baroque / theme

A will not just to flourish but to the proliferation of the flourish - more, more, another stroke, another note, another qualifier, a joyous push towards the infinite, a celebration of the plenum, a world always filled to the brim.

Themes represent basic categories of thought, emotion, or value. While our assignment of themes may at times seem arbitrary or whimsical, they serve to link together artists and movements along non- hierarchial pathways. Follow the themes to look for new disciplines that share qualities with those you already like, or to open up new worlds of Art and Culture.

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Time Travel on Rails

Time Travel on Rails By VALERIE GLADSTONE Standing in the big, bright, modern Santa Justa railway station in Seville, Al Andalus looked anachronistic, like Greta Garbo surrounded by hip 90's starlets. The brown-and-gold luxury train, most of its cars built in the 1920's, exuded understated class in the midst of the other sleek but characterless trains. Over the loudspeaker the names of cities rang out, and people hurried to their gates. No such public fanfare for those of us who were soon to travel on Al Andalus -- reservations must be made weeks in advance. Except for the generator wagon, kitchen car and engine, all 14 of Al Andalus's cars were built in Britain, France and Spain between 1928 and 1930, a time when rail travel enjoyed enormous cachet. King Edward VIII of Britain used the sleeping cars in the 1930's on his travels between Calais and the CÙte d'Azur. But during World War II and for decades afterward they languished in rail yards, until 1983, when Spain's Minister of Tourist Transportation, Juli·n GarcÌa Valverde, decided to restore and reinvent them as a tourist train. With the Orient Express as inspiration but not as model -- the Orient Express didn't make sightseeing stops and was far more expensive -- Al Andalus began limited runs in 1983 in southern Spain. Every year it becomes more popular. In June, a friend, Terry Hudson, and I joined more than 60 other travelers on Al Andalus for six days and five nights, its last trip until September. It runs in spring and fall only. Although the train can be chartered anywhere in Spain, its customary route, two dozen times yearly, starts and ends in Seville, with stops in CÛrdoba, Granada, Antequera, Carmona, Ronda and Jerez de la Frontera, ancient cities with tumultuous histories and remarkable architecture. As on a cruise ship, we debarked at each stop for touring and meals, then returned in the evening. The train traveled from two to six hours every day, often in the middle of the night and occasionally in the late afternoon. Climbing aboard, we entered a small, elegant reception area. A young woman, one of five who looked after the passengers, greeted us and gave us the key to our sleeping compartment. Besides being fluent in English, French and German, these women knew the region thoroughly, and patiently tended to our motley group, mostly Spaniards but also a French couple, eight Britons, four Germans, one Japanese and four other Americans besides ourselves. The nationalities change every trip, but, a staff member told me, usually they're seasoned travelers. It hadn't occurred to me that most people wouldn't take a vacation on an old-fashioned train unless they were either train buffs or looking for something a little different or had traveled a good deal. I, as it happens, fit into the last two categories and Terry loves trains. Then one night halfway through the journey, I understood the implications of my choice. A group of us hanging out in the bar car, built in France in 1928 and named Giralda after Seville's graceful tower, marveled at how a few couples were managing to look romantic on the tiny dance floor as they swayed to such familiar tunes as "Autumn Leaves" and "The Girl From Ipanema." Amused by the surreal quality of the scene, I remarked how peculiar it was to be in a sumptuous railway car in a tiny station in the remote Spanish countryside, drinking and dancing. "But my dear," piped up a woman from Manchester, England, "Didn't you realize the trip would be quirky?" No, in fact. If I'd begun the trip with this in mind, I might not have been so upset by our small quarters. Worn and disheveled after a flight from New York to Madrid and a two-and-a-half-hour train trip from Madrid to Seville, we eagerly anticipated sprawling out for a couple of hours before joining the tour in CÛrdoba, our first stop. As it turned out, a miniature poodle would have had trouble sprawling out in our allotted space. Al Andalus offers sleeping compartments in three sizes: standard, double superior, and club. Standard, our class, is fit for only one person, or perhaps newlyweds -- very young and extremely enamored newlyweds. Two bunk beds practically filled the compartment, which otherwise included a pretty end table and lamp. The mahogany walls, elegantly inlaid with seashell patterns, did nothing to make things better when Terry and I bumped into each other four times in the first three minutes. A garment bag provided the only space for hanging up our clothes. Luckily, Terry was the only clotheshorse. In a corner, behind a panel, we found a sink and mirror. While the bathrooms, outfitted with gold-plated faucets and shared with four other passengers, took only seconds to reach from our compartment, getting to the modern shower stalls involved a trek through several cars. Fine, if you don't mind walking what seemed like a quarter of a mile in a bathrobe, clutching toiletries, in a train reeling along at what seemed like 100 miles an hour. I couldn't blame the travel agent or Al Andalus; no one misrepresented the facilities. We'd just economized and hoped for the best. Peeking into the rooms of our neighbors, I saw that the bigger compartments, some with toilets and showers, would have been quite comfortable and were as handsomely decorated as our own. F.J. Rodriguez/Cover, for The New York Times Waiting to board Al Andalus in Seville. To keep the peace, I left Terry to unpack and hurried through the train to join the group boarding a bus into CÛrdoba. How ever small our quarters, I admired Al Andalus's dÈcor. The interiors of the vintage cars, paneled in burnished mahogany, look like the elegant libraries you imagine in private houses in the 20's. Heavy ivory brocade curtains, tied with satin tassels, frame the windows. In the reception car, which doubles as a lounge, a room divider of frosted glass etched with birds and flowers separates the front desk area from an attractive space decorated with dark green leather armchairs and large wooden tables and equipped with a television set, board games and playing cards. In the two restaurant cars, small cozy sofas upholstered in a rococo pink and dark gray filigree pattern nicely substitute for chairs on each side of the dining tables. Lamps shaped like seashells cast a rosy hue in all the public cars. The visit to CÛrdoba revived me. Nothing like the fragrance of orange trees, the sight of red and pink bougainvillea, and the splashing of fountains in patios to soothe the soul. On the way to the Great Mosque through the ancient Jewish quarter, we passed old houses with flower-filled window boxes squeezed onto tiny terraces. Then we came upon the mosque. Construction began when the Moors first occupied the city in 796 and continued for two centuries. With its endless forest of rose-hued, intricately inlaid columns, long arcades and interlocking arches, it creates an extraordinary harmony. Our guide pointed out some of the finer details -- the ingenious weave of arches, resembling a piece of monumental lacework, that lead to Hakam II's prayer niche and within it, the inscriptions in shimmering gilt mosaic on a blue background. For an hour, we listened as she explained its evolution. Al Andalus picks its guides well. Almost every one -- in CÛrdoba, the Alhambra in Granada, the dramatic mountain town of Ronda, the sherry winery in Jerez de la Frontera, and Seville -- provided just the right amount of information, without suffocating us with extraneous data. A profound sense of irony tends to keep Spaniards from pedantry. The combination of intelligent guides, a wise selection of stops, meals at colorful, traditional restaurants and a few entertaining folkloric performances means that you come away from the trip with a good understanding of Andalusia -- one that would take far longer to get on your own. Also, you are immersed in the countryside. Fertile green fields alternated this season with plots of brilliant yellow sunflowers. Steep, rocky terrain planted with olive groves gives way to sandy, marshy monotony. Every tone and color and rise and fall of the land brings you closer to its essence. When I returned to the train that first evening, Terry and I agreed that it might be nicer to eat on board than to go into CÛrdoba for dinner with the other passengers. Except for the bountiful buffet breakfasts and the last dinner of the trip, we passengers ate in restaurants at our stops, many of them in paradores, the excellent Spanish government-run hotels in converted villas, forts, convents and castles. We were never disappointed by the well-prepared four-course meals. Although our request was unexpected, the staff didn't hesitate to call the chef, GinÈs Navarrete Alonso, and ask him to prepare a meal for us. And how good it was -- a fresh white wine, some grilled sardines, still with the scent of the sea, puff potatoes, a green salad, a slice of tender beef with a light tomato sauce and for dessert sweet pears. By morning, as we rode the bus up the steep streets to the Alhambra in Granada, we were in the swing of things. This great palace, the last refuge of Spanish Muslims on the Iberian peninsula, rises dramatically on a hill. At the end of the 14th century its royal residents enjoyed a palace with a dÈcor of faience, stucco and wood, elaborately adorned with patterns based on geometric, vegetal and epigraphic motifs. There are no harsh accents, no garish colors, only austere, subtle harmonies. Although we spent part of most days learning about Andalusian cities, there were breaks. We spent one morning and afternoon at the Hotel La Bobadilla, a 1,000-acre country estate an hour's drive from Granada or M·laga, deep in the countryside. A few famous people have found it worth a stay, among them King Juan Carlos of Spain, Pl·cido Domingo, Jessye Norman, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Some of its highlights: several pools, lush grounds, limitless riding trails, tennis courts, and spacious suites, each one different. In time, on the train, we made a few good friends: Americans from California who had just sold their insurance company to study religion and who gave us insight into how the Moors and Spanish Catholics wrestled for control of Andalusia 500 years ago; a witty English couple with Cockney accents, and then, of course, the woman from Manchester, who wanted to know what we "really felt about the English," and her husband, who soothed her when their kosher meals occasionally arrived cold. The efficient staff was apologetic and usually managed to correct such mishaps. The shared routine had a lot to do with the camaraderie that developed. F.J. Rodriguez/Cover, for The New York Times In the dining car. After dinner at the parador in Antequera, a few of us decided not to take the bus back to the train, and walked through the deserted town, some quietly singing, happy to be outside in the starlit night and having the unusual experience of returning to a rail station to go to bed. In Jerez de la Frontera, an English couple who owned carriage ponies reacted as negatively as I did to the famous horse show presented to tourists by the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art -- it struck me as circus tricks. Thus, having bonded with almost everyone who spoke English, our last dinner felt like those final nights at summer camp when you can't bear the thought of leaving all your newfound friends. It was by far the best meal of the trip, beginning with waiters serving us a wonderful variety of tapas. The surprising, and very un-Spanish, piËce de rÈsistance was a baked Alaska. Afterward, we retired to the Giralda. Imagine, at 2 a.m., they closed us down! The next morning we toured Seville and finally and inevitably, in the train station where we'd begun, we exchanged addresses and said our goodbyes. On Terry and I went by car to the coast. Oddly, that night, alone in our hotel in our big roomy suite in our big roomy bed, we felt a little lost and a trifle lonely. NY Times

Metaphysics, money & the Messiah: a conversation about Melville's "The Confidence-Man"

D. GRAHAM BURNETT: Cornel, it feels like a good time to have a serious conversation about a difficult text. And I figured we could dig right in, since it is a premise of Melville's The Confidence-Man that here in the United States perfect strangers can walk right up to each other and start on a serious conversation. CORNEL WEST: We're hardly strangers, though, brother Graham. DGB : So true - it is almost twenty years now since I sat as a sophomore in your course on "Cultural Criticism," weeping like a baby, along with about three hundred other impressionable youths, at your lecture on the death of Socrates. Many years gone by, and now our offices are a hundred yards apart. Even so, it is a conceit of this book that in some sense we are all fundamentally strangers, no? CW: That's right, that's true. DGB : So let's dive in, and start with a scene that sets the stage for everything that follows, namely, the introduction of the character called 'Black Guinea.' You will remember that Melville offers us the pathetic picture of an apparently crippled Black beggar pleading for alms aboard the Mississippi steamer, Fidèle, where all the action of the novel will unfold. Guinea and a "purple-faced drover" strike up a conversation. And the drover asks the supplicant, "But where do you live?" And Guinea replies, "All 'long shore, sar; dough now I'se going to see brodder at der landing; but chiefly I libs in der city." And the drover replies, "St. Louis, ah? Where do you sleep there of nights?" and Black Guinea replies, "On der floor of der good baker's oven, ser." And the drover replies, "In an oven? Whose, pray? What baker, I should like to know, bakes such black bread in his oven, alongside of his nice white rolls, too. Who is that too charitable baker, pray?" "Dar he be," replies Black Guinea, "with a broad grin lifting his tambourine high over his head." "The sun is the baker, eh?" replies the drover, a supposition Guinea confirms: "Yes sar, in der city dat good baker warms der stones for dis ole darkie when he sleeps out on der pabements o' nights." What's going on here? I'm not sure, but I propose that we consider this curious exchange in light of the following excerpt from Aristotle's Parts of Animals, famously cited in Heidegger's Letter on Humanism: We are told about something Heraclitus said to visitors who wanted to get to see him. Approaching, they found him warming himself in an oven. Surprised, they stood there in consternation - above all because he encouraged them to come in without fear, saying: "Even here the gods are present."1 Now the juxtaposition may seem a little far-fetched, but Heraclitus is mentioned by name in The Confidence-Man, so we know that Melville is engaged with this character, and the circumstantial consonances in the scenes are not trivial. Moreover that last line - "even here the gods are present," "einai gar kai entautha theous" - resonates in a powerful way with the larger themes of this novel. Indeed, I want to suggest that this tagline - here tacitly cited, we might say, by Melville - amounts to an antithesis of the traditional trope et in arcadia ego ... CW: Even here in the garden the devil is present ... DGB : Right. And as you know, the dominant thread of twentieth-century criticism of The Confidence-Man reads the story's central figure - the shape-changing huckster-demiurge who promenades through this 'masquerade' in different incarnations, selling dreams and preaching hope - as a Satanic presence. Black Guinea would appear to be the first of these incarnations, as well as the point of departure for the whole tale : his invocation of a list of "good, kind, honest ge'mman" who will vouch for his bona fides becomes the roster of con men (or, perhaps more precisely, the roster of disguises for Black Guinea himself) we will encounter in the pages that follow. But against this diabolical reading I offer the Heraclitan apothegm : "Even here the gods are present." Even here, as in 'even in this broken black body' ; even here, as in 'even here in the heart of the Americas.' I would like to believe that at this moment Melville is self-consciously offering us this lowly figure as a kind of profound metaphysician, and asking us already, from the outset, to be worried about our inability to see philosophical profundity where we least expect it. At the same time, I see Melville staking a claim to America as a place for philosophy and theology, not merely a place for commerce and wilderness - even here, the gods are present, even here on a riverboat in the muddy middle stretches of the Mississippi. The most radical claim, then, would be that this Heraclitan invocation of Black Guinea signals the high ambition of the text : to serve as the evangel of a distinctively American metaphysical posture. This is a book about what America offers to the problems of thought and being : space, movement, destabilized social hierarchies, perpetual and sequential opportunities for self-invention. At one point, in an irruption of authorial voice, Melville writes that there are only a handful of 'original' characters in all of literature : original like a Hamlet, or a Don Quixote. And yet it is clear that the confidence-man is such a character - our autochthonous philosophical persona. America itself is the condition of possibility for this figure. CW: It's a fascinating reading. I mean right off we have to keep in mind that Melville has a history of using Black characters as a way of concealing an existential profundity vis-à -vis supposedly sophisticated society. You think right away of Pip, for example, in Moby-Dick. And when Sterling Stucky talks about the crucial role of Black characters and Black culture in Melville, he makes you think of the Black church at the very beginning of Moby-Dick that becomes a kind of prefiguration of that blackness of blackness that Melville is going to be wrestling with in the novel as a whole. This is the grand Melville saying, 'Well, let's look at those on the underside of American civilization, the Pips and the Black Guineas, who not only have much to say, but have a power of disclosing and revealing a certain kind of shallowness and hollowness at the heart of a civilization that claims to be thick with plenitude and girded with certainty.' But when you point to this business with Black Guinea and the oven, the stove, you get me thinking of Descartes as a stove philosopher: Descartes in Germany at his stove, wrestling with skepticism, wrestling with doubt - this is a figure who is dealing with the grounds of confidence, the problem that lies at the center of Melville's text. See, I think it's key to read The Confidence-Man against two other literary texts in American culture: Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West; and Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. I think of Miss Lonelyhearts, where you get the hero/antihero who comes in and reveals that we have no grounds for our confidence in the world - not in the arts, not even in religion. He becomes a Christ figure who is simultaneously, in a sense, an Antichrist. He is not the devil, exactly, but he is a kind of veiled figure, a Christ in disguise who is unable to deliver like the traditional Christ figure delivered. Similarly so with that extraordinary character Hickey in The Iceman Cometh. Hickey too is a kind of problematic Christ figure - not simply an Antichrist, but really a Christ who can't deliver, a Christ who sells dreams. But it is even stranger than that: he sells the death of dreams too. He sells confidence but spawns a lack of confidence. He sows hope and transformation, but in the end he spawns radical distrust, even destruction. These figures, these prophets of the pipe-dream, are deeply rooted not just in Melville as a whole, but particularly in this text. Now another way of talking about all this is to look to Luke 18:8, and that famous question, "When the son of man comes will he find faith on earth?" Now by "faith" here we're not talking about just faith in God - we're talking about the fiducial constitution of our existence, the fiduciary dimension of the human condition. The kind of thing Michael Polanyi talked about with great insight in Personal Knowledge back in 1958. DGB: I'm struck by your reference to the fundamental preoccupation with faith in this text. It has seemed to me at different moments that The Confidence-Man might plausibly be read against Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling in the following way: Melville is acutely aware of the necessity of using distrust as a method for the production of knowledge - "I have confidence in distrust" or "I have trust in distrust," his characters say, parroting the stove philosopher himself - and yet this text seems steeped in the awareness that knowledge itself cannot save us. CW: Yes, that's right, to be sure. DGB: And so I think of Kierkegaard, who wants us to begin by remembering that belief - faith - is not knowledge, that there is a condition of "waiting to have revelation of what was in fact the case," and that's the experience of our lives. We do not know what follows our immediate perceptual existence, and it is only once we know what follows that the life we have lived can be understood under its proper aspect, under the aspect of eternity. This is the central problem of the small volume Kierkegaard published in the same year as Fear and Trembling: the book called On Repetition. So we are cursed, required, to live in this suspended state, without knowledge of that which is determinative of our condition. Can Melville's text be read as an account of the necessity of faith in a Kierkegaardian, or existential, mode? CW: Yes, you're right on the mark in terms of shifting from the more Cartesian conception of 'epistemology' to the more existential conceptions of what the great H. Richard Niebuhr, the finest American theological mind of the twentieth century, called "pistology" in his posthumous volume Faith on Earth. By pistology he means this existential be lief you are talking about, the business of trying to find some kind of meaning in a world of overwhelming chaos, in the world that Samuel Beckett calls "the mess." Pistology means imposing some order on the mess. Now take that wonderful line about Melville in Hawthorne's diary entry of November 20,1856: "He can neither believe nor be comfortable in his unbelief." That says a great deal. Here's Melville contemplating annihilation; he's wrestling to find some meaning - now, here. This is an existential struggle; this isn't an epistemological problem in the more technical sense used by our colleagues over in the philosophy department. This is a Kierkegaardian struggle, to be sure. We are in the realm of pistology here, since what H. Richard Niebuhr had in mind is that Greek word pistis, a term in the Koine Greek of the New Testament that usually gets translated 'faith.' Pistology has to do with self-involved, self-invested, self-immersed conceptions of belief. It is what William James talks about in The Will to Believe: you're actually putting your life at stake, you're on the edge of the abyss, you're trying to find some meaning that sustains you in your trajectory from womb to tomb. So this is existential in the deepest sense. DGB: And if we ask 'what's the difference between faith and confidence?' we get - etymologically speaking-just that little particle at the front end, 'con,' which has come to mean deception, but has a prior sense of 'with or among.' In that latter sense at least, though perhaps in both, we catch a glimpse of the desire for each other - the spiritual and material need for each other, the appetite for each other - that is so important to this book. CW: Absolutely. We are hungry for cultivated fellowship. This is a book about paideia, but it is a book that is uneasy about that too - in every 'con' there's a little 'con,' if you know what I mean! DGB : Let's talk about Emerson for a moment. Emerson is one of your heroes, but Melville can be read to offer a pretty damning indictment of the Sage of Concord. CW: Yes, well, as we know, Melville stood in a very complicated relationship to Emerson. We know from the letters that he characterized him as a great man - as a diver, as a man who could dive. Melville said you can always see something in a man when he goes beyond mediocrity, when he goes beyond easily discernible qualities, and Herman Melville saw that in Ralph Waldo Emerson. On the other hand, though, maybe Waldo's just a Plato who talked through his nose. That is to say, maybe in the end he's someone who really didn't have an understanding of the depth of the darkness of the human condition - he refused to linger on the darkness. It's like Goethe's relation to Von Kleist, you know : "I don't want to deal with the darkness too long; I'm going to push the fearsome text aside, and move toward the cloudless sky." DGB : So what about the part of The Confidence-Man that has been interpreted as directly satirical of Emerson and Thoreau both, namely, the encounter between the protean 'cosmopolitan' and these two bizarre characters : the 'mystic' Mark Winsome (usually read as Emerson) and his 'practical disciple' Egbert (usually read as Thoreau). The subject of their encounter is - as always in The Confidence-Man - money. CW : Part of the genius of Melville is that he understood William James's insight : that the core of the religious and existential problem for human beings is the call for help. It's no accident that Miss Lonelyhearts begins with that call : the Christ figure there has to answer all these terrible anonymous letters written to the newspaper, where people bare their hearts and cry out in their pain - there is the girl with no nose, there is the victim of sexual abuse, and on and on. A suffering humanity, calling for help: that is who we are. It is clear that Melville understood a certain version - yes, maybe a dominant version - of Emerson's conception of 'self-reliance' as ultimately a philosophy that didn't allow persons authentically to call for help. On this view human beings were autonomous enough, self-sufficient enough, to make their way. We know that Melville couldn't accept the dogmatic and orthodox Christian conception of that call for help, and of the obligation to respond. But he nevertheless believed that the call was real, that it was inescapable, and that a reply was indispensable. In his view anybody who plans to fly from cradle to grave without ever calling for help - at the most profound level - is somebody who is deeply confused, somebody whose philosophy has a gaping hole in the middle, a hole in its soul. And so Winsome ends up being this surface-like figure. Yes, for sure, it's an indictment of Emerson, but we have to keep in mind that Melville also had some appreciation of the real Emerson, so we don't want to confuse Winsome with Emerson himself. In the end Melville's argument is that Emersonian confidence in 'self-reliance' is too easily earned, that this solipsistic trust is too lightly assumed, too glibly presupposed. It skipped the struggle and the call for help that Melville understood to be at the core of the human experience. DGB: You make the call for help sound like a dark night of the soul, but in The Confidence-Man that call often bleats from the dark night of the wallet. What about the money? You remember that when Winsome introduces his disciple Egbert, we get this strange line: Winsome says, "For to every philosophy there are certain rear parts, very important parts, and these, like the rear of one's head, are best seen by reflection." Yes, there's something scatological about this, as critics have been quick to point out, but I want to argue that ultimately in this text the 'rear part' of philosophy is money. Cornel, you know the expression 'money-shot'? CW: Yes I do. DGB: Well we might say that what Melville does to Emersonian transcendentalism is hoss it in front of the camera for its money-shot. And the money-shot is a tight shot on an open wallet. My sexualized term isn't gratuitous. It's explicit in the 'hypothetical' disputation between the cosmopolitan and Egbert in this same scene: the cosmopolitan says (it's the refrain of the whole novel), "I am in want - urgent want of money," to which Egbert replies dismissively that to call for a loan on the basis of friendship is "in platonic love to demand love rites." So we come to the metaphysical money-shot: 'I know that you have a great deal to say about God, and Jesus, and Love, and Truth, but here is the thing: I'm in want, I'm in urgent want, of a hundred dollars.' At this point it doesn't matter what book is on the table, what vast pronouncement is on the lips, what Buddha or Mahatma or carpenter's son is at the front of the room - we are going to see the philosophy in action. I take it to be a lemma of The Confidence-Man that you should never have a prophet or a guru or a priest or a savior to whom you have not owed actual money. When you see a promising messianic candidate on the horizon, you have to walk right up and ask to borrow one hundred dollars, by way of opening overture. CW: That's a fascinating read. But I've got a different take on all this. You remember at the end of Vice's The New Science, where he says that one cannot be a wise man without piety, that piety is a precondition of wisdom? By piety he means what Plato is talking about in the Euthyphro, which is indebtedness to the sources of good in one's life. So piety really means acknowledging what was in place or antecedent to you as you made your entrée and as you attempt to sustain yourself. Another way of putting it is this: when Melville writes, "to every philosophy there are certain rear parts," I am thinking of Heidegger, and of the implicit background conditions that are tacitly presupposed in any philosophical articulation or expression. Gadamer has made much of this. Polanyi also has made much of this, in terms of the tacit dimension of epistemic claims. It goes all the way to Edmund Burke, where prejudices are actually positive things, the very things that enable us to make the kind of knowledge claims that we make. These background conditions have to be made explicit by means of serious interrogation, reflection, and so forth, and therefore there's no such thing as a legitimate autonomy independent of a piety - a piety that must be enacted; there's no such thing as a legitimate autonomy independent of an acknowledgement of that which came before. Charles Taylor, of course, has offered profound insights in this regard, and Rorty and others have picked it up. If all this is true, then it means that some kind of historicist sensibility - in the form of a pietistic invocation or acknowledgement of what was in place prior to any kind of philosophical claim - cannot be avoided. This means that philosophy becomes tied to history, society, tradition, the existential condition of the author, and even biographical details - so we are back with Melville, terrified of financial ruin, wrestling with death, and struggling with his complex relations to his father ... DGB : So let's fit that back with what we were saying earlier about the limits of knowledge. I said before that this text knows knowledge cannot save us. And so we drew out Descartes and Kierkegaard, and suggested that The Confidence-Man understands the problem: OK, there are certain moves that you can make to try your claims to truth using radical doubt, skepticism, and so forth, but when you are finished razing the castles of deception, you are still going to need ground under your feet, and a roof over your head.' This is the foundational problem, and it remains a problem of belief. Are the 'hinder parts of a philosophy' legible as the problem of belief? CW : Well, the real question is whether Melville believes anything can save us. Can belief really save us ? What if your life preserver doesn't float? Melville might be precluding any sources of salvation here, and this is where the issue of the godhead becomes important. Remember that one line, brother, where he talks about maybe the devil understands who we are better than the creator does? It jumps out... DGB : It's chapter 22, "Tusculan Disputations," toward the end. And the line is - what an amazing Une! - I'll read it: "The devil is very sagacious. To judge by the event, he appears to have understood man better even than the Being who made him." CW : Yes, that's the one! DGB: Being with a capital B? I hadn't noticed that. Talk about a Heideggerian moment... CW : Reminds me a little bit of Schelling's great essay of 1809 on the essence of human freedom, where the very godhead itself becomes the center of a civil war between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It's a poetic text, and it has to do with whether the Satanic forces are actually more insightful regarding who we are as human beings than the being who supposedly created Lucifer himself. So you get this battle in the godhead, and this is part of the problem of evil. You know Heidegger has great lectures on this, the lectures shortly after he left the Nazis, in the summer of 1936 at Freiburg, where he says that Schelling is the greatest philosopher of the nineteenth century - other than Nietzsche, of course. DGB: This goes beyond a traditional story of Manicheanism, where the issue is mere strength. The issue here is something much stranger: it's a Manicheanism of savvy, of intimacy, of even something like sympathy. Terrifying! You put me in mind of the apocalyptic conclusion of this book, where, by the sputtering light of that histrionically allegorical "solar lamp" - with its two sides, one showing a "horned altar, from which flames arose," the other "the figure of a robed man, his head encircled by a halo" - our possibly diabolical cosmopolitan leads the doddering, white-haired, Bible-reading father figure into the labyrinth of scriptural apocrypha before whisking him off the stage and into the darkness. This is worrisome, to be sure! CW: So you admit to the diabolism now! DGB : It's worrisome, I can't lie. And yet I am still resistant to interpreting the scene as a victory for the powers of darkness. I see the extinction of the solar lamp as the extinction of the whole business of truth and falsehood, the extinction of the adolescent preoccupation with epistemology, with the 'really-real' and how we know it. We are being led - to invoke Nietzsche - out of the 'bad air' of a cabined theology into a perfectly perspectival universe - and being led by a new kind of savior: the player, the silver-tongued belief-maker, the tambourine man of dreams. We could do a lot worse! This is no descent into blasphemous despair. Ultimately, the text presents a powerful account of faith : genuinely prohibit any gesture toward ontological fundamentals, and you have changed the game ; cling to your faith right up to the moment you die, and you have made it. There is no place from which the Tightness or wrongness of your view can be assessed. The notion of your 'wrongness' trades on an implicit - and formally illegitimate - God's-eye view. CW : That is too rosy, brother - too rosy. The text is so fundamentally open-ended. It isn't going to save conventional Christianity for you. After all, even when you wander out into this new world, you're still in the hold of a ship of fools - and this takes us back to Sebastian Brandt's great work of 1494, Dos Narrenschiff. Melville is deeper than Nietzsche here. Perspectival? Brother Nietzsche closed a lot of questions. He was nothing if not sure about many answers... DGB : Christanity's wrong, Judaism's wrong, Democracy's wrong, science is wrong... CW: And Melville is deeper than that. There is a level of existential interrogation here, and a Socratic questioning that keeps things open. Which doesn't mean the text is unreadable. I don't like it when the critics say it's unreadable; I think it's very readable. There is play here, but it's not a Derridean free play, because it is too earnest and serious to be Derridean. And in fact the comedy has difficulty surfacing. We get it at the very end, with the laughing of the little flame-colored boy in the last chapter, but the laughter is so tear-soaked and hard-earned that it is very different from what we associate with deconstructionist readings, it seems to me. This is certainly not just about language or textuality; this is really all about the humanist notion of the soul, and the heart, and our tragic choices. Melville recognizes the price you have to pay for each option you chose, and isn't that the truth? DGB : You have to pay to play, the cosmopolitan might say. Are we back to money, the fundamentally transactional character of the call for help ? CW: Do you remember that wonderful line in Miss Lonelyhearts when Nathanael West says something like, "The commercial spirit is the father of lies"? There's always a whiff of death when we talk about lies and mendacity, so you get this existential connection with the economic, just as we have the link between epistemology and the state of one's soul. Yes, this is all a kind of Socratic questioning, an open investigation of what it means to be human - but at the same time you're right that there is something very American here, in terms of the ubiquitous character of market relations and business transactions. DGB : What about truth ? Melville puts in the mouth of a forbidding character - the 'ursine' Missourian, clad in skins - one of the most memorable lines of the whole book: [W]ith some minds truth is, in effect, not so cruel a thing after all, seeing that, like a loaded pistol found by poor devils of savages, it raises more wonder than terror its peculiar virtue being unguessed, unless, indeed, by indiscreet handling, it should happen to go off of itself. This image is a notch more complicated than the later business about truth as a 'thrashing-machine.' That we get: truth is dangerous, but used correctly, it feeds us - it's a tool. Much more unsettling is this business about the loaded gun. Because what we have here is truth that is in fact not scary or dangerous at all at first. Rather, it's fascinating - until we screw around with it just a little too much, ignoramuses that we are. At which point it may or may not be fatal, but its real 'virtue' - death-dealing - we only realize too late. Moreover, once it has 'gone off it is, it would seem, perfectly inert forevermore. And this feels to me like a powerful way of understanding the 'loadedness' of the epistemological enterprise, of the whole Western philosophical tradition since Descartes ... CW: I think of the final scene again, and the voices calling from the darkness: "To bed with ye, ye divils, and don't be after burning your fingers with the likes of wisdom." We get truth as a gun that could go off at any moment and wisdom as a consuming fire better left untouched. DGB : What do we make of these ways of accounting for the humanist's cherished ideals of truth and wisdom? CW: Well, there's a sense in which you have to go back to Hamlet. One of the things that is so distinctive about that play is the sense you get that Shakespeare has seen so much, and seen through so much, that his wisdom is indeed loaded - that it's deadly. And, sure enough, we see the pile of corpses at the end, and we see the death-in-life in the characters themselves, and we know that without the right kind of handling the truth could go off in us, and it just might do us in. At that point - and this is really what The Iceman Cometh is all about - the logic ofpaideia is self-destruction. DGB: I think I'm going to be sick... CW: Now this is unsettling to humanists like myself, like you. We get a resonance here with Melville, because if you really see too much, see through too much, the danger is not just the darkness but the inability to get out of the darkness. Paul Tillich used to always say, "You can't talk about truth without talking about the way to truth; you can't talk about wisdom without talking about the path to wisdom." DGB: Suddenly I am more interested in talking about the way back... CW: You have to be wise in your quest for wisdom. It sounds paradoxical, but you do. DGB: It makes me think of Descartes again. Since we sometimes forget that he doesn't simply embark on his scorchedearth campaign of radical doubt. First, he sets up his morale provisoire, a 'provisional morality' to which he will adhere doggedly in that dangerous interval during which he intends to place all accepted ideas in the crucible of skepticism. And that 'placeholder' morality was, naturally, precisely conformai with quotidian ethical practices - the Jesuits at La Flèche had trained their pupil well! I had a student when I was teaching at Columbia who described the moral provisoire as Descartes' "ethical bungee-cord" : before leaping into the abyss of doubt he harnesses himself on a long, elastic tether to the bridge of conventional, bourgeois Christian morals. CW: It's the perfect image. Now with all these warnings about truth and wisdom, there's clearly a sense in which Melville is talking about his own text - The Confidence-Man - and telling us that his book is explosive, and that if it's not handled delicately, it could lead to a cynicism, a misanthropy, and so forth. There's a mature way of wrestling with this darkness, and there's an immature way of wrestling with this darkness. Where does the maturity come from? Well, it's the same issue as where we learn the wisdom to deal wisely in our quest for wisdom. There's a paradox here. There's a circularity here - a hermeneutical circle. DGB: I want to go back to the business about the convergence of the logic of paideia and the logic of destruction. This puts me in mind of a certain character who means a great deal to both of us. Isn't the intersection of paideia and death exactly the story of Jesus Christ? Let me press for a moment on the personal side of all this: you and I, Cornel, we are believers, we are Christians. CW: Oh, absolutely. Of a certain sort, a self-styled Christianity, absolutely. DGB: And I keep insisting that The Confidence-Man is, fundamentally, a hopeful text - and I think that is a reading conditioned by my sense... CW: That you know where you have placed your bets... DGB: Exactly. I read this book as a parable about the necessity of faith. When someone comes into the room and says, 'Knowledge cannot save you,' I say, 'Amen, I know that story..." CW: You affirm it, recognize it, and say yes. DGB : Cornel, I think that ultimately the confidence man is a messianic figure, that the apotheosis of the con-man is a messiah. Whoever can make us believe all the way to the end has saved us. That is what this book is about. Is that too simpleminded? CW: Do you know that wonderful line in T. S. Eliot's introduction to Pascal's Pensees, where he says the demon of doubt ought to be part of one's faith, ought to be always already there? Now what does that mean? Well, W. H. Auden draws this distinction between the tragedy of fate and the tragedy of possibility. The tragedy of fate is found in the Greeks - Sophocles, let's say. And the tragedy of possibility is very much the Christian story, with Good Friday, the crucifixion, and then that Beckett-like space of Saturday, waiting for God, waiting for Godot, and then surprised by joy: Easter. But then on Monday, when the resurrection has taken place, the world is still a hellish place, right? It's not as if the resurrection has made any real difference in the 'City of Man.' Yes, for Christians it prefigures something to come. Yes, for the Christian "He is risen, hallelujah, He is risen." But there are still children in the gutter, eating garbage. So for me, reading The Confidence-Man as a devotee of that first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus - and my Christian sensibility is profoundly Chekhovian - for me, reading this text, I am so radically unhoused as a Christian. I am pushed to the wall by Melville's Saturday-sensibility. Which is to say, the crucifixion has taken place, catastrophe has already occurred - and we've already noted the degree to which Melville is an artist of catastrophe. Hope? I don't think that for him, whatever threadbare possibility there is -1 don't think there's anything like what we need to get to Sunday, to get to Easter. Now yes, Melville is wrestling with the angel of meaning, he's wrestling with the angel of death the way Jacob did - but he can't get a new name, you know? He's a god-wrestler like Israel, but he remains a god-wrestler all the way down. Am I attracted to him? Yes. But I don't see the object of faith there for him. I don't see the end and the aim the telos of faith. Or at least it isn't ever going to be what we Christians would want. His skepticism is too deep; for him, that demon of doubt that Eliot talks about stands at the center. And this is what that Hawthorne letter was about, the one I quoted before: "He can neither believe nor be comfortable in his unbelief." Wittgenstein faced the same predicament, right? DGB : Let's go back to Auden. You know the great line from his Christmas Oratorio: Joseph, you have heard What Mary says occurred; Yes, it may be so. Is it likely? No. CW: Right! [Laughs] DGB: [Laughs] Well there is the beauty of it! Remember when Melville writes that the true Original character' is like a "revolving Drummond light" - basically a stage spotlight? CW: The As You Like It formulation of the world in general ... DGB: Yes, perhaps - though the reference is here mediated by technology in a strange way. But anyway, my point is this : you know the way that every Catholic church organizes the sacred space of the altar in the center of a threefold figuration of the Holy Family : the crucifix behind, Mary usually stage right, Joseph stage left? CW: Yes. DGB: I feel as if the Drummond light of the confidence man bathes this triptych in its own distinctive glow. There could hardly be a more fantastic confidence game than the fundamental, foundational Christian mythology : a story about parturition without sexual contact, a story of God made man, a story of death that gives life. What we've got here is a project to look the most basic truths about human existence - logical, empirical - right in the face, and then to deny them flat. And it was carried off with such aplomb, with such sublime confidence, that it succeeded in changing the shape of the world and bringing radical novelty to the experience of the human across seven continents and two thousand years. CW: I hear you. DGB: Here's the thing : it doesn't scare me to have that Drummond light set up square on the very altar - to have it illuminate that threefold figuration of our faith for a moment, and to have Melville remind me that this is a kind of conjuration, possibly the most spectacular conjuration known to humanity. I'm not worried. After all, there we are enacting that faith in yet another conjuration : This is my body... 'It is ? A fitting sacrament for the altar of such a faith. Perfect! And anyway, where are you going to stand and tell me that it's all 'wrong'? CW: But it's not that simple. Once you let loose a lie in the world, it can easily take on a life and logic of its own. So that it may initially have been sustaining or whatnot, but the canker works gradually. The danger is that lies can become habit-forming. [Laughs] That's part of what Melville is saying here too, you see? DGB: Well now, after all, the truth has been so much our friend - the truth has done us so many favors. If I sound a little acidic here, I am borrowing Melville's acid. The truth? Oh, you want to play with the truth, well hang on, I've got it for you right here - Oh my! It's a loaded gun and you don't know what to do with it ... CW: If not delicately handled, you're right. I mean there's a certain practical wisdom that goes together with truth telling, but the same is true for lie telling. Think of Plato's "Noble lie"... DGB: Truth? lies? The necessity of faith is what we are left with in this world. We have extinguished the epistemological questions - out they went with the solar lamp of the final scene. All that business of proof and evidence doesn't apply here. The tools of propositional calculus or the techniques for making a taxonomy of the cryptograms - all that stuff is irrelevant now. We are now talking about final things... CW: But on the other hand, Melville is here to remind us that our attempt to extinguish metaphysical questions in a move toward the existential may itself be another illusion, another masquerade, another mode of evasion, another kind of distraction. Because maybe maybe the truth is death. You hear what I'm saying? Eternal death, eternal darkness, absolute tragedy. You see what I mean? DGB: You say the truth may be death, but I'm holding the gun very, very carefully... CW: Exactly. I hold it carefully with you, brother, absolutely. But intellectual integrity requires pushing as far as you can ; you have to try to sort things out; you have to try to achieve some coherence, some consistency. DGB: Really? CW: Oh yes, I think so. DGB: Well you go ahead. I don't buy it. This is the game the folks play over in the philosophy department. They have made intellectual integrity into a little ring, a little agonistic space where there is basically one rule: the law of noncontradiction. You can't have A and not-A. And if they can maneuver you into that arena, they'll kick your tail. CW: But that agon is indispensable... DGB: Really? It has nothing to do with human life. To be human is A and not-A - that is our fundamental condition. CW: OK, but what about cell phones and bridges? I mean science and technology you have to acknowledge, right? DGB: The desire to transcend the human condition can take several forms: we can aspire to be angels, or we can aspire to be machines. I prefer the former. CW: Well, see, for somebody like myself, a Chekhovian Christian, I don't want to transcend the human at all. I want to revel in the human, acknowledge the call for help, connect back to the human sources that sustain me in space and time and human history. I don't think the transcendence of the human is a positive move in any direction. DGB: So interesting. But what about Christian transcendence? What about Sunday? CW: We wait for Sunday. see, you've got two levels here. Oh, this is very good stuff- this is powerful stuff! There are two levels here : one is the Dostoyevskian level, which is the inability to live Christianity - the simple impracticability of real Christian life. I'm thinking of the Sermon on the Mount, yes, but also of the Sermon on the Plain, the sixth chapter of Luke. I'm thinking of the wrestling in The Brothers Karamazov. So we Christians, who have the audacity to say that the seemingly weakest force on earth - love - will ultimately transform a world of hatred and bigotry and cruelty and xenophobia and domination and oppression, we also seem to make the best haters! And then, on top of that, here comes Melville, saying, 'But anyway, what difference does the practical part make? Since y'all are just enacting a masquerade panyway, with various kinds of masks that hide the incongruity and the dubitability of this set of illusions that you call the Christian story.' see, here is where Melville pushes a Christian like me up against the wall. Dostoyevsky already worked the gut pretty hard, and here comes Melville swinging for my head! DGB: Oh, but Cornel I don't buy it. You're way too smooth! These guys haven't got you against the wall... CW: [Laughing] I'm swinging back, I'm like Ali on the ropes. I'm saying to myself, you know, "Foreman's not going to do me in ..." DGB: [Laughing] There's no way! CW: That's right, I'm coming off the ropes! DGB: To be sure! Because if there was ever a character who had the moves, who had the silver tongue... CW: Who's moving all the time ... DGB: Who can come back for Jesus - it would be you! CW: Ha! DGB: Let me just say it again : If, in the end, as this book suggests, it's smoke and mirrors all the way down, then I would want the smoke and the mirrors in your hands, brother. CW: But you have to understand, that grotesque Negro cripple with whom we started - he is part of my own heritage. Because what you actually have there is a jazz-like figure, an improvisational figure on the ropes, a figure who's able to use smoke and mirrors not just to survive catastrophe but to try to maintain a certain kind of sanity and dignity, a certain kind of compassion, and a certain kind of hope. And Melville sees that in his grotesque Negro cripple - who signifies all those Black folks in America, on the underside in America, always on the ropes, preserving a hope against hope, but doing it in such a way that they're not trying to trump somebody else's options and alternatives. That's why Black Guinea inspires me to try to be a blues man in the life of the mind, to play jazz in the world of ideas. And Melville? He's my agnostic comrade and democratic companion! DGB: Cornel, I'll tell you what, do you remember what I said about a lesson of The Confidence-Man being that you should never have a philosophical champion or a prophetic hero to whom you have not owed money? Well here is the thing: Cornel, I am in need - I am in desperate need of a hundred dollars ... CW: [Laughing, taking a roll of bills from his vest-pocket] Oh, that is marvelous! Lord! Oh, this is a good time, man! DGB: [Laughing] Oh! My! Look at all that green! Oh! That is the money shot! Oh, that is too good! OK, we'll stop, we've got to stop, stop the tape ... [Both continue laughing...] 1 For an account of the translation problems this passage offers, as well as a comprehensive discussion of interpretations of its significance, see Pavel Gregoric, "The Heraclitus Anecdote: DePartibus Animalium i 5.645317 - 23," Ancient Philosophy 2.1 (2001) : 73 - 85. Gregoric joins the preponderance of modern commentators in rejecting Heidegger's glossing of "pros toi ipnoi" as 'in the oven,' preferring 'at' or 'by' ; admittedly, these latter were also preferred by Aristotle's early-nineteenth-century English translators. Cornel West, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1999, is Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University. His published works include "Race Matters" (1993), "The Future of the Race" (with Henry Louis Gates Jr., 1997), and "Democracy Matters" (2004). West recently released a new album, "Never Forget : A Journey of Revelations. " D. Graham Bumett is an associate professor of history at Princeton University. He is the author of "Masters of All They Surveyed" (2000), "A Trial By Jury" (2001), "Descartes and the Hyperbolic Quest" (2005), and "TryingLeviathan" (2007). © 2007 by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Copyright MIT Press Fall 2007 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Herman Melville's "The Confidence Man"

Herman Melville's "The Confidence Man" If you really want to understand the heart of darkness that defines American society, it is necessary to read Herman Melville. While Melville has the reputation of being a combination yarn-spinner and serious novelist, he is above all a profound social critic who sympathized with the downtrodden in American society. In his final novel, "The Confidence Man," there are several chapters that deal with the "Metaphysic of Indian-Hating" that, as far as I know, are the first in American literature that attack the prevailing exterminationist policy. "The Confidence Man" is set on a riverboat called the "Fidèle," that is sailing down the Mississippi. As the title implies, the boat is loaded with con men who are either selling stock in failing companies, selling herbal "medicine" that can cure everything from cancer to the common cold, raising money for a fraudulent Seminole Widows and Orphans Society or simply convincing people to give them money outright as a sign that they have "confidence" in their fellow man. The word "confidence" appears in every chapter, as some sort of leitmotif to remind the reader what Melville is preoccupied with: the meanness and exploitation of his contemporary America. Because for all of the references to the need for people to have confidence in one another, the only type of confidence on the riverboat is that associated with scams. For Melville, the act of scamming represents everything that is wrong in American society in the decade preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. It is a time when the power of capital is transforming the American landscape, turning everything into a commodity. In Chapter 9, titled "Two business men transact a little business," shares in something called the Black Rapids Coal Company are proffered. The man who is being enticed to buy the shares is a bit worried because there was a "downward tendency" in the price of the stock recently, just as there has been in vast numbers of securities on the global exchanges in 1998. The stock seller tries to reassure his customer: "Yes, there was a depression. But how came it? who devised it? The bears,' sir. The depression of our stock was solely owing to the growling, the hypocritical growling, of the bears." When the potential buyer asks him "How, hypocritical?," the stock seller answers: "Why, the most monstrous of all hypocrites are these bears: hypocrites by inversion; hypocrites in the simulation of things dark instead of bright; souls that thrive, less upon depression, than the fiction of depression; professors of the wicked art of manufacturing depressions; spurious Jeremiahs; sham Heraclituses, who, the lugubrious day done, return, like sham Lazaruses among the beggars, to make merry over the gains got by their pretended sore heads -- scoundrelly bears!" Scoundrelly bears? I suppose that's as good an explanation for recent woes on Wall Street as any. When the stock market was becoming the big craze in the 1850s, much of the speculation was fueled by prospects of American business penetrating into the heartlands west of the Mississippi. In order to facilitate this penetration, it was necessary to remove the indigenous peoples who had inconveniently come to dwell on these lands over the past ten thousand years. The founding fathers of the United States endorsed their removal wholeheartedly. As David Stannard has written in "American Holocaust," the slave-owning "democrat" Thomas Jefferson wanted to show the Indian no mercy: " 1812, Jefferson again concluded that white Americans were 'obliged' to drive the 'backward' Indians 'with the beasts of the forests into the Stony Mountains'; and one year later still, he added that the American government had no other choice before it than 'to pursue [the Indians] to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.' Indeed, Jefferson's writings on Indians are filled with the straightforward assertion that the natives are to be given a simple choice--to be 'extirpate[d] from the earth' or to remove themselves out of the Americans' way." Agreement with Jefferson's sentiments were practically universal in American society. I would hazard a guess that moral objection to slavery ran stronger than defense of indigenous rights. Given the overall support for what amounts to a policy of genocide against the Indian, Melville's thoughts on the subject appear strikingly at odds with the mainstream. The subject appears in the course of a discussion between two men on the deck of the riverboat about the infamous "Indian-hater" John Moredock. Moredock was the son of a woman who was killed by a small band of Indians, who, according to the narrative, "proved to belong to a band of twenty renegades from various tribes, outlaws even among Indians, and who had formed themselves into a maurauding crew." Moredock eventually tracked down this band and killed them all. But he became consumed with hatred for all Indians in the course of his vendetta. This is what Melville calls the "metaphysics of Indian-hating." It took over Moredock's life. He proved so adept at Indian killing that he eventually joined the army, where he rose rapidly in the ranks on the basis of his exterminationist skills. However, after he became a colonel, his Indian hating became an obstacle to further career growth in government, because other skills besides blind aggression are necessary. Melville writes: "At one time the colonel was a member of the territorial council of Illinois, ends at the formation of the state government, was pressed to become candidate for governor, but begged to be excused. And, though he declined to give his reasons for declining, yet by those who best knew him the cause was not wholly unsurmised. In his official capacity he might be called upon to enter into friendly treaties with Indian tribes, a thing not to be thought of. And even did no such contingency arise, yet he felt there would be an impropriety in the Governor of Illinois stealing out now and then, during a recess of the legislative bodies, for a few days' shooting at human beings, within the limits of his paternal chief-magistracy. If the governorship offered large honors, from Moredock it demanded larger sacrifices. These were incompatibles. In short, he was not unaware that to be a consistent Indian-hater involves the renunciation of ambition, with its objects -- the pomps and glories of the world; and since religion, pronouncing such things vanities, accounts it merit to renounce them, therefore, so far as this goes, Indian-hating, whatever may be thought of it in other respects, may be regarded as not wholly without the efficacy of a devout sentiment.'" Now does this portrait of a man totally consumed in hatred remind you of any other in literature? It should because John Moredock is almost identical in motivation to Captain Ahab who wants to murder whales instead of Indians. While Moredock is ready to abandon election to higher office, Ahab is willing to destroy a ship and her crew, including himself, in order to kill Moby Dick. This monomaniacal drive to exterminate Indians and whales is very much symbolic of mid-19th century America. In a powerfully ironic fashion, hatred of Indians and obsessions with whales is still very much part of our national psyche as the Makah get ready to go out and hunt for a gray whale. All of the Indian haters in the United States have decided to put the Makah in their gunsights as the Makah themselves get ready to put one gray whale in their own. What would Melville have made of this drama? I will attempt to answer this question in an extended essay on Melville, whales and indigenous peoples that will be a chapter in the book on I am working on, titled "Marxism and the American Indian." I will go on record at this point to state that Melville would have been a supporter of the Makah and an enemy of industrial whaling. My arguments are in part based on my interpretation of "The Confidence Man" and "Moby Dick." They are also based on other writings, where Melville makes his solidarity with the American Indian explicit. In a review of Francis Parkman's "The California and Oregon Trail," written in 1846, Melville takes note of Parkman's hatred of the Indian: "...when in the body of the book we are informed that is difficult for any white man, after a domestication among the Indians, to hold them much better than brutes; we are told too, that to such a person, the slaughter of an Indian is indifferent as the slaughter of a buffalo; with all deference, we beg leave to dissent." And what is the dissent based on? It is based on our belonging to one race, the human race. Melville says, "We are all of us--Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks and Indians--sprung from one head and made in one image. And if we reject this brotherhood now, we shall be forced to join hands hereafter." (The "Confidence Man" is online at

Anne Carson

EXCERPT II. BUT A DEDICATION IS ONLY FELICITOUS IF PERFORMED BEFORE WITNESSES--IT IS AN ESSENTIALLY PUBLIC SURRENDER LIKE THAT OF STANDARDS OF BATTLE You know I was married years ago and when he left my husband took my notebooks. Wirebound notebooks. You know that cool sly verb write. He liked writing, disliked having to start each thought himself. Used my starts to various ends, for example in a pocket I found a letter he'd begun (to his mistress at that time) containing a phrase I had copied from Homer: 'entropalizomenh is how Homer says Andromache went after she parted from Hektor--"often turning to look back" she went down from Troy's tower and through stone streets to her loyal husband's house and there with her women raised a lament for a living man in his own halls. Loyal to nothing my husband. So why did I love him from early girlhood to late middle age and the divorce decree came in the mail? Beauty. No great secret. Not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty. As I would again if he came near. Beauty convinces. You know beauty makes sex possible. Beauty makes sex sex. You if anyone grasp this--hush, let's pass to natural situations. Other species, which are not poisonous, often have colorations and patterns similar to poisonous species. This imitation of a poisonous by a nonpoisonous species is called mimicry. My husband was no mimic. You will mention of course the war games. I complained to you often enough when they were here all night with the boards spread out and rugs and little lamps and cigarettes like Napoleon's tent I suppose, who could sleep? All in all my husband was a man who knew more about the Battle of Borodino than he did about his own wife's body, much more! Tensions poured up the walls and along the ceiling, sometimes they played Friday night till Monday morning straight through, he and his pale wrathful friends. They sweated badly. They ate meats of the countries in play. Jealousy formed no small part of my relationship to the Battle of Borodino. I hate it. Do you. Why play all night. The time is real. It's a game. It's a real game. Is that a quote. Come here. No. I need to touch you. No. Yes. That night we made love "the real way" which we had not yet attempted although married six months. Big mystery. No one knew where to put their leg and to this day I'm not sure we got it right. He seemed happy. You're like Venice he said beautifully. Early next day I wrote a short talk ("On Defloration") which he stole and had published in a small quarterly magazine. Overall this was a characteristic interaction between us. Or should I say ideal. Neither of us had ever seen Venice.

Queer Skins 1

Did you hear from him again? Carlos: He sent me a letter from Africa—it was on hotel stationary. Old fashioned letter head, cheap paper. It got wet somehow. So, I couldn’t read half of it. But, in the first line he asked my forgiveness. It seemed like he was saying goodbye. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I heard that he’d jumped off the balcony. He told me he’d been mugged in the first week. He tried to joke about it, but I could tell he was scared. I thought, man, it must have brought that all back for him, Even though Suzanne did not think he had PTSD, I still think that something like that kind of violence affects you. It has to. I called Alex after I got the letter. I thought he might know something. But, he never called me back. I thought about telling the police-- they were not happy about him skipping town. But, then I thought, what good is that going to do. So, I just ran the letter under the faucet, let all the words run off like invisible ink. Did he tell you why he left? Bathilde. No. Not exactly. He just said he had no plan to go back. I knew he was from California and that he’d had a boyfriend there. Though he didn’t discuss it much, he never seemed like he was running away. But, one night, I guess we’d drunk a few beers, he told me why he went to Congo. No plan, no contacts. Just credit cards and a plane ticket to Kinhasa. So the golden boy shows up in this airport and it’s just a madhouse: people shouting, selling things, kids high on glue, people begging. At least he spoke French. He managed to get some money changed, got absolutely fleeced. I said, “My God, man, what were you expecting?” “An ATM,” he says. “Ha, ha, ha, he meant it, poor Sebastian.” But, he loved telling the story—because it was funny. Some people tell stories to show off, to be the center of attention. But, Sebastian told them because it made people happy. S.: When Bathilde picked me up, I was about to decamp back to normal life. It had seemed like such a good idea. Looking back, I suppose I was hypo-manic. In the two weeks before I'd left, I hardly slept, I hardly ate, I felt so buoyant, that I barely felt my feet touching the ground.You can't imagine how clear my thoughts were, crystalline. They fit together so purely, like atoms of water when it freezes. I’d see an ant dragging some huge leaf across the ground and start to cry with joy at such a feat. I marveled at my own powers. I entertained the idea that I had superhuman strength, clairvoyance. Landing in Paris, however, suddenly surrounded by a foreign tongue,, I immediately began to reconsider my decision. I’d never really traveled. Alex had taken me to London twice on business, but that was it. It wasn’t until I arrive in Kinshasa—it was the middle of the night and sweltering, that I suddenly realized that I must have been completely out of my mind. It was late, after dark, anyway, the plane had been delayed at Charles de Gaulle. The airport itself was a madhouse. Everyone spoke so fast, I could barely tell that it was French I asked someone for a taxi-stand and was pointed out the big plexi glass doors. I smiled a little too brightly and nodded too vigorously. Because I was already afraid. Though at the time, I could not indulge. I had nothing but my passport, a change of clothes, —a suit of white duck, and some cash. Outside, the waiting areas were lit by bare electric bulbs. It gave everything a greenish hue. And there were amazing bugs flying around them. Hideous. Like something out a science fiction movie. The people’s skin was very black like a night sky. Beautiful. A crowd of people had formed around me by that time. Everyone offering me something—a ride, a hotel, betel nut in banana leaves, women, watches, sight-seeing tours. I could barely move. At first I smiled politely, and shook my head “no” but they were grabbing at my shirt, my bag, my arm. I was getting more and more nervous. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my pant leg, and looked down. A man with elephantiasis was sitting there on a make-shift go-cart. It was really nothing more than a piece of wood on luggage wheels. Using his arms, he managed to propel himself around like that. His legs were useless. Big as ham hocks. The skin was peeling off the calves, deadened by the pressure of the fluid that resided there. His balls were the size of grapefruits, they toppled out of his red satin gym shorts and rested squashed between his monumental thighs. I must have gasped, because the crowd started to laugh, even the man on the board laughed. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. That laughing made the whole scene human again and my plan to save the world did not seem like such a ridiculous plan. So, I picked the first guy who’d offered me the taxi. The others were disappointed. They trailed after us, begging for money. Out in the parking lot, I saw a kid, he looked no older than ten, passed out on the sidewalk. He was filthy. His hair was matted with actual dirt, his clothes were rags. His skin seemed to be covered in a fine volcanic ash. He looked like a toppled statue. The man saw me looking, and clucked dismissively, “Don’t worry about that mister, I know that one. He steals.” “What is wrong with him I asked,” I wanted to stop, but I thought it would make me look vulnerable, so I didn’t. The boy was a glue-sniffer. Wherever I went in Africa, it was the same. Kids as young as six hung out a bus stops, train-stations, airports—all these places in between. I remember coming back through with Bathilde. She saw me observing a little gang of them. She told me they were all thieves, that I should never give them money because it would all end up their noses, but if I wanted to do something, I could buy a poulet roti from the cart. I was grateful for her advice. They devoured it in seconds, laughing and smiling. Then, sucked on the bones. For the first time, they looked like children. Bathilde must have known then, well, actually, she’ll say she knew when she first met me, that I would have died for love.