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The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies

Overview


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....
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The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies

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Overview


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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Errant Art of Moby-Dick retrieves for all of us the errant art of critical reading, which no mere program of cynical professionalism or fashionable ‘new historicism’ could ever successfully practice in any genuine sense. As such, this work is a major intervention in Melville studies, American literature studies, and the culture of criticism generally."—Daniel O’Hara, Temple University

"An exciting and important work, one that is a major contribution to Melville studies and to American cultural history. It is an eloquent and impassioned defense of theory in the face of a militant resistance to it both by traditional humanist critics and by certain New Historicists."—Edgar A. Dryden, University of Arizona

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822315995
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/1995
  • Series: New Americanists
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

William V. Spanos is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the State University of New York, Binghamton. He is the founding editor of boundary 2 and the author of many books, including The End of Education and Heidegger and Criticism.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Moby-Dick and the American Canon 1
Posthumanist Theory and Canon Formation 2
A Genealogical History of the Reception of Moby-Dick, 1850-1945 12
The New Americanist "Field-Imaginary" and the Vietnam War 23
The New Americanists and Moby-Dick 31
The Limits of the New Americanist Discourse 36
2 Metaphysics and Spatial Form: Melville's Critique of Speculative Philosophy and Fiction 43
Tragic Vision and Metaphysics 47
Tragic Vision and Moby-Dick 54
Melville's Errant Measure: The Testimony of the Fiction Following Moby-Dick 61
3 The Errant Art of Moby-Dick 75
The Question of Ishmael's Name 75
Ishmael's Reading of Father Mapple's Reading of the Jonah Text 87
The Centered Circle, the Imperial Gaze, and Abasement 114
The American Adam and the Naming of the White Whale 121
Ishmael and the Unnaming of Moby Dick 127
Ishmael, Theory, and Practice 131
The Self as Orphan 148
Ishmael and Negative Capability 156
Representation and Errancy: The Art of Narration 166
Cetology and Discipline 185
Political Economy in Moby-Dick: Toward a Counterhegemony 204
Repetition and the Indissoluble Continuum of Being: Melville's Polis 226
Moby-Dick as Diabolic Book 232
The Question of Ishmael's Name: A Repetition 245
The Struggle to Appropriate Moby-Dick: Indeterminacy and Positionality 247
4 Moby-Dick and the Contemporary American Occasion 250
The "Vietnam Syndrome" 250
Fredric Jameson and Frank Lentricchia: Reading Michael Herr's Dispatches 252
The Postmodernity of the Vietnam War 257
Moby-Dick and the Vietnam War 266
Notes 279
Bibliography 353
Index 365
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