Miscegenetic Melville: Race and Reconstruction in Clarel

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-12-23 18:30Z by Steven

Miscegenetic Melville: Race and Reconstruction in Clarel

Zach Hutchins, Assistant Professor of English
Colorado State University

Volume 80, Number 4, Winter 2013
pages 1173-1203
DOI: 10.1353/elh.2013.0039

This essay investigates Herman Melville’s views on Reconstruction and racism in Clarel, the national epic published in the centennial year of 1876. In Clarel, Melville points toward miscegenation as the solution to problems of ethnic conflict festering since the Civil War, the key to rebuilding a nation torn apart by the economic exploitation and lingering racism of Reconstruction. Miscegenation is an ideal Melville pointed to somewhat naïvely in his earlier prose, but Clarel is Melville’s most sustained narrative commentary on race published after Benito Cereno and reflects a more sober assessment of racial realities and possibilities in the United States.

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Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-03-16 19:42Z by Steven

Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

University of Pennsylvania Press
288 pages
6×9; 24 illustrations
Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8122-3844-0

Betsy Erkkilä, Henry Sanborn Noyes Professor of Literature
Northwestern University

In Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses, Betsy Erkkilä argues that it is through the historical and psychological dramas of blood as a marker of violence, or race, or sex, or kinship that Americans have struggled over the meanings of democracy, citizenship, culture, national belonging, and the idea of America itself as it was constituted and contested in its relations with others and the world. Whether blood is construed as setting up a boundary incapable of being crossed or is perceived as a site of mixing and hybridity, its imagery has saturated the literature of the American republic from the time of the founding. Erkkilä moves from a consideration of contests about territorial, sexual, racial, class, national, and aesthetic borders in the Revolutionary period and the nineteenth century to a discussion of recent contests about the boundaries of culture and the disciplines and the relation between aesthetics and politics, identity and difference, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, the local and the global.

Erkkilä’s American literature is a field of cultural and political struggle, one she examines in scenes of mixture and crossing, miscegenation and incest, doubling and hybridity that subvert, alter, or undo the boundary-building imperatives of American history. While she is concerned with the “crosses” of sex, race, class, and blood, she also looks at the ways history and “blood” impinge on the putatively pure realms of culture, literature, and aesthetics in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and the Caribbean writer C. L. R. James; she explores the ways the hybridity or mixture of social languages becomes a force for resistance and New World transformation in the writings of Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams, Walt Whitman and Harriet Jacobs; and she considers the ways modern subjectivity and the Freudian unconscious bear the markings of the dark, savage, sexual, and alien others that were expelled by the disciplinary logic of the Western Enlightenment and its legacy of blood in the Americas.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Blood, Sex, and Other American Crosses
  • 2. Mixed Bloods: Jefferson, Revolution, and the Boundaries of America
  • 3. Revolutionary Women
  • 4. The Poetics of Whiteness: Poe and the Racial Imaginary
  • 5. Whitman and the Homosexual Republic
  • 6. Emily Dickinson and Class
  • 7. Beyond the Boundaries: C.L.R. James to Herman Melville
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments

Read the Preface here.

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Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-10-12 20:55Z by Steven

Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature

University of Arizona
220 pages

Derek Adams

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY In the Graduate College THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

This dissertation proposes to build upon a critical tradition that explores the formation of racial subjectivity in narratives of passing in African-American and American literature. It adds to recent scholarship on passing narratives which seeks a more comprehensive understanding of the connections between the performance of racial norms and contemporary conceptions of “race” and racial categorization. But rather than focusing entirely on the conventional mulatta/o performs whiteness plot device at work in passing literature, a device that reinforces the desirability of heteronormative whiteness, I am interested in assessing how performances of a variety of racial norms challenges this desirability. Selected literary fiction from Herman Melville, Mary White Ovington, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and ZZ Packer provides a rich opportunity for analyzing these unconventional performances. Formulating a theory of “black-passing” that decenters whiteness as the passer’s object of desire, this project assesses how the works of these authors broadens the framework of the discourse on racial performance in revelatory ways. Racial passing will get measured in relation to the political consequences engendered by the transgression of racial boundaries, emphasizing how the nature of acts of passing varies according to the way hegemonic society dictates racial enfranchisement. Passing will be situated in the context of various modes of literary representation—realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism—that register subjectivity. The project will also explore in greater detail the changing nature of acts of passing across gendered, spatial, and temporal boundaries.



Read the entire dissertation here.

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Science of desire: Race and representations of the Haitian revolution in the Atlantic world, 1790-1865

Posted in Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2012-04-15 16:09Z by Steven

Science of desire: Race and representations of the Haitian revolution in the Atlantic world, 1790-1865

University of Notre Dame
July 2008
489 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3436234
ISBN: 9781124353197

Marlene Leydy Daut, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies
Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California

A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation reads representations of the Haitian Revolution with and against the popular historical understanding of the events as the result of the influence of enlightenment philosophy or the Declaration of the Rights of Man on Toussaint L’Ouverture; or what I have called a “literacy narrative.” This understanding is most visible in texts such as C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (1938) and reproduces the idea that Toussaint read Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes (1772) and thus became aware that slavery was contrary to nature and was inspired to lead the revolt. Instead, I show how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century understandings of the Revolution were most often mediated through the discourse of scientific debates about racial miscegenation–an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century obsession with what happens when white people produce children with black people–making the Revolution the result of the desire for vengeance on the part of miscegenated figures, whose fathers refused to recognize or defend them, rather than a desire for the ideals of liberty and equality; or what I have called the “mulatto vengeance narrative.”

Chapter one examines the figure of the “tropical temptress” in the anonymously published epistolary romance La Mulâtre comme il y a beaucoup de blanches (1803). Chapter two takes a look at “evil/degenerate mulattoes” in Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” (1855) and Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal (1826). In chapter three I analyze the trope of the “tragic mulatto/a” in French abolitionist Alphonse de Lamartine’s verse drama Toussaint L’Ouverture (1850); the Louisiana born Victor Séjour’s short story, “The Mulatto” (1837); and Haitian author Eméric Bergeaud’s Stella (1859). Chapters four and five look at the image of the “inspired mulatto” in French novelist Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel, Georges (1843); black American writer William Wells Brown’s abolitionist speech turned pamphlet, “St. Domingo; its Revolutions and its Patriots” (1854); and the Haitian poet and dramatist Pierre Faubert’s play, Ogé; ou le préjugé de couleur (1841; 1856). By insisting on a discourse of science as a way to understand these representations, I show how these texts contributed to the pervasive after-life of the Haitian Revolution in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World, on the one hand, but also created an entire vocabulary of desire with respect to miscegenation, revolution, and slavery, on the other.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
    • Part 1: Mulatto Vengeance and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 2: Literacy Narratives and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 3: Notes on Terminology
  • Chapter 1: Tropical Temptresses: Desire and Repulsion in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue
    • Part 1: The Color of Virtue
    • Part 2: Colonialism and Despotism
    • Part 3: Desire and Abolition
  • Chapter 2: Black Son, White Father: Mulatto Vengeance and the Haitian Revolution in Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal and Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”
    • Part 1: Victor Hugo’s Parricide
    • Part 2: Melville’s “Usher of the Golden-Rod”
  • Chapter 3: Between the Family and the Nation: Parricide and the Tragic Mulatto/a in 19th-century Fictions of the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 1: Séjour’s Oedipal Curse
    • Part 2: Toussaint’s Children
    • Part 3: Bergeaud’s Romantic Vision
  • Chapter 4: The “Inspired Mulatto:” Enlightenment and Color Prejudice in the African Diaspoa
    • Part 1: Alexandre Dumas and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 2: Economics and Civilization
    • Part 3: The “Never-to-be-forgiven course of the mulattoes”
  • Chapter 5: “Let Us Be Humane After the Victory:” Pierre Faubert’s New Humanism
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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The idea of nature in “Benito Cereno.”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-04-12 13:36Z by Steven

The idea of nature in “Benito Cereno.”

Studies in Short Fiction
Spring, 1993

Terry J. Martin

Although many critics have analyzed specific natural images in Melville’s Benito Cereno, no one has yet focused exclusively on the role of nature in the novella, nor looked fully at its problematic relation to Delano. Such an examination can both reveal much about Melville’s artistry and enhance our understanding of the protagonist’s special kind of self-delusion. Midway through the novella, Delano performs an act that is at once typical and revelatory of his ideology: overwhelmed by fears for his life and doubts about providence, he turns to nature for reassurance:

As [Delano] saw the benign aspect of nature, taking her innocent repose in the evening, the screened sun in the quiet camp of the west shining out like the mild light from Abraham’s tent–as charmed eye and ear took in all these, with the chained figure of the black, clenched jaw and hand relaxed. (96-97).

The personal qualities that Delano attributes to nature (i.e., its “benign[ity]” and “innocen[ce]”), together with the religious associations that the sight evokes, reveal a kind of Emersonian belief in the transcendent goodness and moral providence of nature. It is, in other words, God’s benignity that Delano sees suffused throughout the scene. Delano is not a thoroughgoing pantheist; he retains the idea of a personal God, noticeable especially when he later declares, “There is someone above” (77). Nevertheless, for Delano, just as for Emerson, this transcendent spirit is shadowed forth in phenomenal nature, and Delano would no doubt agree with Emerson that “particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts” (13). This belief in effect turns nature into a vast allegory of the divine spirit. For Delano, the mere appearance of benignity in nature warrants belief in the transcendent reality of benignity…

…Delano’s belief that nature possesses a transcendent moral order legitimates for him the interpretation of natural signs. To be sure, Delano’s behavior is no different from that of most of his contemporaries when he interprets, for example, the color of skin according to this ideal order. If all things signify. then surely white, being the opposite of black, must entail different spiritual characteristics as well. Indeed, Delano has only to look to nature” to find objective corroboration for his belief that whites are “by nature . . . the shrewder race” (75) and therefore naturally superior to blacks: the (apparent) dominance of the whites and servitude of the blacks on the San Dominick offers sufficient proof of Delano’s premise. But Delano has also observed what he takes to be the evident inferiority even of free blacks at home. Blacks have presented themselves as “good-humor[ed],” “easy,” “cheerful,” and “harmonious in every glance and gesture; as though God had set the whole negro to some pleasant tune” (83). They are, he thinks, fit “for avocations about one’s person,” like “natural valets and hair-dressers; taking to the comb and brush congenially as to the castanets, and flourishing them apparently with almost equal satisfaction” (83). Furthermore, blacks are, in Delano’s view, exempt “from the inflicted sourness of the morbid or cynical mind” (84). However, he also deems them essentially “stupid” (75), displaying the “docility arising from the unaspiring contentment of a limited mind, and that susceptibility of blind attachment sometimes inhering in indisputable inferiors” (84). For Delano, skin color is simply the seal that providence uses to stamp inferior goods.

Of course, who knows what happens when the races are “unnaturally” mixed? Delano conjectures about the effect: “It were strange, indeed, and not very creditable to us white-skins, if a little of our blood mixed with the African’s, should, far from improving the latter’s quality, have the sad effect of pouring vitriolic acid into black broth; improving the hue, perhaps, but not the wholesomeness’ (89). It will be seen from this that the racially crossed offspring are at a distinct disadvantage in Delano’s world, in which natural signs correlate with spiritual identity, because their identities are as uncertain as the effect of mingled magic potions. In fact, the mulatto represents a special semiotic problem for Delano precisely because the mulatto is neither black nor white and is hence unable to be interpreted with any degree of certainty. Delano is therefore even willing to consider the possibility that a mulatto with a regular European face is a devil (89). After all, a belief in the inherent allegorical qualities of matter requires that the mulatto be something less than white but greater than black, and devilishness at least presupposes intelligence gone astray…

Read the entire article here.

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Blood relations: The cultural work of miscegenation in nineteenth-century American literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-08-21 02:07Z by Steven

Blood relations: The cultural work of miscegenation in nineteenth-century American literature

University of Pennsylvania
1999, 282 pages
Publication Number: AAT 9937719
ISBN: 9780599389762

Leigh Holladay Edwards, Associate Professor of English
Florida State University

A DISSERTATION in English Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

“Blood Relations” analyzes the way nineteenth-century literary texts use racial mixture to explore cultural anxieties about subjectivity and national identity. As many scholars have detailed, nineteenth century Anglo-America overwhelmingly rejected actual, literal interracial sex and reproduction between white and non-white races. Yet I show that on a symbolic level, the dominant white culture actively invoked metaphors of mixing in order to define itself. While it would be more conventional to argue that nineteenth-century culture ignored or suppressed miscegenation because it wanted to believe in racial purity, I illustrate that the culture shaped notions of race not by repressing mixture but rather by obsessively focusing on it. Intermixture emerges as a popular literary trope in the nineteenth century at the same time that amalgamation was becoming more socially and legally taboo. The literary focus on mixing is a way of micro-managing it, encouraging people to think about the interracial in certain ways, not in others. This process of cultural management through endless discussion is similar to nineteenth-century discourses about sexuality; as Foucault has shown us, the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie did not ignore sex, they endlessly talked about it, and their routinized ways of talking about sex worked to narrow and restrict sexual identities. Similarly, American race consciousness requires a discussion of the interracial in order to sustain itself. If Americans had not had interracial sex, their writers would have had to invent it.

I analyze works by writers such as Hawthorne, Melville, Chopin, Twain, and Helen Hunt Jackson, as well as popular Pocahontas narratives and the 1863 miscegenation pamphlet in which the term was coined. These representations titillated readers with America’s “open secret” of mixture, speaking to its paradoxical status as both social taboo and defining factor of self and nation. While distancing themselves from literal mixing, these writers simultaneously deploy symbolic intermixing, using mixture metaphorically to stage notions of the identity and the relationship between ideas of nation, gender, and race. I argue that we should place representations of mixture not at the periphery, but at the center of accounts of nineteenth-century culture.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Amalgamation and the National Imaginary in Hawthorne and Melville
  • Chapter Two: Tricky Business: Racial Mixture as Hoax in Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson
  • Section Introduction: Gendering Interracial Mixture
  • Chapter Three: Women as the Source of Mixture in “Desiree’s Baby
  • Chapter Four: Women and Assimilation in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona
  • Chapter Five: The United Colors of Pocahontas: America’s Obsession with Race Mixing
  • Bibliography

Purchase the dissertation here.

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