Ahab Unbound

Melville and the Materialist Turn

2021

Meredith Farmer and Jonathan D. S. Schroeder, Editors
Afterword by Samuel Otter

Why Captain Ahab is worthy of our fear—and our compassion

Ahab Unbound advances an urgent inquiry into Melville’s emergence as a center of gravity for materialist work, reframing his infamous whaling captain in terms of conversations in animal studies, critical race and ethnic studies, disability studies, environmental humanities, medical humanities, political theory, and posthumanism. It makes a case for the vitality of materialist inquiry and the continued resonance of Melville’s work.

Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab is perennially seen as the paradigm of a controlling, tyrannical agent. Ahab Unbound leaves his position as a Cold War icon behind, recasting him as a contingent figure, transformed by his environment—by chemistry, electromagnetism, entomology, meteorology, diet, illness, pain, trauma, and neurons firing—in ways that unexpectedly force us to see him as worthy of our empathy and our compassion.

In sixteen essays by leading scholars, Ahab Unbound advances an urgent inquiry into Melville’s emergence as a center of gravity for materialist work, reframing his infamous whaling captain in terms of pressing conversations in animal studies, critical race and ethnic studies, disability studies, environmental humanities, medical humanities, political theory, and posthumanism. By taking Ahab as a focal point, we gather and give shape to the multitude of ways that materialism produces criticism in our current moment. Collectively, these readings challenge our thinking about the boundaries of both persons and nations, along with the racist and environmental violence caused by categories like the person and the human.

Ahab Unbound makes a compelling case for both the vitality of materialist inquiry and the continued resonance of Melville’s work.

Contributors: Branka Arsić, Columbia U; Christopher Castiglia, Pennsylvania State U; Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt U; Christian P. Haines, Pennsylvania State U; Bonnie Honig, Brown U; Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt U; Pilar Martínez Benedí, U of L’Aquila, Italy; Steve Mentz, St. John’s College; John Modern, Franklin and Marshall College; Mark D. Noble, Georgia State U; Samuel Otter, U of California, Berkeley; Donald E. Pease, Dartmouth College; Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell College; Russell Sbriglia, Seton Hall U; Michael D. Snediker, U of Houston; Matthew A. Taylor, U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ivy Wilson, Northwestern U.

Meredith Farmer is assistant teaching professor in English and the Environmental Program at Wake Forest University. She is author of the forthcoming book Melville’s Leaks: Science, Materialism, and the Reconstitution of Persons.



Jonathan D. S. Schroeder is assistant professor of English and comparative literary studies at the University of Warwick. He is editor of the forthcoming book The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots: A True Story of Slavery.

Contents


Acknowledgments


Rethinking Ahab: Melville and the Materialist Turn


Meredith Farmer


Part I. Ontologies


1. Sailing without Ahab


Steve Mentz


2. Ambiental Cogito: Ahab with Whales


Branka Arsić


3. Ahab after Agency


Mark D. Noble


4. Thinking with a Wrinkled Brow; or, Herman Melville, Catherine Malabou, and the Brains of New Materialism


Christian P. Haines


Part II. Relations


5. Phantom Empathy: Ahab and Mirror-Touch Synesthesia


Pilar Martínez Benedí and Ralph James Savarese


6. Phenomenology beyond the Phantom Limb: Melvillean Figuration and Chronic Pain


Michael D. Snediker


7. ‘The King is a Thing’; or, Ahab as Subject of the Unconscious: A Lacanian Materialist Reading


Russell Sbriglia


8. Approaching Ahab Blind


Christopher Castiglia


Part III. Politics


9. ‘this post-mortemizing of the whale’: The Vapors of Materialism, New and Old


Bonnie Honig


10. Ahab’s Electromagnetic Constitution


Donald E. Pease


11. The Whiteness of the Will: Ahab and the Matter of Monomania


Jonathan D. S. Schroeder


12. Diet on the Pequod and the Wreck of Reason


Jonathan Lamb


Part IV. New Melvilles


13. Ahab’s After-Life: The Tortoises of ‘The Encantadas’


Matthew A. Taylor


14. Israel Potter; or, the Excrescence


Colin Dayan


15. Melville, Materiality, and the Social Hieroglyphics of Leisure and Labor


Ivy Wilson


16. Melville’s Basement Tapes


John Modern


Afterword: Melville Among the Materialists


Samuel Otter


Acknowledgments


Contributors


Index