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Melville's Quarrel With God

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“A Bosom Friend,” Chapter 10 of Moby-Dick, concludes with a literary travesty on the Golden Rule, a norm of obligation to others as to self. If God’s will is that we treat our neighbors as ourselves, and if the narrator, Ishmael, desires his neighbor Queequeg join him in Presbyterian worship, then he must join his new friend’s devotion to his god, Yojo: “ergo, I must turn idolator.” This is after Ishmael has heard Father Mapple’s sermon on Jonah, and after Queequeg has become his bedmate at the Spouter-Inn in New Bedford. Queequeg also heard Mapple preach, though left early to return to the inn. So the sermon scene is framed by Queequeg scenes. From one angle, putting Yojo beside the biblical God, or whale hunting with the Golden Rule, can seem to dismiss as absurd these juxtapositions’ terms and questions: of sin, the designs of God, and prophetic calling versus fate, chance, and whoever happens to be one’s neighbor. From another angle, were such terms merely ‘travestied’ as negation, little import would remain in deploying them. This essay considers how, in Chapters 7–12, 16–18, 94, and elsewhere in Moby-Dick, Melville’s juxtaposing parody, satire, travesty and the like with compelling religious and ethical concerns—a rhetoric he occasionally calls “skylarking”—contributes to the novel’s realization of a narrative ethics of mutuality.
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This paper studies Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Celestial Railroad" as a critique of Bunyan's visionary tale, Pilgrim's Progress, and examines the transformation of its religious ethos in the context of antebellum America. To this aim, this study mainly focuses on Hawthorne's criticism of supernatural explanations, religious teleology, and divine salvation from the New Historical perspective of subversion and containment, and the way they are transformed in terms of natural explanations, chance, and secularly-minded terrestrial salvation, respectively. As a rewriting of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, "The Celestial Railroad" not only subverts the dogmatic and authoritarian religiosity of its predecessor but also demonstrates the containment of this religious discourse in a more this-worldly, humanistic, and secular vision, as the narrative is also vigilant about the repercussions that this transformation might bring about. The controversial and unsatisfactory ending of "The Celestial Railroad" is shown to be a point of strength in the story via two different interpretations: first, by appealing to the fictional nature of the dream vision, the ending undermines the truth claim ascribed to visions in the past and is thus made more appropriate to modern interpretations of dreams. Second, the contradiction at the end can function as a distraction to blur Hawthorne's intentions and to protect him against possible accusations.
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The nineteenth-century American novelist, Herman Melville, is oftentimes viewed as a multi-cultured innovator who possibly anticipated post-modernism. In his epic romance, Mardi, Melville incorporates aspects of Orientalism within a Westernized framework, thereby eroding cultural borders. This article focuses on Arabian Nights as one possible parent text for Mardi on the one hand, and on Melville’s naturalization of certain Orientalist concepts in his novel on the other. Furthermore, it explores the question of whether Melville “whitewashes” the Eastern narrative to naturalize the text and thus familiarize Westerners with a foreign culture in the spirit of multi-culturalism, or whether he simply subscribes to the Orientalist stereotypes prevalent in nineteenthcentury America. Keywords: Melville, Mardi, Arabian Nights, Orientalism, whitewashing, naturalization
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Be, being and becoming provide a limit to the analysis of the terms of master-servant childhood because these words make meaning possible by containing none. This is a special problem for the terms of childhood because they are all (ultimately) grounded in being. But, this limit is also the great source of childhood’s ontological and historical significance. The discursive shifts of childhood over time provide important opportunities for gathering a historical sense of the self, gaining insight into the historicity of being human, and making a historical ontology possible. This section offers explorations in this direction through literary, philosophical, and theological analysis of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Boy Bishop, apocryphal and canonical texts, and the Lives of Saints, among other texts — ancient, medieval and modern.
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The juxtaposition of models of God and Christian faith may seem repugnant to many, as models are tentative and faith aims at an abiding certainty. In fact, for many Christians, using models of God in worship amounts to idolatry. By examining Biblical and extra-Biblical views of idolatry, I argue that models are not idols. To the contrary, the practice of God-modeling inoculates Christians against one of the most seductive idols of our age: the love of certainty. Furthermore, by examining meditations upon certainty in Melville’s Moby Dick and the early discourses of the Buddha, I suggest that overweening conviction is a vice that hinders rather than guarantees Christian discipleship, and that Christian faith is better defined as any or all of the following: relative confidence in propositions, faithful relationship, and a virtue of disciplined credulity.
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The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville provides timely, critical essays on Melville's classic works. The essays have been specially commissioned for this volume and provide a complete overview of Melville's career. Melville's major novels are discussed, along with a range of his short fiction and poetry, including neglected works ripe for rediscovery. The volume includes essays on such new topics as Melville and oceanic studies, Melville and animal studies, and Melville and the planetary, along with a number of essays that focus on form and aesthetics. Written at a level both challenging and accessible, this New Companion brings together a team of leading international scholars to offer students of American literature the most comprehensive introduction available to Melville's art.
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This article discusses a 1945 Flemish translation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick that has been attributed to the literary critic Paul de Man and yet has been unduly neglected by de Man scholars. The article takes issue with the claim that the Moby-Dick translation entails a radical break with de Man’s newspaper writings of previous years. De Man’s motivation for translating Moby-Dick is considered in relation to the reception of the book in the framework of the Conservative Revolution in Europe. It is further shown that de Man probably took inspiration from a 1941 French translation by Jean Giono, which proved a vehicle for warring ideologies in occupied France. Analysis of the de Man translation focuses both on the paratextual framing and on passages where his own perspective disrupts the univocity of the text. The purpose of drawing attention to the continuities between de Man’s wartime journalism and the Moby-Dick translation is to arrive at a better understanding of the pervasiveness and fractured nature of the totalizing ideologies shared by many intellectuals in wartime Europe, which offered a fertile breeding ground for, but were by no means reducible to, the Nazi doctrines.
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1. Hawthorne's account of Melville's visit to him in Liverpool appears in his English Notebooks and is quoted in "Further Records" (NN Journals 628-29). For a sensitive biographical analysis of the developments in Melville's life to which I refer, see Robertson-Lorant. 2. Ra'ad summarizes the controversies over "whether to equate the Palestinians with Arabs, Philistines, or Cana'anites—all supposedly negatively conceived" (36). 3. I thank Basem Ra'ad for pointing out that Melville apparently confused the Mosque of Omar with the Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. On the dubiousness of the tradition identifying the Western or Wailing Wall with the site of Solomon's temple, see Ra'ad 75-77. 4. Ilan Halevi writes: "[H]owever much sympathy, and even enthusiasm, the Zionist cause and Israel aroused among the Ashkenazi diaspora, the Jews did not want to leave the societies that had absorbed them and protected them. They did not even leave the countries of Europe where their loved ones had just been murdered, once democracy . . . assured them the rights previously denied them. . . . [T]he very existence of a Jewish state somewhere, by normalizing the image of Jewishness, made the diaspora more liveable, and confirmed Jews in their preference for Europe or America" (Halevi 196). Halevi also reports that in 1948 "there were only 650,000 Jews in Palestine: fewer than the Arabs driven out" (195). For the 2010 population of Israel, Wikipedia cites a figure of 5,776,500 Jews out of a total of 7.6 million. 5. Sternhell adds: "[T]he kibbutz served as an alibi for the whole [Zionist] movement, which almost from its inception was contrary to the lifestyle of an egalitarian society. . . . At the same time, the kibbutz lent legitimacy to the existing social order, and the focus on it permitted the movement to avoid concerning itself with the necessity of making structural changes in the general society." The figures on the work force of the present-day kibbutz are drawn from Wikipedia ("Kibbutz"). See also Sitta 308 and Shafir ch. 3. 6. Taking issue with Shehadeh's criticism of Melville, Ra'ad argues: "Melville eventually developed an aesthetic of barrenness that is relevant to the evolution of artistic expression, as a precursor to modernism and abstract art." Regarding the landscape, he notes: "[C]ertain places in Palestine have always been and will always remain 'barren.' Other places are green or fertile (such as Hebron, or sections around Gaza, Jericho and Jaffa, or the north)" (Ra'ad 84).
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Revolution and law are joined in Billy Budd — and were from its inception. According to the Genetic Text editors, Herman Melville's last work began as a headnote to a ballad about a condemned naval mutineer. Gradually, this kernel evolved into a prose narrative set in 1797, the year of seemingly contagious British naval mutinies — notably Spithead and “The Great Mutiny” at the Nore — that threatened the prosecution of England's naval war against the regicidal French revolutionary forces. By the time Melville had fixed upon these emblematic, modern political events for his scene, the mutineer of the ballad, an older and probably guilty man, had become a very different figure (Hayford and Sealts, 2). Billy Budd's extraordinary qualities now speak to the injustice of his capital sentence, whereas Captain Vere's judgment speaks to the imperative of necessity. This conflict is reflected not only in the doubts of the drumhead court that sentences Billy, but in the arguments of generations of critics and the midrash of commentary the novel has engendered.
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IntroductionTwo Hieroglyphic ScenesIconographiesDesert Mythology: Architecture of Belief and UnbeliefConsciousness: Landscape as ProtagonistTransformed Icons
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