ABOUT THIS BOOK
One Foot in the Finite inspires a radical shift in our view of Melville’s project in Moby-Dick, for its guiding notion is that Melville uses his book to call into question the naturalism that distinguishes the early modern period in Europe. Naturalism is not only the idea that reality is exhausted by nature, or that there exists a domain of physical entities subject to autonomous laws and unaffected by human ingenuity; it also implies a counterpart, a world of pretense and deception, a domain of mental entities ontologically distinct from physical entities and therefore constituting a different realm. To naturalists, whales are part of the background of existing objects against which man assembles his various, subjective, rather arbitrary interpretations. But in Moby-Dick Melville casts upon the world a more ingenious eye, one free of the dualist veil. He confronts a basic misconception: that the contents of consciousness comprise a different order from physical life. He rubs out the dividing line modernity has drawn between the human world of names or concepts and the nonhuman world of plants, creatures, geological features, and natural forces. Melville’s philosophizing, carried by fiction, has dramatic consequence. It overturns our view of language as a system of mental representations that might turn out to represent falsely.