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Antebellum at Sea

Maritime Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century America

2012
Author:

Jason Berger

Antebellum at Sea

How the intersection of antebellum imagination and contemporary theories of fantasy challenges American literary history

Antebellum at Sea explores the roles that early nineteenth-century maritime narratives played in conceptualizing economic and social transitions in the developing global market system and what these chronicles disclose about an era marked by immense change. Jason Berger calls on the conception of fantasy to consider how antebellum maritime literature disputes conventional views of American history, literature, and national identity.

In Antebellum at Sea, Jason Berger advances a highly persuasive, psycho-analytically informed account of the cultural work sea narratives played in negotiating the contradictions between antebellum market society and the maritime trade’s immersion in a global capitalist order. Through a series of superb readings, Berger shows how sea fantasies operated at the level of everyday lived experience even as they reshaped ideological coordinates. Antebellum at Sea should interest anyone concerned with the impact of globalization on 19th century cultural politics.

Donald E. Pease

In the antebellum years, the Western world’s symbolic realities were expanded and challenged as merchant, military, and scientific activity moved into Pacific and Arctic waters. In Antebellum at Sea, Jason Berger explores the roles that early nineteenth-century maritime narratives played in conceptualizing economic and social transitions in the developing global market system and what these chronicles disclose about an era marked by immense change.

Focusing on the work of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville, Berger enhances our understanding of how the nineteenth century negotiated its own tenuous progress by portraying how a wide range of maritime stories lays bare disturbing experiences of the new. Berger draws on Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian notion of fantasy in order to reconsider the complex way maritime accounts operated in the political landscape of antebellum America, examining topics such as the function of maritime labor know-how within a transformation of scientific knowledge, anxiety produced by conflict between gender-specific and culture-specific forms of enjoyment, and how legal practices illuminate troubling juridical paradoxes at the heart of Polk-era political life.

Addressing the ideas of the antebellum age from unexpected and revealing perspectives, Berger calls on the conception of fantasy to consider how antebellum maritime literature disputes conventional views of American history, literature, and national identity.

Antebellum at Sea

Jason Berger is assistant professor of English at the University of South Dakota.

Antebellum at Sea

In Antebellum at Sea, Jason Berger advances a highly persuasive, psycho-analytically informed account of the cultural work sea narratives played in negotiating the contradictions between antebellum market society and the maritime trade’s immersion in a global capitalist order. Through a series of superb readings, Berger shows how sea fantasies operated at the level of everyday lived experience even as they reshaped ideological coordinates. Antebellum at Sea should interest anyone concerned with the impact of globalization on 19th century cultural politics.

Donald E. Pease

Antebellum at Sea

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Bewitching Sea

I. Fantasy and the Common Sailor
1. Fantasies of the Common Sailor; or, Enjoying the Knowing Jack Tar
2. Tarrying with the National: Fantasizing the Subject of State
II. Polynesian Encounters Redux
3. Tattoos in Typee: Rethinking Melville’s “Cultural Grotesque”
4. Melville’s “Porno-Tropics”: Re-Sexuating Pacific Encounters
III. Ocean-States of Exception
5. The Crater and the Master’s Reign: Cooper’s “Floating Imperium
6. The Sublime Abject of Democracy: Melville’s “Floating Imperium
Epilogue: Incomplete Sea

Notes
Index