The Clare Spark Blog

October 23, 2009

Murdered by the Mob: Moral Mothers and Symbolist poets

Mad Kate

Mad Kate

In my own quiet way, I am attempting to revise “psychoanalysis” by inspecting the imaginations of individual artists, many of whom died early. Raymond M. Weaver of Columbia University was the first modern biographer of  Herman Melville; he was also an uncloseted gay man, an author, and possibly a sadomasochist. Numerous subsequent Melville critics attacked his biography as “Freudian” and Weaver himself as a radical.  James Thomson (“B.V.”) was an English nineteenth-century radical journalist and poet, author of The City of Dreadful Night, and was an admirer of Melville, who reciprocated his interest. All three men came from Calvinist backgrounds, but can be seen as pagan in their sympathies.

In this excerpt from an unpublished ms., I use the Melville-Thomson-Weaver triad to probe the sexual and class politics of some Symbolists as they encountered “the modern woman” (for them, the moral mother as Goddess of Annihilation/the Mob). We begin with the perception that Weaver was a radical insurgent, a liberal, or a Freudian; I will try to more fully describe Weaver’s social imagination: we shall see that Weaver, like other Romantics and Symbolists, led a double life, oscillating between the defiance and capitulation we have seen before in the contrasting postures of romantic and repentant Wandering Jews. Quotes from rare sources are used throughout, using my collage technique. The blog is rated X. (For part two see Since the essay is a collage, I shall take the name of  Fuseli’s Mad Kate for my interpretative comments.

[Hughes on Daniel Macmillan, 1837, 58-59:] [Daniel Macmillan’s] recovery was slow, and he had to spend the next two months in Scotland, this time for the most part in towns where he came across numbers of mechanics and weavers, a sad contrast to the poor peasants of Arran, intercourse with whom had so cheered him three years before. “The discontent of the lower classes is most painful in itself,” he writes, “in the form it takes, and the spirit it springs from. How different was the old Covenanter spirit. These Covenanters were most noble. They fought for God’s truth, and wished to rid the earth of whatever was an abomination to the Lord. Duty was the highest thing to them, and they struggled hard to obey its behest. Their boldness was not a brutal, vulgar, ignorant temerity, without reverence, without faith, but solemn and noble. I feel sure of this, notwithstanding Sir Walter’s graphic misrepresentations. I have often talked with some of the remnant of that old stock,–a few who still keep alive the holy flame,–and know what true refinement lies at the bottom of their noble natures. But, alas, that race is becoming quite extinct. The poor men, the mechanics, weavers, and the like in our towns, care not one farthing for the Covenant, or for those deeper matters of which the Covenant was a symbol. They know nothing about duty or faith, or God; they care only about their rights; they talk only about reform, universal suffrage, from which they look for justice and deliverance from oppression. They do not look up to God for help in the old-fashioned way. This may be a ‘progress of humanity,’ and all the rest of that jargon, but I, for one, cannot admire it.”

[W.B. Yeats, Early Memories, MCMXXII, 21] Sometimes here in New York I have wandered into apartments and among people where they were running some great factory for the production of opinion, anarchist, socialist, pacifist, I know not what. The din seemed that of the trenches, only that instead of heroism and the sobering effect of great issues on which man stand face to face with death itself, we have small antagonisms and vanity and temper, always temper, and instead of intensity, vehemence; and pitiful mental and moral squalor of men trying to dominate, and with that end in view quite content to be shallow in feeling as in thought; quite willing, also, to insult with ugliness and to make themselves ugly–in fact, anything for effect! To be with my old friend was like entering a shaded parlor, its quiet only broken by the rustling noise of a fire burning briskly on the hearthstone.

[The Grand Conspiracy of the Members against the Minde, of Jewes against their King, by John Allington [a sequestered Divine], London, 1653:] An example strongly convincing me, that even the Law and light of Nature, were it not clouded with carnall and perverse affections, even that glimmering light were enough to teach the minde, that resist we may not against God’s ordinance.

[Shelley, “Passage from The Wandering Jew”:] The Elements respect their Maker’s seal!/ Still like the scathed pine tree’s height,/ Braving the tempests of the night/ Have I ‘scaped the bickering flame./ Like the scath’d pine, which a monument stands/ Of faded grandeur, which the brands/ Of the tempest-shaken air/ Have riven on the desolate heath;/Yet it stands majestic even in death,/And rears its wild form there.

[W.B. Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, 1922, 58-60:] I know very little about myself and much less of that anti-self: probably the woman who cooks my dinner or the woman who sweeps out my study knows more than I. It is perhaps because nature made me a gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for conversation, and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest conviction, that I love proud and lonely things. When I was a child and went daily to the sexton’s daughter for writing lessons, I found one poem in her School Reader that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment of some metrical translation from Aristophanes wherein the birds sing scorn upon mankind. In later years my mind gave itself to gregarious Shelley’s dream of a young man, his hair blanched with sorrow, studying philosophy in some lonely tower, or of his old man, master of all human knowledge, hidden from human sight in some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean shore. One passage above all ran perpetually in my ears–“Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream/ He was pre-Adamite, and has survived/ Cycles of generation and of ruin./ The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence,/ And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,/ Deep contemplation and unwearied study,/ In years outstretched beyond the date of man,/ May have attained to sovereignty and science/ Over those strange and secret things and thoughts/ Which others fear and know not.”…Certainly if wisdom existed anywhere in the world it must be in some such lonely mind admitting no duty to us, communing with God only, conceding nothing from fear or favour. Have not all peoples, while bound together in a single mind and taste, believed that such men existed and paid them that honour, or paid it to their mere shadow, which they have refused to philanthropists and to men of learning?

[Axel to Sara, Axel’s Castle, MCMXXV:] The external world! Let us not be gulled by the old slave who sits fettered in broad daylight at our feet and promises us the keys of an enchanted palace when his clenched sooty fist hides only a handful of ashes!

[Mad Kate:] In both his 1919 essay on Melville and in the 1936 attack on Lionel Trilling, Weaver had distanced himself from “Freudians,” perhaps too vehemently. A receipt in his files show that he was reading The Psychology of Insanity while researching the Melville book; Joseph Freeman wrote that Weaver had introduced him to Freud through A.A. Brill;[1] meanwhile unpublished letters to John Erskine and Mark Van Doren suggest or indicate that he was under psychiatric (probably not psychoanalytic) supervision shortly before his death, and probably earlier. Before we examine these and other Weaver materials at Columbia University, I shall draw out Weaver’s intellectual debt to the Romantic tradition, particularly to the Victorian poet and radical reformer James Thomson (“B. V.”), whose affinity to Melville is well known, but has not been analyzed in the Melville scholarship. Weaver frequently cites Thomson in Mariner and Mystic; the politics of Sphinxes and Medusas are plainly drawn in Thomson’s Symbolist poetry.  Thomson admired Shelley, whose sequence of poems: Queen Mab (1813), The Mask of Anarchy (1819), Beatrice Cenci (1819), and Prometheus Bound (1820), suggests the pattern of revolt and recantation one sees in Hawthorne, Melville, Thomson, and Weaver. For instance, in The Mask of Anarchy, “written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester,” Shelley advises “the many” to passively resist future assaults by “the few” by resolutely refusing to answer violence with anarchic violence, thus shaming their persecutors who will reform and desist.[2]

Perhaps these pure young men and the readers who respond to their art react furiously against illegitimate parental authority and excessive punishment by “bitter and biting” sainted mothers, but then turn their contaminating aggression inward.  Romantic defiance seeks the inner check to preserve the family: Comes now the repentant Wandering Jew, following, not truth, but longing for the violent death of annihilation or the easeful death of oblivion, “conquering penance of the mutinous flesh” thus “attained to sovereignty and science over those strange and secret things and thoughts which others fear and know not.”[3] Such asceticism, both admired and resented by (the child in?) Yeats, is an evasion of personal history that protects the pure and Christ-like suffering mother. The ancient witch archetype makes sense to these “allegorical” writers and their witch-hunting friends not because of a “collective unconscious” or because they simply copy other writers or because they are inscribed with a cultural code or because mothers (not fathers) socialize children. Rather, my collected witch-hunters share an unusable past, partly or entirely repressing the same searing memory: the now benignant, now malignant evangelical mother whose flashing eyes and burning criticisms implied abandonment and death to the child who has been too needy, dirty, rude, or unhappy and who persistently asks the “why” question. Such writers will create “doubles” to confront the abusive parent whom they may never cease to idealize; but the double will die, dying only to return in another costume.

James Thomson said he was thinking both of Dürer’s figure of Melencolia[4] and the Victorian Radical George Eliot when he constructed the heroic female figure who rules his City of Dreadful Night, but it is possible that he also drew upon Shelley’s Wandering Jew fragment (while installing his own pessimism into Melencolia’s “tenebrous regard”) for Thomson’s Melencolia does not suffer from writer’s block, as does Panofsky’s. Here She is:

[Thomson:] Anear the centre of that northern crest/ Stands out a level upland bleak and bare,/ From which the city east and south and west/ Sinks gently in long waves; and throned there/ An Image sits, stupendous, superhuman,/ The bronze colossus of a winged Woman,/ Upon a graded granite base foursquare.

Low-seated she leans forward massively,/ With cheek on clenched left hand, the forearm’s might/ Erect, its elbow on her rounded knee;/ Across a clasped book in her lap the right/ Upholds a pair of compasses; she gazes/ With full set eyes, but wandering in thick mazes/ Of sombre thought beholds no outward sight….

Unvanquished in defeat and desolation,/ Undaunted in the hopeless conflagration/ Of the day setting on her baffled prime.

Baffled and beaten back she works on still,/ Weary and sick of soul she works the more,/ Sustained by her indomitable will:/ The hands shall fashion and the brain shall pore,/ And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour,/ Till Death the friend-foe piercing with his sabre/ That mighty heart of hearts ends bitter war.

But as if blacker night could dawn on night,/ With tenfold gloom on moonless night unstarred,/ A sense more tragic than defeat and blight,/ More desperate than strife with hope debarred,/ More fatal than the adamantine Never/ Encompassing her passionate endeavour,/ Dawns glooming in her tenebrous regard:

The sense that every struggle brings defeat/ Because Fate holds no prize to crown success;/ That all the oracles are dumb or cheat/ Because they have no secret to express;/ That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain/ Because there is no light beyond the curtain;/ That all is vanity and nothingness….

…Her subjects often gaze up to her there:/ The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance,/ The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance/ And confirmation of the old despair.[5]

[Mad Kate:] Throughout Melville, Thomson and Weaver, I have found an obsession with this Mother: the outwardly beguiling and impressive but inwardly terrible Nature goddess of the fatherless nineteenth century: with “the instruments of carpentry and science scattered about her feet” Melencolia is a Promethean figure of science, artisan revolt, and indomitable aspiration, like Milton’s Mammon, turning sorrow into labor, but whose “full set eyes…wandering in thick mazes of sombre thought” crazily pore into the heart of things…to discover the void which Thomson’s desperate characters had asserted earlier in the poem.   Following the logic of Thomson’s imagery in this and other works, however, Melencolia may not have discovered anything; rather, she has created the void by destroying all meaning in the universe with her “tenebrous regard,” with the eyes that belong not to “science” or to the process of introspection, but to the punitive mother crucifying the furious but cowed and silent child, and carrying not only her own deadly disapproval, but his.

The abused child is trapped through introjection of the cruel parent’s judgment; by internalizing the parent’s point of view with masochistic self-punishment and/or the sadistic punishment of other “evildoers,” the child is temporarily relieved of the dragging burden of anxiety brought up by filial opposition, specifically, the sense that his anger has poisoned the family well, that he has brought greyness to a clearly delineated black and white world. Disowning or repenting of his world-destroying feelings, the purified ex-rebel child/man stands tall to declare  “objectively” that all striving for knowledge, goodness, and happiness is misguided, pointless and dangerous; revolution, even reform, is “vanity” or terminal narcissism: the unpardonable sin of excessive self-regard.

[This passage refers to Melville’s “crazy” novel, Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852).] The apple of the tree of knowledge  (which confers knowledge of both good and evil) has turned to ashes in the mouths of Milton’s rebel angels (the snakylocks); after Pierre learns of his idealized father’s duplicity and tries to rectify this hero-worship by blending previously split images of happy and sad father (a view which brings him into opposition with his mother), he dissociates. After Pierre recovers his “composure” he looks inside himself to see a charred landscape, a frightening image which presages the final catastrophe. We are to conclude that there is no truth, there are only “rebel senses,” “points of view,” and dauntingly endless ambiguities. However, such melancholy formulations may not be hard-won bold and risky “truths.”  Before we acquiesce in the ever more fashionable attacks on the Enlightenment,[6] we might consider how convenient such drastically subjectivist and anti-materialist epistemologies most certainly are and have been to conservatives and reactionaries in class societies bent on monopolizing learning: terrorizing the many in order to limit the impious curiosity and self-confidence of, say, public library patrons that threaten to delegitimize established authority. We look to earlier passages in Thomson’s poem and a predecessor, To Our Ladies of Death (1861), to propose a source for Melville’s Mortmain[a disillusioned ex-revolutionary in Clarel], and the imagery which expressed Raymond Weaver’s nihilism (in his own view, apparently, sadomasochism) and the rationalization for his destructive behavior–but also which may have prepared him to grasp some of the pressing structures in another Ishmael’s psyche.


[James Thomson:] …Some say that phantoms haunt those shadowy streets,/ And mingle freely there with sparse mankind;/ And tell of ancient woes and black defeats,/ And murmur mysteries in the  grave enshrined:/ But others think them visions of illusion,/ Or even men gone far in self-confusion;/ No man there being wholly sane in mind.

And yet a man who raves, however mad,/ Who bares his heart and tells of his own fall,/ Reserves some inmost secret good or bad:/ The phantoms have no reticence at all:/ The nudity of flesh will blush through tameless,/ The extreme nudity of bone grins shameless,/ The unsexed skeleton mocks shroud and pall.

I have seen phantoms there that were as men/ And men that were as phantoms flit and roam;/ Marked shapes that were not living to my ken,/ Caught breathings acrid as with Dead Sea foam:/ The City rests for man so weird and awful,/ That his intrusion there might seem unlawful,/ And phantoms there may have their proper home….

“Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?/ I think myself; yet I would rather be/  My miserable self than He, than He/ Who formed such creatures to his own disgrace.

“The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou/ From whom it had its being, God and Lord!/ Creator of all woe and sin! abhorred,/ Malignant and implacable! I vow

“That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,/ For all the temples to Thy glory built,/ Would I assume the ignominious guilt/ Of having made such men in such a world.”

“As if a Being, God or Fiend, could reign,/At once so wicked, foolish, and insane,/As to produce men when He might refrain!

“The world rolls round for ever like a mill;/ It grinds out death and life and good and ill;/ It has no purpose, heart or mind or will….”

Man might know one thing were his sight less dim;/ That it whirls not to suit his petty whim,/ That it is quite indifferent to him….” [James Thomson, City, 1874.] [7]

[Raymond Weaver:] Full divers times I fall a thinking,/ Thinking of this life on earth,/ Thinking of the scheme of man,/ Thinking of his roles from birth;/ Thinking how he strives and masters,/ Falling, how he braves disasters,/ Thinking how he shirks square labors,/ Rough cabals onto his neighbors;/ How cunningly he strokes designs,/ To cull the gold from strait confines,/ Until at last, I fall ablinking,/ Blinking in my cushioned chair.

Witness man’s affections waver,/ How untruly full they savor;/ Mastered still by earthly passions,/ Yet impelled by Gobbo’s fashions;/ How unaptly reigns his reason,/ Yet how choicely tricks in season./ Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,/ Then I tire in my chair,/ Fidget, wriggle, turn to visions/ And my heart falls in despair./ Nature’s dogmas, planned to follow,/ Leave no loopholes fools to wallow,/ Nature’s laws are last decrees,/ Rendered final, how they tease,/ Enigmatic, sealed, charaded,/ E’er long it was light evaded./ Seeing that ’tis useless picking,/ I subject me to the licking.

Yet postulatum humbly offered,/ If in spirit fair ’tis proffered,/ Can’t but lessen, if a mite,/ The burden of the clouded sight./ This life is but a quickened vision,/ Reserved for men of fast decision,/ Replica’d in salient phrases,/ Birth and love and death that razes,/ This cosmic unit whole, entire,/ Is but a ghastly bog of mire,/ For him who waits and waits and waits,/ And him who prates and prates and prates. [“A Soliloquy,” R.W., Headlined “He Philosophizes on Life, In Poetry. ‘R.W.’ Waxes Poe-esque in Anathemmatizing [sic] the Cosmic Unit.” Oct.4, 1919, Evening Sun. Weaver papers; he was working on the Melville biography.]

[Thomson:] Next Thou, O sibyl, sorceress and queen,/ Our Lady of Annihilation, Thou!/ Of mighty stature, of demoniac mien;/ Upon whose swarthy face and livid brow/ Are graven deeply anguish, malice, scorn,/ Strength ravaged by unrest, resolve forlorn/ Of any hope, dazed pride that will not bow.

Thy form is clothed with wings of iron gloom;/ But round about thee, like a chain, is rolled,/ Cramping the sway of every mighty plume,/ A stark constringent serpent fold on fold:/ Of its two heads, one sting is in thy brain,/ The other in thy heart; their venom-pain/ Like fire distilling through thee uncontrolled.

A rod of serpents wieldeth thy right hand;/ Thy left a cup of raging fire, whose light/ Burns lurid on thyself as thou dost stand;/ Thy lidless eyes tenebriously bright;/ Thy wings, thy vesture, thy dishevelled hair/ Dark as the Grave; thou statue of Despair,/ Thou Night essential radiating night.

Thus have I seen thee in thine actual form;/ Not thus can see thee those whom thou dost sway,/ Inscrutable Enchantress: young and warm,/ Pard-beautiful and brilliant, ever gay;/ Thy cup the very Wine of Life, thy rod/ The wand of more voluptuous spells than God can wield in Heaven; thus charmest thou thy prey.

The selfish, fatuous, proud and pitiless,/ All who have falsified life’s royal trust;/ The strong whose strength hath basked in idleness,/ The great heart given up to worldly lust,/ The great mind destitute of moral faith;/ Thou scourgest down to Night and utter death,/ Or penal spheres of retribution just.

O mighty Spirit, fraudful and malign,/ Demon of madness and perversity! The evil passions which may make me thine/ Are not yet irrepressible in me;/ And I have pierced thy mask of riant youth,/ And seen thy form in all its hideous truth:/ I will not, Dreadful Mother, call on Thee….[To Our Ladies of Death, James Thomson, 1861. Thomson chooses the mother of oblivion, rejecting both this annihilating Isabel (the precursor of the Queen who rules the City of Dreadful Night); and the “gracious mother” for whom he is not worthy.]

[George Eliot:]  Dear Poet,–I cannot rest satisfied without telling you that my mind responds with admiration to the distinct vision and grand utterance in the poem which you have been so good as to send me.

Also, I trust that an intellect formed by so much passionate energy as yours will soon give us more heroic strains with a wider embrace of human fellowship in them–such as will be to the labourers of the world what the odes of Tyrtaeus were to the Spartans, thrilling them with the sublimity of the social order and the courage of resistance to all who would dissolve it. To accept life and write much fine poetry is to take a very large share in the quantum of human good, and seems to draw with it necessarily some recognition, affectionate and even joyful, of the manifold willing labours which have made such a lot possible….M. E. Lewes [George Eliot to Thomson, defining good workers, May 30, 1874]

[Thomson:] Dear Madam,…I have no Byronic quarrel with my fellows, whom I find all alike crushed under the iron yoke of Fate, and few of whom I can deem worse than myself, while so many are far better, and I certainly have an affectionate and even joyful recognition of the willing labours of those who have striven to alleviate our lot, though I cannot see that all their efforts have availed much against the primal curse of our existence. Has the world been the better or the worse for the life of even such a man as Jesus? I cannot judge; but I fear on the whole considerably the worse. None the less I can love and revere his memory….

I ventured to send you a copy of the verses (as I ventured to send another to Mr. Carlyle) because I have always read, whether rightly or wrongly, through all the manifold beauty and delightfulness of your works, a character and intellectual destiny akin to that grand and awful Melancholy of Albrecht Durer which dominates the City of my poem….[James Thomson to George Eliot, June 18, 1874, in Henry Salt’s biography of Thomson, owned and marked by Melville (Eliot on labor and order).]

[Mad Kate:]  James Thomson’s religious and political views are said to have shifted from conservatism to pantheism to pessimism and “confident atheism” during his career as a journalist and poet,[8] but his biographers have not studied the continuities in his image of woman, or the childhood experience of early and devastating loss which, like Herman Melville’s, guaranteed that his “politics” would always be grounded in the irrational.  Thomson was an insomniac and an alcoholic who, like Weaver (but unlike Melville in Pierre), was loath to discuss his childhood directly: he did not consciously attack his parents, but displaced his resentment onto nature, reformers, and powerful Jews (as in his essay “An Old Jewish Firm”, attacking Christianity), viewing himself as “Ishmael in the desert from my childhood.”  Like Melville’s family, Thomson’s experienced a “fall in the social scale.” In the autobiographical sketch he provided for his sister-in-law shortly before his death from alcoholism, Thomson demonstrates the selective memory that implicates himself and a “terrible storm” as chief villain and author of his distress:

[Thomson:] “I was just past eight years old and at the school when mother died, so I can only give you very early impressions. These are, that father and mother were very happy together when he was at home, until, when I was about six, he [a sea captain] returned from his last voyage paralyzed in the right side, the result, as I understand, of a week of terrible storm, during which time he was never able to change his drenched clothes. Before then I think he was a good husband and a kind father; her I always remember as a loving mother and wife. He may have been a bit gay, in the sense of liking a social song and a glass, being, I believe, much better looking and more attractive in company than either of his sons. She was more serious, and pious too, following Irving from the Kirk when he was driven out. I remember well Irving’s portrait under yellow gauze, and some books of his on the interpretation of prophecy which I used to read for the imagery. The paralysis at first unhinged father’s mind, and he had some fits of violence; more generally his temper was strange, disagreeable, not to be depended upon. I remember him taunting her with her being his elder. Mother must have had a sad time of it for a year or so. His mental perturbations settled down into a permanent weakness of mind, not amounting to imbecility, but very, very different, I should say, from his former brightness and decision. Before I went to the school he used to take me to chapels where the members of the congregation ejaculated groaning responses to the minister’s prayer, and to small meetings in a private room where the members detailed their spiritual experiences of the week. Good, bad, or indifferent, these were not the sort of things with which he had anything to do in his days of soundness….

I think mother, who was mystically inclined with Edward Irving, had also a cloud of melancholy overhanging her; first perhaps, from the death of her favourite brother, John Parker Kennedy, drowned on the Goodwin Sand; then probably deepened by the death of my little sister, of whom I remember being devotedly fond, when she was about three and myself five, of measles caught from me. Had she or someone else lived [which one?!], I might have been worth something; but, on the whole, I sincerely judge that it was well for both to die when they did, and I would not, for my own selfish comfort, call them back. At first I would have doubtless have done so, but not for many years past.” [Salt, 3,4. Salt, an English Melvillean, mentions the widespread impression that Thomson inherited his imagination from mother and his dipsomania from father; then suggests that whatever the inheritance, Thomson’s nature contained warring elements of cheerfulness and constitutional melancholia.(5)]

[Mad Kate:] To review this family history (mostly ignored in Schaefer’s revisionist work), but restoring its chronology: At age five, Thomson’s beloved little sister dies of the measles, caught from her devoted brother. At age six, hostile nature destroys his father’s physical and mental health, throwing the family onto the charity of others and subjecting James to an unvaried regimen of Calvinist guilt and self-loathing. At age eight (through the intercession of a friend of mother’s), James is admitted to school (the Royal Caledonian Asylum); mother dies shortly afterward, partly of grief at the loss of the little sister who caught James’ measles. At age eighteen there is more trauma: Thomson meets a fourteen-year-old Angel, Matilda Weller, “the beautiful young girl whose love he won, and whose sudden death was the heaviest calamity he ever endured.” [Salt]

Keeping this personal history in mind, we may infer that Thomson’s three goddesses represent a process; that they are not three separate figures, but symbolize the longings and fears that follow sensual indulgence. The child whose mother demands moral purity and family loyalty, or else, will idealize his mother and feel unworthy of her love; contemplating his secret sins he turns away from any optimistic ideology promising either earthly or heavenly paradise. Unconsciously, he probably resents the relentless demands which crush his sense of self-worth and his capacity for enjoyment, just as he must have resented the intrusion of his little sister, a feeling he may not entertain: he could feel that his anger has killed these (three) angels.

In a revolutionary period, the little monster encounters images that both attract and terrify him. Other victims –mantled in virtue and Reason, carrying the Promethean lamp and wielding the sword of political struggle, their snakylocks blowing in the wind–are rising everywhere to expose and punish deceptive and illegitimate authority.[9] But instead of identifying with the militant oppressed, he sees them as an incarnation of his omniscient Mother/Christ whose eyes are everywhere, punishing him for the sins the poor attribute to the rich and which good evangelical mothers such as Maria Gansevoort, or Mrs. Macmillan, or Mrs. Thomson, or Mrs. Weaver would have tried to defeat in their children: selfishness, jealousy, lying, indolence, sensuality. His mother’s wrath and his answering resentment are both projected onto the all-too alluring and all-too-destructive mob.  He seeks the third Mother who embodies the anaesthesia of oblivion because he cannot bear the memory of his infernal rage, feelings which he unconsciously believes killed his rivals or his persecutors, perhaps also preventing him from rescuing the beautiful mother from father.

Thomson fears becoming father: the sinking, drunken, crazy, violent victim of the terrible storm. He and his affinity group describe themselves as “insane” because they feel possessed by the Infernal One when they think angrily about the persecution of the young and other helpless victims; they are losing control (“poise” and “balance”): they must be irrational to resent the loss of their independence: that is how Western culture had explained and stigmatized such levels of mobbish defiance. They must turn themselves to stone. But while in their cups (or in their dreams), defenses may relax; the vision of early childhood returns. Tenebriously, they suddenly see the “purity” of women as a trap: the whiteness and the promesse de bonheur of the smiling virgin conceals the black heart of the bloody avenger who unpredictably turns on the “naughty” child or who sends her “only recruit” off to die in battle. In the imaginations of Melville, Thomson, and Raymond Weaver, the connections between the Mother of Beatitude and the Mother of Annihilation are heretically exposed, like the crimson flower that creeps or seeps onto Lucy’s white pillow in the opening scene of Pierre. Yillah and Hautia, or Lucy and Isabel, or Thomson’s first two Ladies of Death, are aspects of the same figure (which Melville at least partly understands), and are projections of a writer who has remained fused with the mother: The sinless bearer of eternal bliss and the malicious god (or goddess) are split images of both good/bad mother and good/bad child.

[D.H. Lawrence, 1947:] Sex must go somewhere, especially in young people. So, in our glorious civilization, it goes in masturbation. And the mass of our popular literature, the bulk of our popular amusements just exists to provoke masturbation. Masturbation is the one thoroughly secret act of the human being, more secret even than excrementation. It is the one functional result of sex-secrecy, and it is stimulated and provoked by our glorious popular literature of pretty pornography which rubs on the dirty little secret without letting you know what is happening…In the young, a certain amount of masturbation is inevitable, but not therefore natural. I think, there is no boy or girl who masturbates without feeling a sense of shame, anger, and futility…[which deepens] into a suppressed rage, because of the impossibility of escape…And this is, perhaps, the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization…The only positive effect of masturbation is that it seems to release a certain mental energy, in some people. But it is mental energy which manifests itself always in the same way, in a vicious circle of analysis and impotent criticism, or else a vicious circle of false and easy sympathy, sentimentalities. The sentimentalism and the niggling analysis, often self-analysis, of most of our modern literature, is a sign of self-abuse…This is just the same whether it be a novel or a work of science. The author never escapes from himself, he pads along within the vicious circle of himself…The real masturbation of Englishmen began only in the nineteenth century. It has continued with an increasing emptying of the real vitality and the real being of men, till now people are little more than shells of people. Most of the responses are dead, most of the awareness is dead, nearly all the constructive activity is dead, and all that remains is a sort of shell, a half-empty creature fatally self-pre-occupied…emptier and emptier, till it is almost a nullus, a nothingness. But null or nothing as it may be, it still hangs on to the dirty little secret, which must still secretly rub and inflame…”You may put it to death publicly a thousand times, and still it reappears, like a crab, stealthily from under the submerged rocks of the personality.” We must join the “proud minority” who want to escape from the vicious circle…The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie. They dominate in the society, in the press, in literature, everywhere. And, naturally, they lead the vast mob of the general public along with them. Which mean, of course, perpetual censorship of anything that would militate against the lie of purity and the dirty little secret, and perpetual encouragement of what may be called permissible pornography, pure, but tickling the dirty little secret under the delicate underclothing. The grey ones will pass and will commend floods of evasive pornography, and will suppress every outspoken word. [10]

[The sea Crabb, published 1867]  ITT: was a man of Affrica had a ffaire wiffe,/Ffairest that ever I saw the dayes of my liffe:/ with a ging, boyes, ginge! ginge boys, ginge! taradiddle, ffaradiddle, ging, boyes, ging!

This goodwife was bigbellyed & with a lad,/& ever shee longed ffor a sea crabbe./ ging & c.

The goodman rise in the morning, & put on his hose,/ he went to the sea syde; & followed his nose./ ging &c.

Sais, “god speed, ffisherman, sayling on the sea,/ hast thou any crabbs in my bote for to sell me? ging & c.

“I have Crabbs in my bote, one, tow, or three;/ I have Crabbs in my bote for to sell thee.” ging & c.

The good man went home, I ere he wist,/& put the Crabb in the Chamber pot where his wiffe pist. ging & c.

The good wiffe, she went to doe as she was wont;/ up start the Crabfish, & cacht her by the Cunt. ging & c.

“Alas! quoth the goodwiffe,” that ever I was borne, the devil is in the pisspott, & has me on his horne.” ging & c.

“If thou be a crabb or crabfish by kind, thoule let thy hold goe with blast of cold wind”   ging & c.

The good man laid to his mouth, & began to blowe,/ Thinkeing therby that they Crabb wold lett goe.

“Alas!” quoth the good man, “that ever I came hither,/ he has joyned my wife’s tayle & my nose together!” ging & c.

They good man called his neigbors in with great wonder,/to part his wives tayle & his nose assunder. ging & c. [11]

[Mad Kate:] Charles Maturin, clergyman and eccentric author of the Gothic novel, Melmoth The Wanderer, had told his parishioners that only Christianity had elevated woman: she was neither slave nor toy; mothers had the sacred responsibility to mold infant character, but gently, as Christ would have done, to forestall social revolution.   In Weaver’s 1926 novel, Black Valley, one of the female missionaries gloats over the power Christianity has conferred upon women in the home (“Say what you will, that’s one thing Christianity has done for the world,” Mrs. Shea swept on contentiously. “It has improved the home!–Why out here they don’t know what love is!….” BV, p.65) In Weaver’s fantasy, women fight amongst themselves to carry off innocent young men. Young Gilson lives with his missionary parents, Alurid and Monica Wilburforce, in sensual, clean, feudal Japan. He is having a secret affair with a gorgeous and exciting modern Japanese girl, an admirer of Nora and Salome, who will discard him once she has captured his seed and become pregnant. His pure and clinging mother is dying of breast cancer; an evil older woman named Gracia West, Gilson’s friend and a “Socratic demon,” arrives from America to take over his life. A Mother of Annihilation, acting, she says, in Gilson’s and his agonized mother’s interests, she smothers Mrs. Wilburforce with a pillow and takes the liberated Gilson back to America.[12]

[1] Probably the popular Bernard Hart, The Psychology of Insanity(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912). Joseph Freeman unfinished letter to Dr. Fries, June 20, 1947, Freeman Papers, Hoover Institution. Freeman does not say when Weaver began to read Freud, nor the title of the Brill which Weaver gave him.

[2] See H.S. Salt, A Shelley Primer (London, 1887). Salt likens the Wandering Jew to Shelley: “he roamed from place to place and settled nowhere.” The geography is a metaphor for ambivalence of the kind I am describing in this study. Salt was an English Melvillean and source of the story that William Morris was a Moby-Dick fan, for which I have found no confirming evidence in the Morris materials at the Clark Library, for instance, in the auction catalog of his library.

[3] And yet the ambiguity remains: is Shelley conquering his asceticism or is he subduing the mutinous flesh? The two plausible readings express the unresolved ambivalence I have seen in every Symbolist here described.

[4] See Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), 156-171. For Panofsky, “Melencolia I” represents the despair of the artist incapable of metaphysical thought (e.g., conceptualizing angels or “extramundane nothingness”) ruled by Saturn, gifted at geometry, but mired in the concrete: “Winged, yet cowering on the ground–wreathed, yet beclouded by shadows–equipped with the tools of art and science, yet brooding in idleness, she gives the impression of a creative being reduced to despair by an awareness of insurmountable barriers which separate her from a higher realm of thought….”(168). At what point did physiognomy yield to art criticism as the preferred surveillance technique?

[5] The woman who rules the City of iron endurance, despair and terror is linked to the eternal Sphinx before whom an armed male angel progressively crumbles (in the passage immediately preceding these excerpts: these end the 55 page poem).

[6] I refer both to Hayden White-style radical skepticism, and the earlier ego psychology which abused science by a dogmatic loyalty to the status quo; each supports “pluralism” and claims to abhor “prejudice” but without the tools of the radical Enlightenment. Russell Jacoby’s Social Amnesia and The Repression of Psychoanalysis, took up the attack on “adjustment” therapies after Fromm, but with a Frankfurt School conservative pessimism that Fromm did not share. See Fromm, “The Crisis of Psychoanalysis,” 1970, and Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought, 1980. For a classic statement of ego psychology’s peculiar sociology, see Gordon  Allport’s The ABC’s of Scapegoating, reprinted nine times since 1948. Allport deplores all “scapegoating” including labor’s scapegoating of business; Allport has taken a structural antagonism and turned it into a case of irrational projection. Anti-Semitism is rarely linked to the general attack on critical thought throughout the history of the West.

[7] The  passages in quotes from Canto VIII are overheard by the narrator; the speakers may be the phantoms in VII. Cf. Clarel (1876): Celio’s upbraiding of Christ, and the blackly defeated Mortmain’s revelations regarding the vapors and foam of the Dead Sea, representations of evil God and evil matter.

[8] William David Schaefer, Beyond “The City” (Berkeley: UC Press 1965), 77.

[9] Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789-1880 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1981).

[10] D.H. Lawrence, From Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors (Michigan City, Indiana: Fridtjof-Kula Publications, 1958). Reprinted from “Remember to Remember,” New Directions, 1947. In the Gill collection, Clark Library. The cover illustration in red and white (from Eric Gill?) shows a snake emerging from a nude woman’s thighs.

[11] From Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript Loose and Humorous Songs (London: Trubner, 1867). Percy Thomas was bishop of Dromore, 1729-1811. The copy of this book in the Clark Library calls attention to the poem in a pencilled notation inside the cover.

[12] Weaver is also identifying with an interesting female character, Frances, who falls apart when her fiancé, a ship’s captain whom she hardly knows, arrives to marry her. Given Weaver’s history of emotional distress, the story of Frances should illuminate his difficulties.

[illustration: Henry Fuseli, “Mad Kate,” 1806-07]

September 17, 2009

Moderate Men and “Dirty” Jews, Part Two

dirtyjew[Daniel Macmillan on impudent Scots, 1837:] The discontent of the lower classes is most painful in itself in the form it takes, and the spirit it springs from. How different was the old Covenanter spirit. These Covenanters were most noble. They fought for God’s truth, and wished to rid the earth of whatever was an abomination to the Lord. Duty was the highest thing to them, and they struggled hard to obey its behest. Their boldness was not a brutal, vulgar, ignorant temerity, without reverence, without faith, but solemn and noble. I feel sure of this, notwithstanding Sir Walter’s graphic misrepresentations. I have often talked with some of the remnant of that old stock,–a few who still keep alive the holy flame,–and know what true refinement lies at the bottom of their noble natures. But, alas, that race is becoming quite extinct. The poor men, the mechanics, weavers, and the like in our towns, care not one farthing for the Covenant, or for those deeper matters of which the Covenant was a symbol. They know nothing about duty or faith, or God; they care only about their rights; they talk only about reform, universal suffrage, from which they look for justice and deliverance from oppression. They do not look up to God for help in the old-fashioned way. This may be a ‘progress of humanity,’ and all the rest of that jargon, but I, for one, cannot admire it.

[Henry James, The American Scene, 1907] Who can tell…in any conditions and in the presence of any apparent anomaly, what the genius of Israel may, or may not, really be “up to”?[1]

[Carleton Coon, a Harvard physical anthropologist, cautiously exhorts readers in a textbook published by Macmillan, 1939:]  The subject of racial intelligence has…not progressed far enough to merit inclusion in a general work of racial history; it has furthermore provided too ready a field for political exploitation to be treated or interpreted as a side issue with scientific detachment.  Races, in the present volume, are studied without implication of inferiority or superiority….The people who came to America, from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers to the imposition of the laws restricting immigration, were selected; none were fully representative of the countries from which they came.  In America they were subjected to environmental forces of a new and stimulating nature, so that changes in growth such as their ancestors had not felt for centuries produced strange, gangling creatures of their children.  In America we have before our eyes the rapid action of race-building forces; if we wish to understand the principles which have motivated the racial history of the Old World, it behooves us to pay careful attention to the New. [2]

Willful blindness in literary history?  Melville scholars have rarely seen the Captain Ahab/Cain/Wandering Jew connection.[3]  They are aware, however, that Benito Cereno and Billy Budd were translated into German and published in 1938, that Nazi censors accepted these stories into the House whose visual arts were judenrein–purged of cultural Bolshevist cubism, expressionism and Dada–the House that sponsored heroic vitalism [Grosshans, 1983], and that refused “problematic and unfinished work” [Hinz, 1979, 9]; furthermore Melvilleans have been told by Charlotte Mangold that Frederich Schönemann, an American Studies scholar at the University of Berlin and director of the first Melville dissertation in Germany), was a German patriot hostile to United States democracy.[4]  Nevertheless, Mangold’s disturbing opinions and research, like Melville’s Jewish problem, have generally been evaded, denied, minimized, or misunderstood, perhaps for the very good and simple and obvious reason that “the Melville problem” is “the Jewish problem,” indeed, as Julius Streicher made emphatic, “democracy” (i.e., America) is the Jewish problem.

How can organic conservatives maintain order in the face of “Jewish” skepticism and adherence to scientific method? Was Herman Melville struggling with “religious doubt” or with the problem of destabilizing science and organic conceptions of order? For the conservative narrator of Melville’s lengthy poem Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876),  Hebrew fanaticism was carried in the Judaised Christian Nathan’s Puritan blood; I suspect that Melville identified with all his brainy Jewish characters and Wandering Jews (including Captain Ahab, Isabel, Margoth, Nathan, and Mortmain) but postwar cultural politics must have made it difficult to mention, let alone analyze, Melville’s immoderate Jews and crypto-Jews.  The Melville scholars are not uniquely weak or cowardly; rather, we are dealing with a cultural taboo: making comparisons between the structures and cultures of “the western democracies” with Nazi or Soviet totalitarianism may exude the odor of insubordinate, pushy, meddling, and atypical English radical puritans (see Part One of this blog, epigraph from Edward August Freeman’s biographer, Rev. Stephens). Yet nothing is more American than the lusty empiricism, materialism, and libertarian hankering for democracy, self-knowledge, and self-management that I understand the radical liberals to have been advocating, values that have been transmuted into their opposites by conservative promoters of Anglo-American cultural hegemony, such as Edward Augustus Freeman and his friends the Macmillan brothers, founders of the great publishing house.

Here are the responses from three American scholars (widely respected for their sensitivity to anti-Semitism and other libertarian concerns in literature and politics) to my letter asking them to comment on Melville’s conceptions of his Jewish characters and related matters: with Fiedler (author of an important article in Commentary, “What Shall We Do About Fagin?”) I was concerned with growing anti-Semitism after WWII and the pressure he (and other Jewish radicals) must have been under in the attempt to expose antisemitic stereotypes in English literature; with Kazin, I wondered about Philip Rahv’s switch from Melville quasi-deprecator (1940) to Melville fan (1949). [5]

[Leslie Fiedler:] “Let me begin by saying that I do not consider Herman Melville, finally, an anti-Semite at all. He was as ambivalent on the subject of Jews as on so many others.  But I would finally agree with what Sholem Kahn said way back in 1957. [In Commentary, praising Clarel.]

“What I have been concerned about and writing about–the Partisan Review embrace of Melville, Hawthorne, James, etc.–has little to do with the subject that concerns you, though James was indeed an anti-Semite.  What troubled me was what I felt to be a contradiction between the radical politics and élitist aesthetics of that group.  The problem of “deradicalization” is more complex than you make it.  Not all of the people involved with Partisan Review, did, in fact, become deradicalized.

“In any case, I don’t think a fear of an attack on American Jewish radicals played a part.  The years after World War II were, in fact, a time of philo-Semitism.  As far as my own political development ever since is concerned, it has been too erratic and full of contradictions to be characterized by any conventional label.

“As a final word, let me suggest you try to read Clarel a little harder.  It is a difficult book, more involved with Melville’s relationship to his Christian heritage than to the Jews.” [April 3, 1987].

[Michael Rogin:]  “No doubt as a part of my general effort to rehabilitate Melville, I’ve avoided thinking about his use of Jews, except for some things I say in my book about the pyramids–and a little about Clarel.  But Clarel as a book I mostly avoided–and I see I am sending you this note on the date of your talk.  Wonderful title, wonderful subject.  But I don’t have anything to say on it.  Freud, yes, Marx, yes, Nietzsche yes, Arendt, yes, but not Melville.” [April 23, 1987.  My UCLA talk was entitled “Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews in Herman Melville’s Clarel.”]

[Alfred Kazin:] ” I don’t regard Melville as a ‘radical.’  I think he became more and more of a philosophic Tory–this after being a sort of conventional radical democrat (romantic period) in early works.  Melville’s views of Jews seem to me less interesting and significant in every way than his absorption in the Bible and his conflict with himself about religious questions.  Hawthorne’s portrait of HM in his journal–HM on way to Palestine–is the classic and unforgettable picture of Melville’s religious agonies, doubts, searchings, etc.  Melville, of course, did not know many or any Jews, so I find that question merely theoretical.

‘I never remember any views of Melville’s politics on Rahv’s part.  Rahv was such an intellectual Marxist to the end that he would not have understood the complexities of Melville’s very American views of democracy.” [8 July 87, Graduate Center, CUNY]

Such responses are typical.  Melvilleans seem oblivious to Melville’s fascination with the Wandering Jew; similarly they apparently are bored or repelled by crazy, simple-minded and destructive Isabel;[6] perhaps the Melville scholars have not thought hard enough about the Terror-Gothic style in life and art.  But I don’t think so.  The centenary of Melville’s birth, 1919, the “official” beginning of the Melville revival, is also the year that Hitler entered politics.  No one has wondered (in print) about the ways Melville-ism (the social lesson drawn from “Melville’s” life and art since 1919) has been drawn into the Titanic struggles of our century, in which contending ideologies all claim the soubriquet “progressive” and love the People.  Specifically, (some) Marxists and left-liberals anchored to rationalism, materialism, science, and class conflict as both descriptive and normative, compete with movements which, though not identical, share the conscious or unconscious romantic belief that a natural organicism, a rooted cosmopolitanism, will be restored with the rejection of “modernity”; i.e., the expulsion of (Jewish) hammers, (Jewish) machines, and (Jewish) money interest: [7]  These are corporatist liberalism, Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and “New Age” or “Green” tendencies in the post 1960s counter-culture.

I am not suggesting that Melville was ever a proto-Nazi; people who resembled the aristocratic “Melville” (the conservative False Self) loathed the Hitler mob as vulgar upstarts and denounced “the Holocaust” just as “Tommo” condemned massacres of unarmed Indians.[8]  But Melville’s bad Jews are not limited to the “Hegelised” German-Jewish geologist Margoth (as Rolfe gathered from his physiognomy), or to the old orthodox Jewish men cursed by Clarel who blocked him from the rescue of the “good” Jewesses, Agar and Ruth, held captive by Nathan’s Zionism, and (perhaps) thwarting their conversion to the (less bigoted) Christianity and (perhaps) causing their untimely deaths.  The Wandering Jew, in his most lethal constructions, inhabits Melville’s imagination and Western culture.  Margoth “the apostate” yet “such a Jew” is no aberration, no inexplicable bout of bad taste.  Rather Margoth (like Banadonna, Daniel Orme and others) is the critical artist/scientist and Lockean materialist, the revolutionary bourgeois-becoming-god-knows-what, the radical puritan whose cultural practice mocks and delegitimizes organicist formulations of society and nature, turning gardens into wastelands, the Bible into a text among other texts. (For more on Margoth as symbol of modernity, desacralizing the Holy Land,  see prior blog “Margoth v. Robert E. Lee:

Afterward. In this two-part blog, I have dealt with mostly modern forms of antisemitism: the association of “the dirty Jews” with an anti-social love of filthy lucre (see the New Testament), the drive of “the Chosen People” toward domination of the entire world, and insolent, sometimes sub rosa, radicalism. In the footnotes, I have also reiterated the arguments of prior blogs, that many of today’s “anti-racists” carry a racialist discourse common to the counter-Enlightenment organic conservatives who have co-opted the term “progressives” and who, while professing their moderation, have evacuated the Enlightenment in a protofascist direction.

But there is a more subtle association of “dirt” with “the Jews,” and it has to do with the most basic precepts of Judaism. The High Holy Days are upon us, and it is the occasion when the Jew is obliged to take an inventory of his conduct during the past year. The harm done to others must be acknowledged, repented, and reparations made to the injured party. But such introspection is not confined to ten days of the year. Rather, it is a cultural pattern of many Jews, secular or religious, that s/he asks herself continually, “what if I am wrong in my opinions?” or “how do I know when my apparently benevolent behavior may have ulterior motives that are self-interested, and not at all generous?” The answers to this ongoing self-questioning are rarely  unambiguous and clear, but rather impure, unclean, and messy. Here is one possible source of the “dirtiness” that many hostile non-Jews, confident in their own moderation, purity and righteousness, ascribe to “the Jews.” And readers of my blogs may recall that Hitler found such dirty ambiguity and uncertainty intolerable. What of the millions who continue to admire him today? How do they intend to clean us up? for Part One of this series, see

Footnotes.  [1] Henry James, Collected Travel Writings: Great Britain and America (Library of America, 1993): 468.  See commentary by Alan Trachtenberg, “Conceivable Aliens,” Yale Review     42-64.

[2] Carleton Stevens Coon, The Races of Europe (New York: Macmillan, 1939): vii-viii, 652.  Cf. Lothrop Stoddard, Harvard Ph.D. urging readers in the early 1920s to stop “the revolt of the under-man”and the destruction of the white race by thinking “racially.”  Stoddard’s environmentalism is a “materialism” intended to displace empiricism: it is of course the same old conservative organicism; key words identify the pseudo-materialist discourse: “milieux,” “climate,” “roots” and “equilibria” used to describe social organization and relationships.

I want to draw a critical distinction between two kinds of merging; corporatists coerce harmony in the interests of ruling groups, while liberals merge the interests of humanity in the attainment of universal human rights. A society whose institutions are characterized by easily discernable class antagonisms, thus riven by multiple conflicts, will be molded by the corporatist leader into “the body politic” possessing consensus, legitimacy, and a “national character.” For the racialist thinker, nationalities or ethnic groups are talked about as if a conglomeration of contradictory institutions, classes, and individuals could become, in fact, one coherent body, The People. Language is deployed to arouse anxiety accordingly.

John Locke and other revolutionary modern thinkers (including the Freud of The Future of an Illusion) had a different model for human interactions, focusing on human resourcefulness and resilience, not weakness and vulnerability. The Radical Enlightenment thinkers, following Locke, stressed the need for insight into man-made political institutions; structures that were not to be confused with natural bodies. A person responds to the conditions of the natural and built environments with a more or less educated understanding, adapting to, or transforming the conditions (or leaving). The fearful isolation and relative helplessness of the individual, so pronounced in the irrationalist Charles Olson, is mitigated by social cooperation, shared knowledge, and social action. For the rationalists, individual or social progress is sometimes incremental, sometimes relatively sudden. But simply modifying the built environment would not instantly remove all forms of illegitimate authority to create a better human being or a better breed of wheat in one generation, as the Lysenkoists and other utopian social engineers imagined. These latter ‘environmentalists’ harkened to a more primitive social theory that supported irrationalist methods of persuasion to protect leaders from the surveillance of their constituencies. The two competing “environmentalisms” must be differentiated.

In his conception of the tabula rasa Locke had drastically modified the ancient Greek or Roman conception of environmentalism, which held that individuals and peoples were stamped or inscribed by climate, geography (“soil”) and culture–molded like a bit of clay. In the racialist discourse of today, such inscriptions are transmitted in “the blood” no matter where peoples or their progeny might travel. Necessarily opposing the Lockean model, which implied a fresh start for every newborn child and awesome responsibilities for its parents and other educators, the racial theorist could employ this older time-tested vocabulary of “blood and soil” to manipulate emotions, thus inducing physical responses in the audience. The unwary reader or listener would respond to dirty words, bad blood, environmental “molding” or any other evocation of “fallen flesh” with visceral revulsion or panic as if these words were germs or toxins: real threats to health and wholeness from the environment that had slyly infiltrated the body.

The radically Enlightened theorists, whether they were Marxists or classical liberals, saw class conflict and its multiple manifestations in institutions and social movements as an engine of history; their arguments for amelioration were based on ethical universalism, specifically the right of all individuals to development. The conservatively enlightened ethnopluralists counter-attacked with scientific racism: for the Social Darwinists, world history was determined solely by racial competition. Nations became individuals with a national character and a will to power; the fittest survived. At the behest of Progressive anthropologists in the 1930s, the concept of ‘race’ was shifted to ‘ethnicity’. The Leninist policy of tactical alliances with national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, no matter how antidemocratic, reinforced the acceptance of the organicist discourse for twentieth-century Leftists: there was no longer a universalist concept of socialism (i.e., the movement toward ever more democratic societies as understood by seventeenth- or eighteenth-century political theorists, then the Second International), but many Marxisms, each one filtered through the traditional culture of the oppressed “ethnic” group. So authoritarian, militaristic Third World cultural nationalists could reject “the West,”also conceived as an organic unity, without objections from Leninist intellectuals.

Upper-class eugenicists fretted over race suicide and the rising tide of color. Today’s anti-imperialists, some of them ‘Marxists’, decry “white supremacy” as the source of Third World underdevelopment. It is wrong, in my view, to confuse individuals with groups or to impute racial group character to classes. The multiculturalists (ethnopluralists) urge their followers to be strong and unified, as if personal or ethnic group strength and the power of the will alone could remove the sources of exploitation. Reading their unfounded optimism backward into history, the ethnopluralists resort to myth in order to strengthen and unify their racial or ethnic group against the taunts of the dominant culture. But see Julian Huxley and A.C. Haddon, We Europeans (London: Harper, 1936), 16-18. Huxley noted that scholars lacking training in science had mistranslated “ethnos” as race (17). This book was appropriated by Ashley Montagu who, while denouncing the concept of race, subtly attributed to the ostensibly non-racist concept of “ethnicity” the Lamarckian qualities of blood and soil, citing the Huxley book as support: Montagu wrote that the internationalist Huxley had advocated “ethnicity” as an organizing concept for anthropologists. But for Huxley ethnicity was a term of convenience referring solely to any population under discussion with no connotation of uniformity or kinship, while for ethnopluralists, the substitution of ethnicity for race generally did not remove the implication of group character.

The Trotskyist writers of Partisan Review were acutely aware of these issues made urgent by Popular Front literary policies that had demagogically substituted the war between “fascism and democracy” for the conflict between capital and labor in the Depression; see Philip Rahv, “Two Years of Progress–From Waldo Frank to Donald Ogden Stewart,” PR 4 (Feb. 1938): 22-30.

[3] See for instance, Wyn Kelly, “Melville’s Cain,” American Literature (March 1983): 24-40, who attempts to classify  variants of the Cain legend, 31, but there is no mention of the Wandering Jew in her text or references (nor in Susan Sontag’s work, although she knows that Jews were blamed for cholera and other plagues).

[4] See Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (N.Y.: Pantheon, 1979);  Henry Grosshans, Hitler and the Artists (N.Y.: Holmes and Meier, 1983); Charlotte Weiss Mangold, Herman Melville in German Criticism From 1900 to 1955 (University of Maryland diss., 1959): 109, fn 2.  Mangold (and other Melvilleans) should have more fully identified Schönemann. Max Weinrich’s index in Hitler’s Professors, op.cit. (282) identifies him as an important Nazi scholar in the following entry: “[b.] May 30, 1886. Instructor, Harvard U., 1913-1920. Professor of North American Civilization, U. of Berlin. Author: “Der Anglo-Amerikaner und das Judentum,” Wk II (1942); “Das geistige Geschichte Amerikas,” NSMon, October, 1942, 657-666; “Hintergrunde und Tendenzen des USA-Imperialismus,” Völk und Reich, 1942, 697-706; Die Veinigten Staaten von Nordamerika (Berlin, Junker und Dunnhaupt, 1943, 160).”

[5] See Philip Rahv, “The Cult of Experience,” Partisan Review (Nov.-Dec.1940), 412-424, then his review of Newton Arvin’s 1949 Melville study.

[6] For instance, Lewis Mumford and Henry A. Murray, but recently Ann Douglas in The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977).

[7] George Mosse, Germans and Jews: The Right, The Left and the Search for a Third Force in Pre-Nazi Germany (New York: Howard Fertig, 1970).  There is an instructive (and still current) debate in Partisan Review (Fall 1938) between Edmund Wilson and William Phillips, regarding Marx’s relations to Hegelianism and organicism generally, 66-90 with Wilson taking the Hegelian position, Phillips the more materialist one.  Wilson’s views might be compared to those of E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams, as applied, for instance in Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1984). There has been some interest in Wilson on Melville on the internet Melville discussion group.  Wilson published an anthology in 1943, The Shock of Recognition, including Melville’s admiring essay of the anti-materialist Hawthorne, “Hawthorne and His Mosses.” Interestingly, Wilson was not part of the Melville Revival.

[8] Uriel Tal in Christians and Jews in Germany feels that Christian anti-Semitism eschews rabble-rousing massacres, but would exclude Jews from positions of authority in education and government, 232.

Create a free website or blog at