- How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, and: Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (review)
- Minnesota Review
- Duke University Press
- Number 24, Spring 1985 (New Series)
- pp. 157-162
- View Citation
- Additional Information
reviews 157 while also betraying liberal ideals. The question here is whether we are witnessing a Freudian doom—the discontents of civilization and the failure of instinctual renunciation—or the effects of capitalism. Rogin's interpretation of Melville rests on a conflation of Marxism and psychoanalysis which permits him to read individual psychology as a political allegory, or to psychologize politics. In Moby-Dick, the white whale "drives Ahab back to the original human helplessness against which commodity creation defended . . . The assault on Madame Leviathan and her babies initiates the commoditization ofthe whale. Ahab's dismemberment, the 'bridal' which gives 'birth' to his monomania, reverses that process" (p. 115). The hunt for the whale is at once an attack on the commodity and on the bad mother. Similarly, the confidence-man, in the novel which bears his name, is said in one connection to expose "the absent core of market place reality" (p. 238) and in anotherto identify with the bad mother because he lacks basic trust and cannot defeat the father. Is it the selforthe market place which is the absent center, or both? And if The Confidence Man reveals Melville's psychopathology, how can it also be a work which is decisively not escapist but critical? As to the literary-critical techniques Rogin employs, they are an eclectic and contradictory mixture . He disclaims the possibility ofobjective interpretation and says, for example, that Moby-Dick "points to no fixed political truth above and outside its own story" (p. 108). If the intention here wereto identify the text as an independentpolitical or ideological act in orderto establish its significance in relation to other such acts or texts, there would be no confusion. But Rogin does not specify such relations, though he engages in precisely the sort of allegorizings ofthe text which he proscribes : Ahab is a "disappointed fetishizer ofcommodities" (p. 126), the white whale is based on the figure ofWebster, and so on. Rogin has ittwo ways, elusive as his subject. His often abrupt, almost paratactical style leaves out syntactic connectives which permit casual connections between statements to be neither affirmed nor denied. "Jackson aimed to rescue America from the power ofBaal. He promised to 'draw every tooth and then the stumps' of the 'mother Bank.' (The Pequod's harpooners 'drag out' a sperm whale's teeth )" (p. 125). We do not know whether the connection between the two statements belongs to Melville, the spirit ofthe age, or Rogin. The most serious consequence ofthis vagueness is that it leads one to suspect the basic point of Rogin's argumentconcerning subversive development. Rogin argues that Melville's early romances are works ofsocial criticism because they "penetrate and symbolically rework the social order" (p. 22). Their apparent escapism is actually a matter ofa critical perspective on a reality which is not justified by an ostensibly transparent mimesis. But if we accept the autonomous symbolism of the earlier works as critical it is not clear how we can accept the formalism ofthe later works as reactionary . It would be more consistenttoargue that Melville was politically ambivalent throughout his career. In this sense, his "orphan" Ishmael can be read as regretting the loss ofaristocratic family privilege, and Billy Budd's sacrifice can be read both as an attack on and as a justification of state power. Rogin's Subversive Genealogy is implicitly the Freudian story ofthe loss ofthe infantile paradise retold as the destruction ofthe organic family by capitalism. This takes us some way in the critique ofcapitalism, but the repressed nostalgia for the family contradicts the aims ofFreudian analysis as well as of Marxist and other forms of criticism on the left. HANS LOFGREN Serge Guilbaut. HowNew York Stole the Idea ofModern An: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. 277 pp. $22.50 (cloth) Peter Biskind. Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Hbrrying and Love the Fifties. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. 371 pp. $10.95 (paper); $22.95 (cloth). In most standard treatments ofthe developments in the arts in the United States after World War II, at least one subject has been noticeable primarily by its absence: the relationship...