Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Metanarrative, Meaning, and Moby Dick
So just what is the chapter "The Whiteness of the Whale" really getting at in Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick? You guessed it -- the answer has something to do with hermeneutics (the rules and guidelines of interpretation). If one sees this whole story as simply the adventurous tale of a whaling boat, a captain and his crew, and a mysterious white whale, well then the meaning of this chapter is pretty clear -- it describes a literal, albino whale that is one huge, smart, treacherous, and mysterious creature. Makes a great bedtime story. Although a tad haunting.
However, if one views this story as an allegory where Moby Dick represents the biblical God, well then the chapter takes on a whole different hue, to say the least. This allegory angle for Melville's classic is not total conjecture. It could be why Melville wrote to his friend and a fellow author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, upon finishing this work, "I have written my most wicked book." Was Melville attempting to communicate that the Christian God is as tyrannical and uncaring concerning human affairs (if He indeed exists at all) as the white whale?
Anyway, this scenario of (at least) two potential ways of reading Moby Dick illustrates an important point in the interpretation of texts (and life). The point is this: One's starting point or presuppositions of the text (and life) has more than a little impact and implication for interpreting the parts of the text (and life). We interact with and interpret all of life based on something.