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L’Imaginaire-Melville

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Viola Sachs

Of Money, Cash and Writing in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Sina Vatanpour

Résumé

Dans Moby-Dick ; or, The Whale, un grand nombre de termes monétaires et commerciaux attire notre attention sur l’importance du thème de l’argent, à la fois signe et mesure. Cette répétition obsessionnelle est dûe au fait que Melville avait des problèmes financiers importants au moment où il écrivait le livre. L’argent liquide (cash) selon le narrateur, Ishmael, est indispensable pour écrire le livre. Mais à un niveau plus profond, l’argent est lié à l’écriture hermétique du texte. Melville est tout à fait conscient que Hermès, dieu du commerce, est également le dieu de l’écriture dans la Grèce antique. De ce point de vue, l’argent n’est plus une fin en soi mais un moyen d’accéder à un idéal spirituel ; il devient un des éléments qui structurent le texte caché dissimulé à l’intérieur du texte même. La présence du mot argent dans le premier paragraphe de la narration montre que ceci est profondément lié à l’identité biblique d’Ishmael. Car la position du mot argent (money) – le seizième dans la narration – nous renvoie au chapitre seize de la Genèse, ainsi qu’au carré magique du 4 sur lequel le texte caché du livre est construit.

Le mot cash apparaît seulement six fois dans le texte. Il est mentionné pour la première fois au chapitre 32 “Cetology" lié à l’écriture du livre, et cinq fois au chapitre 46 “Surmises" dans un même paragraphe. Une procédure de répétition qui marque l’importance de ce mot. Le mot cash signifie par son étymologie l’endroit où on cachait son argent autrefois, ce qui suggère le mot français « cacher ». Melville joue sur l’anglais et le français en introduisant dans le texte le mot « cachalot » comme traduction du sperm whale en français. En effet « cachalot » contient « cache », et en le décomposant on pourrait le lire « cach(e)-a-lot », c’est-à-dire qui cache beaucoup. Le « e » muet en français lui permet le jeu translinguistique sur l’anglais et le français pour établir une analogie entre cash, espèces, « cacher » et la baleine. Ce jeu translinguistique est confirmé une fois de plus quand le Pequod rencontre le Rose-Bud/Bouton de Rose, un bateau français qui détient une baleine morte de dyspepsie. Avec l’aide de la seule personne qui parle l’anglais et avec une traduction qui n’en est pas une, le deuxième officier, Stubb, parvient à s’approprier la baleine et à obtenir l’ambre gris, la matière précieuse qui vaut une guinée d’or et qui est contenue dans les entrailles de la baleine morte. Cette scène établit un rapport entre l’argent, le langage, la traduction et la baleine. De la même façon que Stubb obtient le trésor caché dans le corps de la baleine, le lecteur initié doit découvrir le sens symbolique du mot cash avant de pouvoir apercevoir la dimension cachée du texte.

Texte intégral

1Money, in the generic meaning of the term, is of great importance in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. At a deeper level, it becomes one of the major components which structures a hidden text within the text. Its presence in the famous opening paragraph of the narration shows that it cannot be disassociated from Ishmael’s identity and his voyage quest:

  • 1 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd., 1972. All quotations (...)

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation, (ch 1, p. 93)1

  • 2 Emeric Deutsch, « L’argent nommé désir et sang », in Communications n° 50, Paris, Seuil, 1989, p85.
  • 3 See Viola Sachs, The Game of Creation, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1982, (...)

2Going to sea cures Ishmael of the spleen, of both bad blood circulation and lack of money. In this respect, money – itself a means of communication – is compared to maritime circulation, and to blood which circulates and communicates with all parts of the body. Spleen designates the organ which produces cetain modifications in the blood. Thus, in this passage, money, through its assimilation to blood, not only becomes corporeal but life-giving. In the Talmud, the word "Da Mim" designates money, and it is also the plural form of "Da M" which signifies blood2. Moreover, money, through its position in the text – the sixteenth word in the narration- conceals a bond with Ishmael’s biblical identity worded in chapter 16 of Genesis and to Durer’s print Melencolia. The magic square of four (42 = 16) upon which lies the hidden structure of the book figures in this print3.

3Melville seems to be deeply aware that Hermes, the god of commerce, also acts as the god of writing in the ancient Greek culture. The adjective hermetic, a derivative of Hermes, in modern times refers to esoteric techniques which Melville uses so abundantly in his writing.

  • 4 For the link between the farthing and the hidden text see The Game of Creation, op, cit. pl 27-129, (...)

4The book contains a considerable number of commercial expressions and above all a great diversity of monetary terms from all parts of the world, such as dollar, penny, farthing4,ducat, the English pound, shilling, the Portuguese moidores, joes, half joes, quarter joes, the Spanish pistoles, and the doubloons of Spain, of Chile, of Bolivia, and the golden doubloon of Ecuador. However, in this article I shall concentrate only on the word cash and its relation to the writing of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

5The obsessive recurrence of monetary expressions refers to a reality, the fact that Melville did have financial problems and needed money in order to continue the writing of the book. The well known passage in chapter 32 “Cetology” shows how closely the writing of the book depends on cash:

This whole book is but a draught -nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash and Patience! (p 241)

6It is clear that cash expresses Melville’s anguish for the lack of money. The etymology of the word cash, cassa or capsa in Latin shows that it originally meant a box, a hiding place where one kept one’s money. The word cash conceals a phonetic pun with its homophone “cache” which comes from the French word cacher, to hide. The pun creates a totally different meaning for cash and suggests that the word hides something. But what does it hide, if anything at all?

7Cash appears merely six times in the entire text. The first as seen in chapter “Cetology” in connection with the writing of the book. By writing I mean the process of creating the book in the sense of the author’s script and signs. The other five times appear in just one paragraph in chapter 46, “Surmises”. Surmises means guessing at the nature of something or a thing the existence of which is suspect. On both occasions, in chapter 32 and 46, cash is used as a means to an end: by Melville’s narrator for writing the book, and by Ahab for hunting the White Whale. Ahab considers cash as something alive which can awaken and act independently so as to influence or change the course of the events:

I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all hopes of cash -aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some months go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this same quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would soon cashier Ahab. (p314)

8Melville plays on the double meaning of “cashier", for cashier means the person in charge of cash and also the idea of being discarded or rejected. Ahab’s authority as captain will not withstand the trial of the journey without cash. Consequently, in this instance cash becomes the all powerful thing which binds Ahab and the members of the crew together.

9Melville carries the game even further since the word cash phonetically lies concealed in cachalot, the French name for the sperm whale. It appears only three times in the narration, the first being in the very same chapter “Cetology”:

BOOK I (Folio), Chapter I. (Sperm Whale). – This whale, among the English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the French and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. (p232, Melville’s italics)

10Both words, cash and cachalot, used for the first time in the same chapter, indirectly deal with writing the book. The chapter contains divisions or “BOOK (s)” which classify the different kinds of whales, thus referring through this word to the title of the first American edition of the book – Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. These names call the reader’s attention to the importance of different languages. As Viola Sachs argues in her article in the present collection “Trumpa whale”, a name invented by Melville, suggests the French tromper – to cheat. I believe that Melville gives the reader an indication of his deceitful writing. He “diddles” the reader just as Stubb, through a mock translation “diddles” the French captain of the Bouton de Rose in chapter 91.

11Furthermore, through a translinguistic game, cachalot could also be read as cach (e)-a-lot, that is hides a lot. The word cachalot is used when the American and the French ships exchange news on the White Whale in chapter 91, “The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud”, Melville plays on the French and the English names of the French ship:

Upon her head boards, in large gilt letters, he read “Bouton de Rose", – Rose-button, or Rose-bud; and this was the romantic name of this aromatic ship (...).
“A wooden rose-bud, eh?” he cried with his hand to his nose, “that will do very well; but how like all creation it smells!”
Now in order to hold direct communication with the people on deck, he had to pull round the bows to the star-board side, and thus come close to the blasted whale; and so talk over it.
Arrived then at this spot, with one hand still to his nose, he bawled- “Bouton-de-Rose, ahoy! are there any of you Bouton-de-Roses that speak English?”
“Yes” rejoined a Guernsey-man from the bulwarks, who turned out to be the chief-mate.
“Well, then, my Bouton-de-Rose-bud, have you seen the White Whale?”
“What Whale? “(Melville’s italics)
« The White Whale (Melville’s italics) – a Sperm Whale – Moby Dick, have ye seen him?”
“Never heard of such a whale. Cachalot Blanche? White Whale-no.” (p513-514)

12Melville creates a word – Bouton-de-Rose-bud – that contains both the French name of the ship – “Bouton-de-Rose” and the English one “Rose-bud”, an indication in my opinion to the existence of a similar pattern in Cachalot.

13Communication and translation are central themes in this chapter. When Stubb asks the crew of the Rose-Bud whether they have seen the While Whale, the only member of the crew who speaks English replies with a grammatical error of gender: “Never heard of such a whale. Cachalot Blanche? White Whale

  • 5 See Dominique Marçais, « Le jeu sur le blanc et le noir chez Melville », in Du Noir au Blanc, Figur (...)

– no.”5

14The same man later translates the conversation between Stubb and the captain of the Rose-Bud. Unwittingly, he acts in the interest of Stubb, for by his mock translation he tricks or to use Melville’s words “diddles” (p 517) the captain of the Rose-Bud into releasing the blasted whale that smells so terribly of decomposition. As a result of this fake translation Stubb and the crew of the Pequod cash a lot. Stubb tows away the blasted whale, and once out of sight, digs into its body and out of its bowels extracts the ambergris, that precious substance which is worth a gold guinea an ounce.

15Melville gives another indication of his technique of writing here by saying:

Though the word ambergris is but the French compound for grey amber, ... (ch 92, p519)

16Inversion has a great importance in the translinguistic game: the name “Bouton-de-Rose-bud” is partly built on it. The same technique is used in connection with the French ship which is “aromatic” and has a “romantic name”.

17The man who translates for Stubb is called “Guernsey-Man”. Guernsey designates one who is from the Channel Islands, but it also means a coat or an outer tunic. It thereby conveys the idea that an appearance or a name hides a deeper meaning than the conventional one. The Guernsey-Man’s counterfeit translation, which leads Stubb to the whale’s cache that contains the ambergris, establishes a link between language, translation, cash, cachalot, smell and writing. As Stubb cries out upon spotting the Rose-Bud: “... but how like all creation it smells.”

18Ironically, the captain of the Rose-Bud who had once been an eau-de-cologne manufacturer, ignores how that precious perfumed substance is obtained. It takes an initiated person like Stubb or the reader to follow his sense of smell and discover the sweet perfume of ambergris dissimulated by the stench. The ambergris found in the bowels of the sick whale recalls the excremental aspect of money so well known in psychoanalysis. The captain’s ignorance goes beyond mere irony since cologne suggests its English homophone colon, that is the greater part of the larger intestine.

19“Cologne” appears also in chapter “Cetology” in connection with cash and writing.

But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For 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. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience! (p 241)

20Draught means the preliminary conception of a project, but it can also designate a written order for withdrawal of money from a bank, and also a current of air. Like a written order or a check, the draught of the book, once it is published and in circulation, might compensate the writer with cash. The same draught, the smell of which is excremental as in the case of the blasted whale, leads the initiated reader to the word cash as a sign and the perception of the hidden dimension of the text

21To conclude, without minimizing Melville’s economic problems or the commercial aspect of whaling, this analysis attempts to show that there is another, a more symbolic and hermetic meaning to money – in its different forms – which deserves to be studied.

Notes

1 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd., 1972. All quotations will refer to this edition. Italics are mine unless otherwise indicated.

2 Emeric Deutsch, « L’argent nommé désir et sang », in Communications n° 50, Paris, Seuil, 1989, p85.

3 See Viola Sachs, The Game of Creation, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1982, p. 67-80.

4 For the link between the farthing and the hidden text see The Game of Creation, op, cit. pl 27-129, and for the doubloon, p75.

5 See Dominique Marçais, « Le jeu sur le blanc et le noir chez Melville », in Du Noir au Blanc, Figures, n° 6 et 7, 1990-91, and also Viola Sachs, « The Breaking Down of Gender Boundaries in American Mythical Texts”, Information Sciences Sociales, n° 4, 1987, for the implications of the grammatical error of gender.

Auteur

Université de Paris VIII

© Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 1992

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