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Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Geometric Soul-Images in Melville’s Moby-Dick

Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Geometric Soul-Images in Melville’s Moby-Dick

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Abstract. In Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Geometric Soul-Images in Melville’s Moby-Dick, Laura Strudwick pairs the themes of connection and alienation with the metaphors of fast-fish and loose-fish found in Chapter 89 of Moby-Dick. She utilizes four original mandala images that she discovered in the text of Moby-Dick to embody Louise Cowan’s genre theory. Each mandala represents one of the genres: lyric, comedy, tragedy, and epic. At the same time, the movements of these mandalas also mirror the activity in the characters’ psyches. As the mandalas shift shape, often in a spiral motion, the epic genre is revealed as one that encompasses the other three genres. Likewise, the characters move through permutations of alienation and connection that correlate with the mandalas.
Abstract. In Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Geometric Soul-Images in Melville’s Moby-Dick, Laura Strudwick pairs the themes of connection and alienation with the metaphors of fast-fish and loose-fish found in Chapter 89 of Moby-Dick. She utilizes four original mandala images that she discovered in the text of Moby-Dick to embody Louise Cowan’s genre theory. Each mandala represents one of the genres: lyric, comedy, tragedy, and epic. At the same time, the movements of these mandalas also mirror the activity in the characters’ psyches. As the mandalas shift shape, often in a spiral motion, the epic genre is revealed as one that encompasses the other three genres. Likewise, the characters move through permutations of alienation and connection that correlate with the mandalas.

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Published by: Laura Smith Strudwick on Jul 07, 2011
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05/12/2014

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Abstract.
In
 Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Geometric Soul-Images in Melville¶s
 
 Moby-Dick,
Laura Strudwick pairs the themes of connection and alienation with the metaphorsof fast-fish and loose-fish found in Chapter 89 o
 Moby-Dick.
She utilizes four original mandalaimages that she discovered in the text of 
 Moby-Dick 
to embody Louise Cowan¶s genre theory.Each mandala represents one of the genres: lyric, comedy, tragedy, and epic. At the same time,the movements of these mandalas also mirror the activity in the characters¶ psyches. As themandalas shift shape, often in a spiral motion, the epic genre is revealed as one that encompassesthe other three genres. Likewise, the characters move through permutations of alienation andconnection that correlate with the mandalas.Mandalas of Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish:Geometric Soul-Images in Melville¶s
 Moby-Dick 
  by Laura Strudwick In Chapter 89, ³Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish,´ of Herman Melville¶s
 Moby-Dick 
, thenarrator Ishmael satirizes the concept of material possession with the metaphor of fast-fish andloose-fish. It was the one unwritten law among nineteenth-century American fisherman: A fast-fish is a catch that is tied to the whaling boat; the boat¶s crew owns this fish. If the line snaps andthe fish floats free from the boat, it becomes a loose-fish. It is then available for recapture by anyof the nearby competing vessels. In the last paragraph of the chapter, Ishmael cracks open themetaphor to reveal its universality:What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World butLoose-Fish? What all men¶s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish?What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish?What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish,too? (
 M.D.
310)Existentialist and satirical tones radiate through this chapter, as they often do in Melville¶s epic.What does it mean to be a ³waif,´ the term for a loose-fish without an owner? Such a fish is anorphan or an exile. And how are we, the readers, simultaneously both loose and fast? The tension
 
 between connection and alienation is central to the fast-fish/loose-fish metaphor. The above paragraph is an emblem of the entire epic: When one is loose²exiled from the community,disoriented within oneself, or estranged from God²one seeks connection. When one is tied toofast to anything, one seeks freedom.This paradox of existential desire and discomfort pervades
 Moby-Dick 
and reveals itself through recurring images of four geometric mandalas that I discovered in the text. Thesemandalas correlate with Louise Cowan¶s graphic organizer describing the four literary genres of tragedy, comedy, lyric, and epic (Fig. 1). The four mandalas mirror the movements of thecharacters¶ psyches and also reveal the ability of the epic genre to encompass the other threegenres. By giving attention to these elusive, geometric images, one can recognize the epic¶s psychological and generic underpinnings rising from the depths. Mandalas that carry thesemeanings are buried under the waves of text. When the reader identifies these visual images, themandalas break the surface of the reader¶s consciousness, bringing up patterns that underlie afundamental dimension of the text.
 
 In discussing
 Moby-Dick,
Bainard Cowan characterizes the shift from classical epic to thenovel-epic: a primary goal for the characters is ³to find a niche in the social system that is bothoutside and inside it´ (
 America
, 222).
 Moby-Dick 
seeks such a niche as its themes swing betweenthe poles of exile and community. The four mandalas recur in patterns in the text, sometimesmeshing with each other in complex imagery that, when analyzed, reveals insight into thecharacter¶s psychological conditions.My first mandala is titled the
 Island of Exile
andcorresponds to Cowan¶s description of the genre of tragedy
Figure 1 Louise Cowan's diagram of the genre wheel
 
Figure 2 Island of Exile image: one point orfigure alone in the middle of an ocean.
 

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