University of British Columbia * Department of English
This paper addresses the nineteenth-century novel Moby-Dick (1851) as a “cetacean text” and as a text that can be taught to question the animal/human binary that both separates and draws attention to bonds between humans and cetaceans. Herman Melville’s novel, belonging to the period of American literature that F. O. Matthiessen first famously distinguished as the “American Renaissance” in a study so-titled published in 1941, is being reevaluated today by ecocritics as well as posthumanism and animal studies scholars as a writing that is a cultural record of the North American whaling industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and raises questions about understandings of and assumptions about cetacean slaughter. I tie these concerns to an industry today that threatens cetaceans: the fossil fuel industry, the industry that largely replaced the whaling industry after the twentieth century. I focus mostly on environmental efforts in Taiwan to raise awareness about the fossil fuel industry in Taiwan, namely its petrochemical plants or so called naphtha cracker plants and the deleterious impact these plants have on coastal wetland areas that are home to many species of cetaceans including the endangered species of humpback whale or pink dolphin. Moby-Dick ties to ecocriticism in the eastern regions of the globe not the least by reason of the final scenes of the novel, set in the far western waters of the Pacific.