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  • Insect Arrangement:Melville's Untimely Taxonomies
  • Monique Allewaert

This paper proposes that Melville's later fictions work as taxonomies, which I define as matrixes that motivate processes of arrangement ("taxis"). I analyze the little-studied story "The Apple-Tree Table" (1856), about a 150-year-old bug monstrously birthed from a table crossed with Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana. I argue that Melville veers from a natural historical tradition by which categorizing objects, life, and narratives reveals them as hard facts. Rather, the swarming insects that overwhelm the narrator at the story's start and catalyze the events that motivate its telling conjure excesses of matter, data, and trope that trigger processes of sorting by which this profusion of information is arranged so as to produce concepts and interpretations. That Melville's writing triggers arrangement makes clear the centrality of systemization to literary writing and reading, whether in the mode of the engineer or the bricoleur (Levi-Strauss). Moreover, the fact that his sentences, descriptions, and tropes carry within them a surplus (as in his use of litotes, suffusing positive assertions with a negative charge such that the positive claim includes its negation) means that the concepts and interpretations readers build from their arrangements might always be turned back to a proliferating materiality that, like the catalysts of "The Apple-Tree Table," tends to break into sections—or is in-sect. In addition to tracking Melville's taxonomies via the strange kinds and concepts circulating through "The Apple-Tree Table," this paper investigates why Melville prioritizes a taxonomic method that was increasingly falling into obsolescence in the nineteenth century.

Monique Allewaert
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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