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Thinking Out Loud About My Final Project

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OFMG, Melville basically tells us straight out what he's doing on goddamn page 4-5! Look:

"…meditation and water are wedded forever … Narcisuss, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

And of course everyone drowns except Ishmael, whatever that means, though I suppose if I think about it then I'll just drown in Moby Dick myself. Scholarship as suicide, as another alternative to pistol and ball, heh.

Truth as something untouchable, immaterial ... why is it a mild image? Is the white whale the image? Ahab a violent Narcissus? Moby Dick a despised self-image? Or is Melville trying to drown me? 

Melville mobilizes humor as a tactic in displaying the impossibility of knowing. 

How do I spin that to form a final paper? And see, very often the humor is in the tone, it's wryness. How the hell does one discuss wryness in literature? 

Thinking generically: a slightly silly sea adventure turns into something Gothic at sea. Does the impossiblity of grasping truth become more tragic than comedic later on?

I can't just look at humor, not at this point. And really, I was interested in humor in the first place because Moby Dick puzzled me so much, and the humor puzzled me in particular. I thought that would be the key, but Melville hands the key to his reader - I suspect that Melville hands the reader the key over and over again. 

I've been thinking about humor for another class (Classical Warfare - I'm working on humorous depictions of warfare.) And the field of humor studies, well, there's a lot of work to be done (and maybe I'll do some of it), and there isn't much consensus. Literary critics and social scientists talk across each other; literary critics try to break it down by genre but I don't think that's the best tactic, because the functions of the different genres of humor (comedy, satire, irony, etc.) are so flexible. And really what we see in Moby Dick is an example of the flexibility of humor. In a way, the whole book is one big joke, and the punchline is that the suicidal Ishmael is the only survivor of the Pequod. And that's life. And that's the point. 

Maybe I should change my topic? I mean, humor used to undercut notions of authority over knowledge, ok, fine, I feel pretty certain of that, and Melville wants to unsettle the very pursuit of reading a novel for meaning, for ordering. I don't write papers about things I'm already certain of, what a waste of time.

Maybe I should switch to humor in Uncle Tom's Cabin? Because you see, I approached MD with reverance, with pleasure, with respect. It's difficult! It's different! It doesn't try to be anything but what it is! And I feel like I've cracked it. Whereas UTC I am ready to dismiss. Sentimental, didactic, popular*, and it hasn't aged as well as MD. I much prefer the games Melville plays with Biblical references to Beecher Stowe's browbeating. I write interesting papers when I write about something which angers or irritates me or others. I'm thinking perhaps a research paper, one which brings me into conversation with what other people have been saying about humor in UTC. I am so interested in Topsy, and I want to rewrite her story (and I'm no comic writer), and she is an excellent example of something both comic and deeply serious in UTC. I need to read a lot about humor theory for Classical Warfare anyway, and I can bring whatever I find useful in that to bear on MD

But I am disappointed not to spend more time with Melville's lovely prose, which is so much more delicious than Beecher Stowe's ever is.

*'Popular' can be a horrible thing to say about a book.