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Melancholy and Moby-Dick

Melancholy and Moby-Dick – AKA, a psychological and highly quotational meditation on the sad, the saturnine, and the furious. Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense:

…Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious.

In Moby-Dick, Ahab is not mourning; he is melancholy about having lost something. He is searching to find an object. He is projecting. This is too easy, of course, but it’s worth reiterating: Melancholy, classic divine morose black fury and poetic concentration and hate and Saturnine philosophical greedy selfish genius—this stance, this power—is linked by Freud at the dawn of modern psychology to object-loss.

Use basic logic and invert the theorem: If melancholy is caused by object-loss, can it be banished by object-finding? If depressive melancholy projects weakness down into the ego, can the rarefied, poetic form of melancholy that the ancients called Divine Fury pull strength up from the ego, ex nihilo? Can melancholy (loss of libido into the ego) become Divine Fury (monomaniacal extension of the libido up from the ego) via the object, the Grail, the great white whale—the joker?

The joker!?

The joker. Michel Serres says:

I shall call this object a joker. The joker is often a madman, as we know. He is wild, as they say in English. It is not difficult to see the double of the sacrificial king in him, come from the Celebration of Fools, come from the Saturnalia. This white object, like a white domino, has no value so as to have every value. It has no identity, but its identity, its unique character, its difference, as they say, is to be, indifferently, this or that unit of a given set. The joker is king or a jack, ace or seven, or deuce.

Freud again, my emphasis:

…We perceive that the self-reproaches are reproaches against a loved object which have been shifted away from it on to the patient’s own ego.

Read, using basic logic, the inverse: Self-aggrandizements are aggrandizements of a hated object, an object which has been shifted near the ego… Ahab is mighty and hateful in proportion to the Whale’s might and nearness to Ahab. Ahab merely has to step away to lose his hate—but losing his hate means losing his strength. Losing proximity means losing his power, which he identifies with himself. He must remain close to the whale to maintain his power, to maintain his identity.

Deleuze & Guattari:

…Man and nature are not like two terms one confronting the other, even taken in a relation of causation, comprehension or expression (cause-effect, subject-object, etc.), but one and the same essential reality of producer and product. Production as process overflows all ideal categories and forms a cycle which is related to desire as immanent principle.

Thus co-identification with the object. Subject and object merge, not thanks to mediation and immanent syncretism (Ishmael), but thanks to hateful smashing together of enemies to produce vigor, to scare the ego, fight or flight, into strengthening its own position. Madness, genius, madness… Ahab is all of these in us, this urge to surround ourselves with spies—and then find them out! To chase what we don’t want, what doesn’t want us.

Freud, one last time:

[In melacholia,] an object-choice, an attachment of the libido to a particular person, had at one time existed; then, owing to a real slight or disappointment coming from this loved person, the object-relationship was shattered. The result was not the normal one of a withdrawal of the libido from this object and a displacement of it on to a new one, but something different… …The free libido was not displaced on to another object; it was withdrawn into the ego. There, however, it was not employed in any unspecified way, but served to establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object. Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego…

A-ha! The joker has changed values! Ahab is not even strong on his own, focused on his own! He is none of the things that make him classically “Ahab!”

Ahab IS NOT AHAB, in fact. Ahab is the Whale!

Ahab has lost Ahab, has displaced Ahab onto the Whale, and so loves and hates it, and so keeps it near, source of power, Ring of Gyges, One Ring…

Ahab is not Ahab. Ahab is a RELATIONSHIP. With a Whale.

—Is he?

Ishmael thinks he is both: Ahab, proud subject, proud subjectifier—

And Ahab–Whale, engine of hate, purely relational entity of Divine Fury, melancholy syzygy…

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