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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Intellectual Properties in Moby Dick

It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her last cask of oil...

There has been a good deal of news about intellectual properties and downloading and laws... and patents, too, as everyone scrambles for the riches of the vasty deep of Technology, like old time whalers in Moby Dick who made their way across the face of the waters seeking their prey.
From Melville, Chapter 89, there is this discussion:

I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.

II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.

... First: What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically fast, when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,- a mast, an oar, a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all the same. Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a waif, or any other recognized symbol of possession; so long as the party wailing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside, as well as their intention so to do.

... What to the rapacious landlord is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected villain's marble mansion with a doorplate for a waif; what is that but a Fast-Fish? ... And concerning all these, is not Possession the whole of the law?

But if the doctrine of Fast-Fish be pretty generally applicable, the kindred doctrine of Loose-Fish is still more widely so. That is internationally and universally applicable.

What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of wailing it for his royal master and mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk? What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All Loose-Fish.

What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?
Herein, "waif" is a "stray beast" or nautically "a piece of flotsam" unclaimed, and a "waif-pole" is a pole to mark possession of a whale after a hunt. "Waif" is used itself as an emblem of ownership and it is odd that the word "waif" means both "unclaimed" and "mark of possession".
I think the stray beast comes from the accepted derivation from Old French "guaif" for stray beast, and the mark of possession comes from Latin ":vibrare" through Old High German "wifan" and the root WEIP- meaning to tremble, to brandish, to swing, etc. and the idea I get is a pennant claiming ownership.

 "wail" is to will in the sense of "determine" or "claim ownership"

A great place to visit.


who said...

Of course-of course, as an a side more people may understand exactly what your are writing about if you also included some etymology of the name whale-fish, esp in Hebrew (since the "H" is capitalized and HACKLUYT seems to be adamant about the whole "H" dealio & the significance of adding a whole note to the character in Hebrew which looks like the mirror image of an lower case r (or a left handed hockey stick)

That note alone would make more sense to me than the term mast-mish, wife-wives and/or life-lives AND why Fegee & Erromangoan word for whale-fish look like they say "peeking is a no-no" which explains why my hair is on fire, but not why a period is replaced with a comma and the period doesn't re-appear until after the language is listed. May be it has something to do with the image that shows up in the white space in between the language's word and the listed language when the margins or the paragraph are the type that have both sides toeing up at a nice, clean edge of a line (still doesn't explain the whole "***" thing though or why they didn't adopt the term sub-subatomic instead of pulling a whole new term out of, ear. Which as I understood it, is the SOP when the object is found before the word is discovered, which as far as I know happened to be the case every time)

Now if I could only find out an alternate etymological meaning for adamant, or maybe even Atom's Aunt, I wouldn't be thinking waif-pole looks more like wife-pole

who said...

Sorry about that Montag, I know better than to highjack someone's blog with a comment. Should have just put "I hear you friend" and maybe asked you if the picture you have in your sidebar of Mordechai doesn't look like someone who is trying to hide his smile (but only trying to hide it because he has braces)?

Montag said...

Actually, I rather like the first paragraph; one rarely sees reference to Richard Hackluyt these days. I seem to remember reading his book when I was in elementary school, having been fascinated by cetaceans and antiquities at the time.

When I was in high school, I wrote my first essay on Hackluyt as the "real" author of the plays of the actor once known as Shakespeare.

Then I like your tying it all together with "adamant" and "Atom's Aunt" in a "Finnegan's Wake-ish" kind of sandwich wrap encompassing everything into a compact lunch.

I do not quite get the contrast between "Fegee" (a real island, Fiji) and "Erromango" (a make-believe island introduced into the Fifth Edition of the Encyclopedia of Tlon and Uqbar), but obviously there are "forking paths" at work here.

I reminds me of "Funes, the Memorious", and I take it as a compliment, since I am known as "Montag, El Memorioso" in many places already.