christian.”

According to Taylor, “We are now in an age in which a publicly accessible cosmic order of meanings is an impossibility.” (52) As a result, we have “tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies.” (53) This is contrary to our nature, because “to make the demand for meaning is not an optional stance. It is central to our humanity” (Taylor, A Secular Age 584) and cultural institutions are an “indispensable matrix of civilizational order” (Taylor, A Secular Age 491). Any contemporary definition of self “requires answers totally dependent on cultural or moral contexts, frameworks, or orientation – human categories of personal and social action, of value.” (54) This is appropriate because (man) is “a self-interpreting animal. He is necessarily so, for there is no such thing as the structure of meanings for him independently of his interpretation of them; one is woven into the other.” (55)

Taylor’s use of the verb “weave” is particularly suggestive of Melville’s “weaver god.” In The Bower of the Arsacides (Chapter 102), Melville imagines a disclosive space much like a Heidegger-type clearing: “It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure.”

The same God fractures the light of the whale’s spout into a multi-colored rainbow (Chapter 85). Melville then encounters a gigantic whale skeleton. While it is a remnant of nature, human initiative has transformed it into what could be a church, or a museum, or a prison – all human architectural structures. It integrates both into a harmonious whole.

Our inability to classify the whale’s skeleton is symptomatic of our own ontological confusion. (56) We are confused because of the ambiguity of the interface it presents between man and nature: “Melville’s careful disorderly reading of antiquity’s inscription of the whale attests to myth’s ambiguities. His use of the whale in classical myths confirms the persistent permeability of myth’s borders and Melville’s celebration of that permeability. The mythical whale-man and the recorder of tales remind us that myth grants us complexity and, in its variations, compounds the complexity of narrative’s desire. The cumulated variations, the diversity of competing accounts of any myth, preserve and safeguard contradictions. For Melville, myth-maker, selective reader, and purposeful natural historian, these variations extend a chase on ancient waters beyond a three-day pursuit of Moby Dick toward the ever-receding horizon and the morphing shape of the whale.” (57)

Several critics read Moby Dick as a critique of monotheism, (58) or as a psychological study of Ahab. (59) The outcomes envisioned by Bellah and Taylor suggest neither of these interpretations have it quite right.

We know as a matter of his biography that Melville was “nurtured in orthodox Calvinism by his Dutch Reformed mother and minister; yet by the time he wrote Moby Dick, he had not only lived among cannibals and whalemen but had ‘swam through libraries’.” (60) His interest was not so much to “attack traditional ideas about God with the object of replacing them with better ideas,” such as polytheism. Rather, “his mission is prophetic, that of calling us to a deeper life.” (61) His “revolutionary impact upon the novel form does not derive from Christianity’s absence – a formal experimentalism released from the grip of conventions that have their roots in a defeated Protestant orthodoxy – but precisely from its continued presence” (Franchot 157) (emphasis added).

All religions “employ a controlling hierarchy; with narrow doctrines that restrain and control people’s choices and lives.” But Moby Dick should not be read as depicting a “battle between good and evil with Ahab as the human hero trying to destroy the symbol of evil in the whale.” What is wrong is any form of religion that structures the world “in such ways as to be available to empower an Ahab, who believes that he has the knowledge of good and evil and may act for the rest of his society, nation, or the world.” (62)

To strip Melville’s “profoundly symbolic writings down to theological allegories … is reductive.” (63) He rejects the “simplifications, reductions and isolations” of dualisms such as monotheism versus polytheism. His “quarrel” is not so much with God as with these opposed conceptions of God. (64) Melville can be seen as creating a new discourse that attempts to overreach these distinctions. In place of them he substitutes a “language of wonder” that preserves a “fascination with the particulars of the natural world” while simultaneously embracing and critiquing our assumptions about it. (65) This enables us to see outside of our “traditional ways of thinking about religion and spirituality.” (66)

Nor is the world Melville envisions some kind of private mental universe. He “discovered that the universe is an infinite sum of concepts, a universal conceptual brotherhood.” The “actual and anonymous universe remains shielded and impervious to man exactly because this opaque net of concepts or masks, like an impenetrable wall, intervenes.” (67) This dramatizes both the “parallel failures of human striving (Ahab) and knowing (Ishamel).” (68) In juxtaposing Ahab against Moby Dick, Melville “forces the reader to contemplate the Absolute suddenly placed in what appears to be the ordinary contingencies of life, and then to consider the consequences.” (69) All of which illustrates Melville’s conception of a dynamic clearing situated beyond the categories of faith (such as the Bower of the Arsacides).


Obviously Melville did not think in explicitly Heidegger-like terms, and there is no evidence that Heidegger even had heard of Melville. It is not that far off the mark, though, for me to contend that Melville was deeply concerned with the same problems of being-in-the-world that Heidegger later would address. In this respect, while it is (trivially) true that “no single artist … can ever represent an entire culture,” there is a profound sense in which Melville is “truly representative of the kind of humanity that gives meaning to culture. (70) Moby Dick “conceives one last and greatest quest for a whole vision of a whole world” (Grenberg 93). It invites and demands constant reinterpretation, as do the Odyssey (Slatkin 229) and Exodus. I am confident Melville would embrace the ecumenical spirit of this endeavor.


(1) Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca: Cornell, 1982) 149.

(2) Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 1927, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962).

(3) Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores and Hubert Dreyfus, Disclosing New Worlds – Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity (Cambridge: MIT, 1997) 17.

(4) Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World (Boston: MIT, 1991) 95; with the important exception that “for-the-sake-of-which” is a process of disclosing, not a “final goal.” As much as Ahab may have enjoyed his quest for the whale, there can be no question but that it was focused on an objective, that is, the whale’s physical demise.

(5) The term “Cartesian” comes from the French Enlightenment philosopher who was the modern originator of these theories, René Descartes.

(6) Edwin Hutchins, “Understanding Micronesian navigation,” Mental Models, eds. Dedre Genter and Albert Stevens (Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1983) 206.

(7) Bruce Harvey, “Science and the Earth,” A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Wyn Kelley (Malden: Blackwell, 2007) 71 – 82.

(8) Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 1954, trans. William Lovitt, Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. David Krell (New York: Harper, 1977) 307 – 342.

(9) Hubert Dreyfus, “Heidegger on Gaining a Free Relation to Technology, Technology and Values, eds. Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Laura Westra (Lanham: Bowman and Littlefield, 1997) 41 – 54.

(10) Michel Despland, “Two Ways of Articulating Outsider’s Knowledge of Polynesian Culture and Religion: Melville’s Typee and Mardi,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 2004: 16, 105 – 121.

(11) Edwin Hutchins, “Material Anchors for Conceptual Blends,” Journal of Pragmatics, 2005: 37(10), 1555 – 1577: 1567.

(12) Gladwin Thomas, East is a big bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll (Cambridge: Harvard, 1970) 220.

(13) Bradd Shore, Culture in Mind – Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning (New York: Oxford, 1996) 278.

(14) Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, 1929, trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana, 1995).

(15) Matthew Calarco, “Heidegger’s Zoontology,” Animal Philosophy: Ethics and Identity, eds. Peter Atterton and Matthew Calarco (New York: Continuum, 2004) 18 – 30: 23.

(16) Lori Marino, “Convergence of Complex Cognitive Abilities in Cetaceans and Primates, Brain Behavior and Evolution, 2005: 59, 21 – 32: 21.

(17) Another example of the contrast between Cartesian space and existential space is Kokovoko, which is not drawn on any map. Its lack of coordinates in Cartesian space has an “underlying ontological dimension.” Even before he destroyed his instruments of technological navigation, Ahab would not have been able to find it, because the “existence of maps is no proof of the existence of a reality.” The map is a: “catalyst of the protagonist’s perception. … Trying to negate the topographical tendency towards disorder by the building up of shapes, organizing divergent disorderly factors, by orderly delineation of some marks and erasure of what is thought to form irrelevancies, Ahab tends to believe in implied necessary existence. The systematic inscription of the supposedly uninscribed ocean is the exemplification of a structuralist wish to guarantee presence although stability cannot be guaranteed.” Zbigniew Bialas, “Pondering Over the Chart of Kokovoko – Herman Melville and the Critique of Cartological Inscription, Melville “Among the Nations”, eds. Sanford Marovitz and Athanasios Christodoulou (Kent: Kent State, 2005) 345 – 354: 347 – 349.

(18) As foretold by Mapple in his sermon on Jonah, who “cries out to them to take him and cast him forth into the sea” (Chapter 9). Contrary to first impression, Mapple does not so much fall into the “formulaic tradition of Protestant homiletics.” Rather, his concern is to juxtapose the futility of individual purpose in contrast to the overwhelming force of nature. As Ishmael glosses it, “clear Truth is a thing for salamander giants only to encounter” (Chapter 76). Truth that “lives in the deep can be confronted only in the deep.” Ahab and his crew “dramatize the heroism and tragedy of our unsuccessful yet unyielding efforts to confront that alien world. … In the end, we can neither control nor understand our world, can neither control nor understand ourselves.” Bruce Grenberg, Some Other World to Find – Quest and Negation in the Works of Herman Melville (Chicago: Chicago, 1989) 98, 101 – 102.

(19) Jenny Franchot, “Melville’s Traveling God,” The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Robert Levine (New York: Cambridge, 1998) 157 – 185: 158.

(20) Pio Colonnello, “Homelessness as Heimatlosigkeit?,” The Ethics of Homelessness – Philosophical Perspectives, ed. G. Abbarno (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999) 41 – 54: 41.

(21) Leslie MacAvoy, “Overturning Cartesianism and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Rethinking Dreyfus on Heidegger,” Inquiry, 2001: 44, 455 – 480: 461.

(22) Hubert Dreyfus, “Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology and Politics,” 15 Oct. 2008.

(23) Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking, ” 1951, trans. Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper, 1971). Quotes are from Julian Young, “What Is Dwelling? The Homelessness of Modernity and the Worlding of the World,” Heidegger, Authenticity and Modernity – Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus, eds. Mark Wrathall and Jeff Malpas (Cambridge: MIT, 2000) 187 – 204.

(24) Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, “Highway bridges and feasts: Heidegger and Borgmann on how to affirm technology,” Man and World, 1997: 30, 159 – 177: 166.

(25) Håkan Karlsson, “Why Is There Material Culture Rather than Nothing? Heideggerian thoughts and archaeology,” Philosophy and Archaeological Practice – Perspectives for the 21st Century, eds. Cornelius Holtorf and Håkan Karlsson (Lindome: Bricoleur, 2000) 69 – 86: 72.

(26) Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: Chicago) 88.

(27) Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, “Further Reflections on Heidegger, Technology, and the Everyday,” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 2003: 23(5), 339 – 349: 344.

(28) Charles Spinosa, “Heidegger on Living Gods,” Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science – Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus, eds. Mark Wrathall and Jeff Malpas (Cambridge: MIT, 2000) 209 – 228: 210.

(29) He thought they were the last philosophical thinkers correctly oriented towards pursing the meaning of Being. Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, 1942, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana, 1992). They were the first to experience the “astonishment, the fundamental mood of the first beginning.” It “struck and dazzled them,” Michel Haar, “Attunement and Thinking,” Heidegger Reexamined – Volume 3 – Art, Poetry and Technology, eds. Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (New York: Routledge, 2002) 149 – 162: 158. The historical commentator who came closest to realizing a Heideggerian interpretation of the Odyssey may have been the neo-Platonist Porphyry (ca. 234 – 305 CE). In The Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey, he “sees Odysseus as a symbol of the soul journeying through the material realm of becoming to its final restoration in pure being.” Seth Schein, “Introduction,” Reading the Odyssey – Selected Interpretive Essays, ed. Seth Schein (Princeton: Princeton, 1996) 3 – 32: 15.

(30) “Theology” (θεολογία), of course, is discourse about god or gods – religion, conventionally understood. Onto-theology defines a god as the originator of being. In the Judeo-Christian Tradition, the God of Abraham and Moses produced or caused everything that is. For Heidegger, referring to God is “telling a story” – tracing one form of entity (us) back to its origin with some other entity (God). Heidegger is critical of onto-theology because has obscured the quest for the meaning of Being. “Being” is what produces and causes entities, not other entities. William Blattner, Heidegger’s Being and Time (London: Continuum, 2007) 17.

This conceptual misunderstanding has pervasively infiltrated the Judeo-Christian literary and narrative tradition. Martin Heidegger, “The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” 1955, Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper, 1969) 42 – 74. It has done so by proliferating distinctions such as “reality versus appearance” and “the rational versus the irrational,” all of which Heidegger rejects. It is a short step from Heidegger’s definition of onto-theology to include monotheism in the sense of Abrahamic religions. Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology: Towards a Postmodern Christian Faith, New York: Fordham, 2001) 9 – 16; Benjamin Crowe, “On the Track of the Fugitive Gods: Heidegger, Luther, Hölderlin, The Journal of Religion, 2007: 183 – 205: 187. By “codifying and disseminating an understanding of what entities are, metaphysics provides each historical ‘epoch’ of intelligibility with its ontological bedrock. And by furnishing an account of the ultimate source from which entities issue, metaphysics supplies intelligibility with a kind of foundational justification that … Heidegger characterizes as ‘theological.’” Theology “reflects a series of historical transformations in our metaphysical understanding of entities are.” Iain Thomson, Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education (Cambridge: Cambridge, 2005) 8.

(31) H. Bruce Franklin, The Wake of the Gods: Melville’s Mythology (Stanford: Stanford, 1963).

(32) Christopher Sten, Sounding the Whale – Moby Dick as Epic Novel (Kent: Kent State, 1996) x, 2.

(33) Christopher Sten, “Threading the Labyrinth: Moby-Dick as Hybrid Epic,” A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Kelley, 408 – 422: 408.

(34) Hubert Dreyfus, “The Roots of Existentialism,” A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, eds. Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (Malden: Blackwell, 2006), 137 – 161: 138. World-disclosers such as Odysseus and Moses also played significant roles in establishing our sense of “self,” understood as a cultural precipitate. They developed a system of “creedal hedges … raised around impulses of independence or autonomy from communal purpose.” By doing so they established a “corporate identity within which the individual” must “organize the range of his[/her] experience.” Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Chicago: Chicago, 1966) 15, 17.

(35) Robert Bellah, “What is Axial about the Axial Age?”, Archives of European Sociology, 2005: XLVI(1), 69 – 87: 73.

(36) Hubert Dreyfus, “Heidegger on the connection between nihilism, art, technology, and politics,” The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, 2nd ed., ed. Charles Guignon (New York: Cambridge, 2006) 345 – 372: 351.

(37) Hubert Dreyfus, “Introduction,” Heidegger: A Critical Reader, ed. Hubert Dreyfus and Harrison Hall (Boston: Blackwell, 1992), 1 – 12: 12.

(38) Claudia Johnson and Vernon Johnson, Understanding the Odyssey (Westport: Greenwood, 2003) xiii.

(39) Milton Reigelman, “Looking at Melville’s First Hero through a Homeric Lens: Tommo and Odysseus,” Melville “Among the Nations”, eds. Morovitz and Christodoulou, 201 – 209: 202.

(40) Edith Hall, The Return of Ulysses – A Cultural History of Homer’s Odyssey (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2008) 75.

(41) Hélène Foley, “‘Reverse Similies’ and Sex Roles in the Odyssey,” Arethusa, 1978: 11, 7 – 26, reprinted in Modern Critical Interpretations – Homer’s The Odyssey, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 87 – 102: 100.

(42) The Greek word for Odysseus’ return home is νόστος or nostos (from which our word “nostalgia” is derived). Nostos is a genre of epic literary form. Karl Reinhardt, “The Adventures in the Odyssey,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 63 – 132: 87. Odysseus had to make it through numerous literal and symbolic encounters in fantastical lands in order to return back to normalcy. These confrontations defined the meaning of his being and his identity as a member of the human species. The most important aspect of his adventure is the contrast between these worlds, 82. Seen in this light, “Odysseus’ homecoming is his most exotic adventure” of all. Michael Nagler, “Dread Goddess Revisited,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Shein, 141 – 162: 161. As is Ishmael’s rescue by The Rachel (Epilogue). Moby Dick flips between first- and third- person narrative, emphasizing this juxtaposition, as does the Odyssey. Laura Slatkin, “Composition by Theme and the Mētis of the Odyssey,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 223 – 238: 231.

(43) Bellah refers to it as the “Axial Age.” Bellah, “What is Axial about the Axial Age.”

(44) Jan Assman, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge: Harvard, 1997) 3.

(45) As did Virgil for Dante in the Divine Comedy. Although layered, that world nonetheless remained a phenomenologically-consistent whole, with a single god (i.e., God). Dante and Virgil encountered Odysseus in the only place where Dante thought to stick him, which was in the eighth circle (Inferno, Canto 26). In Dante’s cosmology that was the one reserved for false counselors, Odysseus having betrayed his sailors by inducing them to travel beyond the edge of the known world, on the promise of virtue and knowledge.

(46) I am thinking in particular of the Pequod’s improbable and hallucinogenic encounters with other ships: The Albatross (Chapter 52), The Virgin (Chapter 81), The Rose-Bud (Chapter 91), The Samuel Enderby (Chapter 100), The Bachelor (Chapter 115), The Rachel (Chapter 128) and The Delight (Chapter 131).

(47) Chapter 61: “It was my turn to stand at the foremast-head; and with my shoulders leaning against the slackened royal shrouds, to and fro I idly swayed in what seemed an enchanted air. No resolution could withstand it; in that dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at last my soul went out of my body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum will, long after the power which first moved it is withdrawn. Ere forgetfulness altogether came over me, I had noticed that the seamen at the main and mizen mast-heads were already drowsy. So that at last all three of us lifelessly swung from the spars, and for every swing that we made there was a nod from below from the slumbering helmsman. The waves, too, nodded their indolent crests; and across the wide trance of the sea, east nodded to west, and the sun over all.”

Odysseus frequently avoids similar opportunities to become forgetful of his objective (the meaning of his being, to return home to Ithaca): with Circe, in the land of the Lotus-Eaters, upon hearing the song of the Sirens, and with Calypso. The “human way” prevailed over all that is “nonhuman.” Pierre Vidal-Naquet, “Land and Sacrifice in the Odyssey: A Study of Religious and Mythical Meanings,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 33 – 54: 45. By “wresting the names of its heroes from oblivion” in this manner, “the social memory is really attempting to root a whole system of values in the absolute, in order to preserve it from precariousness, instability, and destruction: in short, to shelter it from time and from death.” Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Death with Two Faces,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 55 – 62: 57. It establishes their κλέος (kleos) or historical celebrity – something they cannot do of their own accord. Charles Segal, “Kleos and Its Ironies in the Odyssey, Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 201 – 222: 203.

Illustrating this, Odysseus returns to Ithaca as a simple beggar, much as Ishmael would have been following his rescue by The Rachel (Epilogue). Odysseus’ identity progressively changes from being a wanderer to being at home in his dwelling, as he is “recognized” by Telemachus, Argus, Euryclea and Penelope. Ishmael survives to narrate Moby Dick. Melville establishes Ishmael’s kleos for all time, just as Homer did for Odysseus.

(48) There is a long tradition in Greek poetry involving the concepts of “being a host” and “being a guest” (ξενία, xenia). Reinhardt, “The Adventures in the Odyssey,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Schein, 63 – 132: 88, 122; Nagler, “Dread Goddess Revisited,” Reading the Odyssey, ed. Shein, 141 – 162: 157. Some hosts are less congenial than others (Polyphemus eats his guests), just as some guests are less than congenial (the Suitors are gluttons).

(49) It might be possible to regard Ishmael’s dwelling as the Pequod (Chapter 21 – Chapter 135). However, it only is a provisional or temporary place. It lacks the culture-revealing facility that a true dwelling has. Ishmael is as acculturated as he is going to get during the course of the story, when he signs up to sail on the Pequod. He eschews the easy bonhomie of the crew (Chapter 40), and never does acquire much facility as a sailor. “Even when Ishmael seems intimately involved in the activities of the Pequod, he stands truly apart from the rest of the crew, his separateness revealed in his inability to engage in any activity and take his identity from it.” A better interpretation of Ishmael emphasizes this estrangement. “An unwanted child in an alien world, clinging to his fragile mortality, just as at the end of the voyage he will cling to Queequeg’s life-buoy coffin, Ishmael not too surprisingly sees himself at the mercy of ‘the invisible police officer of the Fates’.” Grenberg 111, 96.

(50) Queequeg is considerably more alert to cultural signifiers than is Ishmael. He embodies the practices of his Kokovokian culture. He is devoted to a religious totem, Yojo (Chapter 16), and spends considerable time constructing a coffin in accordance with Kokovoko tradition (Chapter 110). He guides Ishmael, just like Virgil guides Dante.

(51) Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967: 96(1), 1 – 21. Reprinted in Beyond Belief (Berkeley: California, 1970), 168 – 189: 175.

(52) Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge: Harvard, 1989) 512. Taylor specifically invokes Odysseus: his homecoming “from the realm of the monstrous, the threatening, of the limit situation, to the joys of ordinary life with its rhythmed flow of time” is “one of the constitutive experiences of modernity,” 627.

(53) Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard, 2007) 484.

(54) Alfred Tauber, “The Biological Notion of Self and Non-Self,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 19 Mar. 2006, 15 Oct. 2008.

(55) Charles Taylor, “Interpretation and the Sciences of Man,” Interpretive Social Science – A Second Look, eds. Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan (Berkeley: California, 1988) 33 – 81: 46. Dostoyevsky actually accomplished this synthesis in The Brothers Karamazov (1880). “His religion is Orthodoxy because it is the religion of the Russian people” (emphasis in original). Dmitry Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature From Its Beginnings to 1900, ed. Francis Whitfield (New York: Vintage, 1949) 283.

(56) Thomas Werge, “Moby-Dick and the Calvinist Tradition,” Studies in the Novel, 1969: 1(4), 484 – 506. Reprinted in A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, ed. Michael Davey (New York: Routledge, 2004) 96 – 98: 96.

(57) Juana Djelal, “The Shape of the Whale: Flukes and Other Tales,” Leviathan – A Journal of Melville Studies, 2006: 7(2), 47 – 53: 53.

(58) E.g. Shawn Thomson, The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson, 2001).

(59) E.g. F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (London: Oxford, 1941); Nick Selby, Herman Melville, Moby Dick (New York: Columbia, 1999) 62; Lawrance Thompson, Melville’s Quarrel with God (Princeton: Princeton, 1952); Clifford Hallam, “Ishmael’s Tale: Confessions of an Outsider,” reviewed in John Samson, ed., “Melville,” American Literary Scholarship, ed. David Nordloh (Durham: Duke, 2002) 46.

(60) James McIntosh, “The Mariner’s Multiple Quest,” New Essays on Moby Dick, ed. Richard Brodhead (New York: Cambridge, 1986) 23 – 52: 23.

(61) T. Walter Herbert, “Calvinist Earthquake: Moby Dick and Religious Tradition,” New Essays, ed. Brodhead, 109 – 140; T. Walter Herbert, Moby Dick and Calvinism: A World Dismantled (Piscataway: Rutgers, 1977).

(62) Emory Elliott, “Wandering To-and-Fro – Melville and Religion,” A Historical Guide to Herman Melville, ed. Giles Gunn (Oxford: Oxford, 2005) 167 – 224: 190 – 191.

(63) Walter Bezanson, “Review of Thompson, 1952, Melville’s Quarrel with God,” Modern Language Notes, 1953: 68(4), 266 – 268: 268.

(64) Herbert, Moby Dick and Calvinism; Rowland Sherrill, “Review of Herbert, 1977, Moby Dick and Calvinism: A World Dismantled,” The Journal of Religion, 1978: 58(3), 324 – 325: 325.

(65) Chad Luck, “The Epistemology of the Wonder-Closet: Melville, Moby Dick, and the Marvelous,” Leviathan – A Journal of Melville Studies, 2007: 9(1), 3 – 23: 5.

(66) Gail Coffler, “Melville’s Allusions to Religion,” Leviathan – A Journal of Melville Studies, 2006: 8(1), 107 – 119: 112. It also shows that Melville may have had a better understanding of the problem of onto-theology than did Heidegger. Heidegger would have been truer to the phenomena he described if he had not disapproved of monotheism per se. He should be more interested in opposing the initial juxtaposition of experience into categories such as monotheism versus polytheism, to begin with.

(67) Athanasios Christodoulou, “The ‘Tragicalness of Human Thought’ – an Introduction to Melville’s Theory of Knowledge, Melville “Among the Nations”, ed. Marovitz and Athanasios, 159 – 174: 162.

(68) Lawrence Buell, “Moby Dick as Sacred Text,” New Essays on Moby Dick, ed. Brodhead, 53 – 72: 61.

(69) Hilton Obenzinger, “Wicked Books: Melville and Religion,” A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Kelley, 181 – 196: 181.

(70) John Bryant, “The Persistence of Melville: Representative Writer for a Multicultural Age,” Melville’s Evermoving Dawn: Centennial Essays, ed. John Bryant (Kent: Kent State, 1997) 3 – 30: 4.

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