“For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!” Ahab cries to the whale, in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel of the sea and social relations. Thinking of the 19th century as a jumble of contradictions—free social experiment and slavery, revolution and charisma, rational enquiry and racist construction—Deborah Meadows has written a book that takes Moby-Dick one chapter at a time and performs a reading-through of the novel that combines chance operation with philosophical investigation.
Father Mapple recasts the story of Jonah as a prescient allegory of sovereignty: “… And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.” Now under weigh, can Itinerant Men recast self and world by rejecting bogus authority? Is self a reliable stick or stone at the barricades? Is the writer a kind of negated self and thus possibly immune from divine disappointment? Or, in line with Rabelais, can excess counteract the pull of compelling language that inspires one to ends greater than the dollar? Is value a scale under erasure? Language a cobbled beast?
In Itinerant Men various words, phrases, and extended quotations are from Moby-Dick or, The Whale by Herman Melville—the Penguin edition of 1992.