The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies
Duke University Press, 1995 - 374 pages
In The Errant Art of "Moby-Dick," one of America’s most distinguished critics reexamines Melville’s monumental novel and turns the occasion into a meditation on the history and implications of canon formation. In Moby-Dick—a work virtually ignored and discredited at the time of its publication—William V. Spanos uncovers a text remarkably suited as a foundation for a "New Americanist" critique of the ideology based on Puritan origins that was codified in the canon established by "Old Americanist" critics from F. O. Matthiessen to Lionel Trilling. But Spanos also shows, with the novel still as his focus, the limitations of this "New Americanist" discourse and its failure to escape the totalizing imperial perspective it finds in its predecessor.
Combining Heideggerian ontology with a sociopolitical perspective derived primarily from Foucault, the reading of Moby-Dick that forms the center of this book demonstrates that the traditional identification of Melville’s novel as a "romance" renders it complicitous in the discourse of the Cold War. At the same time, Spanos shows how New Americanist criticism overlooks the degree to which Moby-Dick anticipates not only America’s self-representation as the savior of the world against communism, but also the emergent postmodern and anti-imperial discourse deployed against such an image. Spanos’s critique reveals the extraordinary relevance of Melville’s novel as a post-Cold War text, foreshadowing not only the self-destructive end of the historical formation of the American cultural identity in the genocidal assault on Vietnam, but also the reactionary labeling of the current era as "the end of history."
This provocative and challenging study presents not only a new view of the development of literary history in the United States, but a devastating critique of the genealogy of ideology in the American cultural establishment.
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Ahab American Adam American cultural American literary American Renaissance Americanists anthropological Bercovitch called canon Captain Ahab's cetology chapter Charles Olson Cold Cold War Confidence-Man contemporary context criticism critique Derrida destructive difference differential disciplinary discloses discourse errant exegetical F. O. Matthiessen Father Mapple's fiction genealogy Heidegger Heidegger's Herman Melville hermeneutics historically specific human humanist identity ideological imperial interpretation interrogation invokes Ishmael Ishmael's narrative Jonah liberal logic Martin Heidegger Melville's novel Melville's text metaphorics metaphysical Michel Foucault Moby Dick Moby-Dick modern Modernist negative capability occasion ontological overdetermines panoptic Pease's Pequod perspective Pierre political postmodern practice privileged problematic Puritan R. W. B. Lewis reading relay representation represented resonant retrieval rhetoric self-reliant simply sociopolitical spatial Starbuck structure suggest temporal thematize things Thomas Pynchon tion tradition tragedy tragic trans truth unerring University Press Vietnam Vietnam War Visionary Compacts white whale words writing York