The Sign of the Cannibal: Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader

The Sign of the Cannibal: Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader

by Geoffrey Sanborn
     
 

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In The Sign of the Cannibal Geoffrey Sanborn offers a major reassessment of the work of Herman Melville, a definitive history of the post-Enlightenment discourse on cannibalism, and a provocative contribution to postcolonial theory. These investigations not only explore mid–nineteenth century resistance to the colonial enterprise but argue that

Overview

In The Sign of the Cannibal Geoffrey Sanborn offers a major reassessment of the work of Herman Melville, a definitive history of the post-Enlightenment discourse on cannibalism, and a provocative contribution to postcolonial theory. These investigations not only explore mid–nineteenth century resistance to the colonial enterprise but argue that Melville, using the discourse on cannibalism to critique colonialism, contributed to the production of resistance.
Sanborn focuses on the representations of cannibalism in three of Melville’s key texts—Typee, Moby-Dick, and “Benito Cereno.” Drawing on accounts of Pacific voyages from two centuries and virtually the entire corpus of the post-Enlightenment discourse on cannibalism, he shows how Melville used his narratives to work through the ways in which cannibalism had been understood. In so doing, argues Sanborn, Melville sought to move his readers through stages of possible responses to the phenomenon in order to lead them to consider alternatives to established assumptions and conventions—to understand that in the savage they see primarily their own fear and fascination. Melville thus becomes a narrator of the postcolonial encounter as he uncovers the dynamic of dread and menace that marks the Western construction of the “non-savage” human.
Extending the work of Slavoj Zizek and Homi Bhabha while providing significant new insights into the work of Melville, The Sign of the Cannibal represents a breakthrough for students and scholars of postcolonial theory, American literary history, critical anthropology, race, and masculinity.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Sanborn gives us a systematic, lucid, and thoroughly engaging analysis of the colonial response to cannibalism that illuminates the culture while shedding new light on Melville’s works from Typee to ‘Benito Cereno.’”—John Bryant, Hofstra University

“With a rare precision and insight, Sanborn offers a series of intricate, resonant, and iconoclastic readings of Melville’s texts. The Sign of the Cannibal is incisive, illuminating, and beautifully written.”—Samuel Otter, University of California at Berkeley

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780822321187
Publisher:
Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
08/07/1998
Series:
New Americanists
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.91(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.82(d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Sanborn is Assistant Professor of English at Fairfield University.

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