December 5, 2011

I recently self-published two new books:

The Best of Phlit: Excerpts from a Newsletter on Philosophy and Literature
The Best of Phlit: Travels, Memoirs, Essays

These books organize Phlit articles by subject. For example, all the articles on the occult are in one chapter, all the articles on Jung are in another chapter, etc. Each book is 500 pages.

I’m grateful to Elliott Banfield for designing the covers, which you can see here and here. The books are available from Amazon (here and here).

1. An “Accident”

William Colby, former director of the CIA, once told his son Carl that he would never become old and infirm. “Someday you’ll read that I died suddenly — I was walking on a path in the Greek isles, and fell into the sea.”1 Accident or suicide? Should we call it a willed accident? In fact, William Colby didn’t die in the Greek isles. According to Wikipedia, “Colby died in an apparent boating accident near his home in Rock Point, Maryland.” He had been paddling a canoe. Officially, his death was ruled a heart attack. Carl says that his father was done, he had had enough of this life. It seems that William Colby didn’t die of natural causes, or physical causes, or accidental causes, he died because he wanted to, he died as he told Carl he would.

We should be wary of the word “accident.” Accidents are often willed, often not accidental. Likewise, we should be wary of the words “chance” and “coincidence.” What some people call chance or coincidence is perhaps synchronicity, part of the inter-connectedness of the universe. Didn’t Freud teach us to be wary of the word “forget”? We forget to do something that we don’t really want to do. Perhaps we should speak of “willed forgetting” as well as “willed accidents.”

Carl Colby made a documentary about his father, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby. It’s a good documentary, reviewing modern American history.

2. Chris Herren

In an earlier issue, I said I had attended a talk by Chris Herren (a basketball star from Fall River, Massachusetts) and Bill Reynolds (a sportswriter in Providence, Rhode Island). Herren and Reynolds were discussing their new book, Basketball Junkie, which describes Herren’s struggles with addiction. More recently, Herren was featured in a 90-minute ESPN film, Unguarded.

A few days ago, the local high school invited Herren to speak. Since I had already heard him, I didn’t plan to listen to the whole talk, but I thought I’d listen for the first few minutes.

It was the best talk I ever heard, I couldn’t leave, I had to listen to the end. The big auditorium was packed, and the audience gave Herren two standing ovations. I had tears in my eyes, and I’m sure others did, too. He revealed much about himself, he spoke candidly of his errors, and he had a serious purpose: to help others avoid those errors.

There were many dramatic moments in his talk, such as when he spent five days taking hard drugs with a pro football player, and finally starting having hallucinations. Then he got a call from his wife, asking him to pick her up at the airport. Since he was hallucinating, it was hard for him to drive, so he finally stopped his car on the side of the highway, and walked into the oncoming traffic, intending to kill himself. Instead, he was arrested.

If Basketball Junkie is half as interesting as Herren’s talk, then it’s a very interesting book. Click here for a 20-minute talk by Herren.

Wikipedia says, “Herren has been drug-free since June 4, 2008 and sober since August 1, 2008.” June 4, 2008 is when he entered Daytop, a rehab facility in Rhinebeck, New York. After being drug-free and alcohol-free for more than a month, Herren received a call from his wife, who said she was about to have their third child, and would like him to be with her. He went to the hospital for the birth of his child, and then went out and got drunk. So even after 6 or 8 weeks of rehab, even after seeing how substance-abuse had ruined his life, he still couldn’t resist. He returned to rehab, and eventually spent about 12 months in rehab facilities. Only then could he resist.

Herren recently started an organization to help recovering addicts. If someone can’t afford rehab, he said his organization would help.

3. The Penn State Scandal

In the last issue of Phlit, I suggested that the root cause of the Penn State scandal was Joe Paterno’s age. But when I read an article about Penn State president Graham Spanier, it appeared that Spanier’s eagerness to ‘protect the brand’ might have played a role in the scandal. When I wrote the last issue, I forgot one of my own favorite theories: events don’t have one cause, they have multiple causes, infinite causes. This is the Doctrine of Mutual Arising. The Penn State scandal had numerous causes — Sandusky’s proclivities, Paterno’s age, Spanier’s management style, etc., etc. — and all these causes arose together, all these causes played a role in the scandal.

Like Paterno, Spanier was successful and widely respected, so he tried to hold on to what he had achieved, tried to maintain the school’s reputation and his own reputation, even if that meant sweeping problems under the rug. As one Penn State professor said, “If you’re always focused on promoting the brand and there’s no scrutiny, that leads to covering up.” Pride goeth before a fall.

4. Movies

A. Saw the movie Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s 1995 movie about the Scottish hero, William Wallace, and his battles with the English. Some English critics complained that Braveheart inflamed Scottish nationalism and Anglophobia. Braveheart won numerous awards; it was popular with critics and with the public. Its battle scenes are especially esteemed. It’s full of violence; the final scene, in which Wallace is executed by the English, is especially gruesome. Perhaps Gibson is drawn to such scenes; his movie The Passion of the Christ has been called the most violent movie ever made. I don’t recommend Braveheart; neither the romances nor the battles affected me, it isn’t tasteful or intelligent.

B. I also saw a documentary called Earth, part of the DisneyNature series (2007, 90 minutes, narrated by James Earl Jones). If you saw the 11-hour Planet Earth documentary, you’ll be disappointed to find that Earth uses footage from Planet Earth; Earth isn’t an original film. But unlike the 11-hour film, Earth was shown in theaters. If you haven’t seen Planet Earth, or haven’t seen it recently, you’ll probably enjoy Earth.

5. Edinger on Moby Dick

I spent months and months reading Moby Dick, and I didn’t enjoy it. Then I searched for a good critical study of the novel, but couldn’t find one. Finally I found a superb book by Edward Edinger, an American Jungian; it’s called Melville’s Moby-Dick. The sub-title is A Jungian Commentary, and the sub-sub-title is An American Nekyia (a Nekyia is a journey to the underworld, a night sea journey). Edinger’s book is so good that it can serve as an introduction to Jungian psychology, even as an introduction to psychology in general, as well as a guide to Moby Dick. It’s a short book, but manages to cover the whole span of the novel. It’s a readable book, but manages to clarify the obscure depths of the novel. It repays the reader who made the “Long March” through Moby Dick; it makes him feel that his sufferings were not without reward. And it also makes the reader want to read more Edinger.2

The epigraph of Edinger’s book is a quote from Melville’s Pierre: “I shall follow the endless, winding way — the flowing river in the cave of man.” This quote shows Melville’s commitment to exploring the unconscious. Since Melville explores these “winding ways,” his works cry out for a psychological study like Edinger’s. This quote also shows that Edinger knows not only Moby Dick, but other Melville works, too; he even knows Melville’s poetry. Thus, Edinger’s study of Moby Dick throws light on many of Melville’s works.

In his introduction, Edinger says that psychology arose as religion declined.

There can be no scientific approach to the depths of the psyche as long as the contents of these depths are projected into an external system, such as a religious or philosophic creed. The death of religion gives birth to psychology, and the world-phoenix renews itself.3

One might say that psychology is the religion of our time.

Turning to “Melville the Man,” Edinger says “the psychic atmosphere of Melville’s family [was] that of a matriarchy in which the mother is the central figure.”4 Edinger speaks of the “inherent weakness” of Melville’s father. According to Edinger, Melville’s mother respected her brother more than her husband, and “never committed herself emotionally to her husband.” The matriarchal atmosphere in the Melville household may account for the homoerotic elements in Melville’s life and work.5

Next Edinger discusses Melville’s friendship with Hawthorne. When Melville gave Hawthorne a copy of Moby Dick, Hawthorne responded with an appreciative, complimentary letter. Melville wrote back, and said that Hawthorne’s letter gave him an “infinite fraternity of feeling.... Your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours.”6 Edinger points out that Hawthorne was fifteen years older than Melville, and Edinger says that this “spiritual love affair” couldn’t last:

Hawthorne of course could not live up to such an intense transference. As with all powerful projections, it came with a possessiveness which provoked from its object a protective withdrawal. Hawthorne, a shy, introverted man, remained friendly, but did not share Melville’s emotional involvement. As the friendship cooled, feeling the inevitable rebuff which excessive expectation brings, Melville was thrown back on himself.

Moby Dick begins with the famous line “Call me Ishmael.” In his third chapter, Edinger explores the Ishmael symbol. He starts by saying that Ishmael is “the Biblical figure of the rejected outcast, the alienated man.” (In Genesis, Abraham’s wife Sarah is unable to bear a child, so she arranges for Abraham to have a child with Sarah’s maid, Hagar. An angel tells Hagar to call the boy Ishmael, and tells Hagar that “he shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him.” When Sarah has a child with Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away.)

Melville’s other writings [Edinger writes] show that he was preoccupied throughout his life with the figure of Ishmael, the orphan, the child who was bitterly hurt. In Mardi he writes, “sailors are mostly foundlings and castaways and carry all their kith and kin in their arms and their legs,” and in Redburn, “at last I found myself a sort of Ishmael in the ship, without a single friend or companion.” In Pierre, the hero feels “entirely lonesome, and orphan-like.”

When the young man goes to sea in Redburn, he says, “Cold, bitter cold as December, and bleak as its blasts, seemed the world then to me; there is no misanthrope like a boy disappointed; and such was I.” Edinger says that Melville’s “Ishmael complex,” like all major complexes, was rooted in his experience and in identification with an archetype — the Ishmael archetype. Melville’s father went insane and died when Melville was 12, “a striking similarity to the Biblical Ishmael, who was replaced by Isaac at the age of thirteen.”7 After the father’s death, the family fell on hard times. Furthermore, Melville “was rejected by his mother,” Edinger says, “who favored her first son.” This first son, Gansevoort, was a lawyer, was involved in politics, supported Polk in the 1844 Presidential election, and after Polk’s victory, was repaid with a diplomatic post in London. From his London post, he helped find a publisher for Typee.

The relationship between Gansevoort and Herman was, Edinger writes, “molded by the archetype of the hostile brothers.... Gansevoort’s life followed a course strangely reciprocal to Herman’s.”8 Gansevoort flourished while Herman floundered, but when Herman found success with Typee, Gansevoort “died of an obscure illness at the age of thirty.”9 Edinger says of hostile brothers, “as one waxes, the other must wane.” The success of Typee killed Gansevoort?! A strange idea certainly, and not completely convincing, but interesting, and worthy of further consideration.

Edinger says that hostile brothers like Gansevoort and Herman “embody opposite existential states, acceptance and rejection.” A child who experiences only one of these states can’t reach full maturity; a child should experience both acceptance and rejection — experience them cyclically or alternately. “The one-sided experience of acceptance can be as damaging as rejection.”10 The rejected son, Edinger says, is banished to the wilderness, while the accepted son becomes a “sacrificial victim.”11

Edinger says that Melville’s identification with Ishmael made him take a position “outside the orthodox and conventional,” made him take a position counter to the dominant values, counter to Christian values. According to Edinger, Ishmael is not only anti-Isaac, he’s anti-Christ. By starting his novel “Call me Ishmael,” Melville “prepares for the Luciferian contents to follow.”

Perhaps Melville was especially popular in the 1960’s, when the counter-culture movement took a position counter to the dominant values — just as Melville had. Edinger sees a kinship between Melville and the twentieth century in general: “His novel speaks so deeply to us today because this state of alienated meaninglessness is so prevalent in twentieth-century man.”12

Going beyond the opening sentence (“Call me Ishmael”), Edinger looks at the rest of the opening paragraph, and says that it depicts depression — “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” But it’s easy to overlook this depression since the tone of the prose is jocular: “With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.” So Ishmael is depressed, even suicidal, but Melville’s tone is light-hearted, as it is throughout much of the novel. Edinger says that depression is the usual starting-point for a Nekyia, a descent into the underworld, into the unconscious. Life is meaningless, our conscious attitude is bankrupt, so we’re prepared to turn to the unconscious. Edinger mentions other Nekyias that start with depression: The Odyssey, The Book of Job, The Divine Comedy, Pilgrim’s Progress, Faust, etc.

Depression and meaninglessness is especially common in modern literature. This may explain why modern literature (and modern culture in general) often explores the unconscious. Edinger quotes Eliot’s “Waste Land”: “The dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.”

While there are many parallels to Ishmael’s “damp, drizzly November in my soul,” the closest parallel, according to Edinger, is Faust, which begins with the depressed Faust saying “Cooped up among these heaps of books, gnawed by worms, coated with dust...” Both Moby Dick and Faust involve a pact with the devil. “Moby Dick could be called the American Faust.” Edinger says that Moby Dick expresses universal themes from an American perspective; it’s the first (the only?) work to explore the “mythological depths” of the American psyche.

The opening paragraph tells us, Edinger says, that Ishmael’s descent into the unconscious will be “an unusually perilous one.”13 Ishmael’s attitude is “flippant, half-humorous,” but one should approach the unconscious with “an earnest, responsible attitude.”

Edinger says that while Melville was writing Moby Dick, his mind was flooded with unconscious images, and he had to struggle to keep his sanity. “The autonomous archetypal psyche was powerfully and dangerously activated during Melville’s writing of Moby Dick.”14 Hence the symbolism is richer than in Melville’s earlier works; Moby Dick is deeper, but also more obscure, than Melville’s earlier works.

In the second chapter of Moby Dick, Ishmael sets out for New Bedford, or as Edinger puts it, begins the descent into the unconscious. Melville describes New Bedford with the grimmest images: “Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness, not houses, on either hand, and here and there a candle, like a candle moving about in a tomb.” According to Edinger, “This emphasis on blackness and death, characteristic of the early phase of the descent into the unconscious, corresponds to the first phase of the alchemical transformation process, called the nigredo, or blackening.”15 The alchemists experienced the nigredo as melancholia.

In the third chapter of Moby Dick, Ishmael enters the Spouter Inn and sees a dark and puzzling painting. Is it “the Black Sea in a midnight gale”? Finally Ishmael decides

The picture represents a Cape-Horner in a great hurricane; the half-foundered ship weltering there with its three dismantled masts alone visible; and an exasperated whale, purposing to spring clean over the craft, is in the enormous act of impaling himself upon the three mast-heads.

Edinger says, “This image presages the outcome of the voyage he is about to start.”

Ishmael is told that he must share a room with Queequeg, a South Sea native. Edinger says that Queequeg is a personification of the shadow — the first personification encountered in an analysis of the unconscious. Ishmael thinks Queequeg is going to murder him, and calls for the landlord. Edinger says, “The ego usually assumes the shadow has a hostile intent. This is a projection. The ego feels hostile toward the shadow and expects hostility in return.... As a rule the unconscious shows the ego the same face that the ego shows to it.” One is reminded of the common view that the world will smile at you if you smile at the world; the world shows you the same face that you show to it.

Ishmael soon realizes this, realizes that Queequeg may be afraid of him, and begins to calm down. Edinger says that Queequeg represents not just Ishmael’s shadow, but “the original whole man at home with nature and himself.” Queequeg’s wholeness is symbolized by the “black squares tattooed on his body,” and by the Maltese cross with which he makes his mark (he can’t write). Queequeg’s wholeness is also apparent in his “natural dignity and equanimity,” and in his healing effect on Ishmael. Queequeg represents the whole man, the Self. He helps Ishmael achieve “a reconnection with the Self,” and this in turn brings about “a capacity for love and human feeling.”16 Queequeg redeems Ishmael, so that when the ship is destroyed, Ishmael survives.

In addition to tattoos in the shape of black squares, Queequeg also has tattoos in a labyrinth design. Edinger says the labyrinth is a symbol of the unconscious.

Edinger points out that Queequeg was very eager to leave his South Sea island, and join a whaleship. “His urgent need to make contact with civilization is important. It represents the striving of the shadow for consciousness.” This reminds me of Dracula, in which the Englishman’s need for the Romanian vampire is matched by the vampire’s need for the Englishman. As I said in an earlier issue,

Stoker depicts both Victorian England and Dracula’s Transylvania as wastelands. Both areas need the other in order to be rejuvenated. Victorian England needs the passion, energy, and spontaneity of Transylvania, and Dracula needs the “man-brain”, the self-consciousness, of England.

Melville depicts Ishmael and Queequeg as “a cozy, loving pair, almost a married couple. In other of Melville’s writings also we find intense, emotional relationships between men.” Edinger thinks that Melville hadn’t realized his masculine side because his relationship with his father was “inadequate.” This lack of masculinity affected Melville’s writings, Edinger argues. Melville lacks “the discriminating, structuring, clarifying function of the masculine principle,” and his work has “a certain wild unpredictability.”17 One might say that Melville possesses the Dionysian, but not the Apollonian. “Queequeg’s harpoon symbolizes this missing rationality” (Apollo was the god of archery). Queequeg is everything that Melville/Ishmael isn’t, “Queequeg is full of strength, dignity, and purposefulness, a harpooner who has his harpoon with him constantly.”

Queequeg also represents everything that 19th-century American society isn’t — that is, he has a cultural significance as well as a personal significance. He is “the shadow and adversary of the nineteenth-century collective canon of religious orthodoxy.”18 Here again, Melville appeals to modern man, since modern man has started to respect his “Queequeg side” — the whole man, the natural man, the pagan man. As Edinger puts it, Queequeg represents “an aspect of the collective psyche which is only now, one hundred years later, beginning to emerge into consciousness.”

In Chapter 10 of Moby Dick, Ishmael joins Queequeg in idol-worship. This suggests, says Edinger, that Ishmael/Melville isn’t an orthodox Christian. Edinger reminds us that Melville made “some caustic remarks” about Christian missionaries in his earlier books.

Edinger says that Ishmael turns pagan too quickly, abandons his cultural heritage too quickly. “We are reminded of the careless, flippant attitude with which Ishmael decided to go to sea.” The unconscious should be approached with caution and respect. Edinger quotes from a letter that Melville wrote Hawthorne: “I stand for the heart. To the dogs with head! I had rather be a fool with a heart, than Jupiter Olympus with his head.”19 Edinger says, “This is no responsible dialogue with the unconscious but rather a capitulation to it.” When you approach the unconscious, keep your head.

Is there a message here for modern man? When we turn from Western civilization to pagan civilizations, should we “keep our head” and remember our cultural heritage?

Next Edinger discusses Jonah, who is the subject of Father Mapple’s sermon (in the ninth chapter of Moby Dick). God called upon Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t heed the call, he went to sea instead. Edinger says that God’s call is an inner voice, the voice of the unconscious, the voice of the Self. “To be a fugitive from God [as Jonah is] means psychologically that one is attempting to avoid the demands of his own development and destiny.” Jonah’s voyage is an attempt to escape the voice of his deepest self, and Edinger thinks that Ishmael (and Melville himself) went to sea in order to escape, hence Ishmael’s careless, flippant attitude.20

But you can’t run from your deepest self. “When the ego denies an unconscious imperative, the unconscious (God) becomes an avenging pursuer.”21 (Notice the Jungian equation, unconscious = God.) As an example of the unconscious as “avenging pursuer,” Edinger cites the Erinyes (Furies) of Greek mythology. In the Jonah story, the role of avenging pursuer is played by Leviathan: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

In the belly of the whale, Jonah became wiser, he awoke to the reality of unconscious/God. Will Ishmael experience the same awakening on his night sea journey?

Edinger notes that the word “vocation” comes from vocare, to call. As Jung said, “Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called.” Edinger says that Melville himself felt called to be an “artist-prophet,” and “To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood.” But the more he heeded this inner voice, the less money his writing brought in, so he was torn between his calling and his necessities. As he wrote to Hawthorne,

Try to get a living by the Truth — and go to the soup societies.... What I feel most moved to write, that is banned — it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.

Edinger says that many of us are in Melville’s predicament, many of us are torn between our calling and our practical situation. Edinger thinks that we can’t give ourselves entirely to our calling, or entirely to our practical situation; we have to unite the opposites.

Before the Pequod’s voyage begins, Ishmael receives two warnings: Ahab is nowhere in sight, so Ishmael can’t see his captain before entrusting himself to him, and then a “ragged old sailor” named Elijah makes some dire comments about Ahab. Edinger points out that “the Biblical Elijah... confronted the idolatrous Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.”22

Edinger says that Ahab and his three officers represent the four functions of Jungian theory. “Ahab, as captain, stands for the superior function, which is thinking.” Thinking isn’t the superior function for everyone, only for “thinking types,” such as Melville.

The first mate, Starbuck, represents the auxiliary function. When a person’s superior function is thinking, his auxiliary function is intuition, and Starbuck represents intuition. Melville says that Starbuck’s intuition was an intelligent superstition; “outward portents and inward presentiments were his.”

The second mate is Stubb, and he represents sensation, the opposite of intuition. As Ahab says of Starbuck and Stubb, “Ye two are the opposite poles of one thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck.” Stubb is described as a “good-humored, easy and careless.” Edinger says, “Thoughts of death, if he has any, are easily dispelled by a good dinner.”

When thinking is the superior function, feeling is the inferior function. The last officer, the third mate, is Flask, who represents feeling. Since the inferior function is unconscious and undeveloped, Flask isn’t described in detail. We’re told that he’s “very pugnacious concerning whales,” and tries to “destroy them whenever encountered.”

These four officers tell us about Melville himself:

We might outline Melville’s personality through the officers he created for the Pequod: thinking, his superior function; intuition, its well-developed auxiliary; sensation, a rather poorly developed third; and feeling, his fourth function, undifferentiated and inferior. Moby Dick shows a striking lack of differentiated feeling. It is notable that the novel contains no significant female (anima) figure! And Melville’s personal relationships and feeling adaptations were correspondingly precarious. Likewise, his relatively inferior sensation function was evident in his life — in his shaky relation to reality, requiring support by relatives.

Once the ship is at sea, we meet Bulkington, who is mentioned only here, and not in the remainder of the book. Having just completed a voyage, Bulkington sets out on another. “Port and land seem intolerable to him,” Edinger writes. “He gives us our first view of that inflated attitude which strives restlessly to transcend human limits.... Bulkington can be considered a variant of the attitude more fully developed in Ahab. They both manifest heroism in a desperate and one-sided form. Theirs is an extreme, unbalanced courage, the reciprocal of Ishmael’s initial depressive and equally unbalanced escapism.”

The Pequod’s most balanced personality, Edinger says, is Starbuck. Starbuck says it’s proper to fear whales. In Starbuck’s view, “an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”23 Edinger remarks, “In the coming voyage, Ahab is to demonstrate the truth of this remark.”

In his seventh chapter, Edinger turns to Ahab, and notes that Ahab is “the prototype of the heretic” since, in the Old Testament, Ahab violates the covenant with Yahweh, and permits the worship of Baal. “That Melville too was a heretic there can be no doubt.”

One who descends into the unconscious is bound to be a heretic — if he weren’t, if he were at home with the orthodox, he wouldn’t make the descent. “Ahab and Ishmael are the two sides of the heretical outsider. Ishmael the passive victim, Ahab the active rebel.”

Edinger says that the matriarchal religion of Baal is receptive to the unconscious (“the maternal unconscious”), and respects images, while the patriarchal religion of Yahweh abhors “graven images,” and has a profound antipathy to the imagination. Islam, too, is opposed to images, as is Protestant Christianity.

Edinger says there’s a good reason for the taboo against images: one must repress the unconscious in order to develop consciousness.

During a certain phase of ego development, it is absolutely necessary to depreciate the unconscious, the maternal womb of the ego, which is also the source of imagination. The conscious personality must separate itself from its origins if it is to achieve some measure of autonomy. This is the goal of all patriarchal initiation. The artist seems to have never completed this patriarchal initiation. In him, the door to the maternal unconscious with its rich store of images that feed the imagination remains open. He never gives complete allegiance to the masculine principle, but rather maintains an ambiguous relation to the feminine.

In my book of aphorisms, I discussed how youth represses the unconscious. And I argued that the artist (the male artist) is often feminine. Melville’s bond with his father was weak (as we saw above), so he was open to unconscious images.

Edinger points out that, in the Book of Numbers, Yahweh violates his own taboo, and tells Moses to make an image: “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole.” Why does Yahweh make a taboo, then violate that very taboo? Because the unconscious is both poisoning and healing — poisoning when the ego identifies with its images and acts them out, healing when the image allows the ego to see a feeling, put it at a distance, become conscious of it.

Edinger says that, while it’s necessary for the youth to depreciate the unconscious, this process “carries serious dangers of inflation and alienation from the source of one’s being.” In my book of aphorisms, I noted that “pride is as characteristic of youth as stoicism.” And when we discussed the Grail legend, we saw that “It is natural that a young person who sets himself a lofty ideal... should, without noticing it, succumb to a certain arrogance.”

Edinger says that pride is a necessary element in the growth of consciousness: “The Prometheus myth symbolizes the necessary act of inflation or hubris which must be risked in each new step in the growth of consciousness.”24 Prometheus stole fire from the gods — a symbol of proud daring — and then he was tormented by a vulture — a symbol of the suffering that comes with greater consciousness, a suffering that Melville experienced and depicted in Ahab.

As Ahab can be compared to Prometheus, so too he can be compared to Christ. When he first appears on deck, Ahab has “a crucifixion in his face... some mighty woe.”25 Edinger says there are also links between Pierre and Christ. Edinger says that Pierre and Ahab have much in common: “A careful reading of Pierre can leave no doubt that its central figure represents the same one-sided, heaven-storming attitude as does Ahab.”26

We said above that Melville’s unconscious was “dangerously activated” while he was writing Moby Dick. Now Edinger says that the writing of Moby Dick had a “healing” effect on Melville. Again, we see the contradictory nature of the unconscious: dangerous if the images possess us and we act them out, healing if the images allow us to detach from our feelings and objectify them.

When Ahab first appears on deck, we see his scar:

Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish.

Edinger says that Ahab is a “marked man,” that he has been “marked by God.” Such a mark is ambiguous: it could be the mark of Cain, or it could mean “belonging to the elect or the chosen people.”27

Edinger mentions another “marked man” in Melville’s works, a renegade in Omoo. This renegade rejects civilization because he was a foundling, and had a hard childhood. Does Ahab also reject civilization because he had a hard childhood? His mother died when he was a year old, his father even earlier.28 “If one’s early experiences have been too harsh,” Edinger writes, “one has had no basis laid for an allegiance to society and the collective human enterprise; no safeguards exist against the regressive nihilism of primitive affect.” The psychology of the criminal.

What does Ahab’s missing leg signify? “The presence of such an image in Melville’s imagination,” Edinger writes, “indicates that he had suffered a profoundly crippling psychic trauma.”29 This trauma, Edinger argues, was in his relationship to his parents — his mother’s preference for his older brother, and his father’s “masculine inadequacy, mental breakdown, and subsequent death.” A parent’s mental breakdown, Edinger says, is probably more traumatic than a parent’s death. Melville mentions this early trauma in Redburn:

Talk not of the bitterness of middle-age and after life; a boy can feel all that, and much more.... Never again can such blights be made good; they strike in too deep, and leave such a scar that the air of Paradise might not erase it.

Both in Redburn and Pierre there are hints of the father’s moral failing, which is followed by the son’s disillusionment. What was the nature of this moral failing? Perhaps a sexual indiscretion, Edinger says, but more likely “his father’s general weakness.” Both Redburn and Pierre idealize their father, and then become disillusioned; as the narrator of Pierre says, “Thy sacred father is no more a saint... Truth rolls a black billow through thy soul!”

A parent trauma leaves a hole in the child’s soul, Edinger says, and this hole exposes the child to “violent eruptions of primitive, unmediated archetypal images.” These violent eruptions caused problems in Melville’s personal life, but fueled his creativity. Melville seemed to recognize this, and he makes Ahab say, “My topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief.”

Edinger thinks that the psychology of Jesus may resemble that of Melville. Edinger says that Jesus was “undoubtedly an illegitimate child,” hence the father archetype (God) would not be buffered by the experience of the actual father. The father archetype would be experienced directly and forcefully, creating a feeling of being the son of God (in other cases, it creates the feeling of being the son of a king, or of some other special personage). Would it have been possible for Jesus to feel such a strong connection with the Heavenly Father if he had had an earthly father?

Edinger points out that the creation of individual consciousness is inevitably a kind of wound, and causes suffering, but suffering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s often the cause of psychological growth. Just as individual consciousness is a necessity, so too it’s necessary to have a superior function (thinking or intuition or sensation or feeling). The natural tendency to make one function superior is reinforced by society, which rewards specialization. But psychological health demands that the other functions have a voice, too. One must eventually overthrow the superior function, like a nation overthrowing an aged dictator. Edinger says that Ahab is an aged dictator, dragging the whole ship down to destruction rather than giving up power.

Let’s return to the subject of Ahab’s missing leg. Edinger points out that many mythical heroes were dismembered — Osiris, Dionysus, etc. And he points out that a stage in the alchemical process is represented by “a lion with his paws cut off.”30 Dismemberment symbolizes separation between ego and unconscious: “the original state of unconscious wholeness must be torn apart if a higher level of conscious development is to be achieved.” Both Ishmael and Ahab have lost their original wholeness. Ishmael’s reaction is “passive escape and thoughts of suicide.” Ahab’s reaction is a defiant vow to “dismember his dismemberer.”

At the center of Moby Dick is Ahab’s resentment against the injury that the white whale has inflicted on him — Ahab’s hunger for revenge. Edinger says that resentment is “perhaps the central problem of psychological development and psychotherapy.” Everyone has “his inner Ahab, his monomania, whose means are sane but whose motive and object are mad. Resentment that strives to get even, that inflicts one hurt for another...”

Edinger mentions an essay by James Kirsch that compares Ahab to Hitler and other dictators. Kirsch “speaks of an identification between ego and Self which ‘produces a remarkable increase of the intellect and of power over other human beings but which is dehumanizing.’” One is reminded of Jung’s comments on the dictators (Jung apparently saw both Mussolini and Hitler):

What an amazing difference there is [Jung said] between Hitler and Mussolini! I couldn’t help liking Mussolini. His bodily energy and elasticity are warm, human, and contagious....With Hitler, you are scared. You know that you would never be able to talk to that man; because there is nobody there. He is not a man, but a collective.

Elsewhere Edinger says that if the ego can’t assimilate the unconscious, then

the archetype assimilates the ego. This is a disaster for the conscious personality. It undergoes a regression and lives out unconsciously the fate of the particular mythological image with which it is identified. And so it was with Ahab.31

And so it was with Hitler, too?

Edinger discusses several dreams in Melville’s works, and says that they might represent Melville’s own dreams. Edinger makes the bold suggestion that Melville may have dreamed of losing his leg. Edinger mentions Stubb’s dream, in which he tries to kick Ahab and kicks his own leg off.32 Edinger also mentions a dream that Pierre has, in which a Titan named Enceladus rams himself against a cliff in an expression of “immitigable hate” and ends up losing his arms. Edinger mentions a shipwreck image in Pierre: “His soul’s ship foresaw the inevitable rocks, but resolved to sail on, and make a courageous wreck.” The narrator speaks of Pierre’s “profound willfulness”;33 such willfulness reminds us of Ahab. Pierre itself was an act of willfulness, a courageous wreck, a book that didn’t try to win over the public, but instead thumbed its nose at the public.

Edinger discusses a poem by Melville in which a ship steers directly into an iceberg, and is destroyed.

This is surely an actual dream of Melville’s. Using different images, it presents the same basic content as Ahab’s assault on the white whale, Stubb’s dream of kicking the pyramid, and Enceladus’ attack on the mountain of Zeus. Such dreams carry a warning. The ship, representing the dreamer’s conscious life-orientation, is willfully pursuing a suicidal course, deliberately ramming a solid iceberg.... This image indicates a grave mal-adaptation to reality.... We know Melville’s sanity was in grave danger for several years after Moby Dick.... Apparently, the message of this and other dreams did get through to him, since he did not suffer a total shipwreck.

Turning from Ahab to the white whale, Edinger says that the whale has a “multitude of meanings.” At the front of the novel, Melville collects comments on whales from many sources. Edinger says that Melville discovered “the amplification method” on his own, “and used it to gain entrance to the collective unconscious.... The entire book can be seen as an elaborate amplification of the psychological meaning of the whale and whale hunting.”34

Edinger points out that white animals are usually considered sacred. Moby Dick is no ordinary whale, he’s “the collective whale soul, the essential, eternal whale of which all other whales are only ephemeral manifestations. [He is] ubiquitous and immortal.” To hunt the sacred white whale is blasphemy, as Starbuck points out. Ahab’s hunt symbolizes modern man’s attitude toward the sacred, “the radical secularization of the modern industrial world.” Edinger contrasts Ahab’s hunt with “the primitive hunter’s religious attitude toward his victim.”

One of the many things that Moby Dick represents, Edinger says, is the deity. In chapter 71 of Moby Dick, the Pequod meets a ship called the Jeroboam, which has a strange prophet, Gabriel, who “pronounced the white whale to be the Shaker God incarnated, and he prophesied ‘speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity.’”

Sometimes Edinger stretches his argument too far. For example, when Melville discusses the shape of the whale’s head, and says that its eyes face in opposite directions, this leads Edinger to say that the Self reconciles opposites.35 Sometimes a hat is just a hat, and sometimes anatomy is just anatomy.

Edinger devotes his next chapter to the whiteness of the whale. What does Moby Dick’s white color symbolize? “The awfulness of the infinite, indefinite, disembodied, masculine spirit which is unrelated to the earthy, material, particularities of the... mother archetype.”36 Melville’s troubled relationship with his father left him “exposed to the excessive, damaging power of the Spirit Father archetype... without the mediation of an adequate relation to a personal father.” Here again Edinger displays his knowledge of Melville’s other works: “The association of the whiteness of the whale with the personal father is verified by a passage from Pierre in which the father is referred to as ‘the perfect marble form of his departed father; without blemish, unclouded, snow-white, and serene.’”37

Melville emphasizes the darkness. Edinger insists that this darkness is true, that the world really has a dark side, though it may have a bright side, too. “Melville had a vision of radical evil. Although one-sided and conditioned by childhood trauma, it is none the less true.” Melville brought this “radical evil” to God’s doorstep, and asked, “Why did you make such a world? You’re responsible for this radical evil.” As Edinger says, “The acute, tortured awareness of radical evil as an aspect of God is a theme that runs through all of Moby Dick.” In Chapter 40 of Moby Dick, the ringed horizon is compared to a boxing ring. “In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then God, mad’st thou the ring?” Is the Christian God of Love a deceit? Jung often complained about the one-sided view of God found in modern Christianity. Jung’s awareness of evil is on a par with Melville’s, and Jung felt that God Himself must have a dark side.

When people see the dark side, when they’re preoccupied with radical evil, they seize upon a scapegoat: “The resentment accumulates which must have some object.” For Ahab, the scapegoat was Moby Dick. All the “intangible malignity” in the world, Ahab transferred to the “abhorred White Whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it.”38

Melville understood that evil is embedded in the world, and embedded in our unconscious, whether or not we actually experience it. He understood that the unconscious isn’t just personal, it’s collective, and therefore it contains more than just our personal experience, it contains the experience of mankind.

Melville also understood that this collective unconscious is like instinctive behavior in animals. In Chapter 42 of Moby Dick, Melville says that a “young colt” in Vermont is terrified of a buffalo robe because he knows instinctively that buffaloes can gore him and trample him, though he’s never seen a buffalo. “Here thou beholdest even in a dumb brute,” Melville says, “the instinct of the knowledge of the demonism in the world.” This is Melville’s metier, “the demonism in the world.”

Edinger is deeply impressed by Melville’s grasp of the workings of the unconscious, and its analogy in the animal world. But Edinger also thinks that Melville’s grasp of the unconscious is somewhat one-sided. Because of his personal experience, because of his troubled relationships with both of his parents, the unconscious “carried a darker and more negative aspect than it might for someone else. Melville might say with Ahab, ‘So far gone am I in the dark side of earth, that its other side, the theoretic bright one, seems but uncertain twilight to me.’”

Psychology is always cloudy, always complicated, always “over-determined.” Having shown the connections between Moby Dick and the father figure, Edinger now shows the connections between Moby Dick and the mother figure. He compares Moby Dick to female figures like the Sphinx and Medusa. He notes that Medusa

represents the destructive aspect of the Great Mother archetype. Her most dangerous feature is her ability to turn to stone all men who look at her. This refers to the paralyzing or congealing effect that the Great Mother can have on the emotional life of a man.... Ahab had seen Medusa directly in his previous encounter with Moby Dick, and the sight had turned him to stone. His emotional life was petrified into a single obsession.39

In the Medusa myth, Edinger says, Medusa represents the destructive aspect of the Great Mother, while Andromeda represents the anima. In Moby Dick, there is no anima figure, “not a single significant feminine figure.” For Ahab, the anima hasn’t been separated from the “mother monster,” hence its manifestations are “primitive and undifferentiated. [Ahab’s] moodiness and outbursts of affect are symptoms of anima possession.”40

Perseus manages to slay Medusa with the help of a sword from Hermes and a mirror from Athena. The mirror allows him to avoid looking directly at Medusa, allows him to approach Medusa indirectly, by reflection.

The capacity for reflection is the ability to question our naive and immediate reactions to things. We are also provided a reflecting mirror by which to get a view of our unconscious selves through the reactions of others. Ahab neglected both of these opportunities for reflection. He gave no inner reflection to the motives of his chase, and he utterly disregarded the reactions of others, such as Starbuck, who could have provided him a reflective mirror by which to see the nature of his own unconscious drives.41

When Perseus returns from killing Medusa, the old king (Acrisius) dies and Perseus takes over his kingdom. “In Moby Dick, this theme of ‘the death of the old king’ would correspond to the end of the book when Ahab is killed, leaving Ishmael, the sole survivor, to be the carrier of consciousness.”

After slaying Medusa, Perseus must defeat a monster, Cetus, in order to free Andromeda. According to Edinger, Cetus represents “arrogant hubris,” aroused within Perseus himself by his victory over Medusa.

Now Edinger turns to the shadowy figure of Fedallah, who lurks around Ahab, and has some sort of influence over him. Edinger says that “Fedallah is clearly related to the devil; if he is not the devil himself, at least he is one of his subordinates.” Fedallah’s companions are said to have “a certain diabolism of subtlety.”

As Ishmael is linked to Queequeg, so Fedallah is linked to Ahab. As Queequeg is the shadow/unconscious of Ishmael, so Fedallah is the shadow/unconscious of Ahab. As Queequeg represents wholeness and the Self, so Fedallah represents wholeness and the Self. Fedallah’s wholeness is suggested by his clothes, “which combine the opposite colors, black and white,” and also by his connection to the “primal generations,” the “first man,” the Anthropos.

Six years ago, when I discussed Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I pointed out that Conrad uses the very word “shadow” to refer to Kurtz. Likewise, Melville compares Fedallah to a shadow: “Ahab chanced so to stand, that the Parsee occupied his shadow; while, if the Parsee’s shadow was there at all it seemed only to blend with, and lengthen Ahab’s.”(Ch. 73). In Chapter 130, Melville says that Ahab and the Parsee often stared at each other, “as if in the Parsee Ahab saw his forethrown shadow, in Ahab the Parsee his abandoned substance.” Jung didn’t choose the word “shadow” at random; man seems naturally disposed to apply the word “shadow” to the unconscious, the dark side of human nature.

But while there are similarities between Fedallah and Queequeg, there are also differences. Queequeg is the noble savage, Fedallah the diabolical savage. Queequeg’s fortitude complements Ishmael’s weakness, while Fedallah’s “moral inferiority” complements Ahab’s “conscious sense of nobility.” So Moby Dick has two pairs — Ishmael-Queequeg and Ahab-Fedallah — and these two pairs add up to a quaternity. (Edinger mentions in passing that Pip also forms a “character pair” with Ahab; Pip’s weakness complements Ahab’s strength.)

Edinger notes that “Fedallah” is “an Islamic name” that comes from feda (sacrifice) and allah (God). The Fedai were the Assassins, who sacrificed their lives for God. “Fedallah’s name thus suggests that he is the avenging agent of God... sent to punish Ahab for hubris.”42

Now Edinger turns to “The Town-Ho’s Story,” Chapter 54 of Moby Dick, which is a digression, a story-within-a-story. Like Moby Dick itself, “The Town-Ho’s Story” is about vengeance; one might say it’s not a digression, it’s an aspect of the main story. “The Town-Ho’s Story” is about an officer, Radney, who could not endure a sailor, Steelkilt, because Steelkilt is handsome and noble and has a “natural superiority.” (One is reminded of Melville’s novella Billy Budd, in which an officer named Claggart can’t endure the handsome, noble Billy. “A biblical precedent is Saul’s jealousy of the young David.”(Norton Critical Edition, ch. 54, footnote 2))

Radney mistreats and insults Steelkilt. “When an individual’s essential human dignity is attacked, as happened to Steelkilt, the deity within, the Self, is affronted; and contrary to all reasonable and personal considerations, it insists on executing nemesis.” Later Edinger says that nemesis is “the externalization of the oppressor’s own unconscious”43 which is aroused by hubris. Steelkilt makes plans to kill Radney, but before he can do so, Radney chases Moby Dick, and is killed by Moby Dick.

In the story of the conflict between Radney and Steelkilt, we have a capsule version, presented in the context of an interpersonal relationship, of the larger conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick. Radney is even described in terms reminiscent of Ahab. Concerning Radney’s compulsion to humiliate Steelkilt, it is said that ‘Radney was doomed and made mad.’ In his compulsion, Radney is called ‘the predestined mate’ and ‘the infatuated man who sought to run more than halfway to meet his doom.’ All of these remarks could apply well to Ahab.

A valid comparison, I’m sure, but it should be noted that Moby Dick wounded Ahab, whereas Steelkilt didn’t wound Radney. Ahab is trying to revenge an injury, whereas Radney is driven by envy. But with these differences noted, Edinger’s comparison is doubtless valid.

In his next chapter, “Linked Analogies,” Edinger says that Melville presents the natural world, and man’s everyday pursuits, as symbols of deeper truths. Edinger quotes Ahab’s remark, “O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.” Edinger says that Melville’s long descriptions of whaling have a significance that’s more than practical. He notes that Emerson also subscribed to the idea of “linked analogies”: “Every natural fact,” Emerson wrote, “is a symbol of some spiritual fact.” Edinger calls this “the theory of correspondences.”

Such a correspondence is the basis of Moby Dick’s best sentence:

The rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.

This may be the best sentence Melville ever wrote, but it would be better without the analogy, better without “seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.” Zen literature gives us the fact, the image, without constantly looking for analogies.

Such correspondences and analogies should not be confused with synchronicities because they don’t occur at the same moment; a cloudless sky and a calm mind may be analogous, but they aren’t events that occur at the same moment. But if we say that analogous things occur together, or are seen together, then the theory of analogies begins to merge with the theory of synchronicity. For example, if we say that the eagle is analogous to the king, and the eagle is seen when the king dies, or when a new king takes over, then we have an analogy that’s also a synchronicity.

Moby Dick is based on an 1820 incident: the whaleship Essex was rammed by an angry sperm whale and sunk. In late 1851, just when Moby Dick was coming off the press, another whaleship, the Ann Alexander, was rammed by an angry sperm whale and sunk. Melville was struck by the coincidence: “Ye Gods! What a commentator is this Ann Alexander whale. What he has to say is short and pithy and very much to the point. I wonder if my evil art has raised this monster.” Was it just a coincidence, or was it a synchronicity?

Is the Ann Alexander the best example of synchronicity from Melville’s biography? Are there examples of synchronicity in Melville’s works? I can only find one possible synchronicity in Moby Dick: during the storm in chapter 119, Ahab approaches Starbuck “and almost at the same instant a volley of thunder peals rolled overhead.” Ahab notices the coincidence/synchronicity and calls himself “Old Thunder.”

Though Moby Dick is dark and pessimistic, it has some images of healing, centering. Conspicuous among these, Edinger says, is the image found in Chapter 87: a huge congregation of whales forms concentric circles around a calm center, an “enchanted pond,” in which young whales swam peacefully. Edinger calls it “a living whale mandala,” and he compares it to “the spiral and whirlpool images of the final chapters.”

Let’s return to the night when the Pequod was plunging along, “freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse.” Ishmael is at the tiller, and he falls asleep briefly. When he wakes up, he finds that he has turned around, and the ship is in danger of capsizing. Edinger says that Ishmael’s unconscious is rebelling against the Pequod’s suicidal course, it wants to turn around, but it can’t get the attention of his conscious mind, so it seizes control of his body.

When one fails to permit an inner reaction to become conscious, it may then seize our bodily functions and force an expression through them, concretizing the image it wishes to convey. So it is with psychosomatic illnesses, and so it is with the majority of so-called accidents.44

Edinger says we should interpret accidents as we interpret dreams; like dreams, accidents carry an “unconscious message.”

At the start of the voyage, Ahab nailed a gold doubloon to the mast, promising it to the first person who sighted Moby Dick. Edinger says the doubloon is a mandala, an image of the Self. In Chapter 94, several members of the Pequod’s crew approach the doubloon, and interpret its images according to their own personalities. “Each projects his own psychic contents on it and thereby reveals his own attitude and relation toward the Self.” The doubloon represents three mountains, a part of the zodiac, and in the middle, the sun.

The first to approach the doubloon is Ahab. “If we did not already know it, Ahab’s inflation would now stand revealed. He identifies himself with the three proud mountain peaks, the ego is identified with the Self.” Next, Starbuck approaches. “Where Ahab sees the mountain peaks, Starbuck sees the dark valley. [Starbuck] is caught in the valley of Ahab’s mountains.” Stubb, who represents the sensation function, sees only the zodiac signs, and consults an almanac to discover their meaning. Flask, who represents the repressed feeling function, calculates how many cigars the coin will buy. “Fedallah pays obeisance to the doubloon by bowing down to it. This indicates that despite his diabolical aspects, he is related to wholeness. In his role as ‘avenging angel,’ he is in the service of the Self.” Like Goethe’s devil, Fedallah seeks evil, but effects good (by compensating for Ahab’s nobility, and checking Ahab’s hubris).45

Finally Pip, the mad black boy, approaches the doubloon and “provides the wisest answer”: “Here’s the ship’s navel, this doubloon here, and they are all on fire to unscrew it. But, unscrew your navel, and what’s the consequence?”46 The Pequod has lost its center, it’s controlled by a madman, it’s doomed. Just as, in fairy tales, the simpleton often represents wisdom, so the mad Pip represents wisdom.

Pip is an example of a well-known archetypal figure, the fool. One thinks, for instance, of Parsifal and the fool in King Lear.47 The figure of the fool represents that orientation which although apparently stupid and inept in relation to the conscious world of material expediency, is in tune with the eternal verities of the objective psyche.48

As the novel approaches its conclusion, Ahab becomes more human, more self-aware. When Starbuck tells him that some of the barrels of whale-oil are leaking, Ahab at first dismisses him, preoccupied with the pursuit of the white whale. Starbuck says, “Let Ahab beware of Ahab.” Instead of responding angrily, Ahab admits, “There’s something there,” and he reverses his position on the oil-leak, and orders a search for the leaking barrels. Ahab isn’t as headstrong as he was earlier in the novel. Soon after, we find Ahab gazing at a vial of Nantucket sand, “a small indication that his frozen feelings were beginning to thaw.”49

When Ahab thinks the fight with Moby Dick is imminent, he has the blacksmith make him a special harpoon, which he tempers in the blood of the three harpooners. He calls this a baptism, a baptism not in the name of the Father, but in the name of the devil: “Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!” “This ritual,” Edinger writes, “confirms what has been suspected all along, that Ahab’s pact with Fedallah is a pact with the devil.”50 Edinger says that Melville made a pact with the devil in writing Moby Dick; in a letter to Hawthorne, Melville said that the secret motto of the novel is the above-quoted line ending in nomine diaboli, and Melville said that his “whale book” was boiled in “hell-fire.”

Discussing magic, Edinger observes that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish white magic from black magic. Edinger reminds us that Goethe’s devil “always wills evil, and always effects good.”

In Mardi, Melville had said, “he who hates is a fool.” But in a later poem, Melville gives us a deeper view of hatred; Melville says that hatred grows out of love, out of “Amor incensed.” To restore the capacity to love, one must live through hatred. Edinger quotes an Indian aphorism: “He who loves God takes seven reincarnations to reach perfection; and he who hates God takes only three, for he who hates God will think of him more than he who loves him.”51 As love can turn into hatred, so hatred can turn into love.52 If hatred is repressed, Edinger says, then love may be frozen, too.

Edinger says that, in Moby Dick, Melville gave full vent to his hatred, hence Moby Dick has a “power and depth of imagination” far beyond his other works. Moby Dick overthrows Puritan ideals, and releases all that Puritanism represses. To accept one’s dark side, to confront one’s shadow, to make a pact with the devil, is a stage in the process of maturing. Many leading 19th-century writers, Edinger says, explored the dark side, and tried to overcome the split between dark and light, tried to “reclaim and redeem for conscious use the repressed human energies which had been consigned to hell by the Christian dissociation.” Among these redeemers of the dark side are Melville, Goethe, and Nietzsche.

By redeeming the dark side, Melville released his imagination. “The writing of Moby Dick was an experiment in active imagination.” Edinger says that Melville’s method of writing was much like what Jungians call active imagination. Edinger quotes Mardi, in which Melville describes a writer named Lombardo:

When Lombardo set about his work, he knew not what it would become. He did not build himself in with plans; he wrote right on; and so doing, got deeper and deeper into himself; and like a resolute traveler, plunging through baffling woods, at last was rewarded for his toils.

Melville understood (Edinger says) that “all ideas and images that come to us are ‘infused,’ that is, come from a source other than the ego.” In order for these images to reach consciousness, one must relax conscious control. Jung said that active imagination is “based on a deliberate weakening of the conscious mind and its inhibiting effect, which either limits or suppresses the unconscious.” Melville showed “extraordinary courage,” Edinger says, in his exploration of the unconscious, an exploration that had “absolutely no collective sanction,” an exploration that could have resulted in madness. But though Melville’s exploration was fruitful, Edinger thinks it was too hasty; Melville should have taken the trouble to possess the images, instead of letting the images possess him. “Here his weak relation to the masculine Logos principle is evident.” As we noted above, Melville has the Dionysian, but lacks the Apollonian.

As the end approaches, Ahab has a recurrent dream of hearses. He fears that this dream portends his own death.53 This leads Edinger into a discussion of premonitory dreams, and the ability of the unconscious to transcend space and time.

Fedallah makes prophecies similar to those that the witches make in Macbeth. He assures Ahab, “I shall still go before thee thy pilot.... Hemp only can kill thee.” One is reminded of

Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.

Like Macbeth, Ahab trusts these prophecies, and believes that he’s invulnerable.

Ahab gets angry at a quadrant, calling it a “foolish toy” that presumes to insult the sun. Edinger reminds us that Ahab himself threatened to “strike the sun.” Ahab is projecting his own arrogance onto the quadrant. “Whenever we observe an excessive affect reaction to a person or an object, we can suspect a psychological projection to be operating.”54 Ahab’s anger at the quadrant is actually anger at his own hubris; he’s beginning to turn against his own psychic inflation. As we noted above, his frozen feelings are starting to thaw, his unconscious is starting to compensate for his one-sided conscious attitude. “The fiery reaction that bursts out of Ahab against the quadrant is the first manifestation of the rectifying energies which appear subsequently as the typhoon, the fire of the corpusants, and finally the white whale itself.”

Edinger notes that wind is a symbol of the spirit, the unconscious. Starbuck points out that the typhoon comes from the east, where Ahab is heading, and that the typhoon has damaged Ahab’s whale-boat, in the very place where Ahab stands. “His stand-point is stove, man!” Edinger comments, “The same power that destroyed the quadrant for its hubris is destroying Ahab’s standpoint.”

Now the divine fire appears — the corpusants, also called St. Elmo’s Fire. Ahab has united the crew, molded them to his own purpose, but the divine fire breaks up this unanimity. “Starbuck urges that the ship turn for home and a few chapters later contemplates killing Ahab.”

As Ahab addresses the divine fire, he suggests that God is incomplete, that God needs man, that the unconscious needs human consciousness. “I know that of me,” Ahab says, “which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent.” This is the same insight, Edinger says, that Job has (here Edinger is following Jung’s argument in Answer to Job). Job discovered “that Yahweh is not human but, in certain respects, less than human, that he is just what Yahweh says of leviathan.” Yahweh is an unconscious being, a phenomenon.55

As Moby Dick draws to a close, “a radical change is occurring within [Ahab].” Ahab becomes “a feeling human being,” and shows kindness and love in his dealings with Pip. “Ahab, although he dies, is healed.”

Pip is Ahab’s shadow, his opposite half. Together they make a whole. As the old Manxman put it, “One daft with strength, the other daft with weakness.” The fact that Ahab is able to relate feelingly to Pip means that he is at last approaching an acceptance of his own weak side and even finding value in it.... The relationship between Ahab and Pip thus represents a reconciliation of opposites, which is one of the features of the integrated personality.56

Shortly after Ahab has this change of attitude, the Pequod meets the Rachel, a whaleship that’s looking for a lost whale-boat. Edinger notes the significance of Rachel in the Old Testament, and says that Rachel represents “the positive archetypal mother.... A positive feminine, feeling element has entered the situation. It is this ship and what it symbolizes that is later the agent of salvation for Ishmael.”

In Chapter 132, Edinger says, “the demonisms are stripped away entirely and Ahab is revealed to himself and to us in his full humanity.” Ahab tells Starbuck that he’s “away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow — wife? wife? — rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck.”

In this stunning passage [Edinger comments], we finally meet Ahab as a full human being. Now we see his life in a larger perspective. A new level of consciousness has dawned on Ahab. He now realizes the compulsive, demonic nature of his previous state, and, for the present at least, is released from it. The missing anima appears, Ahab’s wife, and feeling for her transforms the situation. This point marks the climax of Moby Dick. Ahab’s hate has spent itself, and in its place comes sorrow for his folly. Now Ahab can contemplate with Shakespeare, how “strange it is that nature must compel us to lament our most persisted deeds.”

The Shakespeare quotation is from Antony and Cleopatra; it’s spoken by Agrippa over the corpse of Antony. Earlier Edinger quoted another passage from that play, another passage about Antony: “To be furious is to be frightened out of fear.... Valor preys on reason.”57 Edinger says that this protest against “Antony’s rashness” is “relevant to Ahab.” One wonders if Melville also saw Ahab as analogous to Antony.

In his last chapter, Edinger notes that the pursuit of Moby Dick lasts three days. He notes the significance of three: “In fairy tales, we frequently encounter the theme of the crucial act which must be repeated three times.” He notes that there are three Fates in Greek mythology, and three Norns in Teutonic mythology. He notes that Starbuck understands the “three theme”:

This the critical third day? For when three days flow together in one continuous intense pursuit; be sure the first is the morning, the second the noon, and the third the evening and the end of that thing — be that end what it may.

Edinger also notes that three is in stories of death and rebirth. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, and Jesus was in the tomb for three days (before being resurrected).

Edinger says that the image of spiral motion occurs twice in the final pages: first when Moby Dick swims in a circle around a wrecked whale-boat, and next when the Pequod is sucked into a “wheeling circle” of water. Edinger notes the religious significance of spiral motion, and says it’s a “symbol for the process of individuation, which is a kind of circumambulation in ever smaller circles of the Self.”58

At the end of the novel, Ishmael takes refuge in Queequeg’s coffin. The coffin signifies death and rebirth; it’s a “container of death,” but also a “cradle and womb.” And it’s significant, Edinger says, that the coffin is Queequeg’s:

The same whirlpool wheel of the Self which sucked the ill-fated Pequod down to death, threw up out of its center the protective vessel of rebirth for Ishmael. In this final scene, Queequeg’s redemptive function for Ishmael, which was noted earlier, is verified. Ishmael’s words shortly after meeting Queequeg came back to us with added meaning: “I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it.”

In closing, Edinger notes how deeply moved Melville was when, as a young sailor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he read about the whaleship Essex. Edinger says that the story of the Essex must have stirred up an unconscious complex or archetype in Melville, “the Job archetype, man’s encounter with an apparently malevolent deity.” Like Job and Ahab, we’re battered and bruised and defeated, and become wiser in the process. As Jung said, “the experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego.”

Eventually, Edinger says, Melville was healed and found wholeness: “he experienced the coniunctio that was prefigured at the end of Moby Dick.” In a late poem, Melville wrote

Speak not evil of the evil:
Evil and good they braided play
Into one cord.

In another late poem, Melville wrote

Healed of my hurt, I laud the inhuman sea —
Yea, bless the Angels Four that there convene;
For healed I am even by their pitiless breath
Distilled in wholesome dew named rosemarine.

© L. James Hammond 2011
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1. See the Brian Lamb interview with Carl Colby. back
2. Edinger wrote general works — such as Ego and Archetype and Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy — and also literary studies — such as Goethe’s Faust: Notes for a Jungian Commentary, The Psyche on Stage: Individuation Motifs in Shakespeare and Sophocles, Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology and The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament.

Another Jungian view of Melville is James Baird’s Ishmael: A Study of the Symbolic Mode In Primitivism (1956).

If you’re interested in Jungian interpretations of literature, consider Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (1934). Bodkin also wrote The Quest for Salvation in an Ancient and a Modern Play, which compares Aeschylus’s Eumenides with T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion. back

3. Ch. 1, p. 5 back
4. Ch. 2, p. 8 back
5. In an earlier issue, I mentioned another possible cause of these homoerotic elements, namely, the frequent absences of Melville’s father, who spent much time on business trips. back
6. Ch. 2, p. 12 back
7. Ch. 3, p. 16 back
8. Edinger mentions other examples of hostile brothers: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Christ and Satan. back
9. Ch. 3, p. 17 back
10. Ch. 3, p. 17 back
11. Perhaps Nietzsche was an accepted son, a sacrificial victim. We find a note of sacrifice in Zarathustra: “I love those who do not first seek beyond the stars for reasons to go down and to be sacrifices: but who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman.... I love him who justifies the men of the future and redeems the men of the past: for he wants to perish by the men of the present.”(Zarathustra’s Prologue, #4) Nietzsche was an eldest child. back
12. Ch. 3, p. 18 back
13. Ch. 3, p. 22 back
14. Ch. 3, p. 24 back
15. Ch. 4, p. 25 back
16. Ch. 4, p. 27 back
17. Ch. 4, p. 31 back
18. Ch. 4, p. 31 back
19. Melville’s remark reminds me of a remark by D. H. Lawrence: “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh.... What do I care about knowledge? All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without the fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what not.” Melville and Lawrence are both disdainful of intellect, but while Melville turns to the heart, Lawrence turns to the body. back
20. Melville later said that his whaling voyage made him a man, just as Conrad said that his Congo voyage made him a man. back
21. Ch. 5, p. 38 back
22. Ch. 6, p. 44 back
23. Ch. 6, p. 47 back
24. Ch. 8, p. 63 back
25. Moby Dick, ch. 28 back
26. Ch. 8, p. 64 back
27. Ch. 7, p. 54 back
28. “Captain Ahab did not name himself,” Melville tells us. “’Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old.”(Ch. 16)

We might wonder about the childhood of Kurtz, a character in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. back

29. Ch. 7, p. 56 back
30. Ch. 8, p. 65 back
31. Ch. 9, p. 77 back
32. Moby Dick, ch. 31 back
33. Ch. 8, p. 70, footnote back
34. Ch. 9, p. 73 back
35. Ch. 9, p. 78 back
36. Ch. 10, p. 80. The quote is from Edinger, not Melville. back
37. Ch. 10, p. 83, footnote 7 back
38. Moby Dick, ch. 41 back
39. Ch. 11, pp. 93, 94. Edinger’s comments on Medusa are part of his discussion of the Perseus myth. He notes that, like most mythical heroes, Perseus is treated with hostility by the authorities while still an infant. “The established powers of the status [quote] are invariably hostile to its birth because it presages the death or transformation of the old order.... Each generation and what it stands for must be killed by the generations that immediately follow.”(ch. 11, p. 93) back
40. Ch. 15, p. 129 back
41. Ch. 11, pp. 94, 95 back
42. Ch. 12, p. 99 back
43. Ch. 12, p. 102 back
44. Ch. 13, p. 106 back
45. In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles says that he’s
“Part of that power which would
Do evil constantly and constantly does good.”
Ein Teil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.
Wikipedia back
46. Moby Dick, ch. 99; Edinger, ch. 13, p. 110 back
47. [Parsifal means “pure fool” in Arabic, or at least that’s what Wagner thought.] back
48. Ch. 13, p. 109 back
49. Ch. 15, p. 120 back
50. Ch. 14, p. 111 back
51. Ch. 14, p. 115 back
52. I discussed the kinship between hate and love in my remarks on Tolstoy, my remarks on Lawrence, my remarks on Shakespeare, etc. back
53. Ch. 15, p. 121 back
54. Ch. 15, p. 124 back
55. Ch. 15, p. 129 back
56. Ch. 16, p. 132 back
57. Edinger, ch. 14, p. 120 back
58. Ch. 17, p. 139 back