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

All Astir O n the cover of the new book All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly (New York: Free Press, 2011), below the subtitle, lies the icon of a sperm whale. The image suggests the importance of Moby-Dick and Melville to the authors’ case for the value of literature. Including discussions of David Foster Wallace, Homer, Dante, and Kant, the book culminates with a long chapter on Moby-Dick. Melville’s book also plays a crucial role in another recent effort to address a wider-than-academic audience, Robert Alter’s Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). Moby-Dick launches Alter’s argument (his book also contains sections on Faulkner, Bellow, and Hemingway) and cinches Dreyfus and Kelly’s. Dreyfus and Kelly, who are philosophers, and Alter, the noted biblical scholar, write with a deftness and authority that come from years of teaching Moby-Dick, and their different arguments suggest evolving patterns of interest in Melville’s text. Framing their analysis with a little-noticed passage from “The Prairie” (Ch. 79) on the sperm whale as a prospective god who will be enthroned on “Jove’s high seat,” Dreyfus and Kelly interpret Melville’s book as a polytheistic scripture for our times. According to them, Melville insists on the absence of any transcendent God or essence and dwells in the contradictions of plural meanings. He savors the Homeric value found in common rituals, the “surface events” (163) of modern life. Dreyfus and Kelly bring a philosophical clarity to their arguments. They consider Melville’s synesthesia, linking whiteness and muteness across “A Bower in the Arsacides,” “The Fountain,” and “The Castaway,” and they evaluate the different textures of encounter with the world portrayed in the three “Chase” chapters. In his book, Alter charts the influence of the King James Version of the Hebrew Bible on American writing and on Melville’s distinctive style. In precise, learned exegeses of passages from Moby-Dick, Alter describes how Melville responded to Biblical forms in the sounds, diction, and syntax of his prose. He shows how biblical poetry (in Job, Psalms, and Prophets) served as a model that Melville manipulated as he shaped his own heterodox, polyphonic verbal lines. Alter writes that in the figure of Leviathan Melville “discovered a kind of hole in the fabric of Scripture opening up into the shadowy vastness of a pre-scriptural reality” (72). Dreyfus and Kelly and Alter see in Moby-Dick a theological complexity in which Jewish and Christian beliefs exist in tense and possibly transformative c  2011 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 114 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 A L L A S T I R relation to pre-scriptural worlds of myth, a relation conveyed in Melville’s particular uses of language. All Things Shining and Pen of Iron suggest that questions of theology and style remain to be pursued in and beyond MobyDick and that there is much more to say about verbal “surface.” As Melville’s narrator puts the challenge at the beginning of “The Blanket” (Ch. 68): “What and where is the skin of the whale?” I n this issue’s “Extracts,” we include a report by Laura López Peña on her experience as this year’s Melville Society Archive Fellow and abstracts from the two Melville Society panels at the MLA convention in January 2011: “Melville and the Syntax of Class,” arranged by Ivy Wilson (Northwestern University), and “Billy in the Darbies . . . on Page, Stage, and Screen: Adaptations of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd,” arranged by Joseph Fruscione (Georgetown University) along with the Lyrica Society for WordMusic Relations. Current Melville Society president Wyn Kelley reports that the Melville Society Cultural Project team (Jennifer Baker, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, Wyn Kelley, Timothy Marr, Elizabeth Schultz [emerita], Christopher Sten, and Gathering at Elizabeth Schultz’s Melville Society lecture. Back row, left to right: Christopher Sten...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 114-119
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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.