Herman Melville

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1999-08-01
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
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The huge range of critical and academic debate about this monster of a novel confirms Moby-Dick's status as a vital and exhilarating exploration of the role of American ideology in defining modern consciousness. This Columbia Critical Guide starts with extracts from Melville's own letters and essays and from early reviews of Moby-Dick that set the terms for later critical evaluations. Subsequent chapters deal with the "Melville Revival" of the 1920s and the novel's central place in the establishment, growth, and reassessment of American Studies in the 1940s and 1950s. The final chapters examine postmodern New Americanist readings of the text, and how these provide new models for thinking about American culture.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION Discusses the ways in which Moby-Dick and its critical history can be seen to engage in a debate about American culture and ideology. Extracts from Melville's essay `Hawthorne and His Mosses' are included, and demonstrate that many of the subsequent critical debates about Moby-Dick were anticipated by Melville himself. A brief biography of Melville sets his life within the context of antebellum America. 7(10)
CHAPTER ONE Early Reviews Surveys the initial critical reaction to Moby-Dick. Extracts from letters Melville wrote during the writing of the novel set the context for the contemporary newspaper reviews that follow. The first three extracts are from reviews in the London Spectator, the London Athenaeum, and from Evert Duyckinck's review that appeared in the New York Literary World. Shorter extracts follow showing the curious and extravagant critical language used to describe Moby-Dick in its early years. The final two extracts are by Henry S. Salt, an English critic, largely responsible for maintaining a critical interest in Moby-Dick throughout the latter years of the nineteenth century.
CHAPTER TWO The `Melville Revival' Examines the upsurge of interest in Melville that followed World War I. There is a discussion of the impact of war and modernism on the way in which Melville's novel was read. A brief extract from Carl Van Doren's essay on Moby-Dick for the Cambridge History of American Literature (1917) is followed by a long extract from D.H. Lawrence's influential book Studies in Classic American Literature (1922). E.M. Forster's reading of the novel from his Aspects of the Novel (1927) is then followed by an extract from the first serious critical study of Melville, Lewis Mumford's Herman Melville (1929). Both these readings show the often bizarre ways in which critics struggled to analyse Moby-Dick.
CHAPTER THREE The 1940s: Moby-Dick and the `American Renaissance' Examines Moby-Dick's central place in what F.O. Matthiessen describes as an `American Renaissance' that took place in antebellum America. The first two long extracts are taken from Matthiessen's American Renaissance (1941). A discussion of Shakespeare's influence on critical discussions of Moby-Dick is developed by examining Charles Olson's magnificent Call Me Ishmael (1947). The final extract is from Richard Chase's Herman Melville: A Critical Study (1949), and leads to a brief discussion of how criticism of Moby-Dick has examined fundamental myths of American identity.
CHAPTER FOUR The 1950s: `Myth Criticism' and the Growth of American Studies The three extracts in this chapter are all crucial documents in the development of American Studies. This chapter examines the myths of America that have been employed in order to explain Moby-Dick's symbolic language. The first extract is from Henry Murray's influential psychoanalytic reading of Moby-Dick `In Nomine Diaboli' (1951). The following two extracts are from books which set the terms for `Americanist' criticism, Charles Fiedelson's Symbolism and American Literature (1953), and R.W.B. Lewis' The American Adam (1955).
CHAPTER FIVE Formalist Approaches, Humanist Readings Ranging from 1951 to 1986, the formalist and humanist concerns of these essays are considered. The importance of formalism and humanism to the school of `New Criticism' is discussed in relation to Walter Bezanson's essay `Moby-Dick: Work of Art' (1951). The influence of formalist critical practices is then assessed in relation to the readings of Moby-Dick given by John Seelye in his book Melville: The Ironic Diagram (1970), and in Lawrence Buell's essay `Moby-Dick as Sacred Text', which is extracted from the book New Essays on Moby-Dick (1986), edited by Richard Brodhead.
CHAPTER SIX Cultural Materialism and `Reconstructive' Readings Deals with the influence of `cultural materialism' on Moby-Dick criticism. The four extracts in this chapter place Moby-Dick in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century American culture of which it is a product. The first two extracts analyse Moby-Dick in relation to specific aspects of antebellum American culture: Paul Royster's essay `Melville's Economy of Language' (1986) examines the impact of capitalism on Melville's novel, and the extract from David Leverenz's Manhood and the American Renaissance (1989) discusses the novel in relation to discourses of manhood. The relationship between Melville's novel and American culture is examined more generally in the final two extracts, from Leo Bersani's excellent book The Culture of Redemption (1990), and David S. Reynolds' essay' "Its wood could only be American!": Moby-Dick and Antebellum Popular Culture' (1992).
CHAPTER SEVEN Deconstructive Reading, `Post-humanist' Critiques and `New Americanists' Presents some `postmodern' perspectives on Moby-Dick. The two main extracts in this chapter show Moby-Dick's complicity in an American ideological agenda. Donald E. Pease's essay `Moby Dick and the Cold War' (1985) reads Melville's novel alongside American Cold War ideology of the 1950s. And Wai-chee Dimock's `Ahab's Manifest Destiny' (1991) deconstructs the imperialist discourses that underpin Melville's depiction of Ahab. A final, brief, extract from William V. Spanos' recent book The Errant Art of Moby-Dick (1995) brings the chapter to a close by opening up a consideration of deconstructive critical practices in relation to Moby-Dick in particular and American culture in general.

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