HEIGHTS, DEPTHS, AND SURFACES: MELVILLE'S SEARCH FOR UNITY OF VISION (FORM, BIPOLARITY, INTERFACE)
STEFFEY, MARDA NICHOLSON
Doctor of Philosophy
For Herman Melville, the terms of bipolarity are inadequate. His vision attempts to encompass a multi-layered system of appearance and reality, as he portrays human comprehension from three perspectives: (1) the world of surface appearances, (2) the over-view or "transcendental vision" from the heights, and (3) the depths, the profundities that lie beneath the surface, approaching, the deeper one goes, the very heart of reality--or the bottom of the sea. This study examines a recurring motif, the tripartite structuring of Melville's physical, intellectual, and spiritual cosmos, as he conducts his protagonists through a series of attempts to reconcile these multiple perspectives into a single vision of the meaning, or absence of meaning, in human life. In searching for the Truth that would establish a vision of a united and purposeful cosmos, Melville projected into his fiction a personal cosmology almost trite in its conventionalism, yet profound in what he himself termed "reverence for the archetype." "All truth is profound," (i.e. deep) Melville was fond of saying: at the innermost extreme of life, man finds his truest soul. To the person who dives, into ocean, chasm, whale, or the human unconscious, "the miser-merman, wisdom," may reveal "his hoarded heaps." At the other extreme from Melville's de Profundis is the over-view, the "transcendental vision" of unity from the masthead, the vatic birds-eye-view from Pisgah, the world as seen from mountain top or tower. Mediating between these two visionary extremes is the world of appearances, that of the surface, the deck, the plain, the apparently safe life of the street at ground level. A symbolic synthesis of these opposing visions is sometimes stated, but rarely enacted. For Melville's early protagonists, the task of harmonizing the surface world of appearances with the dark and primitive profundities of the depths and with the all-too vapid area of mystic and visionary perception from the heights, remains unaccomplishable. Only those characters of the late fiction and poetry who are willing to "let go" their explorations of physical forms and to accept the existence the "ungraspable" mysteries of life are able to approach a sense of cosmic harmony.