Call for Papers
MLA Conference 2020
Seattle, WA - January 9-12
March 28 Deadline
The following "Call for Papers" are for the two panels that the Melville Socity is sponsoring at the 2020 Modern Language Association Conference: Melville, Gesture, Love and Melville’s Indigeneities.
Melville, Gesture, Love
“Thus Spake Zarathustra,” writes Agamben, is “the ballet of a humanity that has lost its gestures.” Melville’s corpus, it may be imagined, presents a ballet of gestures in the felt absence (thus spake “Bartleby’s” flummoxed narrator) of humanity. Ahab and Pip, Vere and Billy Budd (for that matter, everyone and Billy), Ishmael and Queequeg, Pierre and Isabel: love circuits through Melville’s characters like an Emersonian force, illuminating what in Melvillean characterology seems least substantive, least persuasive. It is arguably love’s failure along characterological lines that may draw our attention to its constitutive gestures, the frequency with which it surfaces across Melville’s oeuvre as a specifically textual matter: figuratively jubilant, expressively incessant spume recalling Werner Hamacher’s definition of gesture as “what remains of language after meaning is withdrawn from it,” or Roland Barthes’s understanding of gesture as a “quantum of phantasmatic brilliance, of desire, or of pleasure.” This Melville Society panel is envisioned as an opportunity for reconsidering both the contours and qualities of love’s gestures and our own love, as critics and theorists, of the gesture. After all, the concept of gesture has for some time gestured toward something strange and strangely alive at the heart of Melville’s enterprise—this isn’t unfamiliar terrain, and yet the term’s tenacity and continued salience suggests that Melvillean gesture (or our relation to it) has not yet fully done its office. How might the unfixed relation of these terms speak to the historical haunting of Battle-Pieces, to Clarel’s experiments in fidelity and scale, to the antiquary geology of “The Encantadas”? Or only somewhat more straightforwardly, the sumptuous queerness of Melville’s attachment to Hawthorne, not to mention the sumptuousness of what Newton Arvin describes as Melville’s “love of rare adjectives.”
From his early review of Parkman’s The Oregon Trail and South Pacific romances, to Moby-Dick, “The Encantadas,” The Confidence-Man, and later poetry such as Clarel and John Marr, Melville offers manifold representations of indigenous characters and peoples. Nonetheless, there has been comparatively little critical attention devoted to the prevalence and force of these representations and to the questions they raise. How, then, might Melville’s work relate to recent work in Native American Studies, indigenous studies or anthropology, or to the historical contexts of nineteenth-century US imperial expansion? How might Melville’s indigeneities open new contexts for understanding the transnational, cosmopolitan, oceanic, or hemispheric approaches to American literature, or to recent nonanthropocentric approaches to his work? How does Melville address issues of violence, genocide, disappearance or “the metaphysics of Indian-hating,” and might it also limn what could be called a “microphysics of Indian loving”: of Tommo and Fayaway, of Ishmael and Queequeg? How does Melville’s writing relate to earlier depictions of Native Americans by Brockden Brown, Cooper, Irving, Child or Sedgwick, or fit among contemporary ones by Fuller or Thoreau? This panel seeks papers which examine Melville’s work in relation to ecological, aesthetic, legal, political, religious, anthropological, postcolonial, historical or philosophical approaches to indigeneity, in any of its global contexts.