Mugging Melville

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One of the speakers at this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) meeting brought up a fascinating quote by William Wordsworth that may well be an indictment of the annual conclave of English professors: “To dissect is to murder.”

If that is so, much of the professoriat at the MLA meeting could be up on assault charges. If he hadn’t already passed away, Herman Melville might want to file such a complaint.

Melville, of course, is the author of Moby Dick. Many will probably recognize this as the one about a one-legged sea captain pursuing a great big whale. Yet and still, just about every year, MLA members want to read so much more into the saga.

At this year’s gathering, Paul B. Downes of the University of Toronto analogized “Ahab’s revulsion towards his ivory leg to capitalism’s revulsion at the source of its wealth.”

In this “dialectical or deconstructionist approach,” Downes avers, one can conclude that “Capitalism bites its own leg off.” Michael Jonik of the University of Sussex also made note of the “multifarious political ontology in Melville’s work.”

For her part, Branka Arsic of Columbia made note of “current ecological and epistemological preoccupations” in introducing the panel.

Photo by wolfgraebel