YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 12, 2015

What “free speech”?

free-speechThe march of millions in the streets of Paris on January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the libertarians of Charlie Hebdo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo), has been met with either euphoria or cynicism. What no one is interrogating is the history of free speech, though much ink has been spilled over political correctness, politeness and tact in verbally assaulting our enemies du jour. I am still waiting for some French or Francophile academic to trot out the postmodern objections regarding (mis) representation and the elusiveness of precision in language.

My favorite enemy of “free speech” is Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. He makes no bones about good manners, tact, and impropriety, and like some Fox anchors, still fuming at Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, just as Donahue’s predecessors did as they compiled the Index or burned heretics at the stake. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition, and  http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-was-the-index-of-forbidden-books-and-is-it-ok-to-read-those-books-now.

Are all these censorious institutions and practices safely tucked into the bad old days? Or do they linger into the present, affecting everyday speech and action in what one Herman Melville character described derisively as “free Ameriky”? I do remember my delight when I came across Melville’s abundant markings in Goethe’s autobiography, where Goethe described his frightening proclivities toward Prometheanism after he discovered the Pelagian heresy (a denial of original sin), taken up by the Moravians. For it has long been my position that Captain Ahab is a stand-in for the author himself, defying authority by proclaiming “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Yet cautious Ishmael, not Ahab, survives the wreck that is the outcome of “the fiery [i.e. Promethean] hunt.”

heresy

For Melville, even his much admired Shakespeare was “a muffled man”. One reason that “deep-diving” Melville is in vogue among the pessimistic postmodernists is his poem “In a Church in Padua” that ends with this verse: “Dread diving-bell! In thee inurned/What hollows the priest must sound/Descending into confidences/Where more is hid than found.”

As I wrote in my blog https://clarespark.com/2015/01/10/the-case-for-feminism/, as long as hierarchies exist, free speech is a fond dream. We are all more or less tongue-tied; we are all acting whatever roles will keep us out of trouble with our superiors or even our closest friends and children.

And even were the pecking order to magically disappear, would we “tell the truth”? That would be a relief, assuming that we know ourselves and are safe from persecution or banishment from polite society.

donahue_II

Fat chance of that, no matter what Socrates or his predecessors advised http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself).

No wonder the frustrated young resort to punk, impudent rapping, and related forms of ritual rebellion. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “Rappers, primitivism, and ritual rebellion”). Is it only a coincidence that the young rebels are often hyper-masculine?

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February 22, 2014

Healthy Skepticism

noimageThis blog is about healthy skepticism versus the sort of philosophical skepticism that is blatantly nihilistic and/or reactionary. In writing this piece, I am immersed in rereading my favorite passages in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857). Like most of his other works, the theme of the book is protest against the rule of the moderate man of the Enlightenment. Even another “Captain Ahab” makes an early, but brief appearance as a wooden-legged scoffer at the masquerades of the multiform confidence men who dot the book. These con artists are shape shifters, and include “Black Guinea, the herb doctor, the cosmopolitan, and more. The theme is “No Trust.”

What we are to distrust (says Melville) is the moderate Enlightenment theme of cosmic benevolence, and the very idea of progress from pre-industrial to market societies, where everyone wears a mask (role-playing) and bamboozles his or her victims. I remember the art critic Harold Rosenberg lauding this particular Melville text in the late 1940s, perhaps as his sour response to the weakly resisted Holocaust, the latter surely an example of an absent deity and the depraved indifference of humanity writ large. He read the text with understanding of its allover trajectory of nihilism and abandonment in an empty universe. Such are the ways of nihilism, a popular artistic theme in the immediate period following WW2. What do I think of this trend, still extant today? davidhume To a large extent, we are all prisoners of our particular families, personal and world histories. I will give “the new historicists” that. What is the engaged citizen supposed to do, given the imprisonment in specific contexts? Should we all turn ourselves into the figure of Pierrot, the spectator, who comments, but with blood on his hands because of his passivity? (For a picture of Picasso’s immobilized seated Pierrot of 1918, and a collage linking antisemitism and misogyny see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/.) Melville went back and forth on this question: sometimes roaring as the unmasker of frauds, sometimes soothing himself with reveries that returned him to the perfectly happy family.

[David Hume on moderation, History of England, Vol.8, pp 310-311, jousting with Locke:] “The Whig party, for a course of near seventy years, has, almost without interruption, enjoyed the whole authority of government; and no honors or offices could be obtained but by their countenance and protection. But this event, which in some particulars has been advantageous to the state, has proved destructive to the truth of history, and has established many gross falsehoods, which it is unaccountable how any civilized nation could have embraced with regard to its domestic occurrences. Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter, have been extolled, and propagated, and read; as if they had equaled the most celebrated remains of antiquity. And forgetting that a regard to liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinated to a reverence for established government, the prevailing faction has celebrated only the partisans of the former, who pursued as their object the perfection of civil society, and has extolled them at the expense of their antagonists, who maintained those maxims that are essential to its very existence. But extremes of all kinds are to be avoided; and though no one will ever please either faction by moderate opinions, it is there we are most likely to meet with truth and certainty.”

And why not embrace the manipulative moderates, rejecting Locke and empiricism as Hume did, to his everlasting glory in the political ruling class? Few of us have the inner strength and indomitable will to escape the prisons of our contexts, to strip ourselves and our institutions of pretense. And so we fail. Back in the days when I was friends with leftists, I remember reading that it was the task of each generation to determine what was possible, given the times, to accomplish something that would advance human liberation.  I still think that is a noble aspiration, and grown-up too, for only chiliasts and other apocalyptic thinkers and actors would imagine immediate utopian outcomes to our efforts at understanding the world with a modicum of accuracy. The point of this blog: to be skeptical of pretenses to expert knowledge, but, after much investigation, to make a stand for empiricism and  self-discovery, for human mental and physical health, even though present pressures and future developments could render our decisions flawed and ignorant. But not to succumb to utter nihilism, as Melville did during a difficult period in his own life, lived in a transition from a pre-industrial world to a new world that seemingly rewarded only frauds and phonies.

[From Moby-Dick:] “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.  Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.  Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

     Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?  For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life.  God keep thee!  Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”(Northwestern-Newberry edition, 363-364). Has Ahab seized the narration, or is it the survivor/spectator Ishmael who warns against knowledge of the self that could estrange him from the family of origin? Or is the narrator saying that to discover that we don’t know ourselves is an unbearable horror?

Pierrot can and should bend the bars of his prison to escape, at least for the moment. We should know when we bite our tongues, and forgive ourselves for not always speaking or writing what we most deeply feel and think. I feel an Ishmael writing here.

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

February 7, 2014

Herman Melville on the [materialist, solitary] “backwoodsman”

possumMelville’s chapters on “the metaphysics of Indian-hating” in The Confidence-Man (1857) are often cited to defend multiculturalism and to instill liberal guilt for the fate of “les pauvres Peaux-Rouges.” This is a typical error of ideologues who rip pages out of context to appropriate an eminent writer to their cause du jour.

Not long ago, I wrote about Sydney Ahlstrom’s influential history of religion in America, pointing out that the frontiersman was his bête noir, “the anti-intellectual” bad boy of US history. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/.) But see how Melville (speaking through the skeptical Man from Missouri/”Coonskins”) describes this same archetype: the frontiersman’s sin is primarily a deficiency of deference to his betters, a mood Melville might embrace or reject:

“The backwoodsman is a lonely man. He is a thoughtful man. He is a man strong and unsophisticated. Impulsive, he is what some might call unprincipled. At any rate, he is self-willed; being one who less hearkens to what others may say about things, than looks for himself, to see what are things themselves. If in straits, there are few to help; he must depend on himself; he must continually look to himself. Hence self-reliance, to the degree of standing by his own judgment, though it stands alone. Not that he deems himself infallible; too many mistakes in following trails prove the contrary; but he thinks that nature destines such sagacity as she has given him, as she destines it to the ‘possum. To these fellow-beings of the wilds their untutored sagacity is their best dependence. If with either it prove faulty, if the ‘possums betray it to the trap, or the backwoodsman’s mislead him into ambuscade, there are consequences to be undergone, but no self-blame. As with the ‘possum, instincts prevail with the backwoodsman over precepts. Like the ‘possum, the backwoodsman presents the spectacle of a creature dwelling exclusively among the works of God, yet these, truth must confess, breed little in him of a godly mind. Small bowing and scraping is his, further than when with bent knee he points his rifle, or picks its flint. With few companions, solitude by necessity his lengthened lot, he stands the trial—no slight one, since, next to dying, solitude, rightly borne, is perhaps of fortitude the most rigorous test.

…Whatever the nation’s growing opulence or power, does it not lackey his heels? Pathfinder, provider of security to those who come after him, for himself he asks nothing but hardship. Worthy to be compared with Moses in the Exodus….he rides upon advance, as the Polynesian upon the comb of the surf.” (Chapter XXVI)

Herman Melville went back and forth on the American mission, sometimes lauding his countrymen as the Chosen People, sometimes criticizing them as reckless killers–hence the wild divergences of interpretation as to his politics. But in the case of the backwoodsman, quoted above, I have no doubt that deference to illegitimate authority was ever Melville’s overwhelming concern. He may have had discovery anxiety, but in the end, he pushed through it, “Ishmael” may have survived, but “Ahab” kept returning to unmask the confidence-men. No wonder Henry A. Murray and Charles Olson, in their private notes, accused him of being a Jew or Hebraic.

CMcover

July 9, 2013

Preconditions for “hard liberty”

mammon-euro-dollar1I asked my Facebook friends what were the preconditions for a functioning democratic republic. The most offbeat answer was “peace and quiet.” I can understand that frustration with the constant undeclared warfare between fragments of the American polity. It is difficult to think rationally in the eye of the storm brought about by a strident, loud, and intrusive public culture. It is not only noisy out there, but many of our young cannot tell the difference between “real” and “fake.” Giving up on that distinction would mark the end of the American Idea.

I had promised a blog about democratic republicanism, but changed my focus because I believe that the libertarianism promised by the Founders is on the defensive. So is their New Rationalist belief in empiricism, checks and balances, separation of powers, and a marketplace of ideas. Through such novel institutions, “the truth will out.” The notion that America is a collection of truth-seeking individuals has been supplanted by collectivist, organic notions of grouplets, group-think, and exaggerated “racial” or “ethnic” differences. Walls have been erected that not even the most skilled rock climbers can surmount: anti-imperialists and postmodernists control teaching in the humanities. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/.)  The result? Most of us lack the tools (or the access) to determine who is lying to us, and who is not. Between such doctrines as “the pastness of the past” (i.e., the past is unknowable) and cultural relativism, a.k.a. radical subjectivism, we are left scratching our heads. If they are so lucky as to be able to read Moby-Dick, our young cling to “interdependent” Ishmael, not truth-seeking  and demystifying Captain Ahab.

Not surprisingly, irrationalism has supplanted the rationalism of the 18th century. It helps to remember that vanguard ideas like “hard liberty” are always threatened by traditional elites, who prefer “servile pomp” (quoting Mammon’s speech, Book II, Paradise Lost. I am not claiming that either John Milton or Herman Melville was unambivalent about digging to find the truth.)

[Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 4: excerpt:]

Ahab’s uncracked militancy has been badly misread; it is Ishmael who deems him a monomaniac, Satanically driven to destroy God and his ship; the same insults were hurled at the abolitionists by proslavery apologists and utopian socialists or land reformers during the 1840s and 1850s. Rather, Moby-Dick relates one big moment in the West’s progress toward intellectual freedom and responsibility: the withdrawal of legitimacy from duplicitous or confusing authority. Just as the narrator Ishmael attacks Ahab in Moby-Dick, the narrator of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (1667) initially presents Mammon as a gold bug plundering Mother Earth:

There stood a hill not far whose grisly top

Belched fire and rolling smoke; the rest entire

Shone with a glossy scurf, undoubted sign

That in his womb was hid metallic ore,

The work of sulphur. Thither winged with speed

A numerous brigade hastened. As when bands

Of pioneers with spade and pickaxe armed

Forerun the royal camp, to trench a field,

Or cast a rampart. Mammon led them on,

Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell

From heaven, for even in heaven his looks and thoughts

Were always downward bent, admiring more

The riches of heaven’s pavement, trodden gold,

Then aught divine or holy else enjoyed

In vision beatific: by him first

Men also, and by his suggestion taught,

Ransacked the centre, and with impious hands

Rifled the bowels of their mother earth

For treasures better hid. Soon had his crew

Opened into the hill a spacious wound

And digged out ribs of gold. Let none admire

That riches grow in hell; that soil may best

Deserve the precious bane. (PL, I, 670-692, my emph.)

But during Satan’s council with the fallen angels, Mammon does not jibe with the greedy transgressor of Book I; rather, he demystifies Heaven and withdraws deference from an omnipotent yet darkly angry and inscrutable God. Has Milton turned about?

“…how wearisome

Eternity so spent in worship paid

To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue

By force impossible, by leave obtain’d

Unacceptable, though in Heav’n our state

Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek

Our own good from ourselves, and from our own

Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,

Free, and to none accountable, preferring

Hard liberty before the easy yoke

Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear

Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,

Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse

We can create, and in what place so e’er

Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain

Through labour and endurance. This deep world

Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth heaven’s all-ruling sire

Choose to reside, His glory unobscured,

And with the majesty of darkness round

Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar

Mustering thir rage, and Heav’n resembles hell?

As he our darkness, cannot we his light

Imitate when we please? This desert soil

Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold;

Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise

Magnificence; and what can heaven show more?

Our torments also may in length of time

Become our elements, these piercing fires

As soft as now severe, our temper changed

Into their temper; which must needs remove

The sensible of pain. All things invite

To peaceful counsels, and the settled state

Of order, how in safety best we may

Compose our present evils, with regard

Of what we are and were, dismissing quite

All thoughts of war: ye have what I advise.” [i] (PL, II, 247-283, my emph.)

Seventeenth-century readers would have understood Mammon’s mining as the insatiable curiosity of materialists; in the twentieth century, some influential anticapitalists claimed mining as a defining ingredient of the hated capitalist system.[ii] In his own eloquent voice, Mammon’s productivity was lustrous with moral effort and simplicity; “gems and gold” could signify enlightenment, for magnificent display had been tarnished as “servile pomp.” Mammon urges the rebel angels to abandon Satan’s war against God, to create a paradise on earth won by labor and endurance. Like Milton’s Mammon, the ‘radical’ puritan Ahab has chosen hard liberty: if necessary, the artist will stand alone against evil emanating from Leviathan (the State) or an irrationally punitive God himself, but with his sturdy (Providential) God-given conscience intact. Mammon’s freedom does not lead to anarchy or chaos: the golden reward is self-respect. [End, book excerpt]

In order to respect oneself, there has to be a (relatively autonomous, striving) self. Too much of our current political culture has abandoned the very notion of the individual. It is not too late to take it back. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/. The “intolerable national egotism” is declared off limits to the moderate men. Also for more demonic characters in contemporary culture see https://clarespark.com/2011/05/20/the-mentalist-melville-blake-and-israel/. This links Ahab, Bruno Heller, Patrick Jane, and Bobby Goren. For more on the suppression of primary source materials during the Melville revival, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.)

Mammon

NOTES.


[i] 30. Melville owned John Martin’s print of Satan Presiding At The Infernal Council (the setting for Mammon’s speech). Mammon has described the “peace and prosperity” that Henry Murray would accurately associate with the promises of “Communism” (not capitalism!), contrasting communism with militaristic, power-mad fascism in his 1943 report on Hitler’s psyche. Milton’s ambivalence is explored in Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (New York: Viking, 1977), but without discussion of Mammon’s speech. For a nineteenth-century reading, see David Masson, The Three Devils: Luther’s Milton’s and Goethe’s (London: Macmillan, 1874), 26-27. Masson revealingly distorts the text: “…some of the Angels appear to have been ruminating the possibility of retrieving their former condition by patient enduring…Mammon was for organizing their new kingdom so as to make it as comfortable as possible.”Cf. Carolyn Merchant’s use of Milton’s Mammon as arch-destroyer of the earth in The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper and Row paperback, 1983), 39. The “radical subjectivity” that stems from the fortunate fall has been seen as the beginning of “the power of positive thinking,” or “bourgeois order”; see Herman Rapaport, “Paradise Lost and the Novel,” Approaches to Teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost, ed. Galbraith M. Crump (New York: Modern Language Association,1986), 141; Rapaport teaches PL and M-D together; in a richly ambiguous remark he notes Milton’s “satanic leviathan” as an influence on Melville.

 

[ii]31. See W.P. Witcutt, “The Future of Capitalism: A Note on Werner Sombart,” American Review 5 (Oct. 1935): 531-535. Comparing Hilaire Belloc and Sombart, Witcutt wrote (praising Sombart for his “objectivity”), “By Capitalism Sombart, like Belloc, does not mean the régime of private property, as opposed to Socialism. He does not give any formal definition of Capitalism, but indicates certain constituent elements which may be gathered under the following headings. The Capitalist system consists: (1) of a society stratified into possessors of capital, entrepreneurs, and workers, pure and simple, possessing nothing–proletarians; (2) in the intensive utilization of mineral wealth. “The exploitation of riches beneath the earth’s surface and modern Capitalism are at bottom different aspects (natural and social) of one and the same phenomenon” (531-532). Cf. A.J. Penty, “The Centrality of Money and Machinery,” American Review 6 (Nov. 1935): it is the financiers who first destroyed the stability of peasant life and property. The merchants were the “haves,” the peasants the “have-nots” (2-3).

January 12, 2013

Hate, “hard liberty,” quick fixes

mammon_11-0x550LOVE VERSUS HATE. First, take a look at this blog on Bullies: https://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/ . Although the Harvard education school was mostly fixated upon the controversial switching of gender identities and the promotion of Love as against Hate, Harvard hasn’t noticed that the “binary opposition” of love and hate is one of the staples of Western Civilization. One of the great fears of the “paleo-conservatives” is that the Religion of Love will lose its authority, hence unleashing sinister forces (the “neocon” haters) upon the land. Paleos dig Chuck Hagel.

Here is how “Ishmael” described the most striking feature of Ahab’s personality: “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it” (p. 184)

That word “hate” is omnipresent in our political and social discourse: we condemn “hate speech” as if changing the language with which we describe the poor, minorities, women, and gays will remove “prejudice” against them and summon that lost “unity” we believe once characterized “the nation.”

And before Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick, the British essayist William Hazlitt declared his hatred of tyrants:

[William Hazlitt on love and hate, 1819:] “To be a true Jacobin, a man must be a good hater;…The love of liberty consists in the hatred of tyrants…I am no politician and still less can I be said to be a partyman: but I have a hatred of tyranny, and a contempt for its tools…I deny that liberty and slavery are convertible terms, that right and wrong, truth and falsehood, plenty and famine, the comforts or wretchedness of a people, are matters of perfect indifference. That is all I know of the matter; but on these points I am likely to remain incorrigible.”

Both authors, Hazlitt and Melville had read John Milton’s Paradise Lost, written under censorship. Surely each of these close readers noticed this speech from Book II, possibly Milton’s own (semi-silenced) voice speaking through “Mammon,” who counsels the other fallen angels to avoid war with the heavenly Deity:

…how wearisome

Eternity so spent in worship paid

To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue

By force impossible, by leave obtain’d

Unacceptable, though in Heav’n our state

Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek

Our own good from ourselves, and from our own

Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,

Free, and to none accountable, preferring

Hard liberty before the easy yoke

 Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear

 Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,

 Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse

 We can create, and in what place so e’er

 Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain

 Through labour and endurance. This deep world

Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth heaven’s all-ruling sire

Choose to reside, His glory unobscured,

And with the majesty of darkness round

Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar

Mustering thir rage, and Heav’n resembles hell?

As he our darkness, cannot we his light

Imitate when we please? This desert soil

Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold;

Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise

Magnificence; and what can heaven show more?

Our torments also may in length of time

Become our elements, these piercing fires

As soft as now severe, our temper changed

Into their temper; which must needs remove

The sensible of pain. All things invite

To peaceful counsels, and the settled state

Of order, how in safety best we may

Compose our present evils, with regard

Of what we are and were, dismissing quite

All thoughts of war: ye have what I advise. (II, 247-283)

HARD LIBERTY. (Milton’s seventeenth century puritan readers would have understood that mining was a symbol for discovery and the search for knowledge.)

As I write this, the media are obsessed with the gun control debate, as if further restricting access to certain weapons and ammunition, in tandem with greater attention to “mental health” and the “culture of violence” will prevent future massacres by deranged young men. These would be amusing quick fixes were not the cultural issues so deeply conflicted and elusive. Why are they so hard to explicate and pin down?

  1. There is no agreed upon definition of what constitutes mental health, nor has there ever been. Freud is still an offbeat interest and thought to be crazily sex-obsessed himself (thus fulfilling the image of the carnal, divisive, lucre-obsessed Jew).
  2. No one can measure the effects of “media violence” or pictorial violence; for centuries images of violence were thought to provide a salutary catharsis for the pent-up rage that all civilized societies inflict upon children. And since Freudian ideas are off the table, for instance that siblings consciously and unconsciously harbor murderous impulses toward each other and toward one or both parents, we have no critical tools to evaluate “violence” by psychopaths. True, the better “profiler” shows on television do point to parental abuse as the long term cause of serial killing. But they do not mount any substantial critique of masculinity, even when favorite sports figures sacrifice their lives, like gladiators of old, to entertain the masses.
  3. As for the femmes fatales (the woman with gun), the general subject of motherhood is evaded, even as film noir is celebrated by film critics. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/.)
  4. Who doesn’t hate anything smacking of “the Puritan” today? We throw around the words “freedom” and “liberty” as if these had the same meaning to everyone, or worse, we invert freedom and slavery, so that we do not see our lust for “servile pomp.” Nor would we imagine that such a dark passion only binds us closer to Leviathan.
Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale

April 10, 2011

“Who ain’t a slave?”

Rockwell Kent drawing, 1927

The deeper meaning of Ishmael’s query to the reader, “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that,” was raised in my prior blog. I took this up in my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter 3. Here is an excerpt with its footnotes. I relied upon a published typescript written by two leftist professors who were making a case for working-class abolitionism. I likened the utopian socialism of Brook Farm, with its patrician deviation from American industrialization (Hawthorne had been there briefly, and parodied it in The Blithedale Romance) to “Ishmael” and his upper-class rebellion.

[Book excerpt:] Had Melville switched from radical to conservative, or was his fiction of the 1850s, situated in its full historical context, always acceptable to conservative readers and publishers, especially those sympathetic to the Jeffersonian agrarian critique of industrial capitalism, a belief-system agreeable to Southern planters who had claimed that “wage slavery” was worse than chattel slavery and that African savages were benefited by the civilizing influence of their Christian owners? Utopian socialists and land reformers alike possessed an organic, communitarian view of the ideal society and gradualist schemes for how to get there; they generally were not based in the working class,[i] and their spleen was directed against abolitionists like Charles Sumner or the Garrisonians whom they relentlessly slandered as bourgeois individualists indifferent to the welfare of Northern workers. “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that,” says an (apparently) resigned and passive Ishmael in “Loomings,” the first chapter of Moby-Dick, where the narrator identifies the “story of Narcissus” as “the key to it all.”[ii]

Only land ownership, it was believed by patrician radical reformers, could preserve independence and republican virtue. I have inferred from Melville’s writing that he shared their fantasy that the process of proletarianization would inevitably cause massacres perpetrated by landless, hence impoverished and demoralized masterless men (and yet he sneeringly calls one conformist in White Jacket “Landless”: hence “the Melville problem”).  Of course the abolition movement was not monolithic: the modernizers who controlled the new Republican Party were eager to rid the country of Southern domination of both parties (Whig and Democratic) that had hampered expansion and industrial development with free labor; the more progressive among them (writing in The National Era or The National Antislavery Standard) expected future adjustments in the relations between capital and labor, but certainly not drastic structural transformation. There was, however, a substantial and vocal working-class abolitionist constituency with international moral and intellectual support, and for them abolition was the immediate objective that made more equitable class relations possible; they denounced the “Associationists” (Fourierists) and land reformers as knowingly or unknowingly complicit with Southern interests and proslavery apologetics. [iii]

Melville did not publish in The Voice of Industry or The Liberator orother periodicals that presented dialogue between the various factions of the antislavery movement; instead such confrontations found their way into his fiction. Most disturbingly, he transformed successful slave revolts (for instance, the episodes of the Creole and Amistad) into the disaster of Benito Cereno that brought everyone down. The question remains: during the decade of accelerating national crisis and dramatic political realignment was his political stance that of a neutral party? Was he a subtly reactionary amanuensis of Southern agrarian interests? [Since I wrote this, I have reread George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! (1857): I believe now that Melville was indeed the organic conservative that many  have suspected, and that his proletarian years convinced him that free labor was hardly free.] Or could he have been a covert partisan of the most advanced materialists (at least on those occasions when he was not overwhelmed with feelings of responsibility for the decline of his family)? [Some believe that such romantic radicalism as he frequently displayed was probably owing to his outsider status as either a closet or practicing homosexual.]


[i] 40. See William Lloyd  Garrison’s critique of the non-threatening character of Fourierism as compared to the antislavery movement, June 14, 1850, while debating William Ellery Channing at the 1850 Antislavery Convention: “What signal success has yet crowned the Fourier movement…? What alarm, what commotion has it caused throughout the country? What mob has howled upon its track? To what extent has it secured the confidence and awakened the zeal of the white laboring classes? Where are its multitudinous supporters! They are non est inventus. I am not speaking reproachfully, but dealing with facts. On the other hand, how eventful has been the history of the anti-slavery movement! What discussion and conflict, what agitation and tumult, what tremor and consternation, in Church and State, among all sects and parties, have marked its triumphant career! And how many have been induced to become its advocates and supporters! Is not this an evidence of rare vitality?” Garrison goes on to accuse “the Socialists” (i.e. the utopian socialists) of racism and sexism. (Philip Foner and Herbert Shapiro, Northern Labor and Antislavery, 172-173.)

[ii] 41. If Melville is seriously identified with Ishmael here, then he has repudiated White-Jacket (who scorns the lackey Happy Jack) and every other one of his democratic rebels. The tone is joking and ironic; perhaps such teasing of the conservative reader (including Hawthorne) constitutes the “wickedness” of the book.

[iii] 42. See Foner and Shapiro, Northern Labor and Antislavery. For the land reformer critique of abolitionism (wage slavery was worse than chattel slavery), see George Henry Evans, Young America, 11 Mar. 1848 (174-178).  On the comparable conditions of wage and chattel slavery, see John Pickering, National Reformer (184-185), or Evans, Working Man’s Advocate, 27 July  1844 (189-91). On international support for abolitionism, see “Address From the People of Ireland,” signed by “Daniel O’Connell, Theobald Matthew, and Sixty Thousand other Inhabitants of Ireland, published in The Liberator,  21 Mar. 1842 (114-116). See also “Address to Mr. Collins,” a statement by Glasgow workers, in Herald of Freedom (Concord, New Hampshire) 4 June 1841 (236-41), and the racist plea to Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor to abandon his support for abolitionism, published in Working Man’s Advocate 22 June 1844 (186-189).
[end, book excerpt]

April 9, 2011

Jean-Francois Revel and Father Mapple

This blog is about Jean-François Revel’s How Democracies Perish (1983), and how recent “anti-imperialist” scholarship as conducted in the most elevated reaches of academe has added to the demoralization of “the West” as it faces the threat of Islamic jihadism.

Revel (1924-2006) was a prolific French author, whose political background had put him in a favorable position to evaluate the weak response to Soviet aggression. He was a member of the French resistance during WWII, and later worked for President Mitterand as a speechwriter. One Facebook friend complained that Revel was a right-wing social democrat, implying that he was untrustworthy, but I find the liberal anticommunist position to be of great interest, since Revel seems to be a giant among public intellectuals. Compare his love of freedom to those in the current liberal academic elite who are leaders in condemning America and the civilized world as “white racists” and which, to this day, illicitly profit from “white skin privilege.” The latter academic opinion leaders have succeeded in ratifying the old Soviet line that the “free world” was in fact a slave world, undeserving of its defense against the peace-loving Soviet empire or Communist China and their client states in the Third World. The writing of U.S. history is almost entirely controlled by this cohort of Stalinoids. I do not refer solely to ethnic studies departments that are known to be separatist and bogus.

Such a claim that the West remains essentially racist takes the focus off of the foreign policy blunders of all American Presidents (up to Reagan) and most of the West after WWII. Revel’s major claim is that there was no Cold War at all, for that would assume that both superpowers acted in their own interest. Pas du tout, wrote Revel: The West was entirely submissive as the Soviets expanded without opposition, breaking their treaties, most of all the Yalta agreement, that had not “carved up the world” (as I was taught) but rather promised free elections in Poland, to give one stunning example of public ignorance of the facts. Stupidly and self-destructively, he wrote, the Allied armies abandoned Europe to the Soviets, allowed the Soviets to take and hold all of Eastern Europe and East Germany, were toothless when the Berlin Wall went up, and then the Soviet-directed Western peace movement imagined that the U.S. was not militarily weak and inferior to Soviet arms. In short, a failure of nerve and reluctance to use the traditional tools of diplomacy (i.e., you don’t make concessions before you begin negotiations), consigned the West to a foreign policy that was at best, flaccid. I have not begun to exhaust the claims of Revel’s classic work, all of which ring true to me.

I could have titled this blog “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” That was a quote from the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and was written in the voice of Ishmael, the narrator. Most academic Melville critics pass over that remark as if it had merit as a statement of the human condition. But in the text itself, Ishmael has just rationalized his (unmanly) submission to an abusive ship’s captain. Ishmael’s passivity is contrasted to the abolitionist Father Mapple’s subsequent fiery and defiant sermon in seeking out the truth, no matter how apparently powerful the adversary.  Revel reminds us how weak the Soviet Union was immediately after the war, and moreover, that Stalin would have remained allied to Hitler had the latter not invaded the Soviet Union. What were our leaders thinking? (See my book Hunting Captain Ahab for a portrait of one Stalinist Melville biographer and critic, Jay Leyda, who remains untainted to this day in legitimate Melville circles, though he was a wily subverter of literary history and obviously a convinced communist and anti-American.)

We were chumps then, and the question remains, are we similarly toothless in resisting internal subversion and the threat from foreign terrorists alike? Will even liberal anticommunists such as Revel be dismissed as “rightists” who are paranoid and/or superpatriots?

[My thanks to political scientist Tom Nichols for recommending this book to me. Diane Ravitch even placed it in a recommended reading list, before she switched sides.]

June 17, 2010

Whaleness

American Progress

This blog continues a series in which I show how the post-Civil War Progressives appropriated Herman Melville’s fiction and poetry: one could describe their project as the taming of a rugged individualist, of a frontiersman. Their project was first designed to attenuate sectional loyalties in the American Leviathan: the moderate men will weigh in with their “materialist” history to monitor and ambivalently celebrate the frontiersman. In their construction of a national literature they intended to overcome post-Civil War sectional bitterness, while using that bad example to support the new Progressive reading of American history, as exemplified by Frederick Jackson Turner (an ex-student of Woodrow Wilson). Hence, Ahab (surfacing in 1851) would have to be a negative model for the moderate men of the following century, who attempted unsuccessfully to both defend national interests while simultaneously cooperating with an “international community” as embodied in the United Nations. If Ahab stands for a brutally expanding Amerika, then Melville as the converted Ishmael could be seen as the moderate corrective to a young country fatally dedicated to WASP supremacy and hyper-individualism, or worse, especially after two world wars, with recent immigrant masses frighteningly susceptible to the siren call of Bolshevism.

First read https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/ (retitled Manifest Destiny and Political Liberty), and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.

I begin with two views of Anglo-American culture and its expansionist frontiersmen as defined by Herman Melville in his allegorical work Mardi (1849).  Vivenza[1] stands for America, Bello is England, Dominora is Europe, Oro is God, Mardi is the world.  The first speaker is Taji the narrator who expects the Jacksonian expansionists to moderate their behavior in time; the second is Babbalanja, the philosopher who calls for all youthful minds in the West to join the Anglo-American project of intellectual emancipation, associating oppressive domination with the English upper classes, who have suppressed their libertarian tradition; the third speaker is a fiery youth antagonistic to free thought, associating it with the tyranny of the newly empowered democratic polity, some of whom, at the time of Melville’s writing, were promoting the extension of slavery to the Western territories.  The dialogue between democrat and aristocrat runs throughout Melville’s writing; but it is the third speaker, the fiery Tory youth, whose fear and anger pervade the humanities throughout its whispering sacred groves. Have they transmuted the boundless expansion of our moral and intellectual development (arguably Ahab’s project) into the illicit penetration and appropriation of Mother Earth, so that the act of discovery itself becomes criminal, tantamount to endorsing slavery?

Materials from my research into the Melville Revival along with the history of “Progressive” history-writing are presented chronologically, in order of publication.

[Taji:]    This chieftain, it seems, was from a distant western valley, called Hio-Hio, one of the largest and most fertile in Vivenza, though but recently settled.  Its inhabitants, and those of the vales adjoining,–a right sturdy set of fellows,–were accounted the most dogmatically democratic and ultra of all the tribes in Vivenza; ever seeking to push on their brethren to the uttermost; and especially were they bitter against Bello.[2] But they were a fine young tribe, nevertheless.  Like strong new wine they worked violently in becoming clear.  Time, perhaps, would make them all right….

[Babbalanja:] “…my lord, King Bello should never forget, that whatever be glorious in Vivenza, redounds to himself…My lord, behold these two states!  Of all nations in the Archipelago, they alone are one in blood.  Dominora is the last and greatest Anak of Old Times; Vivenza, the foremost and goodliest stripling of the Present.  One is full of the past; the other brims with the future.  Ah! did this sire’s old heart but beat to free thoughts, and back his bold son, all Mardi would go down before them.  And high Oro may have ordained for them a career, little divined by the mass.  Methinks, that as Vivenza will never cause old Bello to weep for his son; so, Vivenza will not…be called to weep over the grave of its sire.  And though King Bello may yet lay aside his old-fashioned cocked hat of a crown, and comply with the plain costume of the times; yet will his frame remain sturdy as of yore, and equally grace any habiliments he may don.  And those who say, Dominora is old and worn out, may very possibly err.  For if, as a nation, Dominora be old–her present generation is full as young as the youths in any land under the sun.  Then, Ho! worthy twain!  Each worthy the other, join hands on the instant, and weld them together.  Lo! the past is a prophet.  Be the future, its prophecy fulfilled.”

[Fiery Tory youth:]   “Sovereign-kings of Vivenza! it is fit you should hearken to wisdom.  But well aware, that you give ear to little wisdom except of your own; and that as freemen, you are free to hunt down him who dissents from your majesties; I deem it proper to address you anonymously.

“And if it please you, you may ascribe this voice to the gods; for never will you trace it to man….” [Mardi, 1849; 518, 519, 520, 524]

[Victorian poet and radical journalist (“B.V.”) James Thomson to Bertram Dobell, from the U.S., ca. 1872.  An admirer of Melville and Whitman, Thomson ambivalently contemplates the American melting pot and offers an interpretation of the sublime (“vastitude”) similar to Taji’s and Babbalanja’s; cf. Charles Olson’s emphasis on “scale” in his Melville criticism, along with the anti-expansionism he picked up from Frederick Merk at Harvard:]  I think we must forgive the Americans a good deal of vulgarity and arrogance for some generations yet.  They are intoxicated with their vast country and its vaster prospects.  Besides, we of the old country have sent them for years past, and are still sending them, our half-starved and ignorant millions.  The Americans of the War of Independence were really a British race, and related to the old country as a Greek colony to its mother city or state.  But the Americans of today are only a nation in that they instinctively adore their union.  All the heterogeneous ingredients are seething in the cauldron with plenty of scum and air bubbles atop.  In a century or two they may get stewed down into homogeneity–a really wholesome and dainty dish, not to be set before a king though, I fancy.  I resisted the impression of the mere material vastitude as long as possible, but found its influence growing on me week by week: for it implies such vast possibilities of moral and intellectual expansion.  They are starting over here with all our experience and culture at their command, without any of the obsolete burdens and impediments which in the course of a thousand years have become inseparable from our institutions, and with a country which will want still more labour and more people for many generations to come. [3]

[William F. Allen, Frederick Jackson Turner’s teacher, 1885:]  The solid and substantial character which the Federalism of Hamilton during the years 1789-97, gave to the national edifice secured by the Constitution; the sudden list to individualism, equally unexpected and undesired by the “fathers of the republic,” which was given by the Democracy of Jefferson during years 1793-1800; the territorial expansion of 1803, with its inevitable and far-reaching consequences–here were three fundamental and discordant forces, whose reduction to harmony would alone make this a period of vital importance in American history.  As the ship, sliding from the ways, lurching first to one side then to the other, settles down into her natural position, American history not only then but thereafter, was made during those fourteen years.[4]

[From the Preface to Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1885, the crucial and unappreciated influence on Turner’s sociological method of writing history, Fulmer Mood, 1943, 309.  “Race” and “nativity” are given the same objective status as “physical features” and economic statistics.]  It is the aim of this work to bring together and to present by graphic methods, all the leading statistical facts regarding the physical, social, industrial, commercial and political conditions of the United States.  It portrays the physical features of the country which more or less determine its development, the political history of the nation, the succession of parties and the ideas for which they existed; and the progress of settlement, throughout the valley of the Mississippi, and beyond the barriers of the Cordilleras.  It treats of the population, its varieties of race and nativity, its educational and religious condition, its occupations and its mortality.  Passing to the industries, it exhibits the great leading branches, agriculture, manufactures, mining, trade and transportation.  Under the head of Finance and Commerce, it pictures the wealth of the country, and its public debt and taxation, its foreign commerce and carrying trade, its expenditure and its force of revenue–thus presenting to the comprehension of all, the balance sheet of the General Government.  The work closes fittingly with a series of diagrams which summarize and bring together for comparison, the leading facts previously developed.

[F. J. Turner,“The Significance of the Frontier,” The Frontier in American History, 1921, 2, 3, 33, 34, 38, 39. A scientific warning about conditions favoring the recurrence of populist agitation delivered in 1893 to the American Historical Association:]  Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area.  American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier.  This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character….A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a developed society.  The continual recurrence of these areas of paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highest importance.

The East has always feared the result of an unregulated advance of the frontier and has tried to check and guide it.  The English authorities would have checked settlement at the headwaters of the Atlantic tributaries and allowed the “savages to enjoy their deserts in quiet lest the peltry trade should decrease.”  This called out Burke’s splendid protest: “If you stopped your grants, what would be the consequence?  The people would occupy without grants.  They have already so occupied in many places.  You cannot station garrisons in every part of these deserts.  If you drive the people from one place, they will carry on their annual tillage and remove with their flocks and herds to another. Many of the people in the back settlements are already little attached to particular situations.  Already they have topped the Appalachian mountains.  From thence they behold before them an immense plain, one vast, rich, level meadow; a square of five hundred miles.  Over this they would wander without a possibility of restraint; they would change their manners with their habits of life; would soon forget a government by which they were disowned; would become hordes of English Tartars; and pouring down upon your unfortified frontiers a fierce and irresistible cavalry, become masters of your governors and your counselors, your collectors and comptrollers, and of all the slaves that adhered to them.  Such would, and in no long time must, be the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime and to suppress as an evil the command and blessing of Providence, ‘Increase and multiply.’  Such would be the happy result of an endeavor to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express charter, has given to the children of men.” [end Burke quote]

[Turner, cont..:] …[T]o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics.  That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; the masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance that comes with freedom–these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier….And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

[Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. The Review, August 9, August 16, 1919:]…no ordinary person loves Melville….Upon the reader’s slant towards this sort of parable [Ishmael and the try-works, as Ishmael separates his persona from Ahab’s] will very much depend his estimate of “Moby Dick.” [5]

[H.M. Tomlinson, The Literary Review of the New York Evening Post, Nov. 5, 1921:]  “Moby Dick” is a supreme test. If it captures you, then you are unafraid of great art.  You may dwell in safety with fiends or angels and rest poised with a quiet mind between the stars and the bottomless pit.

[John Freeman to John Haines, April 23, 1926:]…Melville is out, and I wait to see if two continents are aware of his greatness.  Or will the brave sprats gore this Whale anew?  God forbid that the traducers of Swinburne’s genius should perceive Melville’s, with their little viper eyes all of rancour and squint….

[Lewis Mumford to Raymond Weaver, May 21, 1928:]  Melville is a very whale to handle, isn’t he?  My task waxes as my energies wane.

[Raymond Weaver, 1931, p.190:]  The man who had created Moby Dick had in early manhood prayed that if his soul missed its haven it might at least end in utter wreck. “All Fame is patronage,” he had once in long past written to Hawthorne; “let me be infamous.”  But as if in contempt even for this preference, he had, during the last half of his life, cruised off and away upon boundless and uncharted waters, and in the end he sank down into death without a ripple of renown.

[Poet and editor of the London Mercury, J.C. Squire (former Fabian Socialist, during this period, interested in adapting Italian Fascism for England) delivers a lecture series on American poetry at Cambridge University, his alma mater; this excerpt on Whitman, Nov. 11, 1933.  Squire quietly  warns old fogeys about the stultifying American practice of writing only about the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius, Acropolis, Pompeii, etc. which had been rejected by Walt Whitman, father of modern poetry]: “…all that went on while Whitman was writing that revolutionary stuff.  Can you blame the man for being so spasmodic and violent?  He simply could not bear these cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated country but when you have got a new one, as Whitman found when he was a young man and a middle-aged man, a thing that was not deeply rooted but just existed because it was supposed to be good form to be cultivated, an extremely violent reaction is sure to be expected.  Had he been born in Europe he no doubt would have been an original, eccentric and rather violent revolutionary, but being born in America with that hot, fiery temper and modulation it was only natural that he should go to the extremes to which he did.  We must forgive him his eccentricities, his endless undigested catalogues geographical and geological…facts which make no music and always any sense even: we must forgive him all this because of the havoc he made of things being too crustified, that music seldom came out in rhyme….[Box 5, J.C. Squire papers, UCLA]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, The Course of American Democratic Thought, 1940, 74:]  Melville sensed that the concept of the moral law which dominated the Middle Period was a utopian ethics.  The doctrines of progress was [sic] an affirmation that men, through apprehending the moral law and through making it effective in society can advance toward some paradise from which sin and baseness have vanished.  Melville looked upon such a goal as a Never-Never Land.  To found, as Emerson did, a philosophy of individualism upon such a dream of utopia seemed to Melville to be an attempt to transform men into children.

What then is the fundamental moral law?  Melville could only answer that the essence of the world is a dualism between good and evil.  He saw it everywhere: the beautiful English countryside and the rotting tenements of Liverpool where he had seen a mother and her babes starving; Fayaway and the sweating bones left from the cannibal feast; the law of love proclaimed by the Man of Nazareth and the world [“] a den/Worse for Christ’s coming, since His love/ (Perverted) did but venom prove.”….

[From a document first published in 1942: Frederick Jackson Turner’s proposal for “International Political Parties in a Durable League of Nations” (for Woodrow Wilson, 1918):]

[F. J. Turner is saying below that national political parties in America overcame sectional loyalties; that this precedent would be effective in stopping Bolshevism internationally, indeed would respond to the pacifist democratic masses. Note the double bind: the elastic bond makes it possible to cater to local interests without destroying international unity. Remember that Wilson was a Southerner who opposed the sectional bitterness that followed the Civil War, hence his delight with The Birth of a Nation. By following his ex-student Turner’s formulation of wild West in contrast to conservative East, he could displace the North-South polarization—indeed as did Thomas Dixon in his novels.]

[Turner:] The following is an abstract of suggestions (derived from the study of the history of American sectionalism and the geography of American political parties) upon the bearing of American experience on the problems of the League of Nations.  The conclusion is reached that in such a League there should be a Legislative body, with substantial, but at first limited, functions, as well as a Court, or Council of Nations, and particularly that the operation of international political parties in connection with such a Legislature would promote the permanence of the League….

…American ideals as so nobly set forth by the President, have found a quicker response among the European laboring classes than elsewhere, and in the passion for democratic peace among the masses lies the hope of the peace of the World internationally.  What light does American experience cast upon the possibility of so using the masses as to promote international unity?…We have given evidence that immigrants from all nations of the world can live together peacefully under a single government that does justice….In a region as diversified in some respects as Europe itself, and as large, the national political parties ran across all sections, evoked intersectional or nonsectional party loyalty, checked the exclusive claim of the section to a vote in the interest of the section, furnished the dissenting minority within the section an organic connection with party associates in other sections, at the same time that this connection was dependent upon just recognition of the special section in which the minority lived.  It was an elastic bond, but one that was strong.  It ran horizontal cross-sections of party ties across the vertical lines of sectional division.  It enabled the voter to act continentally, and it compelled the statesman to act on lines of policy that transcended his section, if he would secure a continental following strong enough to bring him success.

6. There is a distinct advantage in utilizing this party system in a League of Nations…In essence it means the utilization of that body of internationalism already in evidence not only in such organizations as radical political parties, such as the International, the I.W.W., Socialists generally, etc. but also the opposite tendencies seen in international business combinations, scientific and educational international organizations, and conservative forces generally.  The class struggle, so called, is in fact not a national but an international struggle.  If party organization of the radical element alone exists, and if this organization is also dominated and shaped by some one or two nations, as Germany or Russia, it will be extended, as it has been, to other countries in the form of secret, or intriguing societies, proceeding by revolutionary methods, with little or no regard for the separate interests of the nation into which it is introduced as an alien, and with the helmsman operating from the outside, and steering a course which almost necessarily involves adhesion to the primary interest of the country in which such a party is recognized as a powerful interest in the determination of the policy.

Is it better to try to exclude these international political forces from the organization of the new order, or to utilize their internationalizing tendencies by enabling them to operate upon an international legislative body, responsive to play of parties?  Is it worth while to use the fact of class consciousness to diminish the violence of national consciousness?

There can be little doubt that the common people, whether of the extreme radical wing of socialists, or of the conservative party groups, were reluctant to enter the war, and are now in Germany and Austria-Hungary the severest critics of the autocratic group which deceived them and misled them….

7. One recoils from any suggestion of adding a party loyalty international in its appeal to the loyalty of the individual nation.  But the very idea of a League of Nations involves some diminution of the national feeling, some cultivation of international loyalty.  If one could keep the Bolsheviki serpent out of the American Eden, he would hesitate to admit any international party organization which permitted such organization.

But in the reconstruction and ferment which will follow the return of peace, there will be doubts about the existence of Edens anywhere, and the Bolsheviki serpent will creep in under whatever fence be attempted.  May it not be safer to give him a job of international legislation rather than to leave him to strike from dark corners, and with no sense of responsibility?….

…It must…be admitted that the difference between section and nation are many and deep, and that there are some points in which international jealousy and controversy might be promoted rather than restrained by internationally organized parties operating on a legislature…There will be sectional jealousy and suspicion in any League, with whatever form of political organization.  It is inherent in its nature.  The problem is the introduction of checks and antidotes to this tendency.[6]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, “Thorp, Curti, Baker: American Issues,” American Historical Review, July 1942, 875-876:]  Dr. Thorp and Dr. Baker insist in the foreword [American Issues, 1941] that aesthetic considerations have controlled the choices for Volume II.  “American eagerness to have a national literature,” they affirm, “has too often led us to praise as creative writers men who produced social documentation rather than works of art.”  “We have aimed”, they add, “to include in the second volume only such writing as can honestly be said to show the artist’s hand at work, consciously shaping his material.”…The functional approach to intellectual history fails to take account of some of the forces that bring about the change from one climate of opinion to another….”

[Fulmer Mood on the molding of a great mind:  Frederick Jackson Turner descended from 17th century immigrants, born in the “native community” of Portage, Wisconsin to newspaperman father and ex-schoolteacher mother, no longer pioneers, hence: “Their home was thus one in which some concern was felt for things of the spirit, a space where limited and cramped views did not prevail.”  His insights into behind-the scenes management were gleaned from father, Chair of Board of Supervisors of Columbia County who had to harmonize the interests of Protestants and Catholics, rival nationalities and towns [284-287].  Turner’s democratic ideals were shaped by the character of his birthplace: “The world of Portage, which he had a chance to study thoroughly, taught him things not learned in books.  Portage was plain, a homespun community, democratic in spirit, neighborly.  Turner was of it, genuine; unassuming.  In after years he was to walk in stately academic processions, wearing the cap and gown, singled out for special distinction, for honorary degrees.  But he took the honors with the humility of spirit of one who knew that thereby American democracy complimented not the man Turner but Turner the scholar, the servant of a nation’s best ideals….The social ideals of this young man, early acquired, never disintegrated.  To the last he retained his loyalty to democracy” [285, 287, 293].  Turner’s conception of American history: “as the history of a group of sectionally different communities, each one established in a physiographic area of its own, each one devoted to its particular economy and social life, its own culture and politics.  In the large view of affairs that he upheld, it was the interplay and interdependence of these sections with one another that formed the stuff of American history.  The forward moving frontier was important because, in its westward progress it advanced with unique virgin physiographic areas and thus generated the beginning of still other sections” [337].  The achievement of (classically educated) Turner’s The Rise of the New West: “The grand topics of Congressional debate and legislation were considered in the light of sectional influences impinging on Congress in the persons of sectional champions, political figures in national life.  Federal policy was thus shown to be a resultant of compromise and conciliation which reduced the originally extreme claims of rival sections to a decent moderation.  Natural history, as studied in Congressional action and presidential policy, came thus to have coordinate interest and importance with the internal history of the sections.  And underneath all, the strong tide of nascent democracy was shown silently on the upsweep, moving toward the political victory of Andrew Jackson in 1828.” [Mood, Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker, 1943, 346].

[John Maurice Clark delivers a series of lectures at Columbia University, 1946] …when the world was ‘in the grip of a mighty struggle.  On one side are forces driving toward chaos and anarchy, political, social, economic, and moral.  On the other side are forces of centralized control.  Between them stand the forces and men who are trying desperately to salvage a workable basis for a humane and ordered community, in which some effective degree of freedom and democracy may be kept alive without wrecking society by their undisciplined exercise and disruptive excesses.’  [quoted in Schriftgiesser, Business and Social Policy: The Role of the Committee for Economic Development, 1967, 15-16.]

[Willard Thorp, “Herman Melville,” Literary History of the United States, 468. Fourth edition, revised.] The faith which Melville longed for while he was writing Clarel, and finally achieved in when he wrote Billy Budd was not the faith of his fathers.  He did not receive it in a moment of conversion to any inherited system of belief.  He had to construct it for himself. But it was complete and it was sufficient to satisfy him at last.  That he had to make the faith by which he could live–and that he succeeded in his long effort to do so–suggests why he has been so appealing a figure to many later writers whose struggles resemble his own.  War and economic chaos and the new fears aroused by atomic power have been as unsettling to men of sensibility as were the issues of Melville’s day to men of his kind.  Writers like Yeats and Auden, unable to rest in any traditional faith, had–even as Melville did–to construct their own.  Modern man must believe or he is lost.  That is the meaning of Clarel. “If Luther’s day expands to Darwin’s year,/Shall that exclude the hope–foreclose the fear?  The running battle of the star and clod/ Shall run for ever–if there be no God.” [7]

[William Gilman, Melville’s Early Life and Redburn, 1951, 216]…Like Taji and Ishmael, [Redburn] is another of the “isolatoes” whose social and spiritual predicaments became more and more the subject of American works, from Walden and Huckleberry Finn to “Gerontion,” “Prufrock,” and Look Homeward Angel.  Although Redburn does not realize it, it is the failure of the American dream that produces the sense of being an outcast with which he leaves home.  The emotional brutality of the sailors leaves him “a kind of Ishmael” on the ship.  And his isolation in Liverpool and the monstrous poverty of the place furnish glimpses of the growing conflict in the nineteenth century between man and the modern city.  In his love of historical tradition, Redburn is the civilized Westerner who seeks to assimilate and be assimilated by his own culture.  But in Liverpool Redburn finds a commercial and relatively new metropolis, blind to the past and interested only in profit, inhuman in itself and dehumanizing its swarming populace.  It allows widows and children to starve, and except for its churches it thrusts Redburn out of doors.  In Redburn’s awareness of the way a large city crushes both body and spirit in man, Melville makes one of the earliest statements of the cleavage between the individual and his environment in the modern world.

[H.M. Tomlinson, 1949, epigraph to Introduction, Eleanor Melville Metcalf’s Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, 1953]  Our peering curiosity is the measure of his mastership. His contribution to the fun of life, and his deepening of its mystery, only quicken interest in his person, and desire to examine his relics for traces of his secrets.

[Lewis Mumford prefers the moderate middle distance:]  As far as my general approach goes, I stand by my original treatment of Melville in those very features that least comport with the present style of academic biography and criticism.  Just because every aspect of Melville has by now been subjected to microscopic magnification and ex-ray [sic] analysis, there remains perhaps a special place for works that regard him with the naked eye, at a reasonable distance, bringing out the main features and deliberately suppressing the pores and the pockmarks.  Not the least use of careful documentation is the freedom it gives to abandon the methods that produce it, once the results are taken into account.  Otherwise the scholarly virtues of patience, scrupulousness, exactitude, exhaustiveness would come at too high a price.  Without sufficient will to generalize and select, present-day American scholars are perhaps too often tempted to bury by an overload of minute analysis, meant chiefly to impress other scholars working in the same territory, works that were once in danger of being smothered by indifference.

…Like high-fidelity zealots in sound reproduction, many scholars in this generation make no distinction of value between music and noise; and even cheerfully sacrifice music to noise if the latter can be more accurately recorded and reproduced.  Against such minds my revised study may volunteer, as a scarred veteran, to join an open counter-attack.

…Let the reader treat this book as a guidepost, or rather, a partly effaced milestone, on the original narrow country lane of Melville scholarship.  That road has now turned into a six-lane motorway, busy with traffic: dashing private cars, ponderous trucks, bus-loads of tourists on guided tours.  Those who like to linger on an old shadow-dappled lane will not go so fast or get so far: but they will have the freedom to collect their own thoughts, inhale fresh air, take in the landscape, and pluck a few roadside flowers for themselves.  Since I have drawn freely from Melville’s own words whenever they were available, frequently without quotation marks, the voice that will accompany them on this solitary stroll will often be that of Herman Melville.  My task as a critic will have been well done, according to my own lights, if henceforward they ask for no better guide than Herman Melville.  [Lewis Mumford takes on the supposedly fact-fetishizing Stanley Williams faction of Melville scholarship: “Preface to the New Edition,” Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962): xiii,xiv.  See my book on the Melville Revival for his suppression of pores and pockmarks in the 1920s.)

[U. of Pennsylvania Professor Hennig Cohen, “Why Melville Isn’t For the Masses,” 1969:]  Herman Melville is no doubt the most famous but least celebrated writer in the history of American literature and the evidence received up to now does not indicate that the 150th anniversary of his birth…was an occasion for popular commemoration.  The reasons are almost Melvillean in their ambiguities.  First, Melville is a writer who arouses intense but private responses.  It is not easy to share him because this means sharing one’s privacy, and the sum total of many intensely personal responses does not equal mass popularity.  Though he identified with the outcasts and wanderers, the Ishmaels, Melville himself was no escapist fleeing the drudgery and frustrations of civilization for high drama aboard whaling ships and exotic adventures on the South Sea islands.  He was deeply committed to the world in which he lived and in his fashion, a sociable man.  Moreover, he was involved in significant manifestations of American destiny as both sailor and writer–to such an extent that the subject matter, even the style of his life and books exemplify the national character, and the metaphysical themes that engrossed his thinking are expressions of the national mind….”

[This is the first of two blogs on the antics of the moderate men who tamed Herman Melville. For Part two see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/18/whaleness-2/. You will find yourself at the end of a journey smack in the middle of the Democratic Party and with progressive Republicans too.]

NOTES. [1] Cf. Vivia, the hero of Pierre’s failed attempt at a masterpiece, in Pierre (1852).

[2] This is clearly a reference to Senator William Allen of Ohio, 1803-1879, a Jacksonian expansionist and supporter of Lewis Cass, the latter implemented Indian removal for Jackson: both were advocates of “Popular Sovereignty,” which in practice would have allowed individual states to determine the legality of slavery.

[3] Quoted in A Voice From The Nile, 1886, marked by Melville (Walker Cowen, II, 699). Thomson, then secretary to an English company formed to operate an American silver mine, had just “discovered that the shareholders had been deluded into purchasing an utterly unsound concern, so that his mission and his situation as secretary came to an end together.” (Dobell, Thomson’s biographer.)

[4] William F. Allen, 1885, writing in The Nation, quoted in Fulmer Flood, “The Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker,” 1943.  Allen, Turner’s teacher, brought order to the field by producing the first Syllabus of American History, 1883.

[5] The Review was a new journal welcomed by The Nation, May 3, 1919, p.675, as another voice to brake the rapid drift toward the extreme left, joining them, New Republic,and Dial. Mather refers to the “parable” in which Ishmael, after nearly capsizing the ship, turns his gaze away from the hypnotic try-works that represent the primitive emotions unleashed in violent revolution, and that will sink the Pequod: this turning away (apparently) saves Ishmael.  It is conceivable that the Epilogue to Moby-Dick establishing Ishmael’s survival may have been tacked on after British critics complained that the narrator could not be dead; or, the change may have reflected a typically Melvillean oscillation, or a calculated move to please audiences with different politics.  The Whale, in its original Bentley English edition, clearly establishes the whale as amoral authority, the object of the artist as conquering hero, and locates the work in the tradition of the Miltonic Sublime.  On the title page, there is an epigraph from Paradise Lost omitted from the American first edition: “…There Leviathan,/ Hugest of living creatures, in the deep/ Stretch’d like a promontory sleeps or swims,/ And seems a moving land; and at his gills/ Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.” The Extracts (the montage of quotes from other authors concerning whales) does not begin the book, but ends it; the last verse is a “Whale Song”: “Oh the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale/ In his ocean home will be/ A giant in might, where might is right,/ And King of the boundless sea.” Thus the reader is left, not with an image of the pathetic orphaned Ishmael, transmitting the anti-pride message of Job, but a sea shanty glorifying the force and militarism that was deeply offensive to Christian pacifists; the grabbiness that Melville had repudiated in the chapter on Loose Fish and Fast Fish.  Here the key word is “boundless.” (Cf. Taji’s quest at the end of Mardi.)  He could be referring to the boundlessness of scientific inquiry that conservatives claimed was leading to unprecedented forms of tyranny, and for which Ahab had been punished with blindness.  The point is that no Melville scholar has proven that Melville’s original intention was to save Ishmael, and the issue has been neglected, given the weight accorded to Ishmael’s sudden illumination in teaching guides and other material directed at students.

[6] Turner Ms. in Wilson papers since 1918, published in American Historical Review, April 1942, 545-551; William Diamond of Johns Hopkins explained that Turner’s ms. was taken to Paris by Wilson in 1918, along with “a great staff of technical experts, several dossiers of material which he thought might be of use to him.”  Here was an example of the manner in which historians could put their knowledge to work for society, and one which suggested answers to questions that were current again in 1942.  Italics were added to the ms. by an unknown hand.

[7]Thorp distanced himself from Christian sectarianism and radical Protestantism throughout.  He seems to adhere to Christian Socialism (like Matthiessen); Margaret Farrand Thorp wrote a biography of Charles Kingsley, reviewed in London Mercury.  Thorp was a collaborator of Donald Drew Egbert in his survey of American socialism.

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