chapter  2
The object of Whiteness
Pages 22

In his remarkable essay, “The whiteness of the whale,” in Moby Dick (1851), Melville reflects on the sublimity and horror of Whiteness. In a sentence that runs to forty-seven lines, Melville lists the universal veneration of the color white and ends with the observation that “there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of a panic to the soul than that redness which affrights the blood” (Melville 1981:179). The breathless syntax of the over-long sentence lists the virtues of Whiteness, including the “pre-eminence” of the white man who is given “ideal mastership over every dusky tribe,” and is punctuated finally by the terror of Whiteness. Melville’s description brilliantly demonstrates the obsessive self-citations of Whiteness as the generative core of a system of difference. Melville ends the chapter by associating the horrific and panicinducing qualities of Whiteness with formlessness and annihilation:

Is it that by its indefniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence Whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows-a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?