Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Ishmael's cetological quest: A Dantesque progression of imagination in Melville's Moby-Dick
by Reyes, Elizabeth, Ph.D., University of Dallas, 2012, 257; 3535977
Abstract (Summary)

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: Or The Whale centers upon the Sperm whale himself, presenting a series of approaches to the animal that move in descending and then ascending trajectory. This study focuses primarily on the "cetological center," as Howard Vincent designates the middle chapters chiefly concerned with whales and whaling. In them we investigate why, to accomplish his imaginative quest, Ishmael as sailor experiences, and as writer praises, the whale as real whale, in all its corporeal and maculate reality. As Ishmael bodily goes to sea on the Pequod, he simultaneously embarks on a voyage of imagination that bears resemblance in structure and purpose to Dante's own epistemological pilgrimage. From his initial "damp, drizzly November" of soul, wherein his concept of the whale is utterly abstract; to an encounter with that "unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life," the giant squid; to the increasingly more tangible moments of contact with leviathan; to his culminating vision of Moby Dick himself; Ishmael progressively gains not only hands-on experience with bodily, boisterous cetaceans, but also a conceptual openness to the goodness of the literal whale. By tracing Ishmael's travels and encounters—which are in many ways similar to Dante's varying levels of the cosmos—I will divide Ishmael's stages of imagination into the angelic, the occult, and the symbolic. Ending in what can be called the sacramental imagination, this motion of Ishmael's understanding finally presents an analogous apprehension of the divine through knowledge of the whale, achieved only by plunging fully into the corporeal before attempting to engage the spiritual.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cowan, Louise
Commitee: Alvis, John, Cowan, Bainard, Dupree, Robert, Sweet, David, Wood, Robert
School: University of Dallas
Department: Philosophic Studies
School Location: United States -- Texas
Source: DAI-A 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Ishmael, Melville, Herman, Moby-Dick, Whaling
Publication Number: 3535977
ISBN: 9781267899651
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