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After the Whale
Melville in the Wake of Moby-Dick
Clark Davis
University of Alabama Press, 1995
Examines Herman Melville’s short fiction and poetry in the context of popular 1850s fiction
 
The study focuses on Melville’s vision of the purpose and function of language from Moby-Dick through Billy Budd with a special emphasis on how language—in function and form—follows and depends on the function and form of the body, how Melville’s attitude toward words echoes his attitude toward fish. Davis begins by locating and describing the fundamental dialectic formulated in Moby-Dick in the characters of Ahab and Ishmael. This dialectic produces two visions of bodily reality and two corresponding visions of language: Ahab’s, in which language is both weapon and substitute body, and Ishmael’s, in which language is an extension of the body—a medium of explanation, conversation, and play. These two forms of language provide a key to understanding the difficult relationships and formal changes in Melville’s writings after Moby-Dick.
 
By following each work’s attitude toward the dialectic, we can see the contours of the later career more clearly and so begin a movement away from weakly contextualized readings of individual novels and short stories to a more complete consideration of Melville’s career. Since the rediscovery of Herman Melville in the early decades of this century, criticism has been limited to the prose in general and to a few major works in particular.
 
Those who have given significant attention to the short fiction and poetry have done so frequently out of context, that is, in multi-author works devoted exclusively to these genres. The result has been a criticism with large gaps, most especially for works from Melville’s later career. The relative lack of interest in the poetry has left us with little understanding of how Melville’s later voices developed, of how the novels evolved into tales, the tales into poetry, and the poetry back into prose. In short, the development of Melville’s art during the final three decades of his life remains a subject of which we have been afforded only glimpses, rarely a continuous attention. After the Whale provides a new, more comprehensive understanding of Melville’s growth as a writer.
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Ahab Unbound
Melville and the Materialist Turn
Meredith Farmer
University of Minnesota Press, 2021

Why Captain Ahab is worthy of our fear—and our compassion

Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab is perennially seen as the paradigm of a controlling, tyrannical agent. Ahab Unbound leaves his position as a Cold War icon behind, recasting him as a contingent figure, transformed by his environment—by chemistry, electromagnetism, entomology, meteorology, diet, illness, pain, trauma, and neurons firing—in ways that unexpectedly force us to see him as worthy of our empathy and our compassion. 

In sixteen essays by leading scholars, Ahab Unbound advances an urgent inquiry into Melville’s emergence as a center of gravity for materialist work, reframing his infamous whaling captain in terms of pressing conversations in animal studies, critical race and ethnic studies, disability studies, environmental humanities, medical humanities, political theory, and posthumanism. By taking Ahab as a focal point, we gather and give shape to the multitude of ways that materialism produces criticism in our current moment. Collectively, these readings challenge our thinking about the boundaries of both persons and nations, along with the racist and environmental violence caused by categories like the person and the human.

Ahab Unbound makes a compelling case for both the vitality of materialist inquiry and the continued resonance of Melville’s work.

Contributors: Branka Arsić, Columbia U; Christopher Castiglia, Pennsylvania State U; Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt U; Christian P. Haines, Pennsylvania State U; Bonnie Honig, Brown U; Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt U; Pilar Martínez Benedí, U of L’Aquila, Italy; Steve Mentz, St. John’s College; John Modern, Franklin and Marshall College; Mark D. Noble, Georgia State U; Samuel Otter, U of California, Berkeley; Donald E. Pease, Dartmouth College; Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell College; Russell Sbriglia, Seton Hall U; Michael D. Snediker, U of Houston; Matthew A. Taylor, U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ivy Wilson, Northwestern U.

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The Arbiters of Reality
Hawthorne, Melville, and the Rise of Mass Information Culture
Peter West
The Ohio State University Press, 2008
The Arbiters of Reality: Hawthorne, Melville, and the Rise of Mass Information Culture disrupts our critical sense of nineteenth-century American literature by examining the storytelling strategies of both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville in light of an emerging information industry. Peter West reveals how these writers invoked telegraphic and penny press journalism, daguerreotypy, and moving panoramas in their fiction to claim for themselves a privileged access to a reality beyond the reach of a burgeoning mass audience.

      Locating Hawthorne and Melville in vivid and overlooked contexts—the Salem Murder scandal of 1830, which transformed Hawthorne's quiet city into a media-manufactured spectacle, and Melville's New York City of 1846–47, where the American Telegraph was powerfully articulating a nation at war—West portrays the romance as a reactive, deeply rhetorical literary form and a rich historical artifact.

      In the early twenty-first century, it has become a postmodern cliché to place the word “reality” in scare quotes. The Arbiters of Reality suggests that attending to the construction of the real in public life is more than simply a language of critique: it must also be understood as a specific kind of romantic self-invention. 

      
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God In The Street
New York Writing from The Penny Press to Melville
Hans Bergmann
Temple University Press, 1995

In the fast changing culture of antebellum New York, writers of every stripe celebrated "the City" as a stage for the daily urban encounter between the familiar and the inexplicable. Probing into these richly varied texts, Hans Bergmann uncovers the innovations in writing that accompanied the new market society— the penny newspapers' grandiose boastings, the poetic catalogues of Walt Whitman, the sentimental realism of charity workers, the sensationalism of slum visitors, and the complex urban encounters of Herman Melville's fiction.

The period in which New York, the city itself, became firmly established as a subject invented a literary form that attempts to capture the variety of the teeming city and the flaneur, the walking observer. But Bergmann does not simply lead a parade of images and themes; he explores the ways in which these observers understood what was happening around them and to them, always attentive to class struggle and race and gender issues.

God in the Street shows how the penny press and Whitman's New York poetry create a new mass culture hero who interprets and dignifies the city's confusions. New York writers, both serious and sensationalist, meditate upon street encounters with tricksters and confidence-men and explore the meanings of encounters. Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrinever" underlines the unrelenting isolation and inability to control the interpreter. Bergmann reinterprets Melville's The Confidence Man as an example of how a complex literary form arises directly from its own historical materials and is itself socially symbolic. Bergmann sees Melville as special because he recognizes his inability to make sense of the surface of chaotic images and encounters. In mid-century New York City, Melville believes God is in the street, unavailable and unrecognizable, rather than omnipresent and guiding.

 
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Melville in His Own Time
A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollection, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates
Steven Olsen-Smith
University of Iowa Press, 2015
Owing to the decline of his contemporary fame and to decades of posthumous neglect, Herman Melville remains enigmatic to readers despite his status as one of America’s most securely canonical authors. Born into patrician wealth but plunged into poverty as a child, in 1840 he signed aboard the whaleship Acushnet in the midst of a nationwide depression and sailed to the South Pacific. At the Marquesas Islands, he deserted and lived for a time among one of the group’s last unsubjugated tribes. Upon his return home, he achieved overnight success with a book based on his experiences, Typee (1846).

Melville’s mastery of the English language and heterodox views made him a source of both controversy and fascination to western readers, until his increasing commitment to artistry and contempt for artificial conventions led him to write Moby-Dick (1851) and its successor Pierre (1852). Although the former is considered his masterwork today, the books offended mid-nineteenth-century cultural sensibilities and alienated Melville from the American literary marketplace. The resulting eclipse of his popular reputation was deepened by his voluntary withdrawal from society, so that obituaries written after his death in 1891 frequently expressed surprise that he hadn’t died long before.

With most of his personal papers and letters lost or destroyed, his library of marked and annotated books dispersed, and first-hand accounts of him scattered, brief, and frequently conflicting, Melville’s place in American literary scholarship illustrates the importance of accurately edited documents and the value of new information to our understanding of his life and thought. As a chronologically organized collection of surviving testimonials about the author, Melville in His Own Time continues the tradition of documentary research well-exemplified over the past half-century by the work of Jay Leyda, Merton M. Sealts, and Hershel Parker. Combining recently discovered evidence with new transcriptions of long-known but rarely consulted testimony, this collection offers the most up-to-date and correct record of commentary on Melville by individuals who knew him.
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Melville
The Making of the Poet
Hershel Parker
Northwestern University Press, 2007

“Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber?” the London John Bull remarked in October of 1851. And yet, the reviewer went on, “few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod's whaling expedition.” A decade and a half before surprising the world with a book of Civil war poetry, Melville was already confident of what was “poetic” in his prose. As Hershel Parker demonstrates in this book, Melville was steeped in poetry long before he called himself a poet. 

Here Parker, the dean of Melville studies, gives a compelling, in-depth account of how one of America’s greatest writers grew into the vocation of a poet. His work corrects two of the most pernicious misconceptions about Melville perpetuated by earlier critics: that he repudiated fiction writing after Pierre, and that he hadn’t begun writing poetry (let alone had a book of poems ready for publication) as early as 1860. In clearing up these misapprehensions, Parker gives a thorough and thoroughly involving account of Melville’s development as a poet. Parker demonstrates for the first time just how crucial poetry was to Melville from childhood to old age, especially its re-emergence in his life after 1849. Drawing on Melville's shrewd annotations of great British poets and on his probing, skeptical engagement with commentaries on poetry (particularly by the great Scots reviewers), Parker paints a richly textured portrait of a hitherto unseen side of Herman Melville.


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Modernity At Sea
Melville, Marx, Conrad In Crisis
Cesare Casarino
University of Minnesota Press, 2002

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On Melville
The Best from American Literature
Louis J. Budd and Edwin H. Cady, eds.
Duke University Press, 1988
From 1929 to the latest issue, American Literature has been the foremost journal expressing the findings of those who study our national literature. The journal has published the best work of literary historians, critics, and bibliographers, ranging from the founders of the discipline to the best current critics and researchers. The longevity of this excellence lends a special distinction to the articles in American Literature.
Presented in order of their first appearance, the articles in each volume constitute a revealing record of developing insights and important shifts of critical emphasis. Each article has opened a fresh line of inquiry, established a fresh perspective on a familiar topic, or settled a question that engaged the interest of experts.
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The Sign of the Cannibal
Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader
Geoffrey Sanborn
Duke University Press, 1998
In The Sign of the Cannibal Geoffrey Sanborn offers a major reassessment of the work of Herman Melville, a definitive history of the post-Enlightenment discourse on cannibalism, and a provocative contribution to postcolonial theory. These investigations not only explore mid–nineteenth century resistance to the colonial enterprise but argue that Melville, using the discourse on cannibalism to critique colonialism, contributed to the production of resistance.
Sanborn focuses on the representations of cannibalism in three of Melville’s key texts—Typee, Moby-Dick, and “Benito Cereno.” Drawing on accounts of Pacific voyages from two centuries and virtually the entire corpus of the post-Enlightenment discourse on cannibalism, he shows how Melville used his narratives to work through the ways in which cannibalism had been understood. In so doing, argues Sanborn, Melville sought to move his readers through stages of possible responses to the phenomenon in order to lead them to consider alternatives to established assumptions and conventions—to understand that in the savage they see primarily their own fear and fascination. Melville thus becomes a narrator of the postcolonial encounter as he uncovers the dynamic of dread and menace that marks the Western construction of the “non-savage” human.
Extending the work of Slavoj Zizek and Homi Bhabha while providing significant new insights into the work of Melville, The Sign of the Cannibal represents a breakthrough for students and scholars of postcolonial theory, American literary history, critical anthropology, race, and masculinity.

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Visionary of the Word
Melville and Religion
Edited by Jonathan A. Cook and Brian Yothers
Northwestern University Press, 2017
Visionary of the Word brings together the latest scholarship on Herman Melville’s treatment of religion across his long career as a writer of fiction and poetry. The volume suggests the broad range of Melville’s religious concerns, including his engagement with the denominational divisions of American Christianity, his dialogue with transatlantic currents in nineteenth-century religious thought, his consideration of theological and philosophical questions related to the problem of evil and determinism versus free will, and his representation of the global contact among differing faiths and cultures. These essays constitute a capacious response to the many avenues through which Melville interacted with religious faith, doubt, and secularization throughout his career, advancing our understanding of Melville as a visionary interpreter of religious experience who remains resonant in our own religiously complex era.
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