My first words will be of the last word in the book. (The last word, that is, but one, as Susan Howe has pointed out: the speculative connection she draws between FINIS and the work of James Joyce is something I’ll be mentioning later.) So, “orphan” will be my starting place (as it was in that first spinning place), my point of departure, the origin of (the errancy of) my text.
Orphan can be traced back to the Indo-European rootword orbh meaning to put assunder, to separate. Arising from this root is the Sanskrit orbho from which come Gk. orphanos and L. orphanus, which mean bereft of parents or father; but orbho also has the sense of deprived of free status. Through the rootword, orphan maintains a direct connection to Oslav. orbu, from which derive the contemporary Czech, Polish and Russian words rabu (slave), rabota (servitude, drudgery, compulsory labor, graduate school) and the familiar robot.
So, a number of themes are engaged here: separation in many senses – from parents, of America from England, Europe, the mother language (cf. Mosses), from one another, the disintegration of the promise of community and the problem of competitive free agency under emerging industrial capitalism (the limit expression of which Melville supplies in The Confidence Man: His Masquerade); the connection, through its L. root between separation and the questions of engenderment and (self-)procurement (it is Lacan who points this out in section 16 of Seminar XI, a chapter which seems to me potently suggestive for any reading of Moby-Dick, dealing as it does with alienation, the disposition of the drives upon the body, tattooing, the question of interpretation, and separation); the separation from place of origin as unsettledness (the unsettled science of cetology, landlessness as the residence of highest truth) and the question of settling of accounts (narrative, capitalist); and finally, servitude, the condition of work in the capitalist machine on land or at sea, the problem of the slavish shore, and of course, slavery itself.
I would only pause now to stress that this condition of orphanhoodedness – that’s what I’m calling it – is always and everywhere predicated on some primordial original loss (of derivation, of origin, of place, or freedom) and the questions to be addressed are: what is the experience of this loss, how is it experienced, what is the relation of the subject to loss and the lost object? Provisionally, I’ll say that loss involves the subject in a point of trauma, that loss engages the affects of guilt and grief and the process of mourning, and that both the trauma and the lost object are encrypted (vaulted, we could say, since we’re doing etymology), secret, hidden (and this is where the “hoodedness” comes in, about which I’ll have more to say later; for now, I just ask you to keep in mind what you already know about the etymology of whale, and adding, because I don’t think it’s been pointed out yet, that through the L. cognates for vault, vaulting, rolling etc. we are led to the word vulva.)