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From the Mast-Head

Leviathan has reached another significant milestone in its fifteen-year development. With the publication of this issue, we welcome Johns Hopkins University Press as our publisher. JHUP will produce and circulate hardcopy issues to members, three times a year. Online access to our journal will be made available to individuals and institutions through Project Muse. Our journal's happy landing in the arms of this prestigious academic duo comes, for me, at the end of twenty-five years of service to the Melville Society. At the end of this year, I will be stepping down as editor-in-chief and hope to be of continued service in some consultatory fashion. But before descending from this mast-head perch, let me reflect on where we are and how Leviathan got this far.

As seasoned members of the Melville Society will recall—and as our newer subscribers might like to know—this Journal of Melville Studies grew out of—budded from, you might say—Melville Society Extracts, a scholarly periodical of significant repute published as a quarterly, in newsletter format, for over thirty years, from 1969 to 2005. Past editors Hennig Cohen—whose name adorns our annual prize for first-time publishers on Melville—and Donald Yannella—who died last year (see our recognition of him in Leviathan 14.3)—brought Extracts through two earlier milestones: the regularizing of its periodicity and the converting from a loose-leaf, stapled mailing to a computer-formatted publication. Both editors established high standards for excellence in scholarship and writing, and from its early days onward Extracts was routinely indexed in the profession's most reliable bibliographies, in particular the MLA International.

Still, Melville Society Extracts suffered because its length was not conducive to more fully-developed essays and argumentation; its title was sometimes mistaken for "Abstracts," which projected the notion of its being a "go elsewhere" reference tool, and its newsletter format posed problems for librarians to acquire, bind, and shelve the periodical. In 1990, following directly in Yannella's footsteps, I spent my time as Editor of the Melville Society learning how to edit Extracts. Like Redburn, I was a "boy" on board this craft. Having published Greenwood's Companion to Melville Studies, I had some bona fides in the process of critiquing and copy-editing submissions, but I was a greenhorn in the scheduling of a periodical, the marshaling of readers, the selection of articles, the assigning of book reviews, the laying out of each issue in something [End Page 1] called Adobe PageMaker, the placement of text, photos, and line-drawings, the delivery of camera-ready copy to a printer (on the Hofstra University campus), and the arrangement for each copy to be stuffed in an envelop, labeled, and mailed.

These were the many ropes I found myself in need of learning, and I vividly recall re-doing my first issue of Extracts—Issue No. 80, I believe it was—three times before I felt it was ready for the press. If you think of The Honor and Glory of Editing, you might conceive of yourself skippering a numerous editorial staff: but think again. Better to imagine one man rowing: much exertion facing backward, going forward only through repeated glances over the shoulder in order to correct the course, all on a mission to deliver good writing and good thinking safely into port.

I rather like sharing the pain and indirection of editing, so much so that I early on resolved to ensnare more people into the process. Thus, the first milestone in the long journey to Johns Hopkins University Press was the creation of an Assistant Editor in charge of book reviews, a role first ably performed by Sheila Post-Lauria beginning in 1994, and then in 1996 by Wyn Kelley, a vibrant Melville scholar with great ideas, Job-like patience, and an eagle-eye for typos, who would assume more editorial responsibilities, learn the perilous protocols of PageMaker, and eventually rise to the position of Associate Editor.

Throughout the 1990s, Extracts grew, in part because the Society began to grow and because no other journal was so centrally positioned to provide a forum for what was proving to be an acceleration of interest in Melville. Growth is a complicated matter not always revealed by absolute numbers. In fact, the society's population has remained consistently modest—about 500 souls—since the 1990s, but our membership gains as many new members per year as it loses so that our "growth" is felt in terms of an evergreen factor: we stay the same in number but our numbers are always a balance of the seasoned and the fresh. Newer members in the Society brought new interests: in the arts and illustration, in music, in race, in sexuality, in feminism, in works other than Moby-Dick, and continued deeper analysis of the three B's: Bartleby, Benito, and Billy.

The centennial of Melville's death in 1991 showed Melvilleans that the society could launch major multiple events in one year outside of the annual MLA conclave, and starting in 1997, with the guidance of Sanford Marovitz and Athanasius Christodoulou, the Society established its tradition of biannual international conferences. At the same time, with the founding leadership of Elizabeth Schultz, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, Wyn Kelley, Chris Sten, and Robert Wallace, the Society established its outreach arm: the Melville Society Culture Project, which eventually found a home at the New Bedford Whaling [End Page 2] Museum. Space does not here allow—and I should know as I am still an editor—for a fuller tally of important achievements in the growth of the Melville Society starting in the 1990s. Suffice it to say, Extracts was proving to be too small, as a quarterly newsletter, to accommodate the Society news, never mind its articles, notes, reviews, interviews, special conference features, and abstracts of MLA and ALA papers.

Interest in Melville was growing not only within the Melville Society but also in the larger precincts of academe and, in fact, nationally and internationally. Even though fewer dissertations per year focused entirely on Melville, more included a chapter or two on Melville, suggesting an almost universal applicability of Melville in American literary studies. The development of a full-sized, traditional, academic journal devoted to Melville's life, works, and associates seemed inevitable. In fact, the idea for such a journal had been urged by Hennig Cohen, and I regret that I was not quick enough to launch Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies before he died in 1996.

My own interests in developing this journal were complicated. Like many members, I loved the mixture of geniality and rigorous scholarship that a newsletter like Extracts could and did provide. But at the same time, Extracts was not appealing to scholars who wanted a broader, international forum for their ideas and research and a format that would permit more fully-developed arguments. Even though, by the end of the 1990s, I had already for some years published article-length pieces in Extracts, I knew that I would not be able to convince the profession's younger critics seeking recognition to contribute to a society newsletter, no matter how prestigious that society or its newsletter. On the other hand, I worried that society members who still held the view that criticism and scholarship should occupy separate spheres would drift away from the Melville Society if its scholarly newsletter converted to a critical journal. But though these considerations plagued me for a while, finally I must admit that my decision to create Leviathan was driven largely by a fear of mortality. If I did not find a publisher to handle the production side of editing—the lay-out, printing, and distribution—soon, I would in all likelihood be stricken with what would surely be diagnosed solemnly by the Nassau or Westchester county coroner as an editorial embolism. And, I reasoned, no publisher was going to take on the publication of a newsletter.

My idea, then, was to propose Leviathan as a start-up journal. Some publisher and I would make it from scratch. This journal would be committed to excellence in scholarship, criticism, and writing. In it, research and critical thinking would occupy the same sphere. Contributors would be reminded of their obligation to write clearly, convincingly, and engagingly. Ambitious articles would have space to develop complex arguments; essays on the arts would [End Page 3] mingle with interviews of artists; new research on Melville's reading, writing process, and manuscripts would be adequately supplemented with rich illustration (some in color); and space would be opened for more book reviews. There would be poems.

But at the same time, I proposed that Leviathan—if that is what it would be called—and Extracts would coexist. After all, the Melville Society's burgeoning activities supplied enough society news and exciting intellectual content to fill at least two newsletters a year. So the plan would be to mount two Leviathans and two Extracts a year. And with this idea in place in 1996, all I needed was a reputable publisher to make the Leviathan half of the proposal happen.

I shall tell the rest of the story of how Leviathan came about, and how JHUP came back to Leviathan, in my Mast-Head for June. In the meantime, please enjoy our offerings for March 2013, wherein you will find exemplary essays from scholars both new to the field and seasoned, each building careful, interpretive arguments based on intriguing scholarship, featuring ship theatricals in White-Jacket, a pun on Whales connecting Redburn to Moby-Dick, pre-cinematic motion picture imagery in Pierre, and the literary remains of Melville's pioneer revivalist Raymond Weaver. [End Page 4]