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DONALD PEASE C- L. R. James, Moby-Dick, and the Emergence of Transnational American Studies "I publish my protest with my book on Melville because, as I have shown, the book as written is part of my experience. It is also a claim before that American people, the best claim I can put forward, that my desire to become a citizen is not a frivolous one." C. L. R. James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways ? N june io, 1952, men in black suits from the Immigration and Naturalization Services abruptly interrupted C. L. R. James' research for the book he intended to write that summer on Herman Melville and removed him to Ellis Island where he was detained for the next four months awaiting deportation hearings. As warrant for his internment , the state agents cited the McCarran-Walter Act, which, despite the fact that it was passed two years after James had completed the examinations qualifying him for citizenship, would nevertheless ultimately become the juridical instrument invoked by the state to justify James' detainment.1 At a time in which the U.S. was increasingly dependent on third world labor, the McCarran-Walter Act put into place regulations concerning the legal and economic conditions for citizenship that ratified neocolonial distinctions. The bill authorized ins officials to apply different combinations of rules and norms for the purpose of sorting immigrants into economic and political classifications. The taxonomy to which ins officials subordinated their clientele invoked racialized cateArizona Quarterly Volume 56, Number 3, Autumn 2000 Copyright © 2000 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 94Donald Pease gories that were designed to reflect extant U.S. geopolitical alliances and to expand U.S. markets at home and abroad. The phrases whereby the bill distinguished immigrants the state could exclude on political grounds from migrants whose labor it could exploit included within the former category "any alien who has engaged or has had purpose to engage in activities 'prejudicial to the public interest' or 'subversive to the national security.'"2 In addition to granting the state the right to expel subversives, the bill also called for a careful screening ofpersons seeking to reside in the United States and installed cultural literacy as one of the criteria whereby the state might determine whether or not "they" were adaptable to the American way of life. Although the state had kept James under scrutiny from the time of his formal application to become a legal resident in 1938, its designation of him as a subversive brought about a drastic change in his juridical relationship to the category of U.S. citizenship. The temporal flexibility invested in the phrase "who has engaged or who has had the purpose to engage in activities" subversive to the national security granted the ins powers ofretroactive jurisdiction over the entire period ofJames' U.S. residency. United States citizenship was grounded in the legal fiction whereby an individual citizen was construed as both legislator, the "I" who was the sender of the law, and subject, the "you" who was its addressee. By way of its derecognition ofJames' personhood, the state denied him the first person pronominal powers necessary to support and defend his civil and political liberties. After the state pronounced him a security threat, James' legal subjectivity underwent demotion to the status of "you." As its secondary addressee, James was subject to the law's powers of enforcement but he was no longer recognized as the subject of its norms.' James' loss of the power to speak as "I" also deauthorized the testifying phrases through which he could convey his claims before a court and invalidated his interlocutory privileges within the civil society.4 The state's restriction of his pronominal identifications to the "you" who must obey the law had also disallowed James membership in the "we" of "we the people" whose sovereign will the state was understood to represent. "You" could never become "we" because "you" named the subversive whom the state had refused the rights of dialogue with or as an "I."5 Transnational American Studies95 Jean-Francois Lyotard has proposed the term "différend" to describe the kind of juridical dilemma in which James was embroiled. Lyotard defines...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 93-123
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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