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February 8, 2007

Melville...he still haunts me. Everywhere I go, he's there. He is my past, present and future.

I actually enjoyed the interlude by Keesey as he introduced the Kaplan essay, addressing:

"'the image of Melville as subtle abolitionist in "Benito Cereno" may be a contribution of generous wish rather than hard fact." It is the task of the literary historian, however, to discover not what the reader may want the story to mean, but what its author meant."

The connections to the slave ship revolts cannot be ignored, as they were integral in world affairs, especially for Americans. As one of the major voices in American literature, it was almost expected that Melville would comment on them in some form or another.

Other than standing on a box on the street corner, there was no medium by which one can spread their opinions further than in conversation or, at best, a local publication. There were no blogs in those days. In this modern day, every single person can make their opinions known, no matter how obscure, abstract or quirky.

Social commentary no longer has to be done in subtle ways like writing a short story or poem. One could take the direct route, like our buddy T.S. Eliot did and write an essay, but there is a stigma attached to that. When a great American voice writes a story, people will read it. In a time of turmoil though, did Melville really wish to allow his true sentiments be known, knowing there will be consequences for whatever he say? If he writes a staunchly abolitionist work, then the pro-slavery crowd will call for his head, whereas if he writes a pro-slavery work, the abolitionist movement would label and boycott.

Did he just simply have to do a fancy little dance around the issues while writing his story so that either side can be argued? Was he a racist? An abolitionist? Simply by Captain Delano's view of the precious cargo of slaves...who becomes hostile, but still seen as property...where does it all fall in?

Even after the Kaplan piece...I still don't know. Like...ugh. Damn you, Melville. Damn you.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at February 8, 2007 3:53 PM


I read your title: "Melville...he still haunts me. Everywhere I go, he's there. He is my past, present and future." and I thought of this immediately.

Have you seen it?

Posted by: Anna at February 10, 2007 11:29 PM

Cussing at Melville doesn't do anything, but I'm sure if you asked him nicely, he'd haunt you and tell you exactly what he meant.

But that would be far too easy. If he DID return in ghost form, he would instead use long, long setences with many metaphors to confuse you, as well and ambiguous statements that will make you question his meaning, even though he just told you.

Ugh, I agree. Damn you, ghost Melville, making us have to think like that!

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at February 15, 2007 1:11 AM

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