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“Thickly Studded Oriental Archipelagoes”: Figuring the Indian and Pacific Oceans in Moby-Dick NICHOLAS BIRNS Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts Cape Horn or Cape of Good Hope? M oby-Dick is often associated with the Pacific Ocean. Rob Wilson’s recent statement that “Moby-Dick represented Melville’s self-dividing national quest . . . as an erratic, self-dividing encounter with the Pacific island peoples and the ocean itself” (Wilson 84) exemplifies how routine and essential this association is. Recent scholarship from very different perspectives—ranging from Yunte Huang’s East Asia-situated analysis to the Australasia and Polynesian approaches of Jonathan Lamb and Paul Giles, as well as earlier work by T. Walter Herbert—has ramified the Pacific context of the novel. This scholarship has transmuted the text’s Pacific connections from a singularized association with Manifest Destiny and US westward movement to a more pluralistic encounter with Pacific archipelagoes and littorals. This Pacific orientation in Melville studies is only fitting. One of Melville’s major sources, Jeremiah N. Reynolds’s 1839 article “Mocha Dick,” is subtitled “The White Whale of the Pacific,” and Melville retained the setting, staging the climactic chase of the whale in the Pacific Ocean. Moby-Dick plays an undeniable key role in the canon of Pacific literature. But, in fact, most of the voyage of the Pequod takes place in the Indian Ocean, not the Pacific. For that matter, the novel’s chase occurs in the North Pacific, near Japan. Unlike the classic whaling-ship trajectory (undertaken, for instance, in 1820 by the doomed Essex, long seen as the chief nautical inspiration for Melville’s text, or in 1841 by the Acushnet, Melville’s first whaler), the fictional Pequod does not go west around Cape Horn. This last point is the crux: readers in Melville’s day and ours would no doubt assume the ship would go around Cape Horn as part of its voyage, thus travelling exclusively in oceans—the Atlantic and the Pacific—abutted by at some point by the United States as it existed in 1851. A westward journey may indeed have been part of Melville’s original plan. As George R. Stewart points out in his c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 4 L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S O R I E N T A L A R C H I P E L A G O E S hypothetical reconstruction of an Ur-Moby-Dick, “Cape Horn is mentioned no less than four times” in the book’s opening chapters (421). At first, Ishmael also thinks he is heading west when he discloses that Yojo, Queequeg’s idol, had provided the Pequod to “carry Queequeg and me round the Cape” (Longman Moby-Dick 86). Stewart underplays the narrative reason for the divergence, which, as stated in Chapter 44, is that the Pequod takes the eastern route solely to pursue Moby Dick. The voyage in the Indian rather than the South Pacific is therefore linked to Ahab’s private agenda and monomania, and the kind of extralegal, extra-prudential behavior (such as the stowing away of Fedallah and his crew in the Pequod) analyzed in light of Carl Schmitt’s idea of a state of exception that “suspends normal laws,” recently repositioned as an object of fierce critique by Giorgio Agamben.1 A normative Ahab would go round Cape Horn; it is only the extra-normative Ahab that goes round the Cape of Good Hope and to the “thickly studded oriental archipelagoes” of the Indian Ocean. The turn from the rousing adventure-story to the dark, political quasi-allegory is linked to the transposition between the two maritime venues. The shift from South to North Pacific, and therefore the Cape of Good Hope and Indian Ocean route, reflects ecological as well as narrative conditions. By the 1840s, the South Pacific had been increasingly whaled out, as had the Atlantic before it, and the North Pacific became the last viable whaling-ground (Wilson 82). But, as we...


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