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  • Melville, Mutuality, and the Matter of Black Lives
  • Christine Ann Wooley

Christine Wooley takes up a different face of Melville's radicalism that C. L. R. James overlooks in his reading of Moby-Dick. Wooley claims that Melville's immediate relevance to this moment in twenty-first-century social conflict stems from his representations of radical mutuality. Radical mutuality takes shape where Melville expresses intersubjective connections through material forms. Wooley has in mind the monkey-rope between Queequeg and Ishmael in Moby-Dick, but also the money that Queequeg pours into Ishmael's pocket soon after they share a bed. Wooley claims that Melville presents a form of sympathy that revises Adam Smith, basing the imaginative work of sympathetic identification not on projecting oneself into another's position, but on the recognition of actual shared investment and risk. This strain in Melville's work is almost utopian, and it suggests that the trauma of racial violence and demands for racial justice can be reconfigured as material conditions shared across racial lines. Melville asks us to attend more closely to the forms of sociality—even of danger—that animate shared investments and to the forms of coercion to which sociality is vulnerable (which he also extensively dramatizes, both in Moby-Dick and his later works). His fiction thus provides ways to chart the reparative demands of Black Lives Matter and the triumph of immateriality that leads to the banal reply that "all lives matter."

Christine Ann Wooley
St. Mary's College of Maryland


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