MLA Conference 2020
Seattle, WA - January 9-12
Our 2020 MLA Panel
Our panel—Melville, Gesture, Love—is on Friday January 10th at 8:30 AM in the Convention Center's Yakima 1. This panel was organized by Michael Snediker. Speakers will include Theo Davis, James Godley, and Lindsay Reckson. James Lilley will serve as respondent. You can find program details here.
The Melville Society Annual Dinner
We'll also host our annual MLA dinner on Thursday, January 9th at 7:30 PM at RN74, a short walk from the convention center. We'll continue to break Society tradition by abandoning fixed menus, so there's no need to send checks in advance. But we do need you to RSVP here. You can learn more about RN74 here (website | menu).
Melville, Gesture, Love – Panel Overview
“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incessant spume recalling Werner Hamacher’s definition of gesture as “what remains of language after meaning is withdrawn from it,” or Roland Barthes’s understanding of gesture as a “quantum of phantasmatic brilliance, of desire, or of pleasure.”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.”