Moby Dick: A Spinozist Tritone Fugue

Author: Ahmet Aktaş (Boğaziçi University.)

Moby Dick is like a tritone fugue in which the three layers of its narrative develop and intermingle with each other. Three narrative styles, developing into a single voice, can be designated as such: an internal or psychological narrative, an external or pragmatic narrative, and a peripheral or rhetorical narrative. The internal narrative consists of the inner speeches of Ahab and the other captains, while external narrative mainly focuses on adventures and the progression of the storyline. The third narrative style which can be called the peripheral or rhetorical narrative comprises instructions about whaling, and various biological, anatomical, typological, historical and anthropological information and comments about whales, which might be regarded as irrelevant at first glance. Before examining the philosophical significance of these narratives, I will briefly review the main ideas of Spinoza’s metaphysics.

For Spinoza, all entities are modes (modus) of God, i.e. Nature, which is the absolute and only substance. Among God’s infinite attributes, we have knowledge of only two: thought (cogitatio) and extension (extensio). All finite beings are conceived as modes, or affections of these two attributes of the absolute substance. For that reason, they are expressions of Nature, or God. Since there is absolute determinism in Nature, Spinoza thinks that all beings are connected to each other by causal chains. This causally interconnected network of entities is designated as Natura Naturata, and the flow of this network within itself is designated as Natura Naturans by Spinoza.

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