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BRYAN C. SHORT Melville's Memory Among my mortifications have been compliments to my memory, when, in fact, any compliment that I had merited was due to the higher faculty of an electric aptitude for seizing analogies, and by means of those aerial pontoons passing over like lightning from one topic to another. Thomas De Quincey' 'ear the end of "Benito Cereño," Amasa Delano implores Don Benito to forget the horrors ofhis recent ordeal: '"See, yon bright sun has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.'" The Spanish officer rejects Delano's gesture: '"Because they have no memory,' he dejectedly replied; 'because they are not human'" {Piazza 1 16). Toward the end of Pierre, Melville's protagonist justifies his former fiancee's return by crediting her with the power of "presentment"; his "sister" Isabel responds, " 'Hath she that which they call the memory, Pierre; the memory?'" (Pierre 314). Benito Cereño speaks for Melville in equating memory with humanness , and Isabel voices his understanding of memory as grounding the authenticity of the self. Melville, in his own voice, asserts in BatúePieces , "The aspects which the strife as a memory assumes are as manifold as are the moods of involuntary meditation—moods variable, and at times widely at variance" (Battle Pieces 33). Memory now presents a kaleidoscope of unstable, contradictory, and uncontrolled motives. Don Benito's and Isabel's statements, coming in works closely following Moby-Dick, signal Melville's changing view of a theme prominent in his fiction from the beginning: nowhere in his first six novels has a selfhood grounded in memory seemed so slippery. By 1866, the year BattlePieces appears, his thinking has been radically transformed. Melville's explicit revision of theories of memory current at the time results in a Arizona Quarterly Volume 55, Number 1, Spring 1999 Copyright © 1999 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 40Bryan C. Short dramatically new perspective and correspondingly new literary techniques , both of which emerge fully developed in The Confidence-Man. The "Drummond light," which Melville shines with increasingly sharp focus on memory in Pierre, the magazine fiction and The Confidence -Man, reinforces his reputation as a thought-diver. Up to this point he has engaged general philosophical issues: "Fixed Fate, Free-will, foreknowledge absolute," in the words his journal uses to report an 1849 conversation with the "Colredegian" [sic] Germanist, George Adler (journal 4). Beginning with Pierre Melville's speculations, in response to intense reading documented by Merton M. Sealts, become more specialized and technical.2 Along with its sharper, if narrower, intellectual focus, Melville's thinking in the period from 1852 to 1857 is more sophisticated than it is earlier, more comfortable with international philosophical developments. In short, he becomes an important philosopher as well as an important writer, and works like The Confidence-Man ask to be read, in the way we read Rousseau and Kierkegaard, for the power of their theoretical insights. Of the topics Melville broaches, memory is the most fully elaborated and the most closely related to his seemingly proto-modern (or proto-postmodern) innovations in fictional technique.3 Part one of this paper summarizes the role memory plays in Melville 's first six novels. His understanding at this stage of his career is rhetorical rather than philosophical, although it gets overlaid with Platonic and Emersonian speculation in Mardi and Moby-Dick. Part two outlines the backgrounds of Melville's memory, paying attention to the voluminous reading which, beginning in the late 1840s, rapidly modifies his view of the topic. Melville's exploration of enlightenment and romantic theories of memory shapes much that goes on in Pierre. Part three analyzes The Confidence-Man as a study of the ways memory defines humanness. Here Melville moves from the consideration of past and current theories to development of his own. I. MEMORY IN MELVILLE'S FIRST SIX NOVELS Memory plays two relatively straightforward roles in Melville's prePierre works. First, it justifies the authority of first-person narrative. Remembrance of adventures undergone makes Tommo, Typee (the name given Omoo's narrator by his shipmates), Redburn, White-Jacket, and Melville's Memory41 Ishmael worth...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 39-65
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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