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ERIC Number: EJ1080714
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 11
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1559-0143
"In Landlessness Alone Resides the Highest Truth"; Or, at Sea with Honors
Dingledine, Don
Honors in Practice, v9 p15-25 2013
As an English professor specializing in American literature and possessing a passion for one nineteenth-century American novel in particular, Don Dingledine writes that one reason he loves to teach "Moby-Dick" is the seemingly limitless ways in which it speaks to human actions and events in our own time. Melville's timeless novel has been used to comment on the rise of fascism, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and debates over Social Security and national health care. "Each age, one may predict, will find its own symbols in 'Moby-Dick'," a Melville biographer wrote in 1929. Drawing from the novel, the author compares honors students to Ishmael, and writes that the forces that attract students to honors are those that draw Melville's Ishmael to the sea. The qualities that ensure Ishmael's survival are ones that will lead to success in honors and beyond. Some people today view an academic degree in a similar light. Ishmael strives to comprehend the whale, its individual parts--its flukes, its flippers, its blowhole, its blubber--as well as its total being. Because this gigantic mammal is constantly in motion (John Milton's "Paradise Lost" describes whales as "moving land"), and because neither a whale's corpse nor a whale's skeleton can ever approximate the reality of a living, breathing whale as it exists in the ocean, its meaning proves slippery. To grasp it, Ishmael must try out a range of approaches, traditions, and perspectives. He examines the whale in art, in literature, and in astronomy. He applies the tenets of science, religion, archaeology, legal history, and philosophy. As he struggles to comprehend the mighty leviathan, Ishmael's mind grows in proportion to his subject. "Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme!" he proclaims. "We expand to its bulk" (497). "Dissect him how I may," he confesses, "I but go skin deep; I know him not, and never will" (414). Ishmael's words might sound like an admission of defeat but they articulate a central theme of "Moby-Dick," one that embodies the best practices of honors inquiry. Honors curricula typically encourage students to stop clinging to the slavish shore and head out to sea, to open themselves to other approaches and to alternative perspectives; and to embrace landlessness with the same fluidity that enabled Ishmael to survive when the "Pequod" splintered and sank.
National Collegiate Honors Council. 1100 Neihardt Residence Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 540 North 16th Street, Lincoln, NE 68588. Tel: 402-472-9150; Fax: 402-472-9152; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A