New Histories of Writing III:
Laws and Crimes
DRAFT: Please do not circulate without permission
Moby-Dick: Copying, Literary Property, and the Democratic Imaginary
December of 1851, the newly formed Harper's Monthly Magazine began its
section of "Literary Notices" with an anonymous and self-congratulatory
puff. "A new work by Herman Melville, entitled Moby Dick; or The
Whale, has just been issued by Harper and Brothers, which, in point of
richness and variety of incident, originality of conception, and splendor
of description, surpasses any of the former productions of this highly
successful author."1 At roughly the same time, The International
Magazine of Literature, Art, and Science-a rival of Harper's in the marketplace
for literary periodicals-published one of the first negative reviews of
Moby-Dick. More accurately, it re-published one of the first negative
reviews of Moby-Dick, appending to it only a brief explanatory paragraph:
The new nautical story by the always successful author of Typee, has for its name-giving subject a monster first introduced to the world of print by Mr. J. N. Reynolds, ten or fifteen years ago, in a paper for the Knickerbocker, entitled Mocha Dick. We received a copy when it was too late to review it ourselves for this number of the International, and therefore make use of a notice of it which we find in the London Spectator.2
out one of Melville's source-texts and freely admitting its use of a foreign
notice, The International Magazine at once challenges Harper's claims
to Moby-Dick's "originality of conception" and forswears its
own "originality." In so doing, the International Magazine provides
a useful corrective to conceptions of romantic authorship that have, over
the course of the last two hundred years, become commonplace in American
culture. For a good many writers in the 19th century, "originality"
simply was not always at a premium-newness was neither the first nor the
best measure of a book's value.3 The Spectator's notice, which rails against
the "rhapsody run mad" (802) of Moby-Dick's metaphysical digressions
and the unconventionality of its narrative structure, treats the novelty
of Melville's novel with a high level of vitriol.
In what follows, I hope to show how Moby-Dick was at least as contemptuous of romantic newness as its harshest critics. Although a century of scholarship has denigrated and obscured its textual copyings in order to defend the book's "originality," the fact remains that much of Moby-Dick consists of borrowed excerpts patchworked over a purloined narrative frame.4 Taken in nineteenth century American context, this is not such an incendiary statement; even though modern copyright law would consider Moby-Dick to be at least partially plagiarized, the word "plagiarism" does not accurately describe Melville's practice. This is not because Melville "transformed" everything he borrowed, as the vast majority of Melville critics argue, but because, as Michael Newbury points out, in the nineteenth century "literary property simply was not, even in an age of rapidly expanding industrial capitalism and possessive individualism, hegemonically understood to be a natural, inalienable, or self-evident possession of the writer or anybody else."5 Even so, Moby-Dick is a transgressive work: the very notion of the copied text still productively disrupts conceptions of art, artistry, and society built around philosophies of possessive individualism. Here I mean to suggest that by obscuring the origins of ideas, characters, or narratives, the copy disturbs that connection between creation and creator that forms the basis of post-enlightenment subjectivity.6 This essay contends that motivated copying (cited and uncited) is the key to Moby-Dick's critiques of authorship and liberal citizenship and is the founding principle of its imagination of a more perfect American polity.
To understand the book's copyist ethos, I will explore Moby-Dick's deployment and development of the "splice."7 A nautical figure that Melville borrows from his experience as a whaleman, "splicing" refers to the material practice of interweaving strands from two ropes together in order to form a single line.8 Noah Webster's American Dictionary of 1828 itself copies from an unspecified "Mar[itime] Dict[ionary]" to define the verb. "Splice: To separate the strands of the two ends of a rope, and unite them by a particular manner of interweaving them; or to unite the end of a rope to any part of another by a like interweaving of the strands."9 In Moby-Dick, this interweaving becomes a controlling metaphor at the level of composition and at the level of its political and ethical program: throughout the narrative, the splice appears as shorthand for relationships created through emulation, citation, and non-proprietary sharing among disparate texts and disparate persons. To tell its story of the social and political perils of "monomania" and possessive individualism, Melville's tale becomes collaborative and polyvocal-it braids multiple narratives from multiple texts into a single thread.10
In Moby-Dick, the figure who most fervently espouses this method of composition that disdains literary property and who most eagerly dismisses the question of "originality" is Ishmael, the book's narrator and fictive author. As a member of the brotherhood of "ostentatious smuggling verbalists" (334), Ishmael continually calls attention to the fact that his book is made from other books, that his story is the synthetic product of multiple "authorities" which resist hierarchical arrangement.11 Ishmael figures the appropriation, duplication, and reproduction of other works as a kind of anti-proprietary "weaving"-always exploiting etymologies, he insists on the textile nature of his text. Prefacing the Town-Ho's story-an account of another ship's encounter with the white whale-Ishmael provides the basic model of his compositional practices. "Interweaving in its proper place [a] darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting record" (208). Like Moby-Dick, Ishmael's rehearsal of the Town-Ho's tale reproduces and re-presents its textual ancestors; it braids borrowed source material into its own logic in the interest of creating a "lasting record." Without the dark string, there can be no whole cloth; without the copying, the "weaving" may not progress.12
This appropriative and textile imaginary is present from the very first pages of the book; even before the first narrative chapter, "Loomings," the fabrication of Moby-Dick has begun. The American edition starts not with a famous imperative ("Call me Ishmael.") but rather with two chapters of excerpted material, "Etymology" and "Extracts."13 The former-expressly borrowed from a "late consumptive usher" (1)-is a lexicographical history of "whale" that illustrates the word in thirteen different languages (from Hebrew to Erromangoan) and that reproduces English derivations from Webster and Richardson. These authorities conflict: Webster finds the root in the "Sw[edish]. and Dan[ish]. hval. This animal is named from roundness or rolling; for in Dan. hvalt is arched or vaulted" (1). Richardson, on the other hand, states that "[whale] is more immediately from the Dut[ch]. and Ger[man]. Wallen; A[nglo]. S[axon]. Walw-ian, to roll, to wallow" (1). Faced with a choice between derivations, Ishmael prefers not to choose. Recorded without comment or gloss-each is plausible, neither is preferable, both are necessary-these etymologies at once highlight the braided nature of the text and proleptically indicate the slipperiness and multiplicity of the truth about whales.
Moby-Dick's second (American) section enacts a similar dynamic of copying and interweaving: "Extracts" takes passages compiled by a "Sub-Sub-Librarian," and presents them chronologically as a "higgledy-piggledy of "whale-statements." Although its products are not to be taken as "veritable gospel cetology," Ishmael's commonplace-book approach to the whale-in-language is the best he can do: "My object...is simply to project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder" (118). As architect, he imagines himself to be responsible for the broad conceptual outlines of the work, not for its perfected realization. As he insists, "small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught-nay, but the draught of a draught" (127-28). In other words, a complete "cetology" requires the laborious contributions of subsequent generations of texts-Moby-Dick is not the last word, but a blueprint to be followed if the world is to arrive at a full understanding of the whale. But Moby-Dick is not the first word in the understanding process either: although Ishmael's task is so "ponderous" that "no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post-office is equal to it" (118), he is not necessarily a reliable "originator" of the architectural outline. Rather, as an "ostentatious smuggling verbalist," and as a version of the Sub-Sub-Librarian, Ishmael becomes an extra-"ordinary letter-sorter"-at the very moment that he asks for his text to be pulled together into someone else's, he insists on pulling source texts together to form his own.
In the post-structuralist thought that dominates the modern academy, such arguments about the subsumption of a monological "Author" into appropriated, interwoven, and multiply imagined discourses are commonplaces of linguistic interpretation.14 But, as I have indicated, for Ishmael, this weaving process (which encodes strength or viability through borrowing, copying, and democratic variegation) is not limited to the realm of the printed "text" or the abstract "language." Starting with "Loomings," through reveries on "The Line," "The Log and Line," and "The Mat-Maker," Ishmael uses splicing and weaving as overriding metaphors for interpersonal relationship-building as well.
The trope of the splice first explicitly appears in Moby-Dick when Ishmael arrives at Nantucket and looks for a place to sleep. When told at the Spouter Inn that the only bed available is already occupied by Queequeg, a Kokovoko harpooneer and a "dangerous man" (27), Ishmael objects. But Coffin, the inn-keeper, persists: "'Come, it's getting dreadful late, you had better be turning flukes-it's a nice bed: Sal and me slept in that ere bed the night we were spliced" (27). The innkeeper's recollection of the bed as integral to the nuptial process-with "spliced" acting here as nautical slang for "married"15 -serves as prolepsis for Ishmael and Queequeg's subsequent matrimonial relationship. In the space underneath the patchwork text(ile) of "The Counterpane," the two men will copy Sal and Coffin, and "splice" together, plighting their homosocial troth.16 Indeed, Queequeg even reproduces a South Seas wedding ceremony: "he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be" (53). The bond between the men, a result of borrowing material practices from distant islands and heterosexual marriage, is lasting and deep; they ship as a pair, sail as a pair, and, in Richard Bentley's London version of Moby-Dick, they die as a pair.17
Soon after their marriage-through-borrowing, the spliced pair of Ishmael and Queequeg make their way to Nantucket, seeking berths on a whaler. The one on which they decide, the Pequod, is owned by Quakers, and Ishmael finds himself required to debate the religion of his helpmate with its Captains before they will allow the pair to ship. Standing up for Queequeg against charges of paganism, Ishmael insists, "Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is" (83). One Captain, Bildad, does not know which church this is, and Ishmael is forced to continue:
"I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that, only some of us cherish some queer crotchets noways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands."
"Splice, thou mean'st splice hands," cried Peleg. (83)
of "splice" for "join" serves as Ishmael's induction
into the lexicon of seafaring. The old captain provides Ishmael with a
new template for use in future arguments-a template whose copying will
indicate membership in the linguistic fraternity of sailors.
Beyond interpellating Ishmael into the discursive conventions of the whaler, however, Peleg shows the power of the splice. The recognition and dissemination of transcendent but non-denominational truths is a task of interweaving; Ishmael's universalist church is a fabric to be spliced into, a matter for weavers, not for joiners. The captain's insistence on the splice works to establish the permanence of a catholic totality (joined hands may be rent asunder; spliced hands, as in the marriage bond, may not) as well as the possibility for individual distinction within that totality. Queequeg's religion may represent the "dark thread" in the warp of cosmic verity, but it is nonetheless a necessary part of the rope. In the splice, "queer crotchets noways touching the grand belief" are taken up intact into universal truth; "originality" (here, Queequeg's difference) is acknowledged but subsumed into the broader pattern of a strong and variegated weave. In the splice, the line between pagan and Christian remains distinct but unimportant; each is necessary to the production of the "everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world." As members of that braided Congregation, Ishmael and Queequeg are allowed to ship.
The Pequod is several days at sea before its master, the one-legged Captain Ahab, appears from below decks. In one of his first long speeches, Ahab reveals the singular object of his desire: "a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw...with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke" (142). This, of course, is Moby Dick, the quasi-mythical creature who has eluded the harpoons of countless whalemen, and who has "dismasted" (143) Ahab on a previous voyage. Although he is hostile to "mortal inter-indebtedness" (392), and loath to be "down on the whole world's books" (392), Ahab has no choice but to enlist the help of his crew in pursuing such an animal.18 He nails a gold doubloon to the mast, promising it as a reward to the sailor that first spies the white whale, and begins a famous soliloquy: "Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now?" (143). The men agree; they splice. And once they do, they become "one and all with Ahab, in this matter of the whale" (144).
Just as Ishmael may not approach a comprehensive cetology without borrowing from authorities and farming out to followers, Ahab may not fight the whale alone-he must appropriate the labor of his colleagues. As an indissoluble bond that allows for identity between disparate objects and that makes possible the intertwining of one's own teleological threads into the narratives of others, the splice is ideal for consolidating power among Ahab's motley crew. As Ishmael has shown, though, a good splice is variegated-an exhibition of multiple threads and multiple minds. Yet Ahab's splice is tragically homogeneous. Because his mad quest is predicated on totalitarian control of the ship and her crew, Ahab works to turn his crew into putative copies of himself; the monomaniacal captain braids the wills of the crew into a monological filament.19 By refusing to hear or incorporate dissenting voices (particularly first-mate Starbuck's) and by imposing his own terms on the collective, Ahab splices as a patriarch and master instead of as just another one of "every mother's sons" (83).
Under these tyrannical conditions the sailors of the Pequod live for the next several months. They maintain the ship, gam with other whalers, and harpoon lesser cetaceans, all in the service of tracking Moby Dick. Ishmael takes the opportunity of this long break in the narrative action to consider the natural and mythical histories of whales, the metaphysics of life at sea, and the possibilities for life on land. At one point, his swabbing of the Pequod's decks prompts a reverie on the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. "Oh the metempsychosis! Oh! Pythagoras, that in bright Greece, two thousand years ago, did die, so good, so wise, so mild; I sailed with thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage-and, foolish as I am, taught thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!" (358). In the phenomenon of metempsychosis, the principle of splicing-finding unity in copying out of diverse materials-obtains anew. The reincarnating splice specifically suggested here weaves together past and present in the text of the singular "simple boy," and serves as a method for both retaining and reproducing history while becoming an independent self. That this spliced-self learns rope-splicing from another, borrows that art from a teacher, again shows the democratic possibilities encoded in the weave: this is not a proprietary skill, it is something always to be shared.
In his simplicity and his depth of soul, this imagined boy bears a resemblance to (or is a metempsychotic copy of) the Pequod's boy, Pip. The latter, who has seen (in a moment of deep distress and mad clarity) "God 's foot upon the treadle of the loom [of the universe], and [spoken] it" (347), arrives on deck a few moments after Ishmael ends his rhapsody, in the middle of a heated metaphysical debate over the significance of the doubloon that Ahab has nailed to the mast. Though he has been marked out for a lack of sophistication, Pip complicates the situation further. As Stubb notes, Pip
too has been watching all of these interpreters-myself included-and look now, he comes to read, with that unearthly idiot face. Stand away again and hear him. Hark!
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look."
"Upon my soul, he's been studying Murray's Grammar! Improving his mind, poor fellow! But what's that he says now-hist!"
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look."
"Why he's getting it by heart-hist! again."
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look." (362)
takes the disparate voices of the sailors and finds in them a common thread:
though each mate has come up with a different exegesis of the doubloon,
they are aligned in the act of interpretation. By quoting "Murray's
Grammar," and in getting this text "by heart," Pip makes
clear the idea that while subjects may differ, the verb can stay the same;
even within epistemological distinction and divergence, copying and incorporating
difference provides the possibility for unification.
As we have seen, this is not a lesson that Ahab either intends to teach or learns for himself; his foreclosure of dissent invites ruin, and his monomaniacal mishandling of the splice proves to be his undoing.20 When the Pequod finally catches up with Moby Dick, it is destroyed; under Ahab's command, it sinks with (nearly) all hands. Ahab himself, however, is not killed by the white whale, but by an errant rope.
The harpoon was darted: the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the groove;-ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope's final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths. (468)
eye-splice" sliding under the sea signals the end of Ahab's totalitarian
command. Standing as a figure for monomaniacal weaving, the eye-splice
is significantly different from other rope splices: instead of joining
two ropes together to form a new and stronger rope, it weaves a single
rope onto itself.21 The disappearance of this looped line marks the end
of Ahab's fatal solipsism; its sinking is closely followed by the staving
of the Pequod and the end of Ishmael's narrative.
As I noted above, in Richard Bentley's London edition, this is the close of the book-much to the chagrin of The Spectator.22 In the Harper and Brothers New York edition, the entangled Ahab and his ship sink into the depths, but Ishmael pops up, the sole survivor of the wreck. He writes an epilogue, locating his project in the textual precedent of Job 1:14-19: "'And I only am escaped alone to tell thee." Ishmael survives to "tell" the wreck of the Pequod by grabbing onto Queequeg's coffin and bobbing among the sharks until he is scooped up by the wandering Rachel. This coffin, now a "life-buoy" (470), participates in the economies of borrowing and quotation that Ishmael has used throughout his text: it is covered with marks transferred from the harpooneer's tattooed body. Queequeg had spent
many spare hours...in carving the lid with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemd that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last. (399)
the realm of the "mouldering" "proper person" through
transfer to the coffin, Queequeg's anti-proprietary and obscurely universal
text becomes a salvific article; Queequeg dies, but his copied marks live
on to buoy up his loved companion, and to enable that companion to narrate
his (own) story. The "smuggling verbalist" lives to narrate
his story by floating on a Queequeg reproduction; without this copy, there
would be no text at all.
The contrasting ends of Ahab and Ishmael forcefully illustrate Ishmael's point about the potency of the variegated splice: the originator goes mad and drowns, the copyist lives to explore the "little lower layer" of cetological truth. To begin to limn the philosophical and political consequences of this principle, I want to return to a scene that takes place earlier in Moby-Dick. As I've previously noted, in the book's long middle, Ishmael turns from narrating Ahab's quest to providing a detailed portrait of the life and activities of a whaling man. In one of his digressions, he describes at length the process of flensing a whale-that is, removing its blubber so that it may be rendered into oil. Flensing is a two man job: a harpooneer scrambles about on the floating carcass and uses a spade to cut strips of blubber free; an oarsman stands above him holding onto a safety line attached to the harpooneer's belt. As Ishmael points out, the use of this safety line, called the "monkey-rope," is common to "all whalers" (271). But Ahab's ship is different: "it was only in the Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer with the strongest possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of the monkey-rope holder" (Melville's note, 271n1).
Stubb's theory seems to hold true for Ishmael; his experiences flensing with Queequeg yield a long metaphysical discussion.
It was a humorously perilous business for both of us. For, before we proceed further, it must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at both ends; fast to Queequeg's broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrow leather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time, were wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honor demanded that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me down in his wake. So, then, an elongated Siamese ligature united us. Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother; nor could I any way get rid of the dangerous liabilities which the hempen bond entailed. (271)
version of the splice, an umbilical rope yokes two disparate persons into
a single organism made of conjoined bodies: whatever happens to Queequeg
will also happen to the "wedded" Ishmael. The two maintain their
individuality-Ishmael on deck, Queequeg on the whale-but they cannot be
sundered, neither for better nor for worse. Indeed, Ishmael "distinctly
[perceives] that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock
company of two: that my free will had received a mortal wound
As Ishmael's relative powerlessness here indicates, this "hempen bond" of this state of affairs has its "dangerous liabilities"-but it is nonetheless the state of affairs for the whole world:
I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or another, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg's monkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that I came very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I would, I only had the management of one end of it. (271).
interconnected "joint-stock" world, where everyone is spliced
by monkey-ropes to everyone else, stands in contradistinction to the atomism
and possessive individualism inherent in a society that aggressively promotes
"originality." Ishmael insists that there can be no action or
reaction that is the product of a single will; no matter how careful a
man is to remain a self-possessed individual, there is no way for him
to separate himself from the collective.23 At the same time, however,
Ishmael assiduously maintains the "management of one end" of
an intricately woven personhood; no matter how much he insists that he
and Queequeg are united, they are not identical. The end result, then,
is an infinite system of "joint-stock companies" where collectivism
and individualism are always in negotiation, where questions of the many
and the one are always under consideration. Within these companies, "originality"
is, at best, of little use or, at worst, a serious detriment; to be "original"
is to deny (or to sever) the monkey-rope that binds, is to veer into an
undesirable, if not impossible possessive individualism. An ethics of
splicing, however, works the other way, acknowledging the necessary commonality
of thought and emotion even as it allows for differences in expression
and action. Moreover, the monkey-rope creates a model of citizenship that
accounts for both capitalist interest and republican disinterest-when
it becomes clear that one is spliced to an infinite mass of men, working
for oneself and working for one's fellow man turn out to be exactly the
Having reached this conclusion, in "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish" Ishmael turns to address the specific issue of possession in a society organized around possessive individualism. He does so by outlining the salvage laws of the ocean: "I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it. // II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it" (331). Thinking through the nominally Lockeian conception of personal property, Ishmael considers the moral consequences of possessing anything: "...Often possession is the whole of the law. What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish...What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What to that redoubted harpooneer, John Bull, is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish? What to that apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan, is Texas, but Fast-Fish?" (333). The analogy between a jealous maintenance of "property" and slavery, cruelty, imperialism, and colonialism is a strong one: liberal and patriarchal notions of ownership encode a "natural" hierarchy of "owner" and "owned," which in turn encodes abuse.24 Against this ugly notion of the Fast-Fish, the Loose-Fish-that is, the unpossessed fish-figures possibility and productive contention: "What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish?....What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All Loose-Fish." (334). Although the potential for this naturalized hierarchy of ownership exists, it is as yet unrealized: the Loose-Fish represents possibility, not mere subjection. Indeed, the Loose-Fish stands for political and intellectual freedom: "What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish?" (334). The chapter ends with a famous question: "...what are you reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?" (334).
Inviting his reader to consider his or her own status as an object of property relations, as the living part of this abstract system of ownership, Ishmael indicates the peculiar flash point that the nineteenth century American subject/writer occupies within proprietary discourse: Loose or Fast, open to appropriation as much as to appropriating, the joy of community and the threat of totalitarianism are always intertwined and their boundaries must always be negotiated. It is in this negotiation that Ishmael-and his readers-take the first steps towards realizing a democratic imaginary and, perhaps, a democratic praxis. Armed with the knowledge of the possible negative consequences of their ways of being always in mind, subjects splice into a variegated social body-text. In this process, single men (readers and authors) may contain multitudes and the mass of men may enjoy the liberating possibilities of identification and equality. For Ishmael, then, the blueprints for the mature nation come not merely from singular men of singular "genius," but from the copied extract, the unanswerable question, the variable splice. It is within this same paradoxically collectivist and individualist ethos that our work, as critics and teachers and citizens, begins. With epistemological practices that recognize and celebrate interweaving and iteration at least as much as "originality" and bounded selfhood, social and political and epistemological contracts may be endlessly borrowed and rewritten. This duality ensures the democratic possibility of the Loose-Fish and the variegated splice for the smuggling verbalists who follow after us.
1 Harper's Monthly Magazine 4 (December, 1851): 137. A reciprocal puff appears on the last printed page of the Harper and Brothers edition of Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851). Following notices for Melville's other published books, there is a page devoted to "CHOICE WORKS FOR LIBRARIES // just published // BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK." First among these is a long notice for Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
2 The International Magazine of Literature, Art, and Science 4:5 (December, 1851): 602. The review first appears in The Spectator #1217 (October 25, 1851) 1026.
3 On conceptions of originality and conventions of authorship in general, see, among many others, David Quint Origin and Originality in Renaissance Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), Mark Rose Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi, eds. The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), and Meredith McGill American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003)
4 To alter slightly Stubb's masthead soliloquy in Moby-Dick, generations of Melvillians have found that source-books gave the author "the bare words and facts," but he "[came] in to supply the thoughts" (360-1). Howard P. Vincent's massive and invaluable Trying Out of Moby-Dick, (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1949) is the best example, but nearly every source study of Melville's writings makes the same claim. A notable exception is Elizabeth Renker, in Strike Through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Renker argues that copying per se is necessary to Melville's method, but that Melville "anxiously disavows" (5) and "represses" (3) his "disingenuous" (3) borrowings because of his sense of the terrible opacity of all (borrowed) written objects, the tendency of the written work to obscure non-textualizable truth. As such, the anxiety about copying appears to be a "constitutive component" of Melville's work, not the copying itself.
5 Michael Newbury, Figuring Authorship in Antebellum America. (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997): 187.
6 As Ellen Weinauer writes in "Plagiarism and the Proprietary Self: Policing the Boundaries of Authorship in Herman Melville's 'Hawthorne and His Mosses'" (American Literature 69:4 [December 1997]), "It is in the domain of identity that the reverberations of the plagiarist's separation of text and author are felt most deeply: by stealing the 'thing' that most 'proximate to its maker,' the plagiarist challenges the relationship between property and the laboring self.on which the concept of the liberal subject is predicated" (697). For my purposes, what is true for the plagiarist is equally true for the copyist under the fluid conceptions of literary property that obtained in nineteenth century America.
7 A number of recent studies of Moby-Dick have taken the metaphor of the woven text as a their central conceit. For example, Christopher Sten's 1996 study The Weaver God, He Weaves: Melville's Poetics of the Novel, takes a line from "A Bower in Arsacides" as its title and its epigraph; Harrison Hayford's "'Loomings': Yarns and Figures in the Fabric" appears in Artful Thunder: Versions of the Romantic Tradition in Honor of Howard P. Vincent (1975). In these works, the weaving process is useful shorthand for describing the complexity of Melville's symbolical, theological, or characterological systems; in my analysis, the practice of weaving itself, not merely the intricate text that it creates, is under consideration. See also Freda E. Yaeger. "The Dark Ishmael and the First Weaver in Moby-Dick" Arizona Quarterly 41:2 (Summer 1985): 152-68.
8 As Richard Henry Dana writes in The Seaman's Friend, (1841, rpt. Mineola, NY: Dover Books, 1997): "SPLICING, is putting the ends of ropes together by opening the strands and placing them into one another, or by putting the strands of the ends of a rope between those of the bight" (44). W. Clark Russell defines splice as "A connexion formed by passing the ends of two ropes through their strands." See Sailor's Language: A Collection of Sea-Terms and their Definitions (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1883): 134.
9 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828, rpt. San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1995): n.p.
10 Melville, to Sarah Huyler Morewood, 12? September 1851: "Concerning my own forthcoming book-it is off my hands, but must cross the sea before publication here. Dont you buy it-dont you read it, when it does come out, because it is by no means the sort of book for you. It is not a peice of fine feminine Spitalfields silk-but is of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables & hausers." In Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman, eds. The Letters of Herman Melville (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960): 138.
11 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker, eds. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967) Unless otherwise noted, all parenthetical page references are to this edition of Moby-Dick.
12 The "Town-Ho's Story" is itself spliced into Moby-Dick from the October 1851 Harper's New Monthly Magazine, where it appeared as a stand-alone piece. See Harper's Monthly Magazine 3:17 (October 1851): 658-65.
13 In the first British edition, published by Richard Bentley some months before the first Harper and Brothers American edition, these two sections come in an Appendix at the end of volume three; they are the last words of the book, not the first. For other substantive differences between the American and British editions, see Hayford and Parker's survey of "Textual Problems of Moby-Dick" in the W.W. Norton edition of Moby-Dick, 470-98.
14 Among many others, I'm thinking here of seminal works like Roland Barthe's "The Death of the Author" in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), Mikhail Bakhtin's Dialogic Imagination Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981) and Michel Foucault's "What is an Author?" in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984).
15 This is not an uncommon nineteenth-century usage, especially for unreconstructed-mariner types or New Englanders. See, for example, W.H. Smyth's Sailor's Word Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms (London: Blackie and Son, 1867), which defines splice as "The joining of two ropes together. Familiarly, two persons joined in wedlock" (643). One caricature of New England romance begins with: "A runaway couple, 'true lovyers' of the most fervent Yankee stamp, arrived at a small inn near Boston, and wanted the landlord to send for a minister to 'splice 'em,' and to 'be quick about it.' Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 11: 63 (August 1855): 421.
16 For more on the erotics of Ishmael and Queequeg's relationship, see Caleb Crain, "Lovers of Human Flesh: Homosexuality and Cannibalism in Melville's Novels" American Literature 66 (March 1994): 25-53.
17 This is another of the substantive differences between the American and British editions of Moby-Dick: in the Bentley, there is no epilogue, no Ishmael scooped up by a passing ship. Much has been made of this difference: see, for example, Michael T. Gilmore, American Romanticism and the Marketplace (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985): 129. Also see note 13 above.
18 Ahab's words curiously echo arguments made before the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark copyright case of Wheaton vs. Peters in 1833. "Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be as free as air, and I'm down on the whole world's books" (Moby-Dick 392). J.R. Ingersoll, one of the lawyers representing the government, argues that "An individual who mingles what cannot be exclusively enjoyed, with what can, does upon familiar principles, rather forfeit the power over his own peculiar work, than throw the chain around that which is of itself as free as air. The intermixture. . . . must render the whole insusceptible of exclusive ownership. That which is public cannot in its nature be made private, but not e contra. In Meredith McGill, American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003): 61. For an depth discussion of this case and its implications for literary property discussions in American literature and culture, see McGill, 45-75.
19 During the final chase of Moby Dick, "They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; though it was put together of all contrasting things-oak and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp-yet all these ran into each other in the one concrete hull, which shot on its way, both balanced and directed by the long central keel; even so, all the individualities of the crew, this man's valor, that man's fear; guilt and guiltlessness, all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to" (455).
20 "Stand round me, men. You see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered lance; propped up on a lonely foot. 'Tis Ahab-his body's part; but Ahab's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. I feel strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale; and I may look so. But ere I break, ye'll hear me crack; and till ye hear that, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet" (459).
21 Dana describes the process of making "AN EYE SPLICE Unlay the end of a rope for a short distance, and lay the three strands upon the standing part, so as to form an eye. Put one end through the strand next to it. Put the next end over that strand and through the second; and put the remaining end through the third strand, on the other side of the rope. Taper them, as in the short splice, by dividing the strands and sticking them again." (44-45).
22 There is some suggestion that Melville took critiques of his narrative unconventionality seriously. The Spectator/International Magazine review ends by pointing out that "It is a canon with some critics that nothing should be introduced into a novel which it is physically impossible for the writer to have known: thus, he must not describe the conversation of miners in a pit if they all perish" (International Magazine, 804). The implication, of course, is that Ishmael could not narrate the story of the Pequod after having perished in its sinking. The first American edition, published some months after the British edition, includes an epilogue that remedies this unconventionality: Ishmael survives to tell his tale. See Gilmore, 129.
23 Although John Locke is typically considered to be the chief philosophical advocate for possessive individualism, Matthew H. Kramer convincingly demonstrates that Locke's thought is characterized by a "complete interpenetration of communitarianism and individualism [H]is atomism was itself utterly collectivistic. We shall find that a blending of values [of atomism and collectivism] was out of reach, for one value engulfed the other entirely." See John Locke and the Origins of Private Property (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997): 4
24 Stubb on Pip's jumping overboard: "'Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I wont pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can't afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind, and don't jump any more.' Hereby, perhaps, Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loves his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence" (346).