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some helpful context for reading BENITO CERENO

In light of our discussion of Melville last night, I wanted to provide a bit of context for those interested in Melville’s politics and the way his work (especially Benito Cereno) has been read in cultural political terms in recent years. I recognize that it’s a heavy lift to read this text for the first (or the third) time, especially in a course that has an interdisciplinary DH focus rather than the kind of robust historical/cultural infrastructure of a course on Melville or on nineteen-century US literature, for example. So no obligation to plow through this stuff, but I wanted to provide a fuller sense of how this text has been situated and read, for those who are interested.

Here’s Toni Morrison’s pathbreaking 1988 lecture on Melville and whiteness. It’s worth a read in its entirety, as is the book that grew out of it, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, one of a small handful of books that gave birth to “whiteness studies” in the early 1990s. I won’t summarize it, but she wrestles, strenuously and critically, with Melville’s work (here, Moby Dick ) as an attempt to deconstruct the whiteness that subtends the imperialist and racist and patriarchal structures that dominated Melville’s time (and have never left the stage, and, in unsettling ways, have come roaring back to the forefront in recent years).

And here’s a pithy post from Carolyn Karcher, an editor of the Melville section of the invaluable Heath Anthology of American Literature, which is responsible for greatly diversifying the range of what constitutes “US Literature” in college classrooms in the past 30 years. Karcher is speaking to faculty, as they think about planning courses, but the post gives us a clear window onto how scholars have linked Benito to a wide range of texts giving narrative form to the traumas experienced, individually and collectively, by enslaved Africans in the period.

Finally, for those interested in my investment in the text (and the embarrassing/humorous story of how I first encountered it), here’s the epilogue to my book on Depression-era documentary work in the US, in which Benito guest-stars.

See you next week.

 

Bartleby, new and oldish

You might enjoy an early 2000s Bartleby hypertext edition that I’ve rediscovered via the Internet Archive’s invaluable Wayback Machine. It starts with Bartleby’s blank wall and goes from there: cute, no?

Pretty cool version of Bartleby edited by a Slate writer, Andrew Kahn, last year. It’s richly illustrated and contains a wide range of notes that provide historical context and a sense of some of the diversity of critical opinions on the text over the years since its publication. And there’s even an audiobook version on the site for good measure.

As such, it also points towards our second collaborative project together, in which we’ll be doing something similar (though with much lower production values!) with Benito Cereno, so as you check it out, think about what Kahn did to make this work. Or not.

Finally, although it sometimes seems like ancient history, Bartleby played a starring role in the Occupy Wall Street movement in and around Zuccotti Park in 2012. I’ve collated a few pieces from that time that capture the flavor of the way Bartleby haunted that space and that time:

  • Jonathan Greenberg riffs on the use of “occupy” and cognate concepts like self-possession, property, and vocation in Melville’s text, in Zuccotti, and on campuses.
  • Lauren Klein thinks about the politics of language in both Melville’s text and the movement.
  • Jac Asher examines the way Bartleby dismantles the logic of homosociality that underpins Wall Street from within.

Two pieces on the politics of BENITO CERENO

You might be interested to read two recent reflections on the relevance of Benito Cereno to the present political moment. The author, Greg Grandlin, focuses on the the rise of extremist right-wing politics via the Tea Party (and now, of course, Trumpism) and the utter dehumanizing and delegitimizing of President Obama in one piece and, in the other, aligns the sunny liberalism of Amasa Delano with a strand of American imperialism no less troubling than that of the much better-known Ahab.

interactive, annotated Bartleby on Slate

Pretty cool version of Bartleby edited by a Slate writer, Andrew Kahn, last year. It’s richly illustrated and contains a wide range of notes that provide historical context and a sense of some of the diversity of critical opinions on the text over the years since its publication. And there’s even an audiobook version on the site for good measure.

As such, it also points towards our second collaborative project together, in which we’ll be doing something similar (though with much lower production values!) with Benito Cereno, so as you check it out, think about what Kahn did to make this work. Or not.

Melville lives!

Since we’ll start discussing Melville’s work next week, I thought I’d mention two Melvillian manifestations in culture today. First, the excellent publisher Melville House, a scrappy outfit that publishes an amazing list and has had the courage to tell Amazon to go %$#^ itself. If that wasn’t enough, well looky here:

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Some of you will get this on the way home, as it were, but trust me: it’s pretty funny.

Second, enterprising academics have created a (decidedly adult) game out of the text of Moby Dick. Especially interesting looking forward to our “playing” Billy Budd via the Ivanhoe WordPress theme in a couple of months.