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MLA Abstracts MLA 2005–Washington, DC “Melville: The Aesthetic Turn” Chair: Geoffrey Sanborn, Bard College F or quite a while now, the questions we have asked about Melville’s work have tended to come in two varieties: the first cultural/historical/ political; the second philosophical/ethical/psychoanalytic. The idea behind this panel was not to displace either of these categories of questions but to stress a third category of question: the aesthetic. Aesthetic questions have been enjoying a revival in literary studies over the last decade or so; witness George Levine’s Aesthetics and Ideology, Frank Lentricchia and Andrew DuBois’s Close Reading, Susan Wolfson and Marshall Brown’s special issue of Modern Language Quarterly on “Reading for Form,” Christopher Castiglia and Russ Castronovo’s special issue of American Literature on “Aesthetics and the End(s) of Cultural Studies,” and Michael Bérubé’s The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies. Some of the aesthetic questions that it’s possible to imagine asking of Melville’s work are: What kinds of things provoke aesthetic responses from him? How does he respond to the inherent ambiguities of the aesthetic, i.e., its location in the subject and the object, its capacity to promote ideology and critique? What kind of relationship is there between his aesthetics, his philosophy, and his politics? Where might we now re-place the aesthetic, in relation to current modes of theoretical and political critique, and how might he help us find that place? These are some of the questions that were addressed in the papers for the panel and in the response offered by Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (Yale), each of which suggested the richness of aesthetics as a starting point for investigations of Melville’s work. C  2006 The Authors Journal compilation C  2006 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing Inc 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 E S T U D I E S 123 E X T R A C T S “A Squeeze of the Invisible Hand: Materialist Aesthetics and Capitalism in Moby-Dick” Paul Gilmore California State University, Long Beach “A Squeeze of the Hand” may not, at first, seem to have much to do with aesthetics, especially given Ishmael’s dismissal of the fancy (as well as the intellect) in favor of the heart, an indication we should take his use of the word “sentimentally” seriously. But rather than offering a sentimental account of people linked together through a divinelyimplanted , natural tendency to sympathize with others—as Adam Smith does in both A Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations—Melville, throughout most of the novel, emphasizes either the impossibility or the dangers of such projective sympathy. In placing this scene where he does in the narrative, Melville refuses to cloister the possibility of human connection from the material senses or from the brutality and destruction of the commercial enterprise the Pequod has undertaken. He insists on this connection taking place through the production of a commodity, as the dream of squeezing into one another only emerges through the work of making a merchandisable good. In this way, Melville explores the aesthetic’s potential, as Terry Eagleton puts it, to represent “the first stirrings of a primitive materialism—of the body’s long inarticulate rebellion against the tyranny of the theoretical.” He begins to delineate the way that material objects, commodities, might enable the individual to hold the self and the other in tension, revealing both the embeddedness of aesthetics in capitalist development and its potential to challenge bourgeois ideologies of the interested, possessive self. “Melville and the Aesthetics of Freedom” John Stauffer Harvard University T he paper explores the aesthetics of freedom in Moby-Dick from three perspectives: as it relates to Ishmael and his friendship with Queequeg; Ahab’s quest to vanquish the whale; and the reinterpretations of the novel by two contemporaries, a black man and a white woman. All three perspectives draw on the sublime, an aesthetic that greatly influenced Melville. For Melville, the sublime could be used to break down racial barriers; it was a black aesthetic, among...


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