- Re-marking the Ultratranscendental in Moby-Dick
Can one fall out of or transcend relation? If we no longer accept that transcendence transcends, that there is no ideality in general which is not infinitely entangled, at some point, in the question of ontic being, we still do not know, and will never know, strictly speaking, what this therefore means for thinking futurity, or the Other, or the aftermath of decision. And while this opening of ideality (which would include ontology) makes historiography, for example, possible and even necessary, it also conditions historiography as infinitely open to what would confront it as its own historicity. Such a situation, of course, provokes literally endless problems for literary criticism, and especially for those specialties that, for whatever reasons, feel obliged to close this historiographical opening, sometimes in the name and justification of a institutionalized periodization, an archive, sometimes in the name of a political program or a historicism, in the name of State and nation. This paper takes the position that such closures are necessary, in a certain way, even as we must continue to understand how we are to remark upon such necessity. For one of the great lessons of deconstruction has always been that there is no foreseeable alternative to metaphysical closure even as the solicitation of metaphysics, to make it tremble, has never been more urgent. Melville’s Moby-Dick and its ongoing theorization offer fertile fishing ground to make this point: deconstruction raises the ethico-political stakes about decision to their highest pitch, whether that decision belongs to history, ontology, ipseity, etc., and refuses even the slightest normative suggestion as to what form the decision ought to take.1 This has a double consequence where (literary) theory is concerned, which we will address below. But in brief, I will suggest this: if there is no longer a “sense of the world” in Jean-Luc Nancy’s [End Page 261] use of the phrase, this only intensifies the necessity for commitment, whatever that commitment may be. We cannot not commit—not to decide is to decide, as the saying goes—but can this affirmation, this yes, ever refer to a stable guarantor?
The End(s) of America(nists)
If our inquiry into this problematic—at once well-known and generally ignored—begins with an all-too-brief review of three important instances of Melville literary criticism over the last twenty years, it is because I want to articulate the problematic in a U.S. national literary context, since such a national delimitation, however ambiguous finally, is and will (and perhaps must) remain one of the major categories by which literature is inscribed with sociopolitical significance. There is no literature in general, no text that is not also a political text, even if it might be something else as well.2 I have thus sought out those moments in recent criticism that come at Moby-Dick from positions which flirt with political dissolution or eclipse in the name of that something else, or which try, as most have, to remain firmly within the political horizon. What I want to show in the present section is that criticism always conserves ideological horizons, especially when it intends to eclipse them in the name of something else.
Donald Pease’s now almost classical attempt to rethink the limits of Americanist criticism in the conjuncture of publications running from Visionary Compacts (1987) to “National Identities, Postmodern Artifacts, and Post-national Narratives,” and beyond, understands the relationship between literary criticism, social movement, and national narrativization as a complex hegemonic struggle, shot through with disabling and productive contradictions, wherein no social identity is secure and the political field is open to new determinations. The literary critic is called upon to enter into this struggle as a kind of Gramscian mediator who, following the paths of national liberation movements, articulates these movements in institutional contexts as the emergent “field Imaginary.” Literary writing, like the movements themselves, thus becomes a repository of sociopolitical potential for critics to articulate communal visions—thus visionary compacts. In the post-national moment, “the socially disenfranchised figures within emancipatory political movements understand that the universality of the national identity [End Page...