Corals are everywhere in Melville’s work. His obsession with them started with Typee and Omoo, where corals were the phenomenon of a predominantly geological nature; then it intensified in Mardi and Moby-Dick, where they were promoted into a primary metaphysical concept. As of Mardi, corals provide the starting point for how Melville understands the functioning of individuation, generating an ontology attentive to embodiment, and finally leading him to posit the existence of the utterly incarnated, porous, and affective minds that I call “coral” or “ambient” psyches. This talk narrates that development: starting from Melville’s early interest in the natural sciences, it moves to discuss the ontology of life suggested by corals, and finally examines his belief in embodied thoughts and volitions.
Sponsored by the Eberhard L. Faber 1915 Memorial Fund in the Humanities Council and the English Department.