Homosexuality / Cannibalism
of Human Flesh: Homosexuality and Cannibalism in Melville's Novels (Caleb,
represent cannibalism by homoeroticism is not, I hope, intuitive today.
Our culture is different. The nineteenth-century reader read with a system
of connotations and assumptions that is lost to us. This paper will try
to reconstruct how the practices of cannibalism and homosexuality figured
in that system...
should be remarked in general that Melville makes frequent use of food
as a metaphor for love.'
say that cannibalism is a relation of love is not to say that it is warm,
cuddly, and nurturing. It's only to say that love and cannibalism can be
confused. Cannibals and lovers both pay exceptional attention to the body
of their desired...
mixed the language of love between men with the language of cannibalism.
In his early works, they are both fascinating horrors; he flirts with them
and flees. In his late works, the mixing is deeply pessimistic: homosexual
love has become cannibalism, a love that devours and destroys. But in Moby-Dick,
there is a brief and happy quirk in the imagery. Instead of a homosexual
love that is cannibalistic, there is a cannibal love that is homosexual:
it is interesting that at his most passionate and confused, Melville turns
to images of cannibalism, not to explicit images of male-male intimacy.
In his most fervent letter to Hawthorne, of November 17, 1851, Melville
writes that "Ineffable socialities are in me. I would sit down and dine
with you and all the gods in old Rome's Pantheon." And further on:
'Whence came you, Hawthorne?
By what right do you drink from my flagon of life? And when I put it to
my lips -- lo, they are yours and not mine. I feel that the Godhead is
broken up like the bread at the Supper, and that we are the pieces. Hence
this infinite fraternity of feeling'. 49
drinking, cannibalism, and the disintegration of identity are all here.
Hawthorne and Melville share a drink. Melville cannot distinguish between
his own lips and Hawthorne's -- implying that they kiss, or that they share
a body -- in any case, the decent boundaries have been broken. And then
Melville presents a new vision of two men united in cannibalism: not two
men sharing a cannibal feast, not one man eating another, but both men
being devoured at once as bits of the host in Holy Communion. They are
at one with God and with each other, but also rent apart like Orpheus.
The imagery is a strange mix of separation and union; of destruction, metamorphosis,
and resurrection. Through the metaphor of cannibalism, Melville expresses
his desperate love for Hawthorne, and ingeniously Melville's metaphor captures
at once the most physical and the most spiritual aspects of that love.