Date of Submission

Spring 2016

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Alex Benson

Abstract/Artist's Statement

In Chapter Thirty Six of Moby Dick, “The Quarter Deck,” captain Ahab rallies the Pequod’s crew behind his hunt for Moby Dick, met with no opposition other than from the ship's first mate, Starbuck. After heatedly bickering for some time, Ahab mentions in an aside, “Something shot from my dilated nostrils, he has inhaled it in his lungs. Starbuck now is mine; cannot oppose me now, without rebellion” (168). What follows is Starbuck’s “tacit acquiescence” to Ahab’s demands. Though it is unclear exactly what the “something” is that comes out of Ahab’s nose, it is clear that this one-track-mind captain succeeds in infecting Starbuck with ‘it.’ Starbuck is powerless to hinder Ahab’s mission, even when given the opportunity. Such an exchange is not alien to Herman Melville’s works, let alone Moby Dick.

My project will discuss the various ways in which we can understand disease outside of its medical context and within Melville’s ideas about the passing of authority. Roberto Esposito, a contemporary Italian philosopher, argues in his text, Immunitas, that the category of“immunization” can act as an interpreter between all phenomena in the world having to do with a “protective response in the face of risk” (1). Esposito is able to generalize intrusions including computer virus, immigration, and terrorism, through terminology relating to the body and its immune system. He uses the term of ‘immunization’ to describe the systematic ways in which a body protects itself from infection. Esposito argues that all matters of security can be discussed through a lens of ‘contagion’ and ‘immunization’ no matter the context: in any case, “what was healthy, secure, identical to itself, is now exposed to a form of contamination that risks its devastation” (2). A body or community is the same as itself; just as a body has certain inherent characteristics such as blood type and genetics, a society is similarly inherent to itself, be it through race, ideology, nationalism, or what have you. While appearing medical, this framework is broadly applicable. The scope of the framework of disease can go beyond that of biology while retaining the same meaning and significance.

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