NeMLA Conference 2024: 'Carried Down to Wondrous Depths': Meaning and Metaphor in Moby Dick
For presentation at the NeMLA conference in March of 2024:
Melville's Moby Dick is a book that defiantly (and perhaps frustratingly) defies a solitary meaning. Indeed, rather than providing readers with a single message in a simple narrative, the text is instead "overflowing" with meaning and the endless possibility of semantic, figurative, literal, and symbolic interpretation. It is, in other words, a text that positively insists upon, and wallows in, a great overabundance. Critics' responses to the text have been, in a similar vein, incredibly varied. The whale itself is, to critics, both a symbol of God and of evil, and still yet, a symbol of theological pursuit, scientific endeavor, ecological collapse, avarice, monomania, and forbiden knowledge. The text's characters are seen as egalitarian preachers, homosexual symbols, and Biblical, or religious figures--sometimes even in the same interpretation. What this panel seeks to investigate is the complex relationships between these multiple meanings of the vast sea of metaphors, symbols, references, and allusions in Moby Dick. How are we to understand this text, and perhaps other texts, which so readily lend themselves to an ostensibly insurmountable variety of interpretations? How might this text inform or contradict our understanding of the concept of "interpretation" itself in literary studies? Is any reading of Melville's text necessarily better than another--and if so, what qualities might set it apart over other interpretations? Or, perhaps taking a step back, is all of this search for meaning, the search for a "true" interpration (or true interpretations) of this text, a monomaniacal, Ahab-ian pursuit of our very own "white whale"?
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