Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

David Cowart


This thesis examines Melville’s depiction of archival anxiety as it appears in Moby-Dick. This narrative is fixated on the archive, brimming with motifs that equate whaling with the creation of an archive—and which associates the hunt for the whale with an obsession resembling Derrida’s vision of archive fever. As Melville depicts it, the archive is rooted in a fundamental anxiety concerning inaccessible and unknowable information. Ishmael constantly presents whales as physical repositories of information, attempting to archive the social and historical contexts of every scrap of flesh on them and every substance they produce. Yet his archival mission is perpetually troubled by the issue of inaccessibility, because to retrieve information on the whale is also to destroy it; the whale must be slaughtered to produce the materials of study. Ishmael's ideal archive, requiring the whale to be alive, derives from the biblical story of Jonah and its portrayal of the whale as an architectural structure—a place to be physically entered and exited, and observed from within. Ahab, conversely, becomes archival violence incarnate. Motivated by a vision of the whale as an archive of all the world’s evils, he pursues the white whale’s destruction. Ishmael's quest to capture the whale in writing and Ahab’s obsession with vengeance against Moby Dick reveal an alternate construction of archive fever, one concerned less with the recording of knowledge than with its access, and the difficulties of retrieving information encoded within the archive.


© 2016, Garrett Urban