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Modernity at Sea

Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis

2002
Author:

Cesare Casarino

Modernity at Sea

Analyzes nineteenth-century seafaring narratives and their importance to ideas of modernity

At once a literary-philosophical meditation on the question of modernity and a manifesto for a new form of literary criticism, Modernity at Sea argues that the nineteenth-century sea narrative played a crucial role in the emergence of a theory of modernity as permanent crisis.

Casarino brings to us an original and stimulating work of historical comparative literature. Casarino as a critic is stirringly eloquent and inventive when praising the work of Melville and Conrad, but he is also capable of discerning and analyzing their shortcomings—a balance that is hard to achieve.

Jonathan Arac, Columbia University

At once a literary-philosophical meditation on the question of modernity and a manifesto for a new form of literary criticism, Modernity at Sea argues that the nineteenth-century sea narrative played a crucial role in the emergence of a theory of modernity as permanent crisis.

In a series of close readings of such works as Herman Melville’s White-Jacket and Moby Dick, Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the "Narcissus” and The Secret Sharer, and Karl Marx’s Grundrisse, Cesare Casarino draws upon the thought of twentieth-century figures including Giorgio Agamben, Louis Althusser, Walter Benjamin, Leo Bersani, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Antonio Negri to characterize the nineteenth-century ship narrative as the epitome of Michel Foucault’s "heterotopia"—a special type of space that simultaneously represents, inverts, and contests all other spaces in culture.

Elaborating Foucault’s claim that the ship has been the heterotopia par excellence of Western civilization since the Renaissance, Casarino goes on to argue that the nineteenth-century sea narrative froze the world of the ship just before its disappearance—thereby capturing at once its apogee and its end, and producing the ship as the matrix of modernity.


Modernity at Sea

Cesare Casarino is associate professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota.

Modernity at Sea

Casarino brings to us an original and stimulating work of historical comparative literature. Casarino as a critic is stirringly eloquent and inventive when praising the work of Melville and Conrad, but he is also capable of discerning and analyzing their shortcomings—a balance that is hard to achieve.

Jonathan Arac, Columbia University

Casarino poses a wide-ranging and compelling argument about the creation of modernity through crises of production and sexuality staged in the nineteenth-century sea narrative. Casarino adds substantial, welcome new analysis at the intersection of multiple fields of study, and his stimulating theoretical correlations successfully position the sea narrative as key to the development of modernity.

Modern Fiction Studies