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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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Now, like in the previous document, I'll again look at the 3-step posting cycle from the perspective of one student.  Here I'll follow just Student E's serve through its three returns from group members U, T, and V to climactic emphasis on the different ways he fielded their returns in the third of the three posting cycles in this unit.

E was a bit of a mystery.  Early in the course he dropped completely out of posting for a good while, though in class he was always very active, usually taking unusual or "off the wall" positions.  He was very popular with other students.  He brought life to the class.  U was what I would call an average student.  He was only mildly active, and his work was always acceptable but never exceptional.  He was always there but not very noticeable.  T stayed pretty much aloof.  He was a senior from a business or engineering major taking a humanities elective for "relief."  And he seemed older than the rest of the class somehow and kind of detached from what was going on.  He rarely spoke in class but was apparently considered a pretty solid group member.  V was one of the top 5-6 in the class -- serious and thoughtful, engaging, a good group member, sought after by others.


1)  E and U: prodding

Step 1 -- E's serve to U: "Let's Talk About Sex"


Prof. Gallagher's reading today was fluid, sensual and--dare I say?--titillating.  While he invited us into the Wide World of Whale Sperm, I couldn't help but notice how unabashedly sexual this book is, and not just in the scene describing the seamen washing their hands in the semen.  Chew on some of these examples: 1) Ishmael sharing a bed with Queequeg.  2) Ahab's obsession with a SPERM whale.  3) Ahab's emasculation--loss of his "third" leg if you catch my drift, and how it drives him mad, forcing him to prove his manliness by chasing Moby's, I mean Moby Dick.  3) Ahab's Michael Jacksonian befriending of the lively young boy.  I'm sure there are a few more pieces of sexual innuendo I'm missing.  Anyone else catch something sexual going on here?  What about my examples--valid or is my mind in the gutter?

My reflection on E's serve to U:

I guess I'd say that E's serve is coming from his analyzing eye.  He sees a technique, a pattern, and he asks for more examples.  He makes no generalizations about the purpose of the pattern, as I encourage them to do when analyzing, nor does he try to link it to some higher meaning.  He asks, these are sexual references, right?  And can you give me some more?  In playing off a foundation in class discussion, in posting on a "sensational" topic, and in soliciting light-duty information, he's making it easy to get attention and to secure returns.  Most people are interested in talking sex!  You wouldn't think there would be no-shows on this one.

Step 2 -- Student U's "agreeing/enhancing" return to E:

Hey man, I think your right on.  >From the start, I thought Queeqeg and Ishael sharing a bed was fishy.  Not only because my man Queeqeg is a cannibal, but because he is a dude.  I mean, Ive been known to share a bed with a good friend or two, but these guys just hopped in with each other, having never met before, and having no real knowledge of either person's sexual history.  But hey, they had a few good nights sleep together, and I guess that's all that matters.  Subtle sexual innuendos.  I think they are everywhere, all the time present in our daily life.  And it is the job of an author to accurately depict life. Freud was big into that bologna.  He saw phallic undertones everywhere, all in and throughout our environment and society.  Kinda sketchy if you ask me but there might be some truth to it.  Now, obviously, there is nothing subtle about Chapter 94, but I think [Student V] might be on the right track by saying how a process like sperm squeezing can really unify a group of men, who don't have much for recreation at their disposal.  Sorry about being kinda graphic.  Bottom line, I like your point [Student E], I think it makes good sense.

My reflection on U's return to E:

U agreeably banters for five sentences, but then at "Subtle sexual innuendos" he tries to make his post more than that by nodding toward Freud and to the role of the writer.  This line of thinking goes nowhere, however, and it is probably a good thing that U dropped it -- I'm not sure it has any possibilities.  U's second move is to agree again, but this time with Student V in another post that E can read himself and maybe already has read by now.  Which is pretty redundant.  Not much to this return, then.  U is attuned to the goals of the project enough to know that he should be enhancing or building, etc., rather than just agreeing, and he makes a move in that direction, but the post has no substantive content and has not advanced conversation. 

Step 3 -- E fields U's return:

Sorry to egg you on, but don't stop there.  I provided some examples of how I thought Melville's kiny sailor side manifested itself in the book.  But did I miss anything?  There must be something else in Moby Dick that you could find--as the kids here at Lehigh say--"sketchy".  So?

My reflection on E's fielding of U's return:


Wow, how about that?  E doesn't just sit there and take U's non-return lightly.  He prods.  He says I did my job, now your turn to do yours.  E is agent provocateur, and admirably so.  E seems to know the idea is to keep the conversation going and that he needs more from U.  Well done, E!


2)  E and T: shifting

Step 1 -- E's serve to T: "Let's Talk About Sex"


Prof. Gallagher's reading today was fluid, sensual and--dare I say?--titillating.  While he invited us into the Wide World of Whale Sperm, I couldn't help but notice how unabashedly sexual this book is, and not just in the scene describing the seamen washing their hands in the semen.  Chew on some of these examples: 1) Ishmael sharing a bed with Queequeg.  2) Ahab's obsession with a SPERM whale.  3) Ahab's emasculation--loss of his "third" leg if you catch my drift, and how it drives him mad, forcing him to prove his manliness by chasing Moby's, I mean Moby Dick.  3) Ahab's Michael Jacksonian befriending of the lively young boy.  I'm sure there are a few more pieces of sexual innuendo I'm missing.  Anyone else catch something sexual going on here?  What about my examples--valid or is my mind in the gutter?

My reflection on E's serve to T:

I guess I'd say that E's serve is coming from his analyzing eye.  He sees a technique, a pattern, and he asks for more examples.  He makes no generalizations about the purpose of the pattern, as I encourage them to do when analyzing, nor does he try to link it to some higher meaning.  He asks, these are sexual references, right?  And can you give me some more?  In playing off a foundation in class discussion, in posting on a "sensational" topic, and in soliciting light-duty information, he's making it easy to get attention and to secure returns.  Most people are interested in talking sex!  You wouldn't think there would be no-shows on this one.

Step 2 -- Student T's "disagreeing" return to E:

I see the point that you are trying to make, but I don't know what I think about it.  You brough up the point about Ishmael sharing a bed with Queequeg, but I don't see this as sexual innuendo necessarily.  I though it was somewhat wierd, especially considering the fact that these are two grown men, but I don't know how much sexuality I saw in it.  I guess there is an inherent sexuality in two people sharing a bed, but after reading the passage I wasn't struck by the sexuality of it, just the absurdity.  Additionally, I see the fact that the whale is sperm whale as a coincdence.  That is just what these whales are called; it's not as though Melville came up with the name himself.  If Melville had coined the term himslef, I think I would be much more inclined to agree with you.  I just see the fact that the whale happens to be a sperm whale is a coincidence and practicality.

My reflection on T's return to E:


Naa, T doesn't buy this sexual stuff.  He doesn't want to talk sex.  He disagrees with E's interpretation of two of his examples.  T makes the commonsensical observation that the Ishmael/Queequeg bed scene is absurd not sexual.  T does not divorce meaning from context, something that he implies E does.  Abstracted from context, a scene with two men in bed might be taken as sexual, but if you believe meaning arises from the text, then there is nothing sexual there and the effect of the scene is actually quite different.  That's a really nice point.   His argument on the sperm whale name is not as strong for the simple reason that Ishmael catalogs all the whales, so it is clear even from the book that Melville chooses one out of many possibilities.  And certainly there is that spermy chapter 94 that U mentions that V mentions!  So, T's argument is weak here, but he has a good, clear return strategy.  He picks two of E's main points and aims to knock them out of the water (so to speak).

Step 3 -- E fields T's return:

I also considered the fact that some of these scenes you just mentioned may be completely innocuous, and that I'm just reading into them too much.  But, the fact that Melville includes so many things that make you say "hmmmm..." leads me to believe that maybe there is a strong sexual element to Moby-Dick.  For example, in the final line of the first paragraph of chapter 78 ("Cistern and Buckets"), Melville writes: "Towards the end, Tashtego has to ram his long pole harder and harder, and deeper and deeper into the Tun, until some twenty feet of the pole have gone down."  Now, you may think I'm just trying to be funny or gross or both--and you may be right--but come on, there's something fishy going on here.  And if all this is not intentional (and some of the things I've mentioned are so unambiguous that Melville must have written them with tongue in cheek) then you at least have to admit that he had some serious Freudian issues.

My reflection on E's fielding of T's return:

Oooo, that E is really shifty.  Look at the way he admits some tentativeness but hangs on to his position.  He has held one example back for just such purposes!  I love it!!  If you hold that a few examples of seemingly sexual references in a huge novel don't amount to much, E gives you yet another example, implying that he hasn't exhausted all the evidence that could be brought to bear to back him up.  And then E shifts ground, raising a new point with which to hook T.  If intentionality is a hurdle for you, T, then at least consider something subconscious.  E looks like an agile discussant for sure.


3)  E and V: evading

Step 1 -- E's serve to V: "Let's Talk About Sex"


Prof. Gallagher's reading today was fluid, sensual and--dare I say?--titillating.  While he invited us into the Wide World of Whale Sperm, I couldn't help but notice how unabashedly sexual this book is, and not just in the scene describing the seamen washing their hands in the semen.  Chew on some of these examples: 1) Ishmael sharing a bed with Queequeg.  2) Ahab's obsession with a SPERM whale.  3) Ahab's emasculation--loss of his "third" leg if you catch my drift, and how it drives him mad, forcing him to prove his manliness by chasing Moby's, I mean Moby Dick.  3) Ahab's Michael Jacksonian befriending of the lively young boy.  I'm sure there are a few more pieces of sexual innuendo I'm missing.  Anyone else catch something sexual going on here?  What about my examples--valid or is my mind in the gutter?

My reflection on E's serve to V:

I guess I'd say that E's serve is coming from his analyzing eye.  He sees a technique, a pattern, and he asks for more examples.  He makes no generalizations about the purpose of the pattern, as I encourage them to do when analyzing, nor does he try to link it to some higher meaning.  He asks, these are sexual references, right?  And can you give me some more?  In playing off a foundation in class discussion, in posting on a "sensational" topic, and in soliciting light-duty information, he's making it easy to get attention and to secure returns.  Most people are interested in talking sex!  You wouldn't think there would be no-shows on this one.

Step 2 -- Student V's "questioning/building" return to E:

I understand what you're pointing out here very clearly, and you use some good examples that illustrate this theme throughout the novel.  However, what do you think this means?  Why is Melville painting a picture with such sexual inuendo (spelling)?  What are we as readers supposed to take away from this?  I think that maybe it's just a way for Melville to further emphasize the idea that the being on a ship is like being on a different planet.  These men are at sea together and they only have each other.  This owuld naturally create a sense of closeness, a relationship like a marriage in the plutonic sense, I hope...If we are to have the idea that the seamen are to represent cultures from around the world and that we need to be accepting of our diversity, much like what we see between Ishmael and QeeQueg, the men would necessarily have to be "close".  The squeezing of the sperm was maybe an intimate communication between the men, helping then to not forget the unity that should be shared by a crew.  Just a thought.

My reflection on V's return to E:


Ahhhh, V, a woman after my own mind.  She agrees with E's point about the pattern of sexual references but asks the essential questions when doing analysis: what does it all mean?  why is it there?  what's Melville's purpose?  It's one thing to notice a pattern but quite another -- an important other -- to rationalize it.  V's question pushes E to another level and one inevitably implied by his serve.  If no meaning can be established, in a sense the pattern is not really "there."  Now, not only does V ask the question, but she plunges on and supplies an answer -- building on E's base -- one that, in fact, relates to the theme of the novel that was being discussed in class.  In effect, V is doing to E what E did to U -- egging him on.

Step 3 -- E fields V's return:

I think Melville just had sex on the brain.  Or maybe he had some Freudian subconscious activity going on. Either way, I think there's a lot of sexual innuendo (double-'n') being thrown around in Moby Dick.  I agree with you that the whale sperm scene may actually be more about community than sexuality, but it's just another "hmmm....i wonder..." scene in the book to juxtapose with the others I mentioned in my serve.  Lest we forget, underneath the facade of a great American literary figure lay Herman Melville, the dirty old sailor.

My reflection on E's fielding of V's return:

I'm disappointed.  I think E reveals himself a shallow thinker here.  He evades V's invitation to find meaning in his insights.  He evades V's invitation to think differently about what he knows.  E seems to have had his answer in mind when he served and wasn't interested in hearing anything else.  He has missed an opportunity to grow through the interchange with V, and, in fact, the way he fields her thoughtful return is actually kind of insulting.  He reduces a sophisticated interpretation to one more example in his list of dirty passages.  And, well, then there's the insult to Melville as well.  I mean, I have a healthy regard for  "unpedestaling" and debunking where it is warranted, but I surely don't see any cause here.  The shot at Melville simply seems flagrant and gratuitous, denying him the control of a conscious artist of the highest order.  (Do I protest too much?)  In his serve E asks, "is my mind in the gutter?"  Well, on the first floor maybe.