This essay teases out the significance of the allusion made to the oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury in “The Chart” chapter of Moby-Dick. It uses this allusion as a starting point for thinking about substantial shifts in the ways in which antebellum Americans charted time, before considering how these changes might allow us to characterize the modernity of the 1840s and 1850s. Maury, in creating charts of whale movements and currents, demanded an “oceanic standard time,” which is to say a perception of time in which the felt experience of individual sailors was outsourced to an abstracted set of scientific coordinates. Such an observation has substantive consequences for our understanding of Moby-Dick, as it allows us to see that Melville channeled these energies into the depictions of his characters and the natural world. The essay sets up a counterpoise between Ahab, who embraces and internalizes the methods of Maury, and the descriptions of whales in the book, which direct us to consider a more complex account of antebellum time. Following the movements of whales allows us to think more broadly about Melvillean historical consciousness and, by extension, issues of narrative time.


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pp. 23-37
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