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  • Melville in the AnthropoceneOrganized by the Melville Society and the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE)
  • Meredith Farmer, CHAIR and Helena Feder

Kathryn Yusoff's recent work on anthropogenesis and Timothy Clark's Ecocriticism on the Edge offer two radically different conceptions of the Anthropocene. For Clark the term pushes us to recognize "the limits of cultural representation as a force of change in human affairs" in a world that is also clearly shaped by "meteorological, geographical and microbiological factors," along with other "scale effects." And thinking about the importance of non-human scales is ultimately "chastening" for "us" (Ecocriticism 21). Meanwhile Yusoff draws on the work of Donna Haraway and Elizabeth Grosz to address problems in the idea of the Anthropocene. For her the term should offer a "new origin story and ontics for man" that "radically rewrites material modes of differentiation and concepts of life" by turning from bio-political thinking to "a more nuanced notion of 'geological life'" ("Anthropogenesis: Origins and Endings in the Anthropocene" 3). This reading of the Anthropocene interrogates the ways that imagining "man" as "world-maker" potentially obfuscates "climate racism, social injustice in fossil fuels, and differentiated histories of responsibility" through "homogenization," or the production of an imaginary collective 'we' of the Anthropocene" (7). "Melville in the Anthropocene" assembled critics who reconsidered Melville in an environmental frame at the same time that they were critical about what, exactly, "the Anthropocene" means. [End Page 149]

Ethics, Islands, and the Anthropocene: Bartleby and the Politics of Measurement
Helena Feder, East Carolina University

Bartleby's oft-quoted preference not to has evolved from a phrase of philosophical significance for literary critics to being subject matter for philosophers. Reading Bartleby as an island, I argue that the inhospitality of the tale becomes a dramatization of the geology of embodiment in the Anthropocene. "Bartleby, the Scrivener" makes a larger place for the inhuman inside us, one that insists on knowledge's entanglement with ethics and with the politics of measurement.

". . . but drowned the infinite": Wakened Bodies, Oceanic Being, Melvillean Anthropocene
Ryan Heryford, California State University, East Bay

This paper traces the journey of Melville's Pip who, upon jumping out of a whale boat for the second time, finds that while his body is recovered by the Pequod, his almost drowned soul has been "carried down alive to wondrous depths." I read Pip's submarine visions and his subsequent illegible testimony on board the ship alongside an archive of diasporic narratives where oceans often come to represent violence, loss, and historical trauma. This paper thus departs from many contemporary readings of Moby-Dick, which either celebrate Melville's ocean as a post-national site of global citizenry or signal its uninhabitable apartness from human community. Such renderings are predicated on an amnesiac universalism that obscures the ocean's historical dimensions and its differing relations to those who have crossed it in diaspora, enslavement, or refuge. Pip's incoherence throughout the remainder of Moby-Dick not only points to Melville's discursive limits as a white author but also aligns his novel with decolonial poets and philosophers like Édouard Glissant and Aimé Césaire, whose writings look toward the ocean as a site of diffracted cultural memory and a testimony to injustices yet unresolved. Such connections remain pressing in light of this current geological epoch, in which an oceanic presence whose human casualties are often determined by the lingering paradigms of colonization and enslavement draws ever-closer because of climate change. To find legibility and coherence in Pip's oceanic recovery requires that we look to an eclipsed story of eco-human relations that refuses to separate our species survival from ongoing struggles for decolonization and social justice. [End Page 150]

"Has the crater but shifted?": Geology and Racial Violence in Melville's Battle-Pieces
Carie Schneider, University of Arizona

This paper situates a close reading of Melville's poems "Misgivings," "The Coming Storm," and "The Apparition" and the prose "Supplement" to Battle-Pieces within the paradigm of nineteenth-century geology. These poems share the geological language of the Vesuvius metaphor in the "Supplement" and together suggest that the threat of violence still simmering...


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