- All Astir
Much has happened since the last report of Melville Society doings in “All Astir.” From June 4–7, 2013, scholars of the work of Herman Melville and Walt Whitman gathered in Washington DC at the campus of George Washington University for the Ninth International Melville Conference, which was organized and directed with grace and generosity by the conference committee of Christopher Sten (George Washington University), Tyler Hoffman (Rutgers University-Camden), Joseph Fruscione (UMBC; George Washington University), Martin Murray (Washington Friends of Walt Whitman), Karen Karbiener (NYU); Neil Richardson (UDC), Matt K. Gold (CUNY Graduate Center), Kim Roberts (Beltway Poetry Quarterly), Wyn Kelley (MIT), and Dennis Berthold (Texas A&M).
This issue of Extracts includes four conference reports from scholars who participated in the events: Hester Blum, Martina Pfeiler, Paul M. Wright, and Tomoyuki Zettsu. As the reporters note, the conference offered a remarkable range of media for understanding and re-imagining Melville and Whitman. The digital humanities, the visual arts, and musical performance all helped to immerse participants in the worlds of Melville, Whitman, and their Civil War poetry, from lightning talks on technology and exhibitions of the work of Matt Kish and Douglass Paisley to stirring performances of musical settings from Melville’s Battle-Pieces and Whitman’s Drum-Taps.
We are fortunate to be able to reprint all four of the keynote addresses from the conference, each of which serves to transform and extend our knowledge of Melville and Whitman. The four keynote addresses symmetrically represented the conference topics: two eminent Melville scholars, John Bryant and Elizabeth Renker, discussed Melville’s fiction and poetry, and two eminent scholars of Walt Whitman, Ed Folsom and Kenneth Price, examined and contextualized Whitman’s experiences in Civil War Washington.
Elizabeth Renker demonstrated that the story so often told about the perennial obscurity of Melville’s poetry must be reconsidered in light of the wider role that poetry played in nineteenth-century American literary culture. John Bryant took Melville’s representations of the Civil War beyond Battle-Pieces to Billy Budd, tracing the development of Melville’s “black consciousness” through the revision process of Billy Budd and outlining how the Melville Electronic Library can provide the resources for critics to develop revision narratives. Ed Folsom contextualized both Melville and Whitman in [End Page 51] relation to the “unwritten Reconstruction,” echoing Daniel Aaron’s “unwritten war,” making use in his discussion of the racialized images associated with the building of the new Capitol Dome and its crowning figure. Kenneth Price showed the significance of Washington DC for understanding Melville and Whitman, tracing the footsteps of Whitman around the nation’s capital and showing how, especially with regard to race, Whitman’s observations during the war are essential for understanding the trajectory of his thought and attitudes.
As scholars gathered in Washington DC to remember the Civil War and study Melville’s and Whitman’s later careers, they also looked forward to the Tenth Melville Society International Conference, to be held in June 2015 in Tokyo, which will be organized by the Melville Society of Japan and its President (Arimichi Makino, Meiji Univ. emeritus) and Takayuki Tatsumi (Keio Univ.). In 1985, Prof. Makino established the Melville Study Center at Meiji University and inaugurated its annual journal Sky-Hawk. With the 2015 conference in mind, the Melville Study Center recently has been reorganized as The Melville Society of Japan, which held its first annual conference in Sept. 2012 and is publishing a new version of the journal, now titled Sky-Hawk: The Journal of the Melville Society of Japan. The first issue (the first in the new series, the 28th consecutive issue of Sky-Hawk) appeared in Dec. 2013. It contains a welcoming essay by John Bryant titled “Heiwa / Bungaku” (Peace / Literature) and three articles written by Prof. Makino, Joshua Petitto, and Kohei Furuya on the problem of translating Melville, a topic that will continue to be addressed at the 2015 Tokyo conference. The issue also contains Masahiro Uehara’s contribution to the debate about the Northwestern Newberry editors’ emendation to Ch. 114 of Moby-Dick, “The Gilder,” and David Farnell’s analysis of Melville’s portents of...