Camp Encyclopedias and Reparative Imaginings in Moby-Dick

Citation
Title:
Camp Encyclopedias and Reparative Imaginings in Moby-Dick
Author:
Conference Name
Imagining A New Century
Host Institution
C19: The Society of 19th Century Americanists
Location
Province:
Pennsylvania
Country:
United States
Conference date
Sat, 05/22/2010
Conference Name
Imagining A New Century
Year: 
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Volume: 
Issue: 
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Language: 
English
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Abstract:

 

In this paper I argue that the irony, exaggeration, and willful inaccuracy of Ishmael’s compilation of knowledge about whales and whaling in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick model what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick terms “reparative practices” allied to more recent queer phenomena such as camp (which Sedgwick discusses) or genderfuck. Elaborating on the psychoanalytic ideas of Melanie Klein, Sedgwick writes that the “desire of a reparative impulse … is additive and accretive. Its fear, a realistic one, is that the culture surrounding it is inadequate or inimical to its nurture. It wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will have resources to offer an inchoate self” (149). The whale, which Ishmael describes as a subject so large it encompasses past, present, and future, inspires his assembling this excessive, partially plagiarized text—what Jennifer Doyle calls Moby-Dick’s boring parts. Likewise, he performatively declares, it expands him as an author, just as Dr. Johnson’s dictionary did its author, whose “portly” words nourish Ishmael’s own project of phantasied self-enlargement (349). (“Cannibals?” asks Ishmael, channeling Klein; “who is not a cannibal?” [242]).

Doyle provocatively links Ishmael’s encyclopedic textual production to pornography. I would like to connect it to another of Sedgwick’s idées fixes, masturbation, a subject that runs throughout the novel, most famously in the stunning a group-masturbation-paradise fantasy of “A Squeeze of the Hand” (322-24). 

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