Prof. Zbigniew Białas

“Nobody they call me”. The body as a coffin.

One of the most famous travellers in Western culture was also a notorious liar and trickster; although fictitious, he was nevertheless formidably myth-forming. Odysseus, confronted with the Cyclops’ monstrous body, denies his own corporeality. “Nobody is my name, Nobody they call me,” insists Odysseus frantically, answering the Cyclops’ impatient question. The shift from Οδυσ[σεύς] into Οϋτις is more than cosmetic – it is indeed life-saving. “Nobody is slaying me by guile and not by force,” roars blinded Polyphemos, denying a body’s participation in the process of his mutilation. Soon after, Odysseus temporarily withdraws under a no-human-body when in a successful attempt at escaping, he hides his cunning self beneath the mass of Polyphemos’ favourite ram. This example illustrates not only the obvious truth that the paradigm of travelling has its roots in ancient times, but also the fact that the traveller’s body – whether hotly denied or not, whether saved or mutilated – remains at the very core of the representational enterprise of travel writing. Informed by this, my presentation will examine some of the representational mutilations undertaken by Herman Melville against the body of Queequeg.

Zbigniew Białas is Professor of English, Director of Institute of Anglophone Cultures and Literatures, Head of Postcolonial Studies Department at the University of Silesia, Katowice (Poland) and author of four novels. He was Humboldt Research Fellow in Germany and Fulbright Senior Fellow in the USA. His academic books include Post-Tribal Ethos in African Literature (1993), Mapping Wild Gardens (1997) and The Body Wall (2006). His novel, Korzeniec, was awarded Silesian Literary Laurels, won the title of Best Polish Prose of 2011 and was turned into a successful theatrical play. Białas edited/co-edited twelve academic volumes, wrote over sixty academic essays and translated English, American and Nigerian literature into Polish.