160 years ago on this day : First Inaugual Address to the Nation by President Abraham Lincoln.
HOW SPERM WHALES HEALED PURITANISM ; HOW THE GREAT WHITE SPERM CAN HEAL AND RESTORE AMERICA'S SOUL.
… never, never wilt thou capture him, old man- In Jesus’ name no more of this, that’s worse than devil’s madness... all good angels mobbing thee with warnings...Shall we keep chasing this murderous fish till he swamps the last man? « Moby-Dick », November 14, 1851 chapter 134.
The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. Abraham Lincoln :. End of first inaugural address, March 4th, 1861.
The Honour and Glory*, or : the deepest roots of american identitary trouble.
Origins of USA are intimately linked to whaling (Schell 2013), that could be considered, for at least XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, as both backbone and connective tissue of the nation. Major aspects of this activity have more than strongly guided collective representations up to now (Sennepin 2020).
See, for instance : Jefferson (Thomas). 1788 (November 19). Observations on the Whale-Fishery.
Commentary article by Matthew Crow (Fall 2020) in «Journal of the Early Republic » 40 (3), 435-463. Jefferson's Whale : Race, Climate and Commerce in Early America. University of Pennsylvania Press.
By the last quarter of XVIIIth century, when atlantic spermwhales definitely became ungraspable (Mawer 2000), maritime invasion of Pacific ocean by american whalers must be considered as the First Conquest of Great Wild West, in an area 20 times larger than the second one.
Nantucket : The "Great UnicornSperm" that predates cetaceans throughout the world :
Major cultural change directly induced by this rush of planetary scale not only concerned USA, but also Pacific communities (for instance, Maoris of New-Zealand, Hawaïan people, Alaska Natives, Japanese, and so many others).
Moreover, quite ignored and misunderstood, the keystone event of this period is the sperm whales' victory against whalers from 1820 to 1862, that must be considered as the First Pacific War, that had a decisive « ghost influence » on collective psychology of this Nation (Sennepin 2020) :
See also, by the end of this article, « Additional precisions » : First Pacific War).
In this case, the economical approach concerning whaling (see for instance Robbins 1992), generally presented as a major key for understanding the phenomenon, indeed concerns only the foam of things and in no case the deep waters of reality.
Infact, it's not capitalism who saved the whales, and it's less false that considering « How Puritanism saved the whales » (Wadewitz 2019), thus the heart of reality is in « How Sperm Whales have healed puritanism » and saved themselves by their own means...
XIXth century : A useless broken trident, or : the Shipwreck of the American Dream.
(in french language, with various key bibliographical references in english and illustrations) :
The trident of the American Neptune has one of its teeth broken by Pacific sperm whales between 1820 and 1860. The use of the other two immediately led to a collective feeling of guilt.
First one. The « incredible » victory of Sperm Whales. Whalers, and the whole Nation behind them submit a real but unthought because unthinkable defeat. This very weakening episode for society as a whole is immediately followed by the most traumatic event of USA's History : the civil war. This one nearly begins by the « Stonefleet » operation (December 1861-January 1862) where old sperm whaling ships are sunk by Union Army to block Charleston and Savanna's harbors, but in vain... It ends by the destruction, in Bering Strait, of Bowhead whaling fleet by a confederate ship, two months and a half after Appomatox treatise... These two events are like mirror each other and could be considered as unconscious sacrificial rituals.
Second one. From the very beginning of Bowhead Whale Rush, various voices lament the prospect of the species becoming extinct (see for instance : a seaman's prediction as early as 1845 -in Ritter 1993-, & Honolulu Friend 1850).
Third one. Charles Melville Scammon destroys Gray Whales of californian lagoons, and understands « his misfortune and his crime » (Landauer 1986, Russell 2004, Scammon 1874).
Four particular stories mark the century in literature. All of them have a particular and unexpected theme, all of them are editorial failures. (Reynolds 1839, Melville 1851, Scammon 1874, Anonymous 1892).
Reynolds recounts the fictional death of a real animal, in an optimistic spirit that had actually been lost amongst whalers since decades (see for instance Chase 1821).
Melville deftly celebrates the victory of the sperm whale.
Scammon describes the beauty of his victims, the gray whales.
The Anonymous article published both in Detroit Free Press and, lightly modified, in Chicago Tribune, officially speaking of fighting sperm whales, seeks, in reality, to restore color with public opinion to unpopular bowhead whaling industry, while the second "Bowhead Rush" is in full swing in the Mackenzie River Delta …
MOREOVER, the « American Hero » of this period is not Owen Chase, the brave first mate aboard the whaling ship Essex (Chase 1821), nor Thomas Welcome Roys, the pioneer of modern whaling (Schmidt, de Jong, Winter 1980), but James Iredell Waddell [for his funerals in 1886], the confederate Captain who destroyed the northern Bowhead whaling fleet in 1865 (McKay 2009) !
Today : Identitary trouble, civil war threats . In this context, misunderstood novel although omnipresent in the collective psyche, « Moby-Dick » is quite useless for american community. What is commonly retained comes from a few scenes from John Huston's film (moreover the best film adaptation of the work, by far), unrelated to the content of the novel: for example, the famous episode of the whaler attached to the harpoon lines around the body of the sperm whale does not concern Ahab, in the novel, but Fedallah ...
These false representations are misused in the political struggle. Donald Trump is often compared to Achab by his opponents, and to the sperm whale by his supporters (Fox News, July 2017, Spaeth, September 2017). Cabrera (november 3rd, 2020) considers americans voting against Trump as a collective fighting sperm whale.
This third testament (Hutchins 2011), Rosetta Stone of the American Republic (Rodman 2019), remains to this day a potential inactivated Mahabharata, cultural « Great Battle » to make America safe again...
White Whale Stream, or : Vishnu in the heart of the world to bear Testimony to the Truth.
Melville concludes chapter 82 ("Honor and Glory of whaling") of his novel, by evoking Vishnu, having taken the form of a large cetacean going to seek in the zones of oceanic subduction the forgotten sacred texts, showing by there even what is the true Honor and the true Glory of this "whaling" …
The cultural reappropriation of its history on a solid basis is for any nation the first step towards healing.
It's time to Heal and Restore AMERICA'S SOUL. Joseph Biden . Who probably will not be « The Catskill Eagle » (« Moby-Dick », chapter 96), and who is at risk to become the Sky Hawk (« Moby-Dick », chapter 135).
Moreover, in a context of greater cultural solidity, the United States of America will be in the best position to ensure a Future for the Whole World by taking a planetary-scale initiative aimed at restoring the World Ocean and its great fauna during this century.
I have named this desirable project The White Whale Stream...
See video (2019, in french language)
[A new video including this theme, with english simultaneous translation, will be available during in summer of 2021].
* The Honour and Glory of Whaling : chapter 82 of « Moby-Dick ».
Appendix : A « Moby-Dick » reassessment.
"Moby-Dick", by Herman Melville, begins in the heart of darkness and ends in the light.
The author explicitly and continuously shows the diabolical nature of the whaling enterprise, and by contrast, the rebalancing and resolving nature of the white sperm whale's action.
The novel translates, in an epic and poetic form, unknown real events, initiated by sperm whales, that totally upset our relationship with large wild animals. The early 1840s marked both the decisive period of this war and the period when Melville was a whaler himself. In the novel, the description of these real enents is both very precise and subtly allusive.
This « ghost war » had tremendous consequences on US collective representations (both cultural and political) from civil war up to now.
The deep meaning of the novel has therefore generally been ignored. Whalers believe they are chasing the sperm whale with a harpoon, whereas it is the latter that is fishing them "with a net", on a scale of space and time that is totally inconceivable for these prey who consider themselves as predators.
Moreover, Melville's particular relationship to temporality, which makes his novel a true "narrative-maelstrom", much closer to the "traditional" representations of the Aboriginal peoples of the Pacific than to "modern" European thought.
Additional precisions :
First Pacific War. The first Pacific War (5 April 1820-26 January 1862 stricto sensu, with 1790-1820 period as march to this war, and 1840-1842 as decisive years ), is not mentioned as such in any textbook or history book.
Not perceived as a conflict between opposing forces, it has remained to this day a hidden ghost "beneath the surface of our present" as Ian Wedde (1986) wrote about "Mocha Dick", the most famous of this unknown episode. In particular, it highlights the constitution of a true "sperm nation", which, like David, overcame the "Goliath" Nantucket in just over a quarter of a century. His influence on a large part of the World Ocean continued until the 60 years of the last century. Particularly, as the spermwhaler was the first figure of the American hero, the flesh and blood of Political Power, the agent of his power in the Pacific, who was celebrated everywhere and by all, his defeat suffered by an equally valiant opponent and better connoisseur of the field was neither conceivable nor mentally acceptable. And after this "phantom war", the country has continued to purify the whole world of its real or supposed monsters, to the present day, whatever the price.
Linkage of the real First Pacific War with the novel « Moby-Dick » . A new reading of Herman Melville's novel "Moby-Dick"shows that, despite appearances the fierce pursuit of a sperm whale by a mad captain, parable of the human condition, but conversely, the methodical hunting of the sailor by the sperm whale, implying a strategy as elusive as complex, on a scale of time, space, and alliance system defying the human imagination. The author makes this story a new war of the Gods against the Titans, the latter being the whalers. Even more deeply, the text ultimately becomes an epic of the First Pacific War, of which it constitutes a true "Iliad". His main character turns out to be the army of sperm whales. Considered by most as the hero of a fable or parable, and by some as the sublimated image of a real sperm whale, it actually corresponds to a collective being, a sort of giant oceanic anaconda, whose each scale is a soldier … The novel is, in this context, doubly disturbing for the US collective representation. It not only brutally brings to the surface this buried trauma of a unique character, but also illuminates what is the true manifest destiny of America if it fails to control its spontaneous tendencies (Slotkin 1973).
It appears that the narrative tells, in an epic, poetic and romantic form, the establishment, conduct and failure of the policy of targeted assassinations in the 1840s, which led to the ruin of Nantucket, then that of the entire whaling fleet US. Shipmasters, captains specifically in charge of operations, whaling fleet turned into "commando transport fleet", warrior sperm whales targeted by his surgical strikes, are concentrated in individual characters, respectively Peleg, Ahab, the "Pequod", and "Moby Dick".
If "Moby Dick" is a sperm whale, the eponymous novel is a giant squid. This book is like Nature: "We have not yet said the trillionth, and all that has been said only multiplies the paths to what remains to be said. (Melville 1850).
Bibliographical references :
Anonymous. 1892. The Terror of the Sea. A vivid account of the sanguinary career of « Mocha Dick ». Published by « The Detroit Free Press » on Sunday, April 3rd. Published also by « The Chicago Tribune » on the same day, but differently entitled : Five wicked whales. A quintet of leviathans well known to all whalers.
Cabrera (Yvette). 2020. Moby Dick is a perfect parable for what at stake in the 2020 election. Grist, November 3rd, 2020.
Chaffin (Tom). 2006. Sea of Gray. The around the world odyssey of the confederate raider SHENANDOAH.472 pages. Hill and Wang. A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. NY.
Chase (Owen). 1821. Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex ; which was attacked and finally destroyed by a large spermaceti-whale, in the Pacific ocean ; with an account of the unparalleled sufferings of the captain and crew during a space of ninety three days at sea, in open boats, in the years 1819 & 1820. W.B. Gilley, NY.
Fox News. 2017. Alan Dershowitz : Mueller and Trump are like « Captain Ahab and the White Whale ». July 22, 2017.
Honolulu Friend. 1850 (15 october). An open letter submitted to the Honolulu Friend by a « Polar Whale » laments the « murdering in cold blood » of that whale's peers, and asks « Must our race become extinct ? »
Hutchins (Zacharie). 2011. Moby Dick as Third Testament : a novel "not come to destroy but to fulfill the Bible". Leviathan 13 (2), June 2011, 18-37.
Landauer (Lyndall Baker). 1986. Scammon, beyond the Lagoon. A biography of Charles Melville Scammon. Porter Shaw Library.
Mawer (Granville Allen). 1999. Ahab's trade : the saga of south seas whaling. St Martin's Press. See also New York Times Archive :
McKay (Gary). 2009. The Sea King : The Life of James Iredell Waddell. Birlinn Ltd eds.
Melville (Herman). 1850. Hawthorne and his Mosses. Literary World, August 17 & 24, 1850.
Melville (Herman). 1851. Moby-Dick, or : the whale. Richard Bentley, London (October 18th), Harper and Brothers, New-York (november 14th).
Olmsted (Francis Allyn). 1840. Perils of whaling. Incidents of a whaling voyage. NY. D. Appleton & Co.
Reynolds ( Jeremiah). 1839. "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" . The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine. Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1839, pp. 377-392.
Ritter (Harry). 1993. Alaska's History. The People, Land, and Events of the North Country. Nolan Hester eds. Alaska Northwest books. See also :
Robbins (James S.). 1992. How capitalism saved the whales. The Freeman ideas on liberty. August 1992, 42 (8). 311 - 313
Rodman (Howard A.). 2019. How Moby-Dick became the Rosetta Stone of the American Republic. Melville House, 1er Août 2019.
Russell (Dick). 2004. Eye of the whale. Epic passage from Baja to Siberia. Island Press. Pp. 688.
Scammon (Melville Charles). Journal Aboard the Bark « Ocean Bird » on a Whaling Voyage to Scammon's Lagoon, Winter of 1858-1859, ed. David A. Henderson (Los Angeles, Dawson's Bookshop, 1970), 27.
Scammon (Melville Charles). 1874. The Marine Mammals of North western Coast of North America, described and illustrated : Together with an Account of the American Whale-fishery. J.H. Carmany, San Francisco. Putnam, New-York.
Schell (Jennifer). 2013. « A bold and hardy race of men » : The lives and literature of american whalemen. University of Massachusetts Press.
Schmitt (Frederick), de Jong (Cornelis), Winter (Frank H.). 1980. Thomas Welcome Roys: America's Pioneer of Modern Whaling. University Press of Virginia.
Sennepin (Alain). 2020. L'incroyable victoire des cachalots dans leur guerre contre les baleiniers au XIXème siècle. Editions de l'Onde, France.
Slotkin (R). 1973. Regeneration through violence : the mythology of American Frontier 1600-1860. Wesleyan University Press.
Spaeth (Ryu). 2017. "Why Melville matters." New Republic, september 12, 2017.
Wadewitz (Lissa). 2019. New Histories of Pacific Whaling. Rachel Carson Center Perspectives, 5, 11-16 (concerning pages 14-15. see also Yvette Cabrera 2020)
Wedde (Ian). 1986. Symmes Hole. Faber & Faber eds.