Contest Passage 2

I’m still excited to see more discussion of the original passage, which was identified independently by two different people.  (One wrote me directly.)  But for those of you who would like to work on a new one, here’s another passage that plays an important role in our book.  A pretty big hint:  whereas the first passage was from Homer, at the beginning of the history of the West, this next one plays an important role in the work of an author much closer to our own period.  Once again, moderate transformations to resist google.  Who said, and what did they mean when they said:

“This baptism I hereby perform not in the Father’s name…”

Happy Hunting!

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6 Responses to Contest Passage 2

  1. Eric Mongeon says:

    My guess:

    Moby Dick, chapter 113: Perth has just forged the harpoon with which Ahab intends to kill Moby Dick. Ahab baptizes it in the blood of his pagan harpooneers, howling “Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!” (I do not baptize you in the name of the Father but in the name of the Devil).

    Ahab is attempting to work his crew into a mood of frenzy with this profane alteration of Christian sacrament. But it also shows that Ahab’s hatred of the “inscrutable thing” of which the white whale is agent reaches beyond Christian moral categories.

    As a side note, I first read Moby Dick along with Professor Dreyfus’s podcast of Philosophy 6 in 2007. Many thanks to him for introducing me to the happiest literary discovery of my life.

  2. Eric is absolutely on the right path – good job! Ahab’s perverse baptism of the pagan harpooners – in the name of the Devil instead of in the name of the Father – is an indication that Ahab is somehow in line with Satan. Indeed, an early tradition of Melville criticism saw Ahab as a strict counterpart to Milton’s Lucifer. We do not go along with this interpretation exactly, since Moby Dick – Ahab’s rival – is in important ways different from the God against whom Lucifer rebels. But still, there is something in it.

    For extra credit, though, try to find another context in which Melville employs (a version of) this quote. Hint: It is not in his literary works per se but in his correspondence. The passage is slightly different there, and we think the difference might be important…

    • Achim says:

      You may be referring to a Melville letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne (29 June 1851) in which Melville writes:

      “Shall I send you a fin of the Whale by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked — though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book’s motto (the secret one), — Ego non baptiso te in nomine — but make out the rest yourself.”

      Interestingly Melville neither mentions God nor the Devil in this shorter version of the quote. Nor does he simply replace God by some other entity in this phrase. I take it he is just not willing to grant an exclusive “right to baptize” to any God/entity/view of the world. He just leaves it totally open, indicating that there are many ways of understanding the world.

      In that sense, could we read the words “make out the rest yourself” not only as an invitation to Hawthorne, but even as part of the book’s secret motto?

  3. Nice job, Achim! This isn’t even very hard for you guys!

    The letters to Hawthorne are interesting, and I find this one particularly appealing. The Melville chapter of All Things Shining is to some extent organized around this claim of a secret motto to Moby Dick and, as Achim suggests, the idea that Melville refuses to complete it is extremely suggestive. Perhaps there are many ways of completing it (leaving room for a kind of polytheism); perhaps all the important things are incomplete (as Melville suggests elsewhere in Moby Dick); perhaps if it is completed at all one can only complete it for oneself. All these ideas are potentially in play.

    Incidentally, the first thread to the history of this secret motto was uncovered by the great American poet Charles Olson. Anyone know the story of his involvement?

    For extra, extra credit, can anyone find the passage suggesting that all important things are incomplete?

    • Eric Mongeon says:

      There may be others, but I remember this from the end of chapter 32/Cetology, Ishmael’s meandering — and admittedly imperfect — “systematized exhibition of the whale”:

      “For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

  4. Exactly. I feel that way about our own book sometimes. A draught of a draught.

    O Patience!

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