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Insanity, Queerness and 9/11

Annotating this project was a very intense experience for me. It really opened my eyes to the realities of the time the story was written in and the thematic representations of the characters. I have a much fuller and deeper understanding for Melville’s work, and I feel I learned a great deal about the nature of race and slavery in the 19thcentury and today.

The mental illness piece hit home for me because I too suffer from this kind of condition. It was important for me to read that work carefully and look for ways people were othered because of their race, and thus, implied insanity. I thought that article was very thought provoking and had a lot to offer as commentary to Babo, Delano and Cereno’s story. “Crucial to these discussions were questions of obedience and rebelliousness, and the desire to set forth an “expert” language— mixing law and science—that would assure that these “different” subjects would not threaten the security of the community, and specifically the rights of its members to hold property,” (Reiss, 1996). This quote is highly symbolic of the nature of whiteness and slavery in the 19thcentury. A threat to the “insane” property of white people was seen as more important than the humanity of the black individuals that endured slavery. Melville tries to illustrate this in his own clever, between-the-lines way (at least on a first reading). On reading it another time, it becomes much more clear what Melville is saying.

In terms of the article on queerness throughout the text, I did find some of the connections and comparisons a little less convincing. But nonetheless, there are apparent implications that  “Melville, in “Benito Cereno,” elliptically trope queer desire as both enabling and threatening the possibility of hospitality,”(Hannah, 2010). What is valuable about this aspect of the experience was still finding importance and value in what Hannah had to say despite my not necessarily believing or buying into the claims whole-heartedly. This was an interpretation and should be read as such. But I was inspired by the claims that I was convinced of that I wouldn’t have otherwise have connected on my own. Reading these claims and then weeding the story for examples was very fulfilling. It was a game in its own sort and I really enjoyed the process of getting into the mind of the characters in such a unique and intimate way.

 The 9/11 Commission Report article was very impressive. Here, slaves, as others were compared to the slave states the United States government still insist exist, to behoove their own interests. Terror suspects and the Muslim community as a whole was othered in much the same way the black individuals and slaves were during the 19thcentury, and in the case of blackness, this othering still exists today. In this way, it is dissuading how little progress we as a society have made over the centuries but I have hope that all the hard work of race pioneers will pay off, as we are already seeing the benefits in certain elements of society, politics and culture. “Melville’s text invites a consideration of slavery’s role in the preservation of status quo politics, and reveals the means by which the disclosure of secrecy becomes a condition for the legal fiction of slavery to persist. In purporting to reveal the hidden plot of contemporary anti-US terrorism, the US government’s 9/11 Commission Report similarly manufactures an acceptable political fiction that compensates for a still deeper failure to promote democratic structures of feeling in response to national trauma,” (Traister, 2013). What I like about this quote is its reference to “national trauma.” Slavery was and continues to be wildly traumatic to those that suffered its injustices. 9/11 was nationally traumatic in a different way, as was coming to terms with the inhumane practices of our government of terror suspects in the name of finding answers to justify an inhumane war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and collectively, our nation has to accept our involvement there and the havoc we created. This relates to the text in that Cereno (especially) was affected and traumatized so deeply for what he had done. He manifests a national experience as one individual in a story.

Overall, I was moved by the connections I made between reading the critical responses to the story and the text itself. I would be interested in learning more about many differing points of views and look forward to delving more deeply into the research my colleagues on this project came up with as well. From this assignment, I realize the great value in interpreting texts through different, specific lenses. I am grateful I am more aware of literature being conducive to inferring diverse close readings. This also informs how I can more successfully perform distant readings as I become more aware of digital tools that allow for such work.

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