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Melville and His Medusz: A Reading of Pierre JELENA SESNIC Zagreb University “Yetwo pale ghosts,were this the other world, ye were not welcome. Away!-Good Angel and Bad Angel both!-For Pierre is neuter now!” ... it must be hard for man to be an uncompromising hero and a commanderamonghis race, and yet never ruffle any domestic brow. Pierre at would happen if one set out to read Pierre; 05 the Ambiguities by putting gender issues at its center? This detour from the chartMI ”ed readings of the novel and my focus on the feminine complex in the text are anchored in my, admittedly anachronistic, hermeneutical anxiety as a contemporary femalereader challenged by Melville’s,to say the least, curious gender representations. At the risk of adding further to this discrepant pairing, my examination will in part be motivated by the insightful model of male “homosocial desire” as laid out by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.1In relymg on her structuring of power, class, and gender relations through sexuality, I will try not so much to offer a “homosocial” reading of Pierre, but will attempt to address what is for me a more fascinating aspect of Melville’s“sexual politics” (Sedgwick 51, namely, a “range of ways in which sexuality functions as signifier for power relations,” to use again Sedgwicks apt phrase (7). The necessary insertions here relate to the ways in which female sexuality in its diachronic / cultural aspect, as envisaged and represented by men for the greater part of the nineteenth century, serves as a catalyst and launching pad for the masculine self-realization, whether in psychological terms (as a productive member of the community) or cultural terms (as political subject, citizen). Drawing on Rene Girards triangle of desire, Sedgwick focuses on the male-male-female triangulation, the linchpin being the male-male homosocial dynamics of rivalry and identification, which plays itself out conveniently in the competition over the passive female. In my skewed appropriation of this triangular movement, the crucial dependence of masculine sexual domination in Pierre as it becomes operative in mid-nineteenth-century America remains occluded by triangulating desire so that it would seem to minimize the already Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York Columbia University Press, 19851, 1-27. ~ L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L ES T U D I E S 4 1 J E L E N A S E S N I C established set of gender hierarchies. That is, in Melville’s triangles, male homosocial bonding is recast as an after effect of, if not the remedy for, the ‘‘truly” enthralling female-female bonding.2 Of many available iconological and representational renderings of the latter, the one which Melville consistently employs in his novel is Medusa, the Gorgon, as the mythic embodiment of the destructive and creative potential of the feminine.3In other words, this relation between the emergent masculine self and the embodied female self is problematically recast in the novel in overloaded ideologically and symbolically mythic terms. If we examine two scenarios in the novel, we observe two femalesapparently contending over a young male: first, Mary Glendinning and Lucy over Pierre, and later on, Isabel and Lucy over Pierre. To this we might add another interesting triangle, Isabel-Delly-Pierre.4While such relationships ostensibly reveal the “archetypal”potential of the feminine, they, in fact, obscure the double working of male homosocial dynamics. Briefly, at this point, the first effect of that preemptive feminine agency is to conceal the fact that in order to attain their goal (namely,a man), the women involved must not, as in Girards model, identify with each other, but rather antagonize each other. (As a reminder, in the male homosocial model the female is merely a ploy for the male-male bonding to take place.) Thus, appearances notwithstanding, the axis of power is not rooted in the female-female competitiveness but in that object only which can sanction the women’sstriving: in this case, Pierre (and 2 Extratextual indicators of male homosocial dynamics between Melville and Hawthorne at the...


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pp. 41-54
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