Saturday, May 25, 2019

Journey into the Underworld

Melville's Moby Dick: An American Nekyia 

Melville's Moby Dick: An American Nekyia (Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts)

"I shall follow the endless, winding way---
the flowing river in the cave of man."
--Herman Melville, Pierre.

This is literary criticism from a Jungian perspective. Edinger, while a Jungian, does not limit his analysis merely to the Jungian outlook, but also includes classical, biblical, and other literary references.

The approach that he uses is through examining the book as a psychological document.  He considers it "as a record in symbolic imagery of an intense inner experience".  In doing so he tries to serve three ends: 
"first, to elucidate the pyschological significance of Moby-Dick; second, to demonstrate the methods of analytical psychoogy in dealing with wymbolic forms; and third, to present the fundamental orientation which underlies the therapeutic approch of analytical psychology."  

The subtitle of the book, "An American Nekyia", refers to the eleventh book of the Odyssey, called a Nekyia, which is used as a reference to a journey to the underworld.  This seems particularly apt when attempting to elucidate some of the deep meaning suggested by the text of Moby-Dick.  It also can be seen in biblical terms as demonstrated by the sermon based on the tale of Jonah and the Leviathan. Whether discussing Prometheus, Faust, the Sphinx or demonism, Edinger produces a fascinating commentary on the potential meaning of the ultimate story of the whale.

The breadth of his approach makes his book attractive and worthwhile. While I did not always agree with his conclusions, his arguments and analyses were always thought-provoking. I would recommend this as one of the best literary criticisms to include in any close reading of Moby-Dick.


Brian Joseph said...

I love literary criticism such as this. My dilemma is whether to devote reading to to it, or to read original works. I so wish that I had more time to read both. As a result, I tend to read a fair number of essays as opposed to entire books of criticism.

James said...

This was one of several books that I consulted after my most recent rereading of Moby-Dick.