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Melville and the Idea of Blackness
Race and Imperialism in Nineteenth Century America

CAD$37.95 (C)

Part of Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture

  • Date Published: January 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107477834

CAD$ 37.95 (C)

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About the Authors
  • By examining the unique problems that “blackness” signifies in Moby-Dick, Pierre, “Benito Cereno," and "The Encantadas," Christopher Freeburg analyzes how Herman Melville grapples with the social realities of racial difference in nineteenth-century America. Where Melville's critics typically read blackness as either a metaphor for the haunting power of slavery or an allegory of moral evil, Freeburg asserts that blackness functions as the site where Melville correlates the sociopolitical challenges of transatlantic slavery and U.S. colonial expansion with philosophical concerns about mastery. By focusing on Melville's iconic interracial encounters, Freeburg reveals the important role blackness plays in Melville's portrayal of characters' arduous attempts to seize their own destiny, amass scientific knowledge, and perfect themselves. A valuable resource for scholars and graduate students in American literature, this text will also appeal to those working in American, African American, and postcolonial studies.

    • Offers new close readings of Melville's work using a simultaneous historical and philosophical approach
    • Explores the metaphysical and historical aspects of racial conflict in America through the lens of Melville's fiction
    • This text will also appeal to those working in American, African American and postcolonial studies
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "The chief effect of reading Christopher Freeburg’s Melville and the Idea of Blackness is to see many of one’s most seemingly secure assumptions about race in Melville - what it means, where it is located, what its political payoff is - almost thoroughly upended. Arguing that for Melville blackness "is not always racial," and wary of the critical tendency to see democratic hopefulness in Melville’s representations of interracial encounters, Freeburg instead proposes that "blackness" in Melville more often than not signals an existential impasse. This is a significant book and a major intervention in Melville studies."
    William Gleason, Princeton University

    "Christopher Freeburg analyzes Melville's preoccupation with how ideas about race are bound up with questions of cognition, mastery, and mortality. Freeburg resists the confinements of race to identity and, in his readings, intricately links history, philosophy, form, and imagination. Melville and the Idea of Blackness is an important contribution not only to Melville scholarship but also to debates about race, politics, and literature."
    Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley

    "Melville and the Idea of Blackness is clearly written and powerfully argued. Freeburg extends the idea of 'blackness' to include existential doubts and paradigm limits, even as he insightfully addresses slavery and race in a wide range of Melville's works."
    Robert Levine, University of Maryland, College Park

    "Freeburg’s insistence that Melville’s representations of race are both historically concrete and philosophically abstract (beating on questions of ontology and epistemology) makes this book crucial for thinking about how Melville’s writings address the complex relation between literature and history."
    Hennig Cohen Prize Committee, The Melville Society

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107477834
    • length: 214 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 12 mm
    • weight: 0.32kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Preface: darkening the past
    Introduction: resurrecting blackness
    1. Knowing the 'bottomless deep': Moby-Dick
    2. Living 'within the maelstrom': Pierre
    3. Thwarting the 'regulated mind': 'Benito Cereno'
    4. Embodying the 'assaults of time': 'The Encantadas'

  • Author

    Christopher Freeburg, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    Christopher Freeburg is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and his Master's from Stanford University. His work has appeared in journals such as American Literature and Modern Fiction Studies.

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