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(167) Afterword T his book grew out of a question: If, as one might safely say, nineteenth-century American culture distinguished itself by being tremendously sentimental and relentlessly violent at the same time, what was it about Christianity in particular—as the locus of both America’s national sense of justice and its commitment to pursue that justice to its most aggressive ends—that allowed this apparent contradiction to flourish?1 In the aftermath of 9/11, critical questions of America’s investment in the redemptive logic of violence have surfaced with a vengeance, and, perhaps usefully , these questions return us to America’s roots of war. Michael Warner’s powerful essay, “What Like a Bullet Can Undeceive?,” for example, examines perceptions of violence and redemption in post-9/11 America through a reading of Herman Melville’s Civil War poem “Shiloh,” subtitled “A Requiem,” in memory of those soldiers who lost their lives in the stunningly destructive battle of 1862. A pastoral lyric of sorts, Melville’s poem, as Warner notes, conventionally “answers to the expectation of redemption through art”—a process whereby violence is translated into beauty through the words and images that give it coherent meaning. Yet the poem presents, even more interestingly,Warner goes on to say, a “paradox in its redemptive language—one that says as much about how violence comes to be scandalous, about the traps of redemption, and about the dilemmas of liberal culture.”2 One of those dilemmas is the use of violence in the cause of ending it. Cradled in the bookends of its beginning and ending image— swallowspeacefullyskimmingoverthedeadanddyingbodiesonthe field at Shiloh—is the poem’s assurance that the men who fought each otheras “foes” in the morning have, by virtue of their “mingled bodies,” become “friends at eve.” “Fame or country” are now “least their care,” having discovered to their mutual amazement and hor- (168) Afterword ror the limits of redemptive possibility in their own deaths.3 Focusing on Melville’s next climactic, yet ironically parenthetical line in the poem—“What like a bullet can undeceive!”—Warnercites Melville ’s implicit critique of violence, especially state-sanctioned violence , as a means of achieving an end, even a righteous end. Framed by the North as a salvificvehicle for the United States as “redeemer” nation to bring all lost sheep back to its fold, war and its atrocities were often seen as a necessary evil for an ultimate good. “Human cruelty is remediated in this [earthly] world,” writes Warner, “by the delegated human violence of the state and in the next world by [God’s] judgment for which the American state is an instrument and a foreshadowing type” (43). But Melville didn’t buy it. “In Melville ’s parenthesis,” Warner goes on, “the whole idea of a war fought for a cause, any cause, is made to seem absurd” (44). In the end, Warner argues, Melville’s soldiers “outlive, however brieflyand uselessly, their redemptive frameworks; and this window of injury-registration is ironically their most authentic life. What had been sacred justice becomes mere violence, in part because it stands in visible contrast to that which had been violated—a deep subjectivity” (53–54). In the preceding chapters, I have offered an alternative reading of that which appears to be “mere violence,” to suggest the ways in which, for nineteenth-century authors writing in the shadow of war, violence appears impossibly bound up with the recognition, and construction, of authenticity and subjectivity. AlthoughWarner is undoubtedly right that Melville means us to see his soldiers as undeceived about the all-too-simple motivations for war—“fame” and “country”—his readers are nonetheless thrown back on the redemptive possibilities of violence in the personal, and intersubjective, nature of attachments produced by battle—that is, the conversion of “foes” into “friends.” That such a transformation occurs only at the moment of death points to Melville’s belief in the necessity of suffering in effecting subjectivity—selves imaginatively connected to and embedded in other selves by virtue of their mutual experience of pain. Even more pessimistic, it suggests that the deceptions imposed bya redemptiveviewof violence exceed the soldiers’ ability to stand apart from those deceptions and live. Afterword (169) Warner’s own point in the essay is to unmask the ways in which violence has come to be seen, both in the normal workings of the state and in the categories of liberal ethics, as an “aberration” (45), a “scandal.” “Violence,” he writes, “is always the violence...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469603346
Print ISBN
9780807834565
MARC Record
OCLC
703227281
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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