The Antichrist and the Anarchist:
Sanity, Social Structure, and Setting in Moby
Dick & The Seven Madmen
San Francisco State University
We are about to embark on a voyage upon a rough sea of sanity and social
boundaries, for I attempt to show that Moby Dick and The Seven Madmen
both operate on a twofold parallel dimension, where the monstrous functions as a metaphor for both the personal and communal struggle to (re)create
and (re)construct social and moral boundaries. I focus on the ways in which Herman
Melville and Roberto Arlt manipulate the 'monstrous Other' in order to shed new light
upon the location of social boundaries. I examine how the different settings of the two
novels interplay with these two issues, and argue that the setting in both novels is crucial for the reconstruction of social boundaries.
Before I plunge into the depth of the literary comparison, I would like to
establish a couple terms I will be referring to in the context of this paper. I wish to
reestablish the concept of the 'monstrous'
the natural monster and the human
in relation to social boundaries.
The 'monstrous' I refer to is the social aspect of the combination of the
Freudian concept of the uncanny, which is the unresolved anxiety produced by
confronting ambiguous things that ought to have been concealed, and the Lacanian Other
as the signifier of that which constitutes our 'self' in relation to society (Freud, Lacan).
These compel the reader to re-think the concept of the human, in relation to the 'self' as
well as in relation to society. The Lacanian Other is the evolvement of the mirror stage
when in "this moment in which the mirror stage comes to an end inaugurates by the
identification with the imago of the counterpart and the drama of primordial jealousy [ . . .]
the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations" (Lacan 444).
The 'monstrous' confronts the reader with two dichotomies: the human vs. inhuman
alongside the social vs. the a-social or anti-social. As opposed to the 'monstrous', which
is located within the self— or more precisely on the border between the self and the Other
— the monster is the Other, and is located outside of the self. The main characteristics of
the monster are its size, aesthetics, and the fear factor 1. I examine the connections between these two
concepts in the two texts within the context of sanity and social structure. Thus, the
discussion I propose is located within the context of reconstruction of social boundaries.
While in The Seven Madmen the monstrous is the 'human
monstrous', the monstrous in Moby Dick is constantly utilized in the description
of whales, and specifically Moby Dick. The difference between the monster in Moby
Dick and the monstrous in The Seven Madmen is precisely that in Moby
Dick there is a monster, of a certain kind, which lurks in the water, while the
monstrous in The Seven Madmen is the 'human monstrous', and is everywhere.
Nonetheless, the concept itself and its literary ramifications are linked to the core of the
concept as that which is fearful mostly for the fact it ought to have remained concealed:
the whale ought to have been concealed under fathoms of water, and the 'human
monstrous' ought to have been kept under strict social restrictions. As Gloria Guzman
noted, this aspect of concealment is at the heart of Arlt's work (45), for the insane mark
the socially accepted and unaccepted, and therefore it reestablishes the boundaries of
The monstrous in both novels simultaneously represents the boundaries of the
socially accepted, and their transgression. Whether it is the 'Ship of Fools' searching for
the white whale, or the endless wanderings of the seven madmen through the streets of
Buenos Aires trying to form a revolution, the metaphoric representation of the communal
quest for the reconstruction of social boundaries, alongside the search for the individual's
place within the social, is depicted through the monstrous Other. Thus the location, or
setting of this metaphoric quest and the monstrous Other within it are crucial for the
respective position of the individual in relation to social boundaries. The location of the
social boundaries for the forming middle class is represented through these novels, for it
is the act of conceptualizing the boundaries, which is the act of the formation and
emergence of this new social entity. The novels offer other options of existence, perverse,
and transgressive, which by comparison and contradiction construct the safe haven of the
middle class (Guzman 50).
The need for the reconstruction of social boundaries is evident in The Seven
Madmen from the very onset, as Guzman notes, once Arlt proclaimed his characters
as insane, he establishes a world that alienates these characters, he isolates them from the
socially accepted, and the search for truth commences (46). This 'truth' could be the
demand for the reconsideration of the socially accepted i.e. moral convictions that
prohibit and exclude certain behavior, and a quest for utopian social structure. In a similar
act, by placing the crew of the Pequod on the ship in the middle of the ocean, Melville
isolates the characters as they hunt for the whale, and as we shall see, the whale can be
read as a metaphor for the truth, sanity, or utopia.
The location of social boundaries is connected to the location of the
characters within the narrative (i.e., the setting). Where society establishes its boundaries
is indicative of its conceptualization of value structures. For instance, when the social
apparatus places the poor, the sick, the criminal, and mad, all as one social group in an
asylum under surveillance, one might incur the location of the boundaries of the socially
accepted to be located along those criteria. Where the author places the characters reveals
similar conceptualization within the literary work.
While Moby Dick is situated in the oceanic wilderness, miles from
any city or social structure, The Seven Madmen's scenery is much more urban at
the center of the Buenos Aires' forming metropolis. This inversion of the fundamental
social elements in the setting highlights the similarities in the inherent quest trope in both
novels: whether it is in the middle of the ocean, or in the gut of the city, the human
subject searches for meaning that will form moral and social boundaries.
The Seven Madmen is located in Buenos Aires, which provides the
setting for the individual and communal quest for social boundaries. The infernal city2 where
el autor plantea una
visión de hombre y de mundo que revela la impotencia del individuo frente a una
sociedad burguesa que lo oprime y aniquila su esencia
the author establishes a
vision of man and the world that reveals the impotence of the individual confronting a
bourgeois society that oppresses and destroys his essence (Santa 460), offers a
proliferation of human monstrosities that are the results of various social situations and
depravities. The various 'kinds' of human monstrosities, insanities or social
transgressions are linked to specific places within the social apparatus, and therefore are
represented in respective locations in the setting of the novel. For instance, when
Erdosain's wife is about to leave him, he is in his home and reflects a certain 'kind' of
'human monstrous': for the purpose of this essay, this will be 'the domestic monstrous'.
The 'domestic monstrous' is the result of years of abuse (TSM 51), and lurks underneath
the surface of the home, and therefore is represented inside the home. The Melancholy
Thug represents a different kind of monstrous, a more socially based travesty, and
therefore his monstrous insanity is represented in the streets, for the streets are where one
might locate the origin of his monstrosity, and its representation (TSM 40-1). This 'urban
monstrous' is the result of the harsh street life, and therefore the scene that introduces the
Thug's character is located in the street. Another kind of monstrous insanity is the
'willful insanity', which is the attempt to transgress in order to comprehend the social, as
when Erdosain leaps to the tree in his attempt to become free. The last kind of insanity is
Innocent Monster, and it refers to the Astrologer's insane utopist time,
lo ideal seria despertar en muchos hombres esta ferocidad
jovial e ingenua. A nosotros nos toca inaugurar la era del Monstruo Inocente (LSL
the ideal would be to arouse this carefree, naive ferocity in as many men as
possible. It's our job to usher in the age of the Innocent Monster (TSM 236). The
Astrologer represents a horrifying monstrous, for he is the representation of the human
genius without morality.
These 'types' of madness are parallel to the four types of madness Foucault presents in
Stultifera Navis: madness by romantic
identification, madness of vain presumption, madness of just punishment, and the departure of passion. The conclusion Foucault reaches in Madness & Civilization is that there is an inherent inter-dependability between society and madness. Just as the madman is (re)constructed and (re)defined by the social apparatus, social boundaries are reestablished by redefinition of the representations of the insane.
Foucault's discussion of the unique connection between madness and water
is intriguing in relation to Moby Dick. The special curing powers the water has
over the mad were allegedly one of the reasons they were shipped out of Paris (MC 276).
Nonetheless, as opposed to the confined madman to whom Foucault relates the monster,
mad or 'human monstrous' in both texts are unconfined 3. From the 'loose fish' that is the monster in
Moby Dick, to the 'human monstrous' in The Seven Madmen, the
monstrous manifestations are not incarcerated.
The 'human monstrous' in The Seven Madmen is located everywhere
and inside many of the characters: from Haffner The Melancholy Thug, through the
ingenious monstrosity of the Astrologer who devices the brothel-sponsored revolution, to
the representation of Nature as monstrous, the monstrous in The Seven Madmen is
as ubiquitous as Moby Dick. The first 'human monstrous' is delivered through the
narrator's representation of Erdosain's thoughts after the Thug tells him about the
seventeen-year-old blind and pregnant prostitute who
ideas mas feroces (LSL 119)
brings out the most savage fantasies in the
Thug's mind (TSM 41). The chapter
Las Opiniones del Rufián Melancólico (LSL 117)
Opinions of the Melancholy Thug (TSM 34)
ends with Erdosain
cruzo pensativo a la plataforma donde salían . . . para Buenos Aires. Indudablemente, Haffner era un monstruo
thought. . .cross[ing] over to the platform for Buenos Aires thinking:
about it, Haffner was a monster (TSM 42). Yet, the 'human monstrous' does not
reside only in the Other, outside Erdosain, and when his wife leaves him he relates to the
algo monstruosamente (LSL 51)
(TSM 135), which will one day explode within him due to years of abuse, and will make
en otro hombre (LSL 135)
a different man (TSM
51). This shift in the location of the monstrous from the Other to the self is reflected not
only in the transference of the monstrous itself, but in the location change of the
This first encounter with the monstrous took place outside the city and was
located outside the self in the Other represented by the Melancholy Thug; the second
appearance of the monstrous is within the city inside the home of the protagonist, and
now the monstrous is lurking within him, hidden under years of abuse, waiting to erupt.
As Erdosain is wallowing in his bed after his wife leaves him, his grief transforms him
Sentía que no era ya un hombre [. . .] sino
algo mas inhumano [. . .] un monstruo enroscado en si mismo en el negro
vientre de la pieza [. . . ] Los muros crecían, se elevaban sus hiladas de
ladrillos, y nuevas cataratas de tinieblas caían a ese cubo donde él yacía
enroscado y palpitante como un caracol en une profundidad oceánica. No
podía reconocerse [. . .] dudaba que él fuera Augusto Remo Erdosain.
He felt he was no longer a man [. . . ] but something far
more inhuman [. . . ] a monster-like creature curled up on itself in the
black belly of the room. . .The rows of bricks on in the walls grew higher
and higher, while fresh outpourings of darkness crushed sown into the
hole where he lay curled up and throbbing, like a shell in the ocean depth.
He did not know himself [. . .] he could not believe he was Augusto Remo
Erdosain. (TSM 55)
Thus, he is transformed into the monster within his own room, inside his home, in the bed
in which he sought comfort in the arms of a wife, until he feels as if he is drowning in an
ocean. The move from the comfort of the home to the terrifying endless darkness of the
sea is metaphoric of the location and relocation of the monstrous. The monstrous is
'supposed' to be located in the vast unknown abyss. Thus when Erdosain feels he is
becoming the monstrous, he relocates his 'self' and plunges his soul into the ocean. The
move from the perception of the self as monstrous, to the basic questioning of the self as
such, is the inherent connection between the monstrous and the insane. The moment
Erdosain recognizes himself as monstrous, he begins to question his sanity, and this
question will gain force as the novel proceeds.
The next encounter with the monstrous presents the questionable sanity and
monstrosity of the seven madmen though the allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet:
Matarlo o no matarlo? [. . .] De dónde
habrán salido tantos monstruos? Yo mismo estoy descentrado, no soy el que
soy, y, sin embargo, algo necesito hacer para tener conciencia de mi
existencia, para afirmarla [. . .] Y para colmo, la ciega embarazada. Qué bestia! (LSL 154-6)
To kill him or not to kill him? [. . .] Where can all
these monsters have sprung from?... I'm not at the center of my being
either, I am not who I am, and yet I need to do something to prove my
existence, to affirm it [. . .] And to top it all, the pregnant blind girl. What
a monster! (TSM 70-2)
This presents the intricate connection between the 'human monstrous' and questions of
sanity. The echoes of the Shakespearean characters loom in the darkness of this
soliloquy, as if to certify the madness within Erdosain. Erdosain experiences this internal
monologue as he is about to travel to the Astrologer's house. He is torn by his
bewildering sense of the city, which on one hand produces a sense of anguish in him; yet,
at the same time holds a promise of great happiness. The need he feels to tear himself
from the socially accepted is endurable, and he is desolate and lonely in the big city:
No había luna. Los arcos voltaicos lucí
an entre las áreas enramadas de las bocacalles. De alguna esquina salían
los sones de un piano y a medida que caminaba, su corazón se empequeñecía
más, oprimido por la angustia que le producía el espectáculo de la felicidad
que adivinaba tras de los muros de aquellas casas refrescadas por las
sombras, y frente a cuyas puertas cocheras se hallaba un automóvil. (LSL
It was a moonless night. Street-lamps shone among the
leafy branches at the street-corners. The sounds of a piano drifted from
one of the houses, and as he walked on, Erdosain could sense his heart
shriveling still further, oppressed once more by a sense of anguish at this
glimpse of happiness behind the walls of houses cooled by the shade, each
with its car drawn up outside the garage. (TSM 72)
The city holds the possibility of happiness, yet not for him. Since he perceives himself as
a monster, suburbia is the home of the Other for him. Thus, in an inversion of the
'healthy' construction of the 'self' as a part of society, Erdosain constructs his self as
monstrous, and therefore perceives the socially accepted as horrifying, as the cause of his
anguish. This anguish is elaborated upon in the second chapter in the subchapter
Trabajo de la Angustia
The Work of Anguish. The
monstrous is presented through the narrator's representation of Erdosain's ongoing
insomniac monologue that is the result of social transgression:
Usted siente que va cortando una tras otra
las amarras que lo ataban a la civilización, que va a entrar en el oscuro
mundo de la barbarie, que perderá el timón [. . .] En realidad, usted quisilla
vivir como los demás, ser honrado como los demás, tener un hogar, una
mujer, asomarse a la ventana para mirar los transeúntes que pasan, y sin
embargo, ya no hay una sola célula de su organismo que no esté
de la fatalidad que encierran esas palabras: tengo que matarlo. . .Usted sabe
que lleva en su interior un monstruo que en cualquier momento se desatará y
no sabe cómo. Un monstruo! [. . .] Ah, no cometa nunca un crimen! (LSL
You feel you're cutting your links with society
one by one, that you're plunging into a shadowy world of savagery, that
you've lost all sense of direction [. . .] In fact, you want to live like
everyone else does, to have a home, a wife, to look out of your window at
the passers-by, and yet there is not a single cell of your body left that isn't
marked with the fatal message contained in those words "I have to kill
him". . .You know you have a monster inside that can break loose at any
moment, and you don't know which way it will leap. A monster! [. . .] Ah,
don't commit a crime! (TSM 103-4)
Once again the three issues of sanity, location and social boundaries are inseparably
intertwined, and are therefore presented conjointly. The 'human monstrous' is thus the
transgression against society, and the transgression against the inherent requirement to
conform, to be a part of the socially accepted, and the fear of the lack of control over that
monstrous, lead to the exclusion from the social. This cutting away from the social thread
harbors the fearful insanity, yet it also pertains to the acts that allow the bliss of freedom
from the chains of the social apparatus.
In the chapter entitled
Arriba del árbol (LSL 167)
Up the Tree (TSM 81) Erdosain attempts to free himself from the shackles of the
social apparatus, to liberate his tormented mind by a return to nature. As Erdosain is
walking through the city-streets, he thinks of his wife and ponders that
Esto es triste como el desierto (LSL 167)
this is as sad as a
desert (TSM 82), then some pleasant scent leads him to think
A pesar de todo necesario injertar una alegría en al vida (LSL 168)
in spite of everything, life must be filled with joy TSM 82), and he
Quisilla violar. . .el sentido común (LSL 170)
wants to violate
common sense (TSM 85). His need for transgression finds an outlet as he leaps into
the tree. Through this relocation of his body, from the socially accepted place on the
pavement to the tree, he hopes to achieve his peace of mind. Once his body dwells in the
realm of Rousseau or Defoe, he hopes his mind will follow in the opposite direction, till
he will be able to reenter the socially accepted. Yet, to consciously and logically decide
to become mad is impossible, one has to 'loose his mind' and not simply 'misplace it'.
This attempt to artificially relocate his body and become mad fails,
la misma tristeza ésta en él. No es suficiente haber a violado el sentido común para
sentirse feliz (LSL 171)
and still he feels desolate. He knows now that it is not
enough to violate common sense to feel happy (TSM 85). The incident is
devastating, and by the end of the first chapter, Erdosain
Está vencido. Es un desgraciado (LSL 171)
is vanquished. A broken man (TSM
85). Thus the 'noble savage' cannot be in the city, not because the concept requires
nature; rather, the concept itself is a mistake, since the lack of social boundaries is not the
key for happiness. The whole novel will lead to this conclusion, as the location of the
monstrous, the mad and the socially unaccepted in The Seven Madmen is
everywhere, in the city, in nature, in the Other, and inside the self.
While in The Seven Madmen, the monstrous is reflected through a variety of
characters and even in nature, the monstrous in Moby Dick is consistently
connected to the whale. Thus, there is a difference between the monster, and the
monstrous. The monster is located in the vast ocean, outside the self; yet, it is hidden
under fathoms of water, and eruption of the monster causes the eruption of the monstrous
within man. The four Foucaultdian 'kinds' of mad or monstrous will merge into the two
main characters, and the monster in Moby Dick. The 'madness of vain
presumption' can be located in both Ahab's and Ishmael's characters, as the former
believes that although he perceives Moby Dick as a force of nature and an evil entity, he
will vanquish it; the latter perceives his literary endeavor as a form of elevation, as he
one often hears of writes that rise and swell with their
subject. . .unconsciously my chirography expanse into placard capitals. Give me a
condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! (MD 432). Albeit in a
sarcastic tone, it is evident that Ishmael does receive a sense of exaltation from his
process of narration. This moment of elevation occurs after Ishmael reminisces about the
time he was inside a whale; or at least as close as possible to that—
he was inside the
skeleton of a whale—
and he discusses the fossilized bone relic of a whale. These
moments of hubris take place when he locates himself in the monster, and therefore is
entitled to some of its magnitude. The setting of the scene sets his frame of mind.
The concept of 'madness of just punishment' is represented through the masochistic
madness of Ahab's seclusion and delusion, as he spends most of his time in his cabin, or
strolling alone on the deck, and his infliction is the drive that propels the voyage. The
most intriguing result of the application of the four categories Foucault suggested is the
complete lack of the concepts of 'madness by romantic identification', and the 'departure
of passion' in relation to a feminine or human subject. The narrative offers a
displacement of all passionate or pseudo-romantic madness onto the whale. Ishmael's
'willful insanity' is his choice to go whale hunting, and if on board the Foucaultdian 'ship
of fools' there are four 'typical' madmen; on board the Pequod all pertain the 'human
monstrous' within, while the monster is out in the sea.
The monster is first mentioned in the first chapter as the main motivation for
Ishmael's interest in the voyage, the second reason given is the sea, and immediately
follows the social reason:
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea
of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster
roused all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his
island bulk [. . .] With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been
inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for
things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.
Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be
social with it - would they let me - since it is but well to be on friendly terms
with all the inmates of the place one lodges in. (MD 21)
When one breaks down the entangled reasoning for his interest in whale hunting, one
finds that Ishmael is providing an explanation that incorporates three reasons: the
monster, its location, and the social. These three are so intertwined, it is almost
impossible to tell them apart as he goes back and forth between them. The passage offers
the whale as a reason for Ishmael's interest, and immediately after that, its location, and
the two of them are connected to the social. He is intrigued by the monster, the sea, and
the interaction of the two upon the social. The idea is that the location of monster
provides a special opportunity for Ishmael to test his social skills. Place a bunch of men
onboard a ship, in the midst of the ocean, and send them on a whale hunt, and you are
bound to detect the social structures as if in a laboratory. Nonetheless, this 'social
experiment' is conducted in a specific isolated environment, where Captain Ahab is the
dictator and his officers are proclaimed from the beginning, as
Such a crew, so
officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his
monomaniac revenge (MD 188). Moreover, although their encounters with other
ships may be metaphorically perceived as nations encountering other nations (and indeed
they come across many foreign ships) their social existence is mostly an isolated one.
Thus, the Pequod sets off to where the social apparatus does not prevail, to where
Ahab is the sole dictator. The Pequod is searching for the white what, an abomination, a
monster and the only force capable of ending Ahab's dictatorship. The location of the
monster is crucial as it reconfigures the location of the socially accepted. The monster in
Moby Dick is located as far from society as possible, under the water, which
represents the abyss of the unconscious. The fear of the return of the repressed is the fear
of the whale, and vise versa. The brave venture into the ocean where the monster resides
to challenge the boundaries of the mind and of the body: the boundaries of the self and
The personal revenge Ahab seeks propels the Pequod as a community. In the
Moby Dick we learn more of the particular monster that is the
cause and inspiration of this voyage and novel, and its intricate connections to questions
of sanity within the communal:
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew [. . .] A wild,
mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine [. . .] I
learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken
our oaths of violence and revenge (MD 180). The reason given for the quest is the
whales hunt, yet it is propelled by the connection between the men, the social bond. The
core of the quest is—
as Ishmael indicated in the first chapter—
the bond between the
men, what brings them all together to the middle of the ocean, sharing one cause: is a
This fixation on a vengeful killing echoes Erdosain's thoughts regarding Barsut.
Just as Erdosain and Barsut are caught in a sick knot, the relationship between Ahab and
Moby Dick dwells in unhealthy realms that present the whale as a cause for Ahab's
monomania. After Ahab was mutilated by Moby Dick, he perceives himself as the
'human monstrous', and therefore he shuns from human contact:
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its
instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting
at the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden, passionate,
corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he
probably but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when
by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days and
weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in
mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn
body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him
mad. That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that
the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain from the fact that, at
intervals during the passage, he was a raving lunatic [. . .] Yet without power
to kill, or change, or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind he did
now long dissemble; in some sort, did still. (MD 186)
Thus, in both novels the 'human monstrous' is created, bred and born from another
monster, just as Ahab gives birth to his monstrosity and madness, Erdosain's problematic
sense of self was the result of his father's monstrous abuse, and his sense of his own
monstrosity causes his anguish, which then leads to his exclusion from the social thread.
Once the monster tore Ahab, the monstrous was born in him, as did the abuse that was
inflicted upon Erdosain. Just as Erdosain wallowed in his bed drowning in his anguish,
so did Ahab suffer in his hammock, and both result to kill in order to achieve a final
transgression, hoping this will reinforce their sense of humanity. The social thread has
been severed, and they seek out the manner by which to either return to society, or
completely tear away from the social thread.
The whale has been read as almost any and everything by now: from God to Devil
and back again4 , and as Laurence Buell states,
since it is
not until a third of the book is over does an encounter with even an
ordinary whale take place. During this long buildup, the repetitous quality of the cetology
chapters and of Ishmael's meditations in general, combined with the fundamental fact of
Moby Dick's absence, reinforce the plausibility of the frequent hints that the quest is
empty of meaning except for what is read into it (Buell 63). I subscribe to the
reading of the whale as a utopian social structure.
One of the deeper connecting threads between the novels lies in the reading of the
utopian elements in the texts. Kirsten Silva Gruesz presents the connections between the
Americas in the context of the
utopian origins of the Americas (Gruesz 57). She
alludes to Goldman's engrossing differentiation between North and Latin America
regarding the heteroglossia of the text5 that
connects to Guzman's Bakhtinian reading of The Seven Madmen (Guzman 59-
62). These readings lead to reading Melville
not so much as a progenitor or urtext,
but as a floating signifier of the US national canon (Gruesz 57). The perception of
America as utopian is evident in relation to both texts, as Guzman notes in her
introduction to The Seven Madmen
América viene a ocupar el lugar de al utopía y se reitera la visión maravillosa de la vida ideal
will occupy the place of utopia, and will entertain the vision of the marvel of the ideal
life (Guzman 24). Both novels can be read as the quest for the ultimate utopian
social structure: Remo Erdosain participates in what he suspects might be a revolution
that will result in a new social structure in Argentina, and both Captain Ahab and Ishmael
are seeking their completion through their restoration. The Pequod seems to be lost at
sea, far from any social structure, yet carries the social structure on board, and Erdosain
drifts through the streets of Buenos Aires in search of his place within the social tapestry.
a deconstruction of images. . .in terms of the conservative Catholic
nation [that] reveals an ideology aliened with the working classes, [he] openly and
directly attacks theosophical doctrine, finding it sectarian and associated with oligarchic
thought (Banga 7). Both texts capture simultaneously the personal struggle for the
reconstruction of social boundaries alongside the communal endeavor, thus, they reflect
the whole of the Americas.
Thus the quest for the utopian social structure connects the Americas 6. Furthermore, if by
providing an embedded
habitat with primordial malleability, the ocean evokes the danger of their potential reality,
the infinite possibilities existing beyond the impotent safeguard of the waster's surface.
As exhibited, for instance, through Thomas More's sociopolitical treatise, Utopia (1516),
[and] the whaler, [is] a symbol of United States enterprise during the nineteenth
century (Barrenechea 64-5), the personal and the communal are interchangeable.
Thus, the oceanic location of the novel and its utopian allusions, once reimbursed with
the presence of the monster, relocate the search for the utopist social structure upon the
personal and communal axes. Ahab's personal quest for revenge becomes the crew's
odyssey; the quest is simultaneously for the personal and communal boundaries.
The two texts end in catastrophe: Moby Dick ends with the whole ship
wrecked after the
White Whale swims apocalyptically into the book and brings it to
an abrupt but tidy close at the narrative level (Buell 67), and The Seven
Madmen with Barsut's mock-death, and the 'secret society' led by Astrologer whose
last statement is that
Somos descubridores que no saben sino en
conjunto hacia donde (LSL 336)
we're discoverers who have only a vague idea
of the direction we're heading in. (TSM 242). Both Erdosain and Ishmael survive
their trials and tribulations, only to find they have to reconstruct a society in which they
might reestablish their selves. For Erdosain it is a social structure; for Ishmael it is
Moby Dick and The Seven Madmen are multilayered novels, which
present the narrative of the individual's quest for his place within society, alongside the
larger social reconfiguration of social boundaries. The settings of the texts present the
quest narrative, which entails social critique since the location of the social boundaries
creates problematic social structures that suffocate, or drown the individual. The moral
questions which lurk underneath the calm sea around America are presented by the
wanderings of the seven madmen, circumnavigation of the Pequod, as do the
circumlocution of Moby Dick. The 'ship of fools' that might have landed on the
shores of Utopia is by now the sinking the American continent. The 'madmen' who lead
the 'revolution' have absolutely no idea where their heading, and the 'ideal' that was
America, requires a realistic sequel.
The New Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary defines monstrous as: 1. frightful or
hideous, esp. in appearance; extremely ugly. 2. shocking or revolting; outrageous
monstrous cruelty. 3. extraordinarily great; huge; immense. The thesaurus section
presents these terms under monstrous: 1. huge, great, large, tremendous, gigantic,
monster, prodigious, enormous, immense, vast, stupendous, colossal. 2. frightful,
hideous, revolting, shocking, repulsive, horrible, atrocious, terrible, dreadful,
Andres Rivera noted not only on the infernal qualities of Arlt's Buenos Aires, but also on the
Shakespearian connections, to which I will relate later when I discuss the allusion to Hamlet: |
en las páginas que Arlt escribo estaba ese viejo que lanza, en la geografía de un país enfermo, una frase que Shakespeare no despreciaría:
<>La vitta e denaro, strunsso (Roberto Arlt, Vidente.
Sección Especial, Homenaje a Roberto Arlt. Alba de América: Revista Literaria.
Instituto Literario Y Cultural Hispánico. Estados Unidos de América. 2004.(459).
The one exception to the lack of confinement in The Seven Madmen is when Ergueta is in the
asylum, and even then, the scene is of ultimate liberation, rather than confinement. As opposed to the
Black House, the location of the inner self, where Erdosain is confined and tortured, in the
asylum Ergueta feels free. When Erdosain visits the Espila family, socially accepted though poor, he repels
Elena, and repels the convictions of gratitude as he wishes
they all croak and leave him in
peace (184). Erdosain wishes to cut himself from the social thread.
Despite all the heterodoxy of opinion on Moby-Dick, few critics doubt that
Moby Dick is a god.  H. Bruce Franklin, The Wake of the Gods: Melville's
Mythology (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1963), p. 61. Taken literally,
that critical statement seems bizarre, especially in light of studies, during the two decades
since it was made, that have placed much emphasis on how the world of Moby-
Dick communicates to the reader through the filter of
Ishmael's quandaries as
both neophyte whaleman and retrospective narrator as to
whether the White
Whale is simply a naturalistic whale or whether he is a creature of supernatural
properties.  Robert M. Greenberg,
The Three-Day Chase: Multiplicity and
Coherence in Moby-Dick, ESQ 29 (1983):91. The book can even be read as
a gigantic spoof of the sacred imagination from animism (Ishmael measuring the whale's
skeleton in the Arsacides in the face of horrified priestly opposition) to the Bible itself
(the credibility of the Book of Jonah uproariously sabotaged in Chapter 83 under the
guise of defense) (Buell 54).
Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. |
Utopía Latina: The Ordinary Seaman in extraordinary times.
Modern Fiction Studies. Purdue Univ. West Lafayette, IN Baltimore, MD. 49:1. p.54-83. Spring 2003.
The Americas have been read not only as the Hegelian end of historical progress-a dominant
interpretation in North America-but as the locus of perfected prophecy, as the site of the world's
apocalyptic end. Walter Mignolo is but the latest in a long line of Latin American intellectuals to remind us
that the early European encounter with the New World is coeval with the birth of Europe's utopian
tradition, even as the colonial process set off unprecedented extremes of violence and cruelty (Gruesz
Arlt, Roberto. Los Siete Locos. Compañía General Fabril Editora S.A. Buenos
Arlt, Roberto. The Seven Madmen. Trans. Nick Caistor. UNESCO. GB. 1998.
Banga, Fabián Marcelo.
Brujos, espiritistas y vanguardistas: La representacion del Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A:
esoterismo y el espiritualismo en las obras de Roberto Arlt, Vicente Huidobro y
Ramon del Valle-Inclan.
The Humanities and Social Sciences. Aug, 2005.
Telluric monstrosity in the Americas: The encyclopedic Ph.D., Yale University,
taxonomies of Fuentes, Melville, and Pynchon.
Salvaging Melville's America: Baroque Revision in Terra Americas' Worlds and the World's Americas. Ed Amaryll
Chanady, George Handley & Patrick Imbert. Legas. 2006.
Moby-Dick as Sacred Text. New essays on Moby-Dick.
Ed. Richard Brodhead. Cambridge: CUP, 1986. p.53-72.
A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Madness and
Civilization. Trans. Richard Howard. London, 1967.
The Uncanny. Literary Theory an Anthology. Ed. Julie
Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing 2nd ed. 2004. 418-431.
Gruesz, Kirsten Silva.
Utopía Latina: The Ordinary Seaman in extraordinary times
Modern Fiction Studies. Purdue Univ. West Lafayette, IN
Baltimore, MD. 49:1. p.54-83. Spring 2003.
The Mirror Stage. Literary Theory an Anthology. Ed.
Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing 2nd ed. 2004. 441-447.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Penguin Popular Classics. 1994.
Pratt, Mary Louise.
Linguistic Utopias. The Linguistics of Writing:
Arguments between language and literature. Ed. Nigel Fabb, Derek
Attridge, Allan Durant and Colin MacCabe. Manchester UP. 1987.
Roberto Arlt, Vidente. Alba de América: Revista
Literaria. Instituto Literario Y Cultural Hispánico. Estados Unidos de
América. 2004. 427-429.
Santa, Eugenia R.
La Mirada del Extranjero en Dos Cuentos de El Criador de . Alba de América: Revista Literaria. Instituto
Literario Y Cultural Hispánico. Estados Unidos de América. 2004. 459-468.
The New Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Random
House Value Publishing. 1997.