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Allen, T.E. (2009). A Psychoanalytic Look at Herman Melville from his Use of Source Materials for Moby-Dick. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(5):743-767.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(5):743-767

A Psychoanalytic Look at Herman Melville from his Use of Source Materials for Moby-Dick

Thomas E. Allen, M.D.

This paper will examine a text that Herman Melville was known to have drawn upon (and cited) in his novel Moby-Dick. By comparing the contents, I hope to illuminate how Melville addressed certain disturbing material in the Ur text and how he transformed it defensively, but creatively, to the benefit of the novel. I suggest that aspects of the source material are retained in a disguised form. In looking at the discordance of a later work from an Ur text, and mapping the divergences and contiguities, I follow Bradley (1980):

The fascinated reader receives the author's thoughts which resonate on his own, either in harmony or in discord, and which in either case stimulate further associations, conscious, preconscious and unconscious, each including varying kind and degrees of defense…. Such a reader may arrive at some organized reflections on what he has read, i.e., an interpretation in the generic sense, of which a psychoanalytic interpretation is one species. As Green put it, the text analyses the reader, (p. 245)

A caveat: Of course we do not have, nor can we put, Melville on the couch, or expect the same level of reliability about our psychoanalytic hypotheses as we could in a clinical encounter. That said, to hold that a work of art can tell us nothing about its creator is to adhere to an inherently unprovable philosophical solipsism that has the consequence of rendering science as well as psychoanalysis essentially impossible and unknowable.

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