The tattooed treatise: breaking down mind/body binaries in Moby-Dick ; and Poetic minds in cloddish soil: Hawthorne's bodies in contemporary discourse

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Charles T. Guy-McAlpin (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Karen Kilcup

Abstract: Both physically and narratively, Moby Dick's body dwarfs all others in the eponymous novel by Melville, as the author devotes inordinate space to dissecting and explicating a whale's physical presence. Yet he explores other bodies too. In "The Tattooed Treatise: Breaking Down Mind/Body Binaries in Moby-Dick" I focus on human bodies, arguing that Melville used Queequeg, Ishmael and Ahab to contest contemporary bodily theories. From Calvinism and Transcendentalism to phrenology and Abolitionism, Melville was surrounded by discourses that competed in asserting the body's relationship to the mind. By describing Queequeg's tattoos as a "complete theory," a "mystical treatise," and a "wondrous work in one volume," Ishmael explicitly textualizes the harpooner's body and dissolves the traditional opposition between body and mind; the body retains the mind's knowledge and the mind requires the body to convey its wisdom. This cohesive mind/body relationship directly opposes a separatist discourse like Melville's childhood Calvinism. Ahab's body is also unified with his mind, yet with starkly unharmonious implications: his severed leg scarred not only his body, but also his mind, leading the captain ultimately to calculated murder-suicide. Using modern race and gender theory to interpret Melville's mind/body binaries, I argue that Ishmael struggles to choose between his allegiance to Ahab's corruption or Queequeg's harmony by developing awareness of his own body's performative nature. By textualizing his body with tattooed whale measurements (and leaving room for a poem), Ishmael makes the body's fluid relationship with the mind explicit, asserting his allegiance not only to Queequeg's mind/body harmony but also to his body's performative possibilities. Melville thus dramatizes a model of mind/body unity that was decidedly radical for his contemporary sphere of ideas, and which remains so today. "Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom": Nathaniel Hawthorne thus establishes the Transcendentalist dream in The Blithedale Romance through his protagonist and narrator, Miles Coverdale. Coverdale's personal journey begins with youthful idealism but ends with wounded skepticism. In "Poetic Minds in Cloddish Soil: Hawthorne's Bodies in Contemporary Discourse," I analyze Hawthorne's rejection of Transcendentalism in Blithedale through the lens of the mind/body binary, arguing that his romance undermines the tenability of this philosophical model. Most modern scholars analyze bodies with reference to race, gender, and sexuality. In Hawthorne studies these readings usually focus on The Scarlet Letter, particularly on Hester's desexualized body, implicit slave narratives of subjugation, and Chillingworth's "raping" of Dimmesdale. Rather than contesting these theoretical perspectives, I suggest that their prominence causes us to systematically overlook other textualized bodily discourses. In Blithedale, Hawthorne critiques Emersonian Transcendentalism by interrogating the body's relationship to the mind. When Coverdale says that his labor will unearth truth, he connects his body's toil to the mind's capacity for knowledge, clearly channeling Emerson; Transcendentalism depends on the possibility of poetic unity between body and mind. Coverdale aspires to this unity, but soon realizes its philosophical flaw: as he works harder and harder, his ability and desire to write and contemplate decreases, foreclosing a utopian access to poetics and Nature. Hawthorne's interrogation of Transcendentalism is not limited to Coverdale. By exploring certain synecdochal images in other characters, particularly Westervelt's teeth and Zenobia's flowers, I show how Hawthorne repeatedly establishes mind/body binaries throughout the text while undermining their idyllic, transcendental possibilities.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Body, Calvinism, Hawthorne, Melville, Mind, Transcendentalism
Hawthorne, Nathaniel $d 1804-1864 $x Criticism and interpretation.
Meville, Herman $d 1819-1891 $x Criticism and interpretation.
Transcendentalism (New England)
Transcendentalism in literature.
Mind and body in literature.

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