In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Book Reviews 149 interplay between philosophy, religion, and science in a time of transition, as well as the diffusion of the Kabbalah. Benjamin Ravid Near Eastern & Judaic Studies Brandeis University Melville's Protest Theism: The Hidden and Silent God in Clarel, by Stan Goldman. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993. 202 pp. $27.50. Herman Melville is famous amongAmericanists as a religious doubter who, as his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, could "neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief." Melville's major writings can be read as a life-long spiritual quest to plumb the unfathomable. In making this aspect of Melville's work the focus of his monograph on Melville's important but neglected book-length poem, Clarel (1876) (a narrative of an indecisive young American's tour of Palestine slightly reminiscent of 1be Canterbury Tales), Professor Goldman aligns himself with a long tradition in Melville commentary; but he breaks from its mainstream by contending, on the whole persuasively, that Melville's skepticism was actually a kind of theism, whose roots Goldman locates in scripture itself. His argument has three main agendas: to establish congruence between the rhetoric of Clarel and certain biblical genres, especially the Lament; to make a case at the theological level for considering skepticism -in certain guises, anyhow-as a mode of belief; and to show, through close textual analysis of Claret's complex narrative voice and frequently obscure dialogues, that the poem works its way past agnosticism and unbelief to end with an affirmation of the heart as a corrective to the perpetual anxieties of the mind. In contrast to the loose generalizations that often pass for analysis of Melville's scripturism, Goldman brings solid scholarly knowledge and disciplined critical imagination to the task of unfolding the intertextual links between Clarel and the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Psalms of Lament, Job, Jeremiah, and Ecclesiastes. (These he calls Claret's "biblical co-texts" [po 48)). Goldman wisely does not impute conscious authorial intent but operates from the hermeneutical premise that Melville was so scripture-saturated as to have internalized biblical topoi completely. That cannot be proven, but in light of the bibliocentrism of nineteenth-century American Protestant culture the assumption seems warranted. More 150 SHOFAR Spring 1994 Vol. 12, No.3 questionable is Goldman's tendency to presume equivalence between moods of skepticism and protest manifested in scripture and in Clarel. The context of the secular literature of late Victorian doubt is so different from that of the sacred texts with respect to circumstances of composition, transmission, and reception-not to mention the degree of scientific rationalism implicit in the period's principles of intellectual judgment-as to require one to question the validity of an argument so heavily based on thematic and formal parallels as Goldman's is. In short, his case would have been stronger if he had historicized it more. Goldman also seems quite wishful in attaching as much weight as he does to Melville's epilogue; he should at least have considered the counter-hypothesis that this conclusion, like many in literature, might have been a slightly desperate stab at closure rather than Melville's "final testimony" (p. 165). What Goldman does demonstrate, however, is significant: that not only scripture but also Melville's Clarel show that it is possible to maintain a kind of theism even if one thinks of God as hidden or absent, even if one quarrels with God; and that certain specific theological views can safely be attributed to Melville-e.g., "an immersion in skeptical thought is necessary for a tested faith" (p. 81) and "one must not take emotional, intellectual, or theological offense at opposing viewpoints" (p. 91). From this a portrait of the Melvillian homo religiosus emerges, based on the poem's more attractive figures: the individual who manifests "cautious self-control, balance of opposites, and tolerance" (p. 102). It is striking that Goldman arrives at a formulation of this essentially Unitarian stance (Unitarianism being the church to which Melville formally belonged) from the starting point of envisioning him as a practitioner of what from a typical nineteenth -century Unitarian perspective would have seemed an exceptionally archaic tradition of religious discourse: "Old Testament...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 149-150
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.