Degree Type

Thesis (Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Date Information

May 2016

Department

English

First Advisor

Arthur Riss

Abstract

Hieroglyphic images appear recurrently throughout the text of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Whether the marks in question are ancient Egyptian ciphers, Queequeg’s cryptic tattoos, or scars on the backs of whales, Melville claims all are hieroglyphical. This project will examine Melville’s use of hieroglyphics in Moby Dick to broach debates about what language is and how it gets its meaning. Do words have intrinsic significance, or is their significance supplied by the reader alone? Are all—or any—hieroglyphics decipherable? What could ancient Egyptian figures have in common with the “hieroglyphic” scratches on whales? This project will engage with John T. Irwin’s American Hieroglyphics, perhaps the most notable work to use the hieroglyphic in raising questions of meaning and interpretation. Additionally, the project will incorporate works by John Searle and Walter Benn Michaels to explore different accounts of what language is, what texts count as language, and how language becomes meaningful.

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