Herman Melville's Pierre; or, the ambiguities and Jane Austen's Mansfield park: the imperial violence of the novel of manners.
The perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write, but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as a pure act (which Aristotle calls agent intellect). This is why in the Arab tradition agent intellect has the form of an angel whose name is Qalam, Pen, and its place is an unfathomable potentiality. Bartleby, a scribe who does not simply cease writing but "prefers not to," is the extreme image of this angel that writes nothing but its potentiality to not-write.
--Giorgio Agamben (1993, 36-37)
The fact that must constitute the point of departure for any discourse on ethics is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist, because it is clear that if humans were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible--there would be only tasks to be done.
--Giorgio Agamben (1993, 42)
On the occasion of Pierre's "extraordinary emergency"--when the eponymous protagonist of Herman Melville's Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852) has learned that his father, the patriarch of Saddle Meadows, has sired a daughter out of wedlock--the narrator writes about Pierre's response:
In her [Isabel's] life there was an unraveled plot; and he [Pierre] felt that unraveled it would eternally remain to him. No slightest hope or dream had he, that what was dark and mournful in her would ever be cleared up into some coming atmosphere of light and mirth. Like all youths, Pierre had conned his novel-lessons; had read more novels than most persons of his years; but their false, inverted attempts at systematizing eternally unystematizable elements; their audacious, intermeddling impotency, in trying to unravel, and spread out, and classify, the more thin than gossamer threads which make up the complex web of life; these things over Pierre had no power now. Straight through their helpless miserableness he pierced; the one sensational truth in him, transfixed like beetles all the speculative lies in them. He saw that human life doth truly come from that, which all men are agreed to call by the name of God.... By infallible presentiment he saw, that not always doth life's beginning gloom conclude in gladness; that wedding-bells peal not ever in the last scene of life's fifth act; that while the countless tribes of common novels laboriously spin vails of mystery, only to complacently clear them up at last; and while the countless tribe of common dramas do but repeat the same; yet the profounder emanations of the human mind, intended to illustrate all that can be humanly known of human life; these never unravel their own intricacies, and have no proper endings; but in imperfect, unanticipated, and disappointing sequels (as mutilated stumps), hurry to abrupt intermergings with the eternal tides of time and fate. (Melville 1971b, 141)
This famous passage, usually taken out of context, has been interpreted as Melville's excoriation of narrative form and thus as an anticipation of the postmodern interrogation or dismantling of the beginning-middle-end or promise/fulfillment structure of Western literary art. I certainly agree with this reading. (1) But I also think that this aesthetic generalization has obscured a more immediate and radically worldly intention on Melville's part. Putting the passage back into the context from which it has been torn will show that in Pierre; or, The Ambiguities Melville, like most of the self-conscious "American" writers of that mid-century occasion, but far more radically, was attempting to think a novel form that would take its aesthetic directives from the inchoate democratic political world that had emerged or was emerging in the wake of the American Revolution against Old World tyranny and decadence. More specifically, it will show that Melville was attempting, symptomatically at least, to liberate American fictional form from the anachronistic, suffocating, and contradictory tyranny of the modern (Enlightenment) European, especially English, domestic novel: that "false, inverted," optimistic, end-oriented, or spatializing (and domesticating) structure that, in systematizing "eternally unsystematizable elements," "unravel[s], spread[s] out, and classif[ies]" the differential dynamics of historical human life. I mean, to use a pervasive Melvillian rhetoric, the novelistic genre that would thus "unerringly" annul the "errancy" that constitutes the condition of the radically democratic polls or, to put this aesthetic/political analogy positively, would mirror and justify the centered, enclosed, organic, harmonic, conservative, hierarchized, and imperial society: the very concept of the polls that, in Melville's view, the American Revolution was intended to delegitimize.
The many novels that Pierre, in his "circumscribed youth" (6), "conned," whether British or American, were written in the thrall of the canonical "Enlightenment" English tradition that culminates in the early decades of the nineteenth century in the highly civil and "civilized" novel of manners brought to perfection by Jane Austen. Precaution, James Fenimore Cooper's first novel published in 1820, is exemplary of these, as the title--its patent reference to the dangers of erring from the domestic and domesticating and hierarchizing structural center--testifies. (2) Reconstellated into this historical/ cultural context, that is to say, Pierre undergoes a remarkable sea change. In subverting the circular (center/periphery) structure, it not only comes to be seen as a (postcolonial) text that "writes back to" the British colonizing genre in general; more specifically, it comes to be seen as an illuminating antithetical parallel to, which is to say, a decisively radical "American" deconstruction of, the very popular English domestic novel, particularly its concrete epitome, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, published in 1814, a quarter of a century before the publication of Pierre. As such, like so much of Melville's work, Pierre also becomes uncannily proleptic of a significant contemporary American cultural/political nexus: not simply the re-emergence in the US, under the aegis of the neocon Bush administration, of the extraordinary popularity of Jane Austen's fiction (the multiple new editions of her novels and, not incidentally, their multiple film and television adaptations), but also the prominent oppositional effort to disclose the dark side of the highly "civilized" world of her novels inaugurated by Edward Said's contrapuntal reading of Austen's Mansfield Park in Culture and Imperialism (1993).
The reconstellation of the passage on the novel's young Pierre had read into the cultural/historical context from which criticism has separated it enables us, immediately, and above all, to perceive the jarring parallel between Mansfield Park and Saddle Meadows, the symbolic mis en scenes of Austen's and Melville's novels, respectively. The narrator insistently reminds us that the "origin" of Saddle Meadows--the Glendinning estate in the Berkshires that Pierre will inherit from his patriarchal widowed mother--lay in the American colonial experience, symbolically epitomized by the "heroic" exploits of Pierre's larger-than-life great-grandfather in the French and Indian wars and by the "heroic" exploits of his equally extraordinary grandfather, Pierre Glendinning, in the American Revolution:
In the fine old robust times of Pierre's grandfather, an American gentleman of substantial person and fortune spent his time in a somewhat different style from the green-house gentlemen of the present day. The grandfather of Pierre measured six feet four inches in height; during a fire in the old manorial mansion, with one dash of his foot, he had smitten down an oaken door to admit the buckets of his negro slaves; Pierre had often tried on his military vest, which still remained an heirloom at Saddle Meadows, and found the pockets below his knees, and plenty additional room for a fair-sized quarter-cask within its buttoned girth; in a night-scuffle in the wilderness before the Revolutionary War, he had annihilated two Indian savages by making reciprocal bludgeons of their heads. And all this was done by the mildest hearted, and most blue-eyed gentleman in the world, who, according to the patriarchal fashion of those days, was a gentle, white-haired worshiper of the household gods; the gentlest husband, and the gentlest father; the kindest of masters to his slaves; of the most wonderful unruffledness of temper; a serene smoker of his after-dinner pipe; a forgiver of many injuries; a sweet-hearted, charitable Christian; in fine, a pure, cheerful, childlike, blue-eyed, divine old man; in whose meek, majestic soul, the lion and the lamb embraced--fit image of his God. (29-30)
Despite the reminders of the "heroic," larger-than-life American past, however, the Saddle Meadows we encounter prior to Pierre's "extraordinary emergency" has become paradoxically, as the narrator's mocking tone in the representative passage about the origins of the manorial estate above itself intimates, a remarkable mirror image--a recuperation--of the model community of the conservative Old World from which it had been ostensibly liberated by the Revolution, the community epitomized by the Sir Thomas Bertram estate in Austen's novel Mansfield Park.
What is essential about the social/political world of Mansfield Park is that it is organized according to the ontological imperatives of the eighteenth-century "Old World." That is to say, its polity is founded on the Enlightenment (or anthropological) version of the metaphysical principle of presence--a center or still point--around which every aspect of its being--linguistic, moral, social, political--concentrically revolves. No more illuminating analysis of this world's structure is available than Jacques Derrida's well-known but still to be fully understood account of the center privileged by the modern, enlightened West--if its domesticating or at-homing imperative is seen as the origin of a continuum extending from the structure and economy of the land; through the self, language, gender relations, the family, and the community; to the nation, and the worlds beyond the nation:
[I]t has always been thought that the center, which is by definition unique, constituted the very thing within a structure which while governing the structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center. The concept of centered structure--although it represents coherence itself, the condition of the episteme as philosophy or science--is contradictorily coherent. And as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire. The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which itself is beyond the reach of play. And on the basis of this certitude anxiety can be mastered, for anxiety is invariably the result of a certain mode of being implicated in the game, of being caught by the game, of being as it were at stake in the game from the outset. And again on the basis of what we call the center (and which, because it can be either inside or outside, can also indifferently be called the origin or end, arche or telos), repetitions, substitutions, transformations, and permutations are always taken from a history of meaning [sens]--that is, in a word, a history--whose origin may always be reawakened or whose end may always be anticipated in the form of presence. This is why one perhaps could say that the movement of any archaeology, like that of any eschatology, is an accomplice of this reduction of the structurality of structure and always attempts to conceive of structure on the basis of a full presence which is beyond play. (Derrida 1978, 279; added emphasis)
I will return later to the dark underside--the "contradictory coherence"--of Derrida's "post-structuralist'--and radically secular--analysis of the spatializing and shaping ontological center that the West-particularly during the Enlightenment--has privileged. I mean the domination that is indissolubly related to the enclosure and domestication ("improvement") or at-homing of that which is "threateningly" errant, i.e., the "commons." Here, 1 want to suggest how applicable this ontological metaphor of the centered circle is, especially if its indissolubly affiliated allotrope, the disciplinary (improving) spatializing eye, is taken into account, to the structure--and structuration--of the (continuum of) being of Mansfield Park
As Tony Tanner observed a long time ago, without registering the negative implications of his acute observation, Mansfield Park "is a novel about rest and restlessness, stability and change--the moving and the immovable" (444). Commenting on Jane Austen's strong sympathy with the predominant, highly ordered rural culture of England produced in the long wake of the enclosure and improvement movement and her antipathy to the destabilizing economic, technological, and political transformations England was undergoing in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the period of the Napoleonic Wars, he continues,
To a world abandoning itself to the dangers of thoughtless restlessness, Jane Austen is holding up an image of the values of thoughtful rest. Aware that the trend was for more and more people to explore the excitements of personality, she wanted to show how much there was to be said for the 'heroism of principle'. It is a Stoic book in that it speaks for stillness rather than movement, firmness rather than fluidity, arrest rather than change, endurance rather than adventure. In the figure of Fanny it elevates the mind that 'struggles against itself', as opposed to the ego which indulges its promiscuous potentialities. Fanny is a true heroine because in a turbulent world it is harder to refrain from action than to let energy and impulse run riot. This is a point of Sir Thomas's final insight when he comes to 'acknowledge the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure.' Fanny has that consciousness. Mansfield Park as a place has many faults and is inhabited by some silly and nasty people. Fanny's life there has many pains. But a place may be more valuable than the people living in it; and moreover, as Anne Elliot says in Persuasion, 'one does not love a place the less for having suffered in it.' As a place it symbolically upholds the stoic values of control, stability, endurance. And Jane Austen offers it in this book as an image of quiet resistance at the start of what was to be the most convulsive century of change in the whole of English history. (463; my emphasis)
Prior to the beginning of the novel, particularly before the intrusion of the Londoners, Mary and Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park, as a space of inhabited land and a social community, constitutes something close to the fulfillment of the vocational imperatives of the ontological "center elsewhere." It is a world, in other words, that has fulfilled the center's unerring logic of enclosure and improvement: the double domestication of the land and the selves that inhabit it, which is to say, the at-homing of the "unproductive" and "threatening" wilderness of the commons (3) and the rendering sedentary and productive of the unpredictable errancy of nomadic life, which has been the "Other" of Western civilization from its Roman origins. In short, Mansfield Park, as a place and a community, has been "civilized": every aspect of its existence--the land it frames, the family and the rest of the community that inhabit it, its subjectivities, it gender relations, the language spoken within its precincts--has been organized around its unmoving stillness.
For Austen, however, the "fulfillment" of the logic of improvement is not the end of the civilizing process, but the recognition of and need for a new "beginning" or re-newal. For, unlike all too many of her pre-Enlightenment, Old World British colleagues but, it is worth adding, quite like her exceptionalist American contemporaries, she, under the aegis of the Enlightenment, realizes that the "improving" or "civilizing" logic of the center contains the seeds of its own (self) de-struction. In producing the comforts that bring ease, where labor hitherto prevailed, the civilizing vocation breeds over-civilization, which is to say, luxury or, more precisely, decadence. We sense that this process of excess endemic to Enlightenment-style civilizing has already gotten underway in Mansfield Park at the outset of the novel, especially in the indolent figure of Lady Bertram; the self-aggrandizing ethos of her sister, Mrs. Norris; the pleasure-seeking of the son, Thomas; and the self-indulgence of the sisters, Maria and Julia. But it takes on the character of spectral threat to the ordered community by the urbane--highly civilized--Crawfords' coming as visitors to Mansfield Park.
The Crawfords, Mary and Henry, are in a sense intruders into the immobile cultivated garden world of Mansfield Park from London. But it is clear from the kinship of their manners with those of the Bertram household that they are also, in a sense, the filial offspring of that domestic rural world. They bring with them to Mansfield Park the precipitate of its own unerring center-oriented logic of improvement or cultivation: the "worldly values" of a highly civilized polity in the throes of a cultural, if not political revolution, whose origins are internal to itself, cultivated values that, having been developed beyond a certain equilibrium or liminal point, have become excessive and paradoxically errant in their unerring practice. The Crawfords, that is, represent the moral world of the highly cultivated, idle, and unprincipled rich, a world characterized by the separation of what Austen takes to be the original ennobling unity of the vocational act of improvement from the (good) manners it precipitates. The vocational act becomes a staged gesture. Untethered to the center--given to this civilizational excess--everything that the volatile urban Crawfords say and do, in other words, takes on the form of "acting," in which the gesture, while seeming to be a matter of manners is, in fact, mannered: not simply alienated from its moral origin and ground, but also functioning, instead, to stimulate the self-oriented and restless carnal appetites. I mean, specifically, those non-vocational appetites of bodily gratification that instigate (a simulacrum of) errancy--unpredictable and unproductive motion--the very destabilizing nomadic condition it was the project of the polyvalent civilizing call of the improving center to domesticate and bring to resolved stillness--render sedentary. This, not incidentally, is why, for Austen, it is the well-wrought novel of manners that, in enabling the "arrest" of restlessness, the immobile mobility of the narrative plot, constitutes the cultural analogue of the ontological and social operations of the enclosing and improving center. It is in this fundamental paradoxical sense that the Crawfords' coming to Mansfield Park might be said to constitute a threat to destabilize the ontological and social "peace" that is assumed to be the end of the vocational logic of the center elsewhere, that, to put it in terms enabled by Melville's new Americanist interrogation of narrative, they collectively constitute the "marplot" of the "plot" of Mansfield Park and Mansfield Park.
It is, therefore, no accident that the conditions enabling the visible disintegration of the autotelic community of Mansfield Park (and threatening the plot of Austen's novel) are established at the time that its moral center, Sir Bertram, leaves his estate to deal with "business" (Austen 100, 166) concerning his slave plantation in the West Indies that had suddenly arisen:
The Miss Bertrams were much to be pitied on the occasion; not for their sorrow, but for their want of it. Their father was no object of love to them, he never seemed the friend of their pleasures, and his absence was unhappily most welcome. They were relieved by it from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach. (31)
For it is the moral center's absence from the estate, an estate at the edge of crisis (de-centering), and thus especially in need of its unerring guiding authority, that enables the actual process of disintegration: the coming of the "worldly," "idle," "errant"--and magnetically attractive--Crawfords and their transformation of Mansfield Park into a theater--a simulacrum of the country seat--intended to perform Elizabeth Inchbald's English adaptation of August von Kotzebue's Das Kind der Liebe (The Love Child) (1790), a comedy of manners the sexual particularities of which Austen, through Fanny's and Edmund's invocation of the certain objection of the absent father, makes clear ("'I am convinced, Madam,' said Edmund [to Maria], preventing Fanny, 'that Sir Thomas would not like it'" , would compromise the integrity of the family, especially of the about-to-be-married Maria). (4)
Gradually, but inexorably in the process of rehearsing and under the influence of the Crawfords' appealing civilized manners, the Bertrams--Tom, Maria, and Julia (Edmund, under Fanny's influence, eventually escapes)--not only lose whatever vestigial remains they had of their original vocational ethic--"conduct" is the word Edmund uses to name it (131). They also inexorably enact the disabling split that imperceptibly transforms their civilized vocation--the responsible and productive act of improvement--into a de-centered "acting," the fundamental purpose of which is carnal gratification and the ultimate social result, a selfish, irresponsible, idleness (luxury) and conflict: the destabilization of the peace of Mansfield Park or, analogously, the transformation of its harmony into "noise" (133). (This debilitating or, better, dis-abling, split, not incidentally, is enacted symbolically in the orienting chapters VI and IX preceding the staging of the play, recounting Maria's dull-witted future husband-to-be, Mr. Rushworth's fashionable obsession to "improve" his estate [Sotherton Court] by hiring an "improver," that is, to reduce the venerable estate to a simulacral "showplace": "He had been visiting a friend in a neighboring county, and that friend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way; and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk of nothing else" . Nor is it accidental that Fanny Price's first public comments as a member of the Bertram family--comments, underscored by Edmund in his response to Mary and Henry Crawford's sympathy with Rushmore simulacral version of the traditional concept of improvement, constitutes a critical exposure of the excess--the decadence--of this venerable civilization-building concept of improvement: "Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does not it make you think of Cowper. 'Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited'" .) (5)
Under the sway of the dictates of play-acting, the Bertram sisters, Julia and Maria, not only succumb to the indiscriminate seductions of Henry Crawford (the latter becomes "inconstant" ), but turn against each other in a bitter sexual war to the end: "the sister with whom she [Julia] was used to be on easy terms, was now become her greatest enemy; they were alienated from each other, and Julia was not superior to the hope of some distressing end to the attentions which were still carrying on there, some punishment to Maria for conduct so shameful towards herself, as well as towards Mr. Rushworth" (150). Tom becomes increasingly dissolute in his pursuit of pleasure, a momentum that threatens to expose the intimate "family circle" (146) to peripheral strangers (Mr. Yates and Charles Maddox); Lady Bertram more indolent; and her sister, Mrs. Norris, more viciously manipulative. Even Edmund, who, in the name of the father, at first resists the transformation of Mansfield Park into a theater, is seduced by Mary Crawford's civilized charm out of his orbit and into the ominous zone of errancy: "[Fanny's] heart and her judgment were equally against Edmund's decision; she could not acquit his unsteadiness; and his happiness under it made her wretched" (147). To invoke some lines from a poem by William Butler Yeats that perfectly epitomizes the threshold world of Mansfield Park under the aegis of The Love Child--the world whose civilizing logic of the center is self-destructing:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are fill of passionate intensity. (184-85)
It is to this now de-centered, errant, and deeply conflicted Mansfield Park that its absent center, Sir Bertram, "his business in Antigua" having "been prosperously rapid" (Austen 166), suddenly and unexpectedly returns at the end of the first volume, a context underscored by his initial reunion with his family "circle": "all the little particulars of [Sir Bertram's] proceedings and events, his arrivals and departures, were most promptly delivered, as he sat by Lady Bertram and looked with heartfelt satisfaction on the faces around him--interrupting himself more than once, however, to remark on his good fortune in finding them all at home--coming unexpectedly as he did--all collected together exactly as he could have wished, but dared not depend on" (165).
Having decided, after discovering the disrupted actualities of the home to which he has returned, that it is time to "reinstate himself in all the wonted concerns of his Mansfield life" (171), Sir Bertram turns his immediate attention to the task of restoring the "infected" house "to its proper state" (174) or, as Sir Thomas puts it alternately, of reasserting, against his children's superficial morality, "my value for domestic tranquility, for a home which shuts out noisy pleasures" (173). And he begins this recuperative process, it should be noted, by "wip[ing] away every outward memento of what had been, even to the destruction of every unbound copy of 'Lover's Vows' in the house, for he was burning all that met his eye" (177).
But it is not Sir Thomas as such to whom Austen assigns the vocation of restoring Mansfield Park to "its proper state." For Sir Thomas, despite his sudden awareness of its fall into the improper during his absence, is himself, Austen implies, infected by the disease of errancy (over-civilization) insofar as his absenting himself from the family circle is symptomatic of his obliviousness to the crisis it is undergoing at the outset of the novel. That task falls to Fanny Price, the lower-class daughter of Lady Bertram's errant and prolific sister Frances, who, having married "a Lieutenant of Marines, without education, fortune, or connections" (5) and produced a family too large to care for properly, is eventually compelled by her circumstances to re-establish relations with her more fortunate sister by way of asking her to take her eldest daughter, Fanny, into the household at Mansfield Park. This sounds like a paradoxical choice, but, given the "civilizational" logic to which Austen is uniquely attuned, it is a necessary one. Earlier, I noted that Austen, unlike her pre-Enlightenment British colleagues but remarkably like her exceptionalist American contemporaries, was acutely aware that the vocational logic of (Western) civilization contained the seeds of its own undoing. She knew that "improvement"--the cultivation and domestication of the untamed wilderness (land and self)--insofar as its function is to fulfill desire (the agent of motion) and bring repose (the stable sedentary life), also and inevitably at a certain threshold point produces luxury: a destabilizing, civilizational excess. In thus fulfilling--bringing to its "end"--the developmental process, this vocational logic of improvement that has its "center elsewhere"--in the naturalized supernatural world--also reactivates at its liminal point the very desires (appetites) that it was intended to bring to stillness and repose, now, however, in such a way as to produce a restless or nomadic--and a--vocational and unproductive--mobility: a civilized barbarism. Thus the problem for Austen, as it was in a certain sense for her American exceptionalist--"New World"--contemporaries (not Melville, as we shall see), (6) became twofold: 1) how to maintain the organic sense of community ("the family circle") that distinguished the culture of the English countryside not only from the precivilizational nomads but also from the new barbarians being precipitated by the civilizational "excesses" of the French Revolution; and, even more important, 2) how to ensure this organic community's perpetual rejuvenation. And, much like her American exceptionalist contemporaries, though less dramatically, her solution to this twofold problem was to always already infuse its decaying "Old World" body with youth, I mean by this term the very "enemy"--the vital but "errant" and thus "unproductive" energies of a pre-civilizational culture that the processes of cultivation and improvement were intended to conquer and domesticate. This re-unifying and rejuvenating principle--this antibiotic, as it were--is embodied by young Fanny Price, a denizen of the seaport city of Portsmouth.
This is not to say that, for Austen, the youthful and unimproved Fanny who comes to Mansfield Park from the volatile, sordid, noisy, class-conflicted, and globally oriented world of Portsmouth at the age of nine represents the reversal of the traditional center/periphery model on which the culture of Mansfield Park rests--a principle of errancy that is ontologically prior to the center. Nor is it to say that Fanny represents at this early stage Austen's arbitrary re-imposition of the traditional Logos or principle of presence at the heart of Mansfield Park. That these are not valid possibilities is made emphatically clear by the family circle's treatment of the uncultivated newcomer: their insistently deliberate putting Fanny in her "proper place" in the larger whole of Mansfield Park, a social allotment symbolized by the unheated peripheral room to which she is immediately assigned on her coming. It is to say, rather, that the young Fanny represents the following impossibility: her raw youthful innocence must be improved and domesticated, but at the same time she must remain vital--and potential. (7) And here the dark underside of Austen's unerringly centered-oriented world begins inadvertently to manifest itself.
Fanny's radical ontological and sociopolitical de-centeredness must be improved--centered by an act of violence--but to forestall the consequences of the paradoxical logic of the center--the overcivilization that disintegrates the family circle and makes responsible and purposeful conduct irresponsible and purposeless acting--this violently imposed, imperial center must, by a sleight of hand, be represented as a benign that-which-it-is-not. In keeping with one of the most epochal onto-political "advances" of the Enlightenment--what Foucault called the "invention" of the individual or, more to the point, "the subjected subject" (8)--Austen, that is, conceals the violence at the new origin of Mansfield Park by replacing the old arbitrary (civilizational/imperial) center by the new, equally but differently enacted tyrannical, accommodational center: an enlightened, "de-centered" center that not only produces and tolerates difference but encourages its mobility--as long as &is difference and mobility does not threaten the authority of the abiding center, as long, in Austen's language, as these take their "proper place" in the larger identical whole. In tethering Fanny's enlightened accommodational perspective to the now invisible center elsewhere, Austen gives Fanny a "vocation." I mean by this not only with Giorgio Agamben (9) but also, as we shall see, with Herman Melville in mind, a calling, determined by a naturalized supernatural caller or center elsewhere, that demands of-and receives from--the elected (called) the ruthless postponement of his/her radically secular occasion--"the time of the now" (ho nyn kairos) in Agamben's term (Agamben 2005b, 143-45)--ultimately the unerring reduction of the differential dynamics of transient time to the spatialized Same--in the sacred name of a future Telos that is unachievable in time.
Another way of putting Austen's representational sleight of hand, one that is affiliated to the above overdetermination of the concept of vocation, is that she ventriloquizes Fanny Price: imposes her own conservative ontological, moral, social, and political perspective on her protagonist by violence. What I mean by this can be understood by way of invoking a crucial analogous occasion in Edward Said's brilliant analysis of Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1900-1901): that moment in which Kipling, the British author, puts the justification of imperial Britain's ruthless suppression of the Indian "rebellion" of 1857 (the British called it "the Great Mutiny") in the mouth of a loyalist Indian soldier:
In such a situation of nationalist and self-justifying inflammation [as that produced by the ruthless suppression of the rebellion of 1857] to be an Indian would have meant to feel natural solidarity with the victims of British reprisal. To be British meant to feel repugnance and injury--to say nothing of righteous vindication--given the terrible displays of cruelty by "natives," who fulfilled their roles of savages cast for them. For an Indian, not to have had those feelings would have been to belong to a very small minority. It is therefore highly significant that Kipling's choice of an Indian to speak about the Mutiny is a loyalist soldier who views his countrymen's revolt as an act of madness. Not surprisingly, this man is respected by British "Deputy Commissioners" who, Kipling tells us, "turned aside from the main road to visit him." What Kipling eliminates is the likelihood that his compatriots regard him as (at very least) a traitor to his people. And when, a few pages later, the old veteran tells the lama and Kim about the Mutiny, his version of the events is highly charged with the British rationale for what happened:
A madness ate into the Army, and they turned against their officers. That was the first evil, but not past remedy if they had then held their hands. But they chose to kill the Sahib's wives and children. Then came the Sahibs from over the sea and called them to most strict account.
To reduce Indian resentment, Indian resistance (as it might have been called) to British insensitivity to "madness," to represent Indian actions as mainly the congenital choice of killing British women and children-these are not merely innocent reductions of the nationalist Indian cause but tendentious ones. And when Kipling has the old soldier describe the British counter-revolt--with its horrendous reprisals by white men bent on "moral" action--as "calling" the Indian mutineers "to strict account," we have left the world of history and entered the world of imperial polemic, in which the native is naturally a delinquent, the white man a stern but moral parent and judge. Thus Kipling gives us the extreme British view on the Mutiny, and put into the mouth of an Indian, whose more likely nationalist and aggrieved counterpart is never seen in the novel.... So far is Kipling from showing two worlds in conflict that he has studiously given us only one, and eliminated any chance of conflict appearing altogether. (Said 1993, 147-48) (10)
Analogous to Kipling's annulment in his colonialist novel of the historical justification of Indian resistance against the violent and degrading ravages of British imperial rule by way of ventriloquizing its victim, Austen, in the context of the British domestic novel of manners, erases all traces of the class struggle that, in tandem with imperialism, was emerging in a rapidly industrialized, urbanized, and colonial England--represented in the novel by the imperial naval base, Portsmouth, where the tumultuous Prices wallow rather than dwell--by way of ventriloquizing one of the victims of the British hierarchical class structured and colonial sociopolitical system, i.e., the center-oriented system of Mansfield Park. In Austen's historical world, the denizens of Portsmouth would, like the natives of India in Kipling's historical world, in all likelihood, "feel natural solidarity with the victims" of the repressive aristocratic class structure and see Fanny's espousal of the social system of Mansfield Park as a betrayal of the cause of their class. Unlike her colonial counterpart in Kim, the ventriloquized Fanny, admittedly, does not represent the resistance of the lower classes--the epochal revolutionary mutiny at the Nore and Spithead in 1797 (which, not incidentally, constitutes the mis en scene of Melville's Billy Budd), to refer to one of the most prominent instances, (11) to the depredations of the British aristocracy as "madness." At no time during the entire process of her assimilation into the family circle of Mansfield Park, however, does she utter a single word in defense of her native world and against her adopted one. According to Said, "so far is Kipling from showing two worlds in conflict that he has studiously given us only one, and eliminated any chance of conflict appearing altogether" (1993, 148). Similarly, to suggest the control--the will to power--that has been invariably missed or rationalized in discussions of her narrative art, Austen, in the name of the center and through her ventriloquization of Fanny, willfully reduces the actual world of conflict into one world--her world, the world of Mansfield Park--and "eliminate[s] any chance of conflict appearing altogether" (148). Put alternatively, Austen's ventriloquization of Fanny Price conceals the reality that the wealth, the leisure, the order, the stability, and the repose of the Bertram "family circle" of Mansfield Park are in large part dependent on the degraded world of Portsmouth, that, in short, violence is at the origin--is prior to the ontological center--of Mansfield Park. This ventriloquy is epitomized by Austen's unerring characterization of Fanny's state of mind at the time, immediately after Henry Crawford's self-blinded and discomposing effort to win her heart, of her return to the disorder, isolation, volatility, and noise (12) of the Portsmouth household of her youth after a number of years of "improvement" under the aegis of the tranquilizing yet vital (organic or harmonic) idea of Mansfield Park. Its violence cannot be rendered invisible by the nuanced qualifications she allows Fanny to feel:
Such was the home which [Fanny had hoped on returning to Portsmouth] was to put Mansfield out of her head.... On the contrary, she could think of nothing but Mansfield, its beloved inmates, its happy ways. Every thing where she now was, was in full contrast to it. The elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony--and perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield, were brought to her remembrance every hour of the day, by the prevalence of every thing opposite to them here.
The living in incessant noise was to a frame and temper, delicate and nervous like Fanny's, an evil which no super-added elegance or harmony, could have entirely atoned for. It was the greatest misery of all. At Mansfield, no sounds of contention, no raised voice, no abrupt bursts, no tread of violence was ever heard; all proceeded in a regular course of cheerful orderliness; every body had their due importance; every body's feelings were consulted. If tenderness could be ever supposed wanting, good sense, and good breeding supplied its place; and as to the little irritations, sometimes introduced by aunt Norris, they were short, they were trifling, they were as a drop of water to the ocean, compared with the ceaseless tumult of her present abode. Here, every body was noisy, every voice was loud.... Whatever was wanted, was haloo'd for, and the servants halloo'd out their excuses from the kitchen. The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke.
In a review of the two houses, as they appeared to her before the end of a week, Fanny was tempted to apply to them Dr. Johnson's celebrated judgment as to matrimony and celibacy, and say, that though Mansfield Park, might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures. (Austen 363-64)
The relationality between the local and the global, Mansfield Park and Portsmouth, the British country house culture and empire is, of course, the point Edward Said makes in his brilliant contrapuntal reading of Austen's novel by way of decisively showing that the tranquil at-homeness of Mansfield Park--the social well-being and vital peace of the Bertram family circle (as it is re-embodied in the newly recentered, unifying and regenerating, figure of Fanny Price)--has its source in, and is utterly dependent on, the slave labor of Sir Thomas Bertram's sugar plantations in Antigua: precisely the violent imperial history that Austen's novel renders tellingly invisible. Commenting on Sir Thomas' "re-establishment of [his] local rule," on his return from his "business" in Antigua (quoted above), Said writes,
The force of this paragraph is unmistakable. Not only is this a Crusoe setting things in order: it is also an early Protestant eliminating all traces of frivolous behavior [the unproductive mobility and noise that is the consequence of refusing the calling]. There is nothing in Mansfield Park that would contradict us, however, were we to assume that Sir Thomas does exactly the same things--on a larger scale--in his Antigua "plantations." Whatever was wrong there--and the internal evidence garnered by Warren Roberts suggests that economic depression, slavery, and competition with France were at issue--Sir Thomas was able to fix, thereby maintaining his control over his colonial domain. More clearly than anywhere else in her fiction, Austen here synchronizes domestic with international authority, making it plain that the values associated with such higher things as ordination, law, and propriety must be grounded firmly in actual rule over and possession of territory. She sees clearly that to hold and rule Mansfield Park is to hold and rule an imperial estate in close, not to say inevitable association with it. What assures the domestic tranquility and attractive harmony of one is the productivity and regulated discipline of the other. (1993, 87; my emphasis) (13)
Taking their point of departure from Said's own recognition of the paradox that "everything we know about Austen and her values is at odds with the cruelty of slavery" (96) and invoking Claudia Johnson's earlier reading of Mansfieht Park as a feminist Austen's ironic critique of the Burkean-inspired patriarchal benevolence of that time (Johnson 1988), (14) some recent critics, most notably David Bartine and Eileen Maguire, have challenged his contrapuntal reading of Mansfield Park. By way of invoking and amplifying Johnson's brief remarks on Bertram's slave plantation in Antigua, they not only insist that Austen is aware of, indeed, is intentionally disclosing, Antigua as a symptom of the social flaw ("dissonance" is their felicitous term) concealed beneath the apparent elegance, tranquility, and harmony of Mansfield Park. Drawing also on Said's various (musical and literary) discussions of counterpoint, they further suggest ironically that she is attuned more precisely than Said to the critical potential of contrapuntal reading:
Contrary to Said's reading [determined by a "tonal" concept of counterpoint], which finds Austen establishing and sanctioning at the outset of the novel what she considers to be a form of harmony in which the imperial/paternal order is assumed to be positive, a form of harmony Said believes her to be reaffirming in the conclusion, it is our contention that many clues provided by Austen tells us that the harmony Said finds the novel issuing from and returning to is a false harmony that cannot fully hide the dissonance that resists it [the authors call this Austenian version "dissonant counterpoint"]. Very soon after Sir Thomas' return from Antigua and the abrupt termination of plans for the play, Austen observes, "The evening passed with external smoothness though almost every mind was ruffled; and the music which Sir Thomas called for from his daughters helped to conceal the want of real harmony.' (MP, 178). It is that false harmony attempting to conceal the want of real harmony or the dissonance that we hear reverberating through the entire novel. (Bartine and Maguire 2009, 32-56) (15)
By extending the scope of the fraught historical world that constitutes the almost invisible mis en scene of Mansfield Park--the world represented by the colonial West Indies--to indissolubly include the imperial naval port of Portsmouth, my intervention strengthens Said's inaugural argument that, however sensitive to the vulnerability of the human condition at large, Austen, at that still early stage of the British imperial project, was unaware of or indifferent to the terrific irony that the harmonious good life of Mansfield Park is enabled by slave plantations in Antigua. As I have suggested, Portsmouth, by way of its relation to the historically resonance British naval base Spithead, calls up, not simply the sociopolitical volatility precipitated by the French Revolution, but also, and above all, the epochal contemporary struggle between imperial Britain and France over the control of the global high seas and the consequent resort to massive impressment by the British government to accommodate the insatiable need of manpower--a manifestation, not incidentally, of the normalization of the state of exception. (16) If this extension of Said's contrapuntal reading is registered, then, Fanny's invocation of the West Indian "slave trade" after the return of Sir Thomas from Antigua--
"But I do talk to him [Sir Thomas] more than I used [Fanny responds to Edmund's comment that she is "too silent in the evening in circle"]. I am sure I do. Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?"
"I did--and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.
"And I longed to do it--but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like--I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by shewing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel." (Austen 184; my emphasis) (17)
--the one reference in the novel that could be interpreted as an epiphanic manifestation of Austen's critical awareness of the ironic dependency of the comfortable peace of Mansfield Park on the original violence of slavery on the Bertram's sugar plantation in Antigua, is inadequate to carry the weight these critics attribute to it.
The difference between Said's reading of Mansfield Park and mine, then, is not a matter of the "politics" of Austen's novel. As my insistent invocation of the unerring conservative logic of the centered circle--the presiding metaphor, to reiterate, of both the world of Mansfield Park and the (labored) structure of the novel of manners which represents this world's itinerary (18)--suggests it has, rather, to do with its ontological basis or, to be more specific, with the metaphysical violence that, as we have seen, constitutes the origin and assures the perpetual rejuvenation not only of the Bertram "family circle," but also of the life of the parish, the Enlightenment British polis, and the British empire. (19) In his contrapuntal criticism of Western culture, Said overdetermines "the world," by which he primarily and usually means the site of domestic and international politics. Though it could be argued, as I have done elsewhere, that the "(Occidental) world" Said criticizes in general--and in his reading of Mansfield Park--is implicitly informed by a metaphysical ontology--a Telos or Principle of Presence or a Center (20)--the fact that he almost never makes this metaphysical violence at its origin explicit in the work after Beginnings tends to obscure the radicality of his Vichean critique. Commenting in Beginnings on the philological revolution Vico inaugurated in insisting that "humans make their own history," Said, it will be recalled, writes,
In the paradoxical manner ... according to which beginnings as events are not necessarily confined to the beginning, we realize that [in Vico's New Science] a major shift in perspective and knowledge has taken place. The state of mind that is concerned with origins [even that ostensibly committed to "the world"] is ... theological. By contrast, and this is the shift, beginnings are eminently secular, or gentile, continuing activities. (372-73; my emphasis) (21)
In failing to underscore the metaphysical ontology that informs the world of Mansfield Park (and the absence of a Center or Origin in his secular alternative), Said, thus, inadvertently allows, if he does not encourage, the politics of "reform"--or, in Giorgio Agamben's more precise terms (which are uncannily analogous to Vico's and Said's), the "vocational" politics of the interpellated subject--that accommodates in the end the emergent contradictions to the center elsewhere. I mean by this last the naturalized supernatural or subjected subject, like Fanny Price-rather than the "profane" ("gentile") subject, the subject committed to a "beginning" untethered to an Origin--to the errant "time of the now" (ho nyn kairos) in Agamben's more recent version of this initiative to rethink--to re-voke--the tyrannical hegemony of the unerrring vocational thinking (and imagining) of which the accommodational democratic West has become the imperial heir. And it is to dramatize and underscore both this violent repressive vocational ethical/social/ political imperative of the ontological center presiding--like an immovable rock--in and over Mansfield Park and, however implicitly, the emancipatory alternative inhering in the de-centering of the center elsewhere that I invoke, alongside Said's contrapuntal reading at this juncture, Herman Melville's Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, that un-American American novel of manners so uncannily similar but antithetical to Jane Austen's Old World Mansfield Park.
I have found no evidence that Melville had read Jane Austen's fiction, to say nothing about Mansfield Park. A look in the index of Jay Leyda's exhaustive account of Melville's reading shows no reference to her novels. (22) Nevertheless, we know that the English novel of manners that Jane Austen, more than anyone else, popularized had an enormous impact in the US in the wake of the American Revolution, especially in the eastern states. I mean those established seaboard states where the frontier--and the anxiety that always energized and rejuvenated the covenantal New World community and its "errand in the wilderness" that its threat instigated--had receded and, as a result, were in danger of reproducing the class structure and the luxury, comfort, and "peace" of the dominant culture: the very overcivilization or decadence that the inaugural exodus from the Old World had been undertaken to escape. (23) In an effort to preclude this possibility, Melville's contemporaries--Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and the legion of their followers, not least women--following the anxiety-provoking directives of the Puritan jeremiad--called for the creation of "new" literary forms that, in keeping with the American exceptionalist ethos, were consonant with the "democratic" governmentality of the New World. But in secularizing the theological Logos or center elsewhere (both that of the Puritan Calling and of the divine right of kings) rather than rejecting its ontological hegemony, these post-Puritan "American exceptionalists"--the James Fenimore Cooper of The Pioneers is exemplary (24)--contributed to the reproduction, in a less visible, but no less exploitative way, of the Old World literary forms that mirrored the class-structured monarchical regimes (and their imperial agendas) and were complicit with the aristocracy's exploitation of the errant "multitude," both native and foreign. (25)
It is, I submit, this now canonical novel of manners imported from England into post-Revolutionary America by "Young America" (26) from colonial Britain--this domestic fiction of the "family circle," conscious of the coerciveness of, yet remaining tethered to, an ontological center elsewhere--to which the narrator of Pierre is referring, when, in the wake of Pierre's "extraordinary emergency," he says of the many novels his protagonist "conned": "their false, inverted attempts at systematizing eternally unsystematizable elements; their audacious intermeddling impotency in trying to unravel and spread out, and classify, the more than gossamer threads which makeup the complex web of life; these things over Pierre had no power now." And this revolutionary contempt for the reductive shaping imperatives of the Telos, or Center (spatial form), is underscored again and again in Pierre, where the narrator points to the complicity of these American exceptionalists with the philosophical founders of the Old World literary and sociopolitical systems. Thus, for example, in a passage (tellingly echoing the violence at the distant origin of Mansfield Park) introduced by the accusation that, despite the fact that "Christianity [the Sermon on the Mount] calls upon all men to renounce this world," "the most Mammonish part of this world--Europe and America--are owned by none but professed Christian nations, who glory in the owning, and seem to have some reason therefore," the narrator writes,
Hereupon then in the soul of the enthusiast youth [he is referring to Pierre, following his estranging and peace-shattering discovery of the existence of his illegitimate sister] two armies come to the shock; and unless he prove recreant, or unless he prove gullible, or unless he can find the talismanic secret, to reconcile this world with his own soul, then there is no peace for him, no slightest truce for him in this life. Now without doubt this Talismanic Secret has never yet been found; and in the nature of human things it seems as though it never can be. Certain philosophers have time and again pretended to have found it; but if they do not in the end discover their own delusion, other people soon discover it for themselves, and so those philosophers and their vain philosophy are let glide away into practical oblivion. Plato, and Spinoza, and Goethe, and many more belong to this guild of self-imposters, with a preposterous rabble of Muggletonian Scots and Yankees, whose vile brogue still the more bestreaks the stripedness of their Greek or German Neoplatonical originals. That profound Silence, that only Voice of our God, which I before spoke of; from that divine thing without a name, those imposter philosophers pretend somehow to have got an answer; which is as absurd, as though they should say they had got water out of stone; for how can a man get a Voice out of Silence? (208) (27)
As the very title of Melville's domestic "novel of manners" suggests, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities is a genealogy that is remarkably proleptic of Nietzsche's and Foucault's (28) It is consciously intended to disclose that the ontological rock--(Pierre/Peter)--on which Saddle Meadows, the manorial estate he is destined to inherit, was built, or, to invoke its allotrope, the monument it has become in the wake of the founding of America (the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution) is, like Mansfield Park, a fiction--an act of discursive violence against the errant dynamics of temporality (its ambiguities)--that conceals the historical violence at its origin. Saddle Meadow, remarkably like Mansfield Park, is not simply a home to a "family circle"; it is an estate that symbolizes a way of life-a national polity-though unlike Austen, the worldly Melville emphasizes its historical origins.
The order and harmony and tranquility of aristocratic Mansfield Park is founded, as Said has shown, on an invisible arbitrary form of power (a Logos or center elsewhere) that justifies a severe domestic paternalism and the dehumanizing violence of the slave trade, not to say colonial wars. Though ostensibly the result of a revolution against Old World oppression and decadence--the "heroics" of Pierre's Indian-fighting great grand-father of the French and Indian wars and his grandfather in the American Revolution--the "democratic" Saddle Meadows--its order, harmony, and peace--is actually, as the narrator never, from beginning to end, lets the reader forget, the consequence of an analogous systemic violence. It is built not only on the expropriation of the land from the native Americans, the institution of slavery, and class structure, but also and indissolubly related, on a contradictory ontology--a metaphysics (the perception of temporality [physis] from after or above its disseminations) that is informed by the will to power and that reduces (temporal) being to a spatialized system of hierarchized binaries--Identity and difference, Civilization and barbarism, the Sedentary and nomadic life (errancy and mobility), Harmony and dissonance ("noise"), for example. The radical difference between the similar worlds Austen and Melville create is that in the former, the positive aspects of the order, harmony, and tranquility enabled by the center elsewhere ("the family circle") are overdetermined, suggesting Austen's blindness or indifference to what can be called the onto-bio-political violence on which Mansfield Park relies-whereas in the latter, it is the onto-bio-political violence on which the order, harmony, and tranquility of Saddle Meadows relies that Melville over-determined. Austen assumes the benign truth of the "Talismanic Secret" and celebrates its transcendental "Word"--its (interpellative/vocational) calling. Melville, on the other hand, reads both the Old and New World versions of the Logos (that of "Muggletonian Scots and Yankees" and "their Greek and German Neoplatonic originals") against the grain. He thus opts for the "voice of silence," which I take him to mean, first, the acknowledgement of the absence of a Principle of Presence (an abiding center) in being and thus the affirmation of the secular or, more audaciously, the "profane," and, second (though more tentatively), what Agamben, following the directives of the profane, calls, with Walter Benjamin, the "time of the now" (ho nym kairos): of a potentiality untethered to a coercive vocational Telos. (29)
All this is not only suggested by the narrator's parodic prefatorial history of Saddle Meadow, in which the monumentalization of the Glendinning name and of the "house" (and the American nation) is mocked by way of his focusing on the multitudinous contradictions between the historical past and the present that disrupts the "theogonic" continuity of the Origin so crucial, according to Nietzsche and Foucault, to monumental history. (30) It is also, and decisively, suggested at the very outset of this domestic novel of manners when, under the panoptic gaze of "Grand Old Pierre" (his portrait), Pierre's "aristocratic" patriarchal mother anxiously, repeatedly--and prefiguratively--characterizes (in soliloquy) the order, harmony, and tranquility--the civilizationat ethos--she would instill (interpellate), by way of improvement, into her son, the vigorous and "noble" heir of the monumental Glendinning name, as "docility," that is, undeviating obedience to a higher call:
"A noble boy, and docile"--she murmured--"he has all the frolicsomeness of youth, with little of its giddiness. And he does not grow vain-glorious in sophomorean wisdom. I thank heaven I sent him not to college. A noble boy, and docile. A fine, proud, loving, docile, vigorous boy. Pray God, he never becomes otherwise to me. His little wife, that is to be [Lucy Tartan], will not estrange him from me; for she too is docile,--beautiful, and reverential, and most docile. Seldom yet have I known such blue eyes as hers, that were not docile, and would not follow a bold black one, as two meek blue-ribboned ewes, follow their martial leader. How glad am I that Pierre loves her so, and not some dark-eyed haughtiness, with whom I could never live in peace; but who would be ever setting her young married state before my elderly ... proud, loving, docile, vigorous boy!--the lofty-minded, well-born noble boy; and with such sweet docilities! See his hair! He does in truth illustrate that fine saying of his father's, that as the noblest colts, in three points--abundant hair, swelling chest, and sweet docility--should resemble a fine woman, so should a noble youth. Well, good-bye, Pierre, and a merry morning to ye!" (Melville 1971a, 19-20)
As the opposition between docility and energy, obedience and errancy--the mild blue eyes of Lucy and, as the reader will learn shortly, the haughty dark eyes of Isabel, Pierre's illegitimate sister--that insinuates itself into her anxious interpellative soliloquy testifies, however, Mrs. Glendinning (and, far more acutely, Melville), like most sophisticated Americans of that post-Revolutionary time, is in some fundamental way aware of the jeremiadic "law" of (Western) civilization. I mean that foundational law which, in the unerring pursuit of its uplifting vocational logic of improvement of which ends in overcivilization or the simulacrum of manners: the fall back into the very condition of luxury--the separation of manners from morals (acting, in the language of Mansfield Park) (31)--and the tyranny that the original exodus from the Old to the New world was intended to transcend. Following her soliloquy, Mrs. Glendinning picks up her monumentalized father's ("the old General's") baton, which Pierre had earlier playfully taken up and, identifying it as the symbol of both revolutionary heroism and martial power that Pierre will inherit, goes on:
"This is his inheritance--this symbol of command! and I swell out to think it. Yet but just now I fondled the conceit that Pierre was so sweetly docile! Here sure is a most strange inconsistency! For is sweet docility a general's badge? and is this baton but a distaff then?--Here's something widely wrong. Now I almost wish him otherwise than sweet and docile to me, seeing that it must be hard for man to be an uncompromising hero and a commander among his race, and yet never ruffle any domestic brow. Pray heaven he show his heroicness in some smooth way of favoring fortune, not be called out to be a hero of some dark hope forlorn;--of some dark hope forlorn, whose cruelness makes a savage of a man. Give him, O God, regardful gales! Fan him with unwavering prosperities! So shall he remain all docility to me, and yet prove a haughty hero to the world! (20) (32)
In Mansfield Park, Austen symbolizes the house's return in the end to the order, tranquility, and harmony that has been disrupted by the very process of improvement by way of a deus ex machina (which is to say, an act of authorial violence) that compels Edmund, against his actual errant inclinations, into choosing Fanny over Mary Crawford as the vital still point--that "active principle" that, according to Sir Thomas, "had been wanting" in the education of his children--around which the family will henceforth circulate in a tonal key (Austen 430). It is an arbitrary gesture of discrimination, not incidentally, that, in being expressed synecdochically as Edmund's preference for the "soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones" (437), is uncannily echoed in Mrs. Glendinning's similar gesture vis-a-vis the docile and readable Lucy and the haughty and mysterious Isabel. In Pierre, on the other hand, as her tellingly precise foreboding in the above passage prophetically announces, Mrs. Glendinning's analogous patriarchal effort to re-center the de-centered center of Saddle Meadows following Pierre's "extraordinary emergency"--the discovery that his monumentalized father had sired an illegitimate daughter and the consequent de-centering, estrangement, and dissonation of the "world" it entailed--does not end, as it does in Mansfield Park, in the recuperation of order, harmony, and peace--the "sweet docility" of an alleged Edenic Saddle Meadows. Ferociously unerring in the certainty of her (unexceptional) American exceptionalism (the chosenness of the Glendinning name) and thus her faith in the truth of its center's essential logic, she attempts, rather, to re-impose the de-centered center of Saddle Meadows by a more overt form of violence. And the result of this undeviating will to reorder the world of Saddle Meadows in the name of the center is not peace but catastrophe. Her foreboding becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Under her unerring Medusan gaze, which would turn the entity of her sight into a solid "rock," Pierre metamorphoses precisely into "the hero of some dark hope forlorn, whose cruelness makes a savage of a man," though, as I will suggest, this reversal of the binary between civilization and savagery--this de-structuration of "structure"--will take on a meaning that is antithetical to that which her centered/panoptic perspective--and that of the writers whose domestic novels of manners Pierre had so well "conned"--intends.
It is no accident, t suggest, that Melville's history of the specific "fall" of Saddle Meadows "begins" with Pierre's "extraordinary emergency"--an e-mergent or exilic process inaugurated by his intimations of a spectral face that haunts the family seat--and the storied dynastic sociopolitical world that circles around it--and eventually discloses itself to be his illegitimate sister. It is no accident, to put it more precisely, that the disintegration of the house of the Glendinnings is inaugurated by an "electric" disclosure at the primal scene of origins of a dissonating act of violence that reveals its monumental truths to be lies, a revelation that de-centers and estranges Pierre, its hitherto inscribed and spontaneously willing heir, from the hegemonic filial/dynastic model of home and homeland: renders him a metaphysical "orphan," who, like the "infant Ishmael" of the Old Testament, as well as of Moby-Dick, has been "driven out ... into the desert, with no maternal Hagar to accompany him" (1971a, 89), and his "world" a "changed terrain" (Althusser 1970, 24), and, in so doing, instigates in Pierre the will, symbolized by his burning of his father's portrait, of demonumentalizing Saddle Meadows and its Logos-oriented patriarchal/dynastic history:
In the joyous young times, ere his great grief came upon him, all the objects which surrounded him were concealingly deceptive. Not only was the long-cherished image of his father now transfigured before him from a green foliaged tree into a blasted trunk, but every other image in his mind attested the universality of the electrical light which had darted into his soul. Not even his lovely, immaculate mother, remained entirely untouched, unaltered by the shock.... Wonderful indeed, was that electric insight which Fate had now given him into the vital character of his mother. She well might have stood all ordinary tests; but when Pierre thought of the touchstone of his immense strait applied to her spirit; he felt profoundly assured that she would crumble into nothing before it. She was a noble creature, but formed chiefly for the gilded prosperities of life, and hitherto mostly used to its unruffled serenities; bred and expanded, in all developments, under the sole influence of heredity forms and world-usages. Not his refined, courtly loving, equable mother, Pierre, felt, could unreservedly, and like a heaven's heroine, meet the shock of his extraordinary emergency, and applaud, to his hearts echo, a sublime resolve, whose execution should call down the astonishment and the jeers of the world. (88-89) (33)
As the emphasis in this passage on the distinction between the jagged "truth" about Saddle Meadows Pierre discovers by way of his "extraordinary emergency" and that of the "gilded'(overcivilized) American "world" his mother embodies suggests, what is crucial about Pierre; or, The Ambiguities in this context--what not only essentially differentiates this domestic novel of manners from, but implicitly renders it profoundly critical of, both the "tonal" content and form of Austen's Mansfield Park--is Melville's overdetermination of the ontological site: the disclosure, more specifically, of the nothingness at the origins of being.
This incremental but inevitable ontological de-centering--and demonumentalizing (de-structive)--process is inaugurated at the outset of Pierre's exile by his (premature) decision to write "a comprehensive compact work" that, he thinks, would "gospelize the world anew" (273). Based on "the unprecedented situation in which he now found himself," , his intention is to deconstruct the structure of the monumentalist truth discourse that produced Saddle Meadows. But, as the "knowing" sympathetic narrator (34) prophetically tells us by way of mocking Pierre's vestigial commitment to the privileged eye that would spatialized (and 'comprehend')" (35) the anxiety-provoking sublime ("He did [yet] not see ..." (283), Pierre's de-centered insight into the nothingness that is prior to the Somethingness of being is incomplete, has not (yet) carried over into its imperatives for literary form (to say nothing about the human polis). Initially, the narrator puts this not-yet in terms of the sublime that refuses to be accommodated to the spatializing (comprehending) mind of man:
But, as to the resolute traveler in Switzerland, the Alps do never in one wide and comprehensive sweep, instantaneously reveal their full awfulness of amplitude--their overawing extent of peak crowded on peak, and spur sloping on spur, and chain jammed behind chain, and all their wonderful battalionings of might; so hath heaven wisely ordained, that on first entering into the Switzerland of his soul, man shall not at once perceive its tremendous immensity; lest illy prepared for such an encounter, his spirit should sink and perish in the lowermost snows. Only by judicious degrees, appointed of God, does man come at last to gain his Mont Blanc and take an overtopping view of these Alps; and even then, the tithe is not shown; and far over the invisible Atlantic, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes are yet unbeheld. Appalling is the soul of a man! (284)
Then, pursuing the differing/deferring implications of this "not yet" of Pierre's de-centered exilic condition (Derrida would call it differance), the narrator, now in a specific rhetoric that underscores the contradictory-demonumentalizing--logic of civilizational improvement (and of the nationalist discourse of American revolutionary democracy) that informs Saddle Meadows, puts this not-yet in terms of ontology:
Ten million things were as yet uncovered to Pierre. The old mummy lies buried in cloth on cloth; it takes time to unwrap this Egyptian king. Yet now, forsooth, because Pierre began to see through the first superficiality of the world, he fondly weens he has come to the unlayered substance. But, far as any geologist has yet gone down into the world, it is found to consist of nothing but surface stratified on surface. To its axis, the world being nothing but superinduced superficies. By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid--and no body is there!--appallingly vacant as vast is the soul of a man! (284-85) (36)
In Mansfield Park, Austen focuses almost entirely on the social site on the continuum of being, yet she does this primarily, as we have seen, by way of infusing her text with the domestic and domesticated ("white") metaphors (37) emanating from the parent metaphor of the centered circle--"the proper," "order," "rest," "repose," "tranquility," "peace," "immobility," "sincerity," "principle," "certainty," "harmony" (versus "the improper," "chaos," "restlessness," "anxiety," "disturbance," "conflict," "mobility," "frivolity," "errancy," "ambiguity," "noise"): the inaugural trope of the Western metaphysical tradition, which has privileged the One over the many. Thus, in the very process of celebrating the filial/dynastic model of society that the restored family circle represents by saturating her representation of the world of Mansfield Park with the language emanating from the trope of the centered circle, Austen, as we have seen, both overlooks (and obscures) the original act of violence that imposes an Identity on an ontologically prior differential temporality, that structures the unstructurable, gives a Name to the nothingness of being, or in Melville's language, a "Voice" to "silence"--and, at the same time, however inadvertently, draws our attention to this violence against the nothing, the voiceless. For in giving a Voice to silence, Austen, as recent interpretations, whether those ironic readings of Claudia Johnson, David Bartine and Eileen Maguire, and Patricia Rozema, on the one hand, or Edward Said's contrapuntal reading, on the other, transmutes that unspeakable silence into a specter that haunts the authorial Voice of her novel.
As Austen in Mansfield Park, Melville in Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, also invokes pervasively the metaphorics of the family circle to represent the domestic society of Saddle Meadows. But unlike Austen, Melville (if not Pierre), as I have noted, does so in full consciousness of the (constructed) ontological status of the inaugural trope. And this is why his novel of manners speaks so pointedly--and contrapuntally--to Austen's. In the passage quoted above, for example, which comments decisively on Pierre's e-mergency from the banalized world of Saddle Meadows, the narrator assesses the status of his protagonist's exilic condition. Attuned to the shards of the hegemonic metaphorics of monumentality that had given a shape and substance to his protagonist's youthful identity, he focuses ostensibly on the de-centering of Pierre's (and humanity's) subjectivity. But in the process of unconcealing ("dis-covering")--particularly by way of the complex extended geological/dynastic metaphor he invokes to articulate his disclosure--the narrator not only underscores 1) the ontological violence at the origin of Saddle Meadows--the arbitrary imposition of a determining center at the primal scene of origins (38) and 2) the repressive dynastic sociopolitical power that the monumentalization of this inaugural act eventually conceals by naturalizing it. In so doing, he also discloses 3) the "appalling"--the anxiety-provoking--absence of a principle of Presence--the nothing--at "the axis" of that Being in all its manifestations. At this transformative moment in Pierre, the same silence that it is the very raison d'etre of Austen's domestic novel of manners to give a Voice to by way of imposing a center/name on the world of Mansfield Park becomes a dislocating specter that haunts its "gilded" and "serene" truth.
This proleptic paradoxical vision of Pierre's and Saddle Meadow's future (its "fifth act" or "denouement," to use Melville's ironic language ) is inexorably enacted in what follows Pierre's expulsion from the Saddle Meadows family circle into the city, where he joins the motley and inchoate community of the "Apostles," the untimely death of his devastated mother, and the inevitable coming of Glendinning Stanly, Pierre's vengeful traditionalist cousin and rival for the hand of Lucy Tartan, to whom his mother has bequeathed the manorial estate, from the margins to fill the dynastic space that Pierre has vacated and to fulfill the logic of the center he has inherited. (In the decisive letter he sends to Pierre, he expresses this truth logic appropriately in the magisterial terms of its absolute antithesis, totally blind to the "ambiguities" of the historical reality he is representing: "'we brand thee, in thy every lung-cell, a liar;--liar, because that is the scornfullest and loathsomest title for a man; which in itself is the compend of all infamous things'" [357; my emphasis].) Under the aegis of Stanly's relentless and unerring vocational gaze, which is to say, of the centered and all-encompassing eye that informs the Voice (the Calling) of the Glendinning household and thus of the "world" it oversees, Pierre (with Isabel, Lucy, and Dellie, the young servant who tellingly has abandoned the convenantal Saddle Meadows community) is driven inexorably into the precincts of no exit, where, bereft of an alternative language by the dominant discourse of Saddle Meadows, as Stanly's branding epithet testifies, he is left with no recourse but violence:
Murders are done by maniacs; but the earnest thoughts of murder, these are the collected desperadoes. Pierre was such; fate, or what you will, had made him such. But such he was. And when these things now swam before him; when he thought of all the ambiguities which hemmed him in; the stony walls all round that he could not overleap; the million aggravations of his most malicious lot; the last lingering hope of happiness licked up from him as by flames of fire, and his one only prospect a black, bottomless gulf of guilt, upon whose verge he imminently teetered every hour;--then the utmost hate of Glen and Frederic were jubilantly welcome to him; and murder, done in the act of warding off their ignominious public blow, seemed the one only congenial sequel to such a desperate career. (337)
In silencing Pierre, in bereaving him of an alternative language, Saddle Meadows, to introduce the apt poststructuralist idiom of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, which itself is in some significant degree derived from Melville, bereaves him of the means of warding off this soul-destroying "apparatus of capture" (437-73). Confronted in a crowded street of the city and whipped across the cheek by Glen Stanly, Pierre shoots his relentlessly righteous pursuer, thus fulfilling the paradoxical logic of the "family circle":
"For thy one blow, take here two deaths! 'Tis speechlessly sweet to murder thee!"
Spatterings of his own kindred blood were upon the pavement; his own hand had extinguished his house in slaughtering the only unoutlawed human being by the name of Glendinning;--and Pierre was seized by a hundred contending hands. (Melville 1971a, 359-60)
This horrific "ending" of Pierre, as many critics have concluded, transforms the novel of manners Melville is ostensibly writing into its antithesis: a tragedy at best or, more tellingly, perhaps, a radically failed novel or even the ravings of a madman who deserved to be "frozen into silence" (Peck 443). There is no gainsaying that this "last act" (to use the narratological language the narrator's uses everywhere to call narrative into question) is deeply troubling. But this anxiety should not be countered by reifying--by imposing a deus ex machina, another apparatus of capture, on--the dislocating ambiguities that instigate it. For, as I have been suggesting all along by way of comparison and contrast with Mansfield Park, it is Melville's explicit intention, in opposition to the novels Pierre had "conned" so well in his youth, to disclose the violence inhering in the "concentring" logic (Melville 1971a, 339) of the paradigmatic and polyvalent centered circle (Higgins and Parker 1995). (39) But, it needs to be emphasized against a critical history that has failed to perceive this, Melville's intention is also, however tentatively and indirectly, not only to "justify" Pierre's violence, but, in so doing, to also render visible for positive thought the ontological, cultural, and sociopolitical possibilities of the absent center: the nothingness, the temporality, the singularity that the privileged vocational discourse of the West, especially in its Enlightenment or anthropological phase, has demonized--willfully rendered marginal, errant, nomadic, false, barbaric, profane--or null and void--but that, precisely because of this willful reduction, has come increasingly to haunt its pursuer--and the novel's audience.
As for Pierre's violence against Glendinning Stanly, as I have been implying by way of underscoring his being utterly bereft of language by the hegemonic discourse of Saddle Meadows, it is, we might say without distortion, not unlike Billy Budd's speechless blow that kills the master-at-arms Claggart in Billy Budd, (40) the "pure" (anomic) or "divine" or "revolutionary" violence that Walter Benjamin distinguishes from "juridical" or "mythic" violence in his critique of Carl Schmitt's decisionist concept of sovereignty. (41) I cite Giorgio Agamben's concise and illuminating analysis to suggest how uncannily proleptic Melville was of Benjamin's distinction:
The aim of ]Benjamin's] essay is to ensure [against Schmitt's effort to foreclose it by way of the inclusive exclusive logic of the state of exception] the possibility of a violence...that lies absolutely "outside" ... and "beyond" ... the law and that, as such, could shatter the dialectic between lawmaking violence and law preserving violence.... Benjamin calls this other figure of violence "pure" ... or "divine," and, in the human sphere, "revolutionary." What the law can never tolerate--what it feels as a threat with which it is impossible to come to terms--is the existence of a violence outside the law; and this is not because the ends of such a violence are incompatible with law, but because of "its mere existence outside the law".... The task of Benjamin's critique is to prove the reality ... of such a violence: "If violence is also assured a reality outside the law, as pure immediate violence, this furnishes proof that revolutionary violence--which is the name for the highest manifestation of pure violence by man--is also possible".... The proper characteristic of this violence is that it neither makes nor preserves law, but deposes it ... and thus inaugurates a new historical epoch. (Agamben 2005a, 53; my emphasis) (42)
In other words, the "pure violence" of the dissonant pistol shots that kill the master of the house of Glendinning, like that of Billy Budd's fist, becomes a perpetual possibility--an a-vocational "means without end," as it were--and thus a specter that not only haunts the violence of the "law" ("state power") (43) but constitutes the harbinger of a new historical dispensation.
This spectralization of the "nothing" that the house of Saddle Meadows will, at all costs, have nothing to do with comes stunningly from the margins to the fore in the prison cell at the appropriately jarring comic/tragic "Shakespearian" "end" of the novel, when after Lucy and Pierre have died, the one of soul-break and the other of a lethal drug he has taken, Isabel, who has also taken this lethal drug, speaks her last words to Frederic Tartan, Charlie Milthorpe, and the turnkey-"the world" gathered in disarray around the bodies:
"All's o'er, and ye know him not!" came gasping from the wall; and from the fingers of Isabel dropped an empty vial--as it had been a run-out sand-glass--and shivered upon the floor; and her whole form sloped sideways, and she fell upon Pierre's heart, and her long hair ran over him, and arbored him in ebon vines. (Melville 1971a, 362)
Contrary to the British and American novels Pierre had conned in his youth--those "false, inverted attempts at systematizing eternally unsystemizable elements" of which Austen's novels of manner were exemplary--the "end" of Pierre, as I have suggested elsewhere,
releases this differential "detail" as an ominous and disconcerting irregular force ... that disrupts the will to harmonize and regulate. Isabel's last words, in other words, constitute a silent, irrepressibly phantasmic, accusation directed against the all-knowing and confident American "world's" truth--which would include representing Pierre's deadly assault on Glen Stanly as a murder--and against the American reader/auditor who would sublimate social violence against the shadowy "Other" of the enlightened "world" in the name of the universal (tragedy, for example): the "Talismanic Secret." "And you know him not": "Your knowing gaze," Isabel seems to say, "has silenced him, turned him into stone, compelled him into his "proper" and intelligible place in the knowledge-producing discourse of the larger American whole. But he has escaped the petrifying gaze of your Medusan eye. And, despite his interment, you will hear from him again." (2008b, 48)
What I wish to suggest by way of underscoring this opening of Isabel's closing words is that, unlike Jane Austen (and the American authors, like Cooper, she influenced), who would bring the dissonances that the very center-oriented logic of Mansfield Park precipitates into harmonic closure, Melville courageously acknowledges those same dislocating dissonances that threaten the "peace" and "tranquility" of Saddle Meadows. Indeed, he takes his directives from them to disclose the violence inhering in the vocation of closure and, however symptomatically, enables us to think (avocationally) the positive possibilities of those dissonances-or, in the language of the centered circle 1 have been using, of that "errancy." In so doing, as Isabel's proleptic last words testify, Melville's domestic novel of manners, in radical contrast to Jane Austen's, comes uncannily to anticipate not simply the post-metaphysical or, post-structuralist occasion, but, as I will show in what follows, of its most recent avatar. (44)
Bereft of a voice by the imperial Voice of Saddle Meadows (the "world" structured in dominance), Pierre, Isabel, Lucy, and Dellie are unhomed and thus compelled to form an alternative-a de-centered, unnamable, and inchoate society of "refugees" (from the homeland of Saddle Meadows) as it were. Not unlike Bartleby vis-a-vis the Wall Street lawyer, they refuse to be answerable to the (interpellative) Call of Saddle Meadows, and, in so doing, they instigate the dominant culture's will to power over its ambiguities. In the poststructuralist language I am suggesting Melville is uncannily anticipating, their tentative de-centered community is denied its very being (rendered a nothing) precisely because of its rejection of the center and the sociopolitical imperatives of its Call. Under the aegis of this vocational apparatus of capture, it becomes, in Giorgio Agamben's sense, a "profane" community, (45) a community of singularities that doesn't count or, in Jacques Ranciere's apt phrase, constitutes "the part of no part," in a world where what counts is determined by the hegemonic center-oriented vocational discourse of the dominant culture (9). Yet the very silencing of this alternative community--this community of Bartlebys, as it were--though temporarily successful, is not decisive. As I have suggested by way of attending to the disavowing logic of the apparatuses of capture--and as we shall see more clearly--the very act of giving Voice to the threatening silence (Stanly's naming/demonizing it as an absolute "lie"), which is to say, the silencing of Pierre's "truth" by the truth of Saddle Meadows, precipitates its antithesis--"pure violence"--in the form of Isabel's last words: the shadow that haunts its light. To be more specific, the fulfillment of the vocational logic informing the centered filial language privileged by Saddle Meadows paradoxically precipitates the possibility of an alternative language, a de-centered language that, in Agamben terms, in breaking the hold of the unerring vocational logic of the Calling, renders its means/end paradigm "inoperative," or, to put it positively, precipitates the radical potentiality of the time of the now (ho nyn kairos). (46) In so doing, it also precipitates the directives for thinking an alternative--a de-centered--polity, in which the Friend/enemy opposition--and the boundaries it drawsinhering in the logic of vocation is rendered "inoperative." (47)
What Giorgio Agamben says about the "coming [political] community," is, 1 suggest, uncannily applicable to the alternative community Melville is symptomatically intuiting at the dis-closive close of Pierre. Taking his point of departure from the perspective of the global refugee or stateless person, which, not incidentally, he derives not only from Hannah Arendt but also from Melville, (48) Agamben puts this rendering inoperative of the binary logic of the centered nation-state by the refusal of these singularities to be answerable to its national calling in the following suggestive way:
Instead of two national states separated by uncertain and threatening boundaries, it might be possible to imagine two [or more] political communities insisting on the same region and in a condition of exodus from each other--communities that ... would no longer be the ius (right) of the citizen but rather the refugium (refuge) of the singular....
This space would coincide neither with any of the homogeneous national territories nor with their topographical sum, but would rather act on them by articulating and perforating them topologically as in the Klein bottle or in the MObius strip, where exterior and interior in-determine each other. In this new space, European cities would rediscover their ancient vocation of cities of the world by entering into a relation of reciprocal extraterritorialty. (Agamben 2009, 23-24; my emphasis)
Also taking his point of departure from the global refugee precipitated by the fulfillment of the imperial logic of the centered circle, Edward Said, no doubt in opposition to Jane Austen (as the echoes of his contrapuntal reading of Mansfield Park testify), puts this unnameable communal polity in a way remarkably similar to Agamben's:
[I]t is no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of imperialism, has now shifted from the settled, established, and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered, and exilic energies, energies whose incarnation today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages. From this perspective also, one can see "the complete consort dancing together" contrapuntally. (1993, 332; my emphasis) (49)
As I have shown, Melville's primary intention in Pierre; or, The Ambiguities was, above all, to disclose the ontological, moral, and sociopolitical violence that is endemic to the center-oriented logic of the domestic novel of manners, which had become hegemonic in antebellum America. To put it alternatively, his purpose was to undertake a genealogy of this imported English genre, epitomized by Jane Austen, not by dismissing it, but, anticipating Nietzsche and Foucault, by scrupulously "push[ing]" the resolving tonal logic "to its limit," where its "truth.... unrealizes" itself, in other words, by allowing the "concentring" logic of the genre to self-de-struct by disclosing the dissonating nothing it cannot finally contain (Foucault 1977, 181). In the process of this novelist genealogy of the type of Mansfield Park--and this is what 1 want to underscore--Melville, in a way that virtually all the American writers of his historical occasion, despite their concerted desire to free themselves from the constraining imperatives of English cultural production, were unable, not only anticipated the de-centering historical sociopolitical consequences (for self, family, culture, nation, empire) of the vocational operations of the circle in the "postmodern"--or "postnationalist"--era. In rendering audible the silence violently imposed on Pierre and his inchoate, de-centered and "inoperative" community, his novel, as I have shown, also uncannily anticipated the contemporary theory represented by the post-structuralists, including Edward Said, who have had as their purpose the interrogation of the Principle of Presence (the center), and especially those post-postructuralists like Agamben, Ranciere, and Badiou who are attempting to think the positive political potential--the "coming community," in Agamben's terms--of the nothing that Western thought, from the time of its origins, would have nothing to do with.
Agamben, Giorgio. "Bartleby; or On Contingency." Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazin. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.
--. "Beyond Human Rights." Means without End: Notes on Politics. Trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009.
--. The Coming Community. Trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.
--. "In Praise of Profanations." Profanations. Trans. Jeff Fort. New York: Zone Books, 2007.
--. State of Exception. Trans. Kevin Attell. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005a.
--. The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Lettere to the Romans. Trans. Patricia Dailey. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005b.
Althusser, Louis. "From Capital to Marx's Philosophy." Althusser and Etienne Balibar: Reading Capital. London: Verso, 1970. 13-69.
--. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes toward an Investigation)." Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review, 1971. 127-86.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. Kathryn Sutherland. London: Penguin, 2003.
Bartine, David, and Eileen Maguire. "Contrapuntal Critical Readings of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park: Resolving Edward Said's Paradox." Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 11.1 (2009): 32-56.
--. "Contrapuntal Critical Reading and Invitations to Invention." Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 11.2 (2010): 38-72.
Benjamin, Walter. "Critique of Violence." Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. Trans Edmund Jephcott. Ed. Peter Demetz. New York: Schocken, 2007. 277-300.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The American Jeremiad. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1978.
Blanchot, Mauriece. The Writing of Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: U Nebraska P, 1996.
Brossat, Main. "L'inarticulable." Lignes 9 (May 2002): 47-71.
Delbanco, Andrew. Melville: His Word and World. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Deleuze, Gilles. "Bart[eby; or, The Formula." Essays: Critical and Clinical. Trans. David W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. 68-90.
--, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.
Derrida, Jacques. "Donner, la mort." L'Ethic du don. Ed. Jean-Michel Rabate and Michael Wetzel. Paris: Mataile-Transition, 1992.
--. "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978.
--. "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy." Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982. 207-72.
Durantaye, Lelande de la. Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009.
Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977a.
--. "Revolutionary Action: 'Until Now.'" Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977b. 139-64.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000.
Higgins, Brian, and Hershel Parker, eds. Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1995.
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins. New York: Vintage, 1963.
Johnson, Claudia. "Mansfield Park: Confusions of Guilt and Revolutions of Minds." Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.
Kaplan, Amy. The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002.
Leyda, Jay. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1951.
Mansfield Park. Dir. Patricia Rozema. Miramax, 1999.
Marzec, Robert. An Ecological and Postcolonial Study of Literature: From Daniel Defoe to Salman Rushdie. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Melville, Herman. "Benito Cereno." The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860. Eds. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and The Newberry Library, 1987. 45-117.
--. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. Eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and The Newberry Library, 1984.
--. Moby-Dick; or the Whale. Eds. Harrision Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and the Newberry Library, 1988.
--. Pierre; or, The Ambiguities. Eds. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and the Newberry Library, 1971a.
--. White Jacket: or, The World in a Man-of-War. New York: Modern Library, 2002.
--. "Young America in Literature." Pierre; or, The Ambiguities. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and The Newberry Library, 1971b. 244-56.
Parker, Hershel. Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. 1, 1819-1853. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
--. Herman Melville': A Biography. Vol. 2, 1857-1891. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.
Peck, George Washington. The American Whig Review (6 July 1847): 446-54.
Ranciere, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1999.
Renan, Ernest. "What Is a Nation?" Nation and Narration. Ed. Homi K. Bhabha. Trans. Martin Thorn. London: Routledge, 1990.
Roberts, Warren. Jane Austen and the French Revolution. London: Macmillan, 1978.
Robertson-Lorant, Laurie. Melville: A Biography. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1996.
Said, Edward W. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
--. Culture and hnperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology: Four Chapters on &e Concept of Sovereignty. Trans. George Schwab. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005.
Spanos, William V. "American Exceptionalism, the Jeremiad, and the Frontier Before and After 9/11." American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam. Albany: SUNY P, 2008a. 187-241.
--. The Exceptionalist State and the State of Exception: Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2011.
--. "Hannah Arendt and Edward Said: An Affiliation in Counterpoint." Exiles in the City: Hannah Arendt and Edward W. Said in Counterpoint. Columbus: The Ohio State UP, forthcoming.
--. "Heidegger, Foucault, and the 'Empire of the Gaze': Thinking the Territorialization of Knowledge." The Legacy of Edward W. Said. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2009. 26-69.
--. "Pierre's Extraordinary Emergency: Melville and the 'Voice of Silence.'" Herman Melville and the American Calling: The Fiction after Moby-Dick, 1851-1857. Albany: SUNY P, 2008b. 19-55.
Tanner, Tony. "Appendix: Original  Penguin Classics. Introduction." Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. Ed. Kathryn Sutherland. London: Penguin, 2003. 444.
Thomson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage, 1966.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford UP, 1873.
Yeats, William Butler. "The Second Coming." The Collected Poems of W. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1956. 184-85.
(1) See Spanos (2008b).
(2) I am indebted to Donald E. Pease for pointing me to Cooper's novel and its relation to Austen's domestic novel of manners.
(3) The emergent post-feudal bourgeois culture in England represented the open fields and forests, which hitherto, since the Magna Carta, had been called "the commons" because the peasantry had been allowed to use their resources, not simply as unproductive but also as threatening wilderness to justify their enclosure and "improvement." See Marzec (8-13).
(4) Fanny's resistance to "acting" is underscored by the repetition of her assertion that she cannot act when she is asked by Tom to take the part of the cottager's wife (Austen 135-37, 139, 142, 144-45, 147).
(5) The ubiquity of the word "improvement" in Mansfield Park cannot but bring to mind the history of the enclosure acts that brought the British feudal world to its end and paved the way not simply to the rise of the bourgeois nation-state but also of British imperialism. For an early modern analysis of this history, see Williams (1873). See also Marzec (2007) for a more recent account of this history of the enclosure acts in England that locates it in the contest of postcolonial perspective.
(6) I am invoking here Sacvan Bercovitch's 1978 analysis of the "American Jeremiad," the ritual cultural perspective that, to put it all too briefly, calls for a perpetual frontier or enemy as the mean of rejuvenating and maintaining the unity of the community in the face of the inevitable threat of over-civilization (decadence) and disintegration
(7) That this paradigm is, indeed, at stake is corroborated at the end of the novel when, after Fanny has become the center of the Bertram household, her young sister, Susan, is invited into the family circle, not simply to assume the role Fanny has vacated, but also to ensure the repetition of the rejuvenating process inaugurated by the coming of her older sister to Mansfield Park (Austen 438).
(8) "Humanism invented a whole series of subjected sovereignties: the soul (ruling the body, but subjected to God), consciousness (sovereign in a context of judgment, but subjected to the necessities of truth), the individual (a titular control of personal rights subjected to the laws of nature and society)" (Foucault 1977b, 221). Ultimately, Foucault's notion of the subjected subject derives from Louis Althusser's concept of interpellation: the (higher) call that simultaneously grants an identity to the called and subjects him/her to the Caller. See Althusser (1971).
(9) See the second epigraph quote at the beginning of the essay.
(10) Said comes even closer to making my point about Austen's ventriloquizing of Fanny in a peripheral comment in the process of his reading of Mansfield Park: "In this pattern of affiliation and in her assumption of authority, Fanny Price's is relatively passive. She resists the misdemeanors and the importunings of others, and very occasionally she ventures actions on her own: all in all, though, one has the impression that Austen has designs for her that Fanny herself can scarcely comprehend, just as throughout the novel Fanny is thought of by everyone as 'comfort' and 'acquisition' despite herself. Like Kipling's Kim O'Hara, Fanny is both a device and instrument in a larger pattern, as well as a fully fledged novelistic character" (1993, 85; my emphasis).
(11) Austen refers repeatedly to the naval base Spithead, a roadstead in the English Channel between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, at two junctures of her story. The first is when she writes of the coming visit of Fanny's beloved brother William Price, a midshipman on a British naval vessel, the Antwerp, returning from military duty in the Mediterranean: "She had a letter from him herself, a few hurried happy lines written as the ship came up Channel, and sent into Portsmouth, with the first boat that left the Antwerp, at anchor in Spithead" (Austen 215). The second is when Fanny returns with William, now a lieutenant, to her Portsmouth home, several years after her adoption by the Bertram family, only to learn that the man of war her brother was scheduled to board, the Thrush, has prematurely sailed to Spithead: "'Oh! My dear William [his mother says], how glad I am to see you. But have you heard about the Thrush? She is gone out of harbor already, three days before we had any thought of it.... It takes me quite unawares. And now you must be off for Spithead too" (351; for further references to Spithead, see 351-53, 361). Austen does not refer to the uprisings at Spithead and the Nore at the mouth of the Thames that occurred in 1797, which Herman Melville, in White Jacket and in the ("discarded") "Preface" of Billy Budd, calls "the Great Mutiny," attributing it to the influence of the French Revolution: "Now, as elsewhere hinted, it was something caught from the Revolutionary Spirit that at Spithead emboldened the man-of-war's men to rise against real abuses, long-standing ones, and afterwards at the Nore to make inordinate and aggressive demands-successful resistance to which was confirmed only when the ringleaders were hung for an admonitory spectacle to the anchored fleet." William Price, Austen tells us, had served in the navy for seven years before this first reunion with his sister, which would put his enlistment sometime between 1805-1807, less than a decade after the spectacular repression of the mutiny at Spithead and the Nore. Like her casual references to Sir Thomas Bertram's slave plantation in Antigua, Austen's summary account of Williams' seven years in the British naval during the Napoleonic wars, which were epochal because they were fought over imperial control of the global seaways, provides no specific historical details about the period of his service. To provide some semblance of the disturbing epochal history she withholds, I will quote from Melville's White Jacket: "Still more, that was a period when the uttermost resources of England were taxed to the quick; when the masts of her multiplied fleets almost transplanted her forests, all standing to the sea; when British press-gangs not only boarded foreign ships on the high seas, and boarded foreign pier-heads, but boarded their own merchantmen at the mouth of the Thames, and boarded the very fire-sides along its banks; when Englishmen were knocked down and dragged into the navy, like cattle into the slaughter-house, with every mortal provocation to a mad desperation against the service that thus ran their unwilling heads into the muzzles of the enemy cannon" (2002, 148). Of equal importance in this context are Melville's remarks about the "Great Mutiny" in White Jacket, where he extends the geographical scope of the Great Mutiny to include the British navy in the West Indies: "It is a matter of record, that some English ships of war have fallen a prey to the ]French] enemy through insubordination of the crew, induced by the witless cruelty of their officers; officers so armed by the law that they could inflict that cruelty without constraint. Nor have there been wanting instances where the seamen have ran away with their ships, as in the case of the Hermione and Danae, and forever rid themselves of the outrageous inflictions of their officers by sacrificing their lives to their fury" (149). On Fanny's arrival (with William) in Portsmouth on her return visit, her father, having informed his son of the departure of the Thrush, goes on: "If ever there was a perfect beauty afloat, she is one; and there she lays at Spithead and anybody in England would take her for an eight-and-twenty. I was upon the platform two hours this afternoon, looking at her. She lays just astern of the Endymion, with the Cleopatra to larboard" (Austen 353). In a note appended to the text, the editor of the Penguin edition of Mansfield Park, Kathryn Sutherland, quoting a letter written to her brother, Frank Austen "at this time in the Baltic as a Captain of HMS Elephant," observes, "In this chapters, Austen uses four of her brothers' ships: as well as the Elephant she mentions the Canopus, on which Frank served in 1805-06, seeing action at the Battle of St. Domingo [in the West Indies]; and Charles's ships, the Endymion, on which he serve as midshipman and later as lieutenant, and the Cleopatra, of which he took command in September 1810" (502-03). It is unlikely that the Endymion referred to by Melville and the Endymion referred to by Austen are not the same. See also the Marxist historian E.P. Thomson: "IT[he greatest revolutionary portents for England [during the period of the French Revolution] were the naval mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in April and May 1797.... These mutinies, and the Irish rebellion of the following year were indeed events of world-wide significance, and they show how precarious was the hold of the English ancien regime. For the British fleet--the most important instrument of European expansion, and the only shield between revolutionary France and her greatest rival--to proclaim that 'the Age of Reason has at length revolved', was to threaten to subvert the whole edifice of world power. It is foolish to argue that, because the majority of the sailors had few political notions, this was a parochial affair of ship's biscuits and arrears of pay, and not a revolutionary movement" (168). I am indebted to Adam Spanos for this last telling citation. For an extended account of Melville's version of the Napoleonic wars, see Spanos (2011).
(12) Austen uses the word "noise" repeatedly to distinguish the dysfunctional household of the Portsmouth Prices from the "harmonic" family circle of Mansfield Park.
(13) See Roberts (97-98). In my mind, Said does not make enough of Britain's competition with France over imperial control of the global seaways, not the least important of which in Austen's time was the West Indies. See, in this respect, C.L.R. James (1963). See also Tanner (2003).
(14) Johnson's reading of Austen's novel is primarily a feminist one. She represents Austen as ironically criticizing the patriarchal structure of Mansfield Park--and Fanny's succumbing to the "benevolent" conservative Burkean sociopolitical imperatives on which it is founded--and in the process, points, parenthetically, to the complicity of this male-dominated domestic world with that of the British slave trade, if not of British imperialism: "Surprisingly, until very recently the subject of slavery as it bears upon Austen's novels has received little critical attention, an omission that must derive at least in part from the time-honored premise of Austen's indifference to matters of 'public' interest. Fanny herself is curious about slavery. But even though she appears to favor writers famous for abolitionist sympathies, such as Johnson and Cowper, there is no reason to assume that when she asks Sir Thomas 'about the slave trade' ... she is critical of the institution or uncomfortable with his role in it. Austen does not provide us with details about Sir Thomas's treatment of slaves in the West Indies, but the fact of ownership itself serves not simply to reveal the source of the income which supports the Bertrams' [sic] stateliness, but also more importantly to illuminate the nature of Sir Thomas's kindness to Fanny. If his treatment of Fanny can be a guide, Sir Thomas is like the model paternalist Mr. Edwards, in Edgeworth's 'The Grateful Negro' (1802), a man who believes that the emancipation of his slaves would not make them happy, who sees his guardianship as an act of kindness on behalf of dependents who cannot act for themselves, and who renders his slaves orderly and obedient by developing their capacity to feel grateful for his own kindness. Sir Thomas exacts compliance from Fanny in the same way, by virtue of his position not as a parent but rather as a benefactor" (107). Despite my sympathy with her ideological perspective, I find Johnson's identification of benevolence as Sir Thomas' means of gaining and maintaining control of both Fanny and his slaves questionable and her effort to represent Austen as a radical feminist--one that comes perilous close to rendering the Crawfords her real ideological protagonists--labored and unconvincing.
(15) I cannot here amplify on what I take to be the theoretical and interpretive flaws in Bartine and Maguire's complex and sometimes illuminating argument in behalf of Austen and against Said. It will have to suffice to say that they, in fact, reverse the actual situation. As I have suggested by way of amplifying on Austen's awareness of the threat of disorder, luxury, loose conduct, errancy (the "noise" of overcivilization that echoes the noise of undercivilization) posed by the very, civilizing logic of the center elsewhere, it is Austen who follows the accommodational logic of the concept of "tonal or harmonic counterpoint"--the articulation of two or more differential motifs, the movements of which are ultimately tethered to a dominant tonality (or center or home). Or, to put it alternatively, it is Said's "dissonant contrapuntal" perspective vis-a-vis the "classical" novelistic/musical tradition--which always sees an invisible (or hears a dissonance) in what has been represented as a whole--that enables him to perceive Austen's novel, from beginning to its strained end, as a manifestation of the accommodational logic of "tonal counterpoint" or "beginning/middle/end" novelist structure. It is, in short, not Said who is indifferent or blind to "temporal difference in time"; it is, despite the specter of dissonance that haunt her tonal vision, Austen. The same, I suggest, applies to both Patricia Rozema's provocative film adaptation of Mansfield Park (2000)--which, in my mind, could not have been made without resort to Said's reading of Mansfield Park--and Bartine and Maguire's essay on this film, "Contrapuntal Critical Reading and Invitations to Invention."
(16) Pertinent to this point is not only Austen's casual way of reporting the illicit way William is promoted from lowly midshipman to lieutenant in the British navy, but also her protagonist's unquestionable acceptance of this method: when hearing from Mary Crawford that her infatuated brother, Henry, had persuaded his uncle, the Admiral, to have William commissioned, "Fanny's mind," Austen writes, "was thrown into the most distressing of all its varieties. The recollection of what had been done for William was always the most powerful disturber of every decision against Mr. Crawford ..." (337).
(17) Fanny's words, "curiosity" and "pleasure," provide ample evidence that her interest in the Bertram's slave plantations in Antigua has little to do with moral discomfort.
(18) By this "labor," I mean a certain authorial intervention that coerces a character into acting in a way that runs counter to the expectations established by previous circumstances. This intervention culminates in the forced resolution of the fraught situation the "family circle" of Mansfield Park in the wake of Maria's elopement with Henry Crawford. "Let pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects a soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest" (Austen 428). This "deus ex machina," has, of course, been interpreted by Austen's defenders as evidence of her ironic perspective on the story she is narrating and thus of her awareness of precisely the aporias Edward Said claims she is blind to.
(19) In underscoring the violence at the historical origins of the Mansfield Park community, I am drawing on Ernest Renan's famous essay "What Is a Nation?" and Herman Melville's uncanny attunement to this inaugural violence in Pierre and Israel Potter. See footnote 29.
(20) See especially Spanos (2009, 26-69).
(21) The continuity between Said and Agamben I to which am referring in invoking the term "vocation" can be seen in the following: quoting Foucault on the role of the post-Western intellectual in "Intellectuals in Power," Said writes approvingly, "The intellectual makes it his task to controvert the dynastic role thrust upon him by history or habit. He does not see himself as subordinate even to concepts such as 'truth' or "knowledge' insofar as these descend (figuratively or literally) from on high or ascend from the Origin to the surface" (1975, 378).
(22) Nor do the major biographies--see Robertson-Lorant (1996), Parker (1996; 2002), and Deblanco (2005).
(23) See Bercovtich (1978) and Spanos (2008a, 187-241).
(24) In the first of the Leatherstocking novels, The Pioneers, Cooper, it could be said, adapts the English novel of manners, epitomized by his first novel, Precaution (1820), whose mis en scene, not incidentally, is a country house England during the Napoleonic wars, to the conditions of the American frontier. In rendering this novel a cross between romance and novel of manners and setting it at the frontier between settlement (Templeton) and wilderness--center and periphery--Cooper's intention is to evoke and resolve problem of over-civilization that is endemic to the logic of "civilization."
(25) This argument, particularly as it applies to the American domestic novel of manners written by women, is supported by the chapter entitled "Manifest Domesticity" in Amy Kaplan's The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture (23-50). It is worth noting that Kaplan is applying Edward Said's correlation of the domestic and the foreign (Mansfield Park and Antigua) in his reading of Mansfield Park to the American domestic novel that had become standard at the time Melville was writing Pierre: "Not a retreat from the masculine sphere of empire building, domesticity both reenacts and conceals its origin in the violent appropriation of foreign land. Buried in the pit closely accessible to the domestic space, ghosts from prior imperial encounters haunt the self-enclosed household of the family and the nation. 'Manifest Domesticity' turns an imperial nation into a home by producing and colonizing specters of the foreign that lurk inside and outside its ever-shifting borders" (50).
(26) See the chapter entitled "Young America in Literature" in Melville (1971a, 244-56).
(27) For an amplified reading of this crucial passage, see Spanos (2008b, 19-55).
(28) "History [as genealogy] ... teaches how to laugh at the solemnities of the origin. The lofty origin is not more than "a metaphysical extension which arises from the belief that things are most precious and essential at the moment of birth.' We tend to think that this is the moment of the greatest perfection, when they emerge dazzling from the hands of a creator or in the shadowless light of a first morning. The origin always preceded the Fall. It comes before the body, before the world and time; it is associated with the gods, and the story is always sung as a theogony. But historical beginnings are lowly: not in the sense of modest or discreet like the steps of a dove, but derisive and ironic, capable of undoing every infatuation. 'We wished to awaken the feeling of man's sovereignty by showing his divine birth; this path is now forbidden, since a monkey stands at the entrance" (Foucault 1977a, 143; the quotations within this passage are from Nietzsche, The Wanderer and his Shadow, and The Dawn, respectively).
(29) Agamben's radicalization of the temporal imperative of the secular to live in the present as the "time of the now" is, in my mind, remarkably similar to Edward Said's radicalization of the traditional metaphysical understanding of the beginning in Beginnings: Intention and Method.
(30) As I have shown elsewhere, Melville's genealogy of Saddle Meadows constitutes an uncanny antithetical parallel to Ernest Renan's positive account of the birth of the nation in his famous essay "What Is a Nation?," in which he is compelled to admit the violence at its origins and, in the name of the nation, the imperative to forget it. "Forgetting," Renan writes, "1 would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of ] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial. Unity is always effected by means of brutality; the union of northern France with the Midi was the result of massacres and terrors lasting for the best if a century.... The nation which [the king of France] had formed had cursed him, and, nowadays, it is only men of culture who know something of his former value and of his achievements" (11). Later, he adds, "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.... The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. To have common glories in the past and to have common will in the present, to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more--these are the essential conditions for being a people" (16).
(31) As in the case of Mansfield Park, Pierre, too, begins with the protagonists, mother and son, engaged in play acting, tellingly in this case Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (Melville 1971a, 16-20).
(32) Melville addresses this jeremiadic theme insistently in his fiction. See especially the chapters entitled "The Cosmopolitan makes an acquaintance" (chapter 25), and "Containing the metaphysics of Indian-hating, according to the views of one evidently not so prepossessed as Rousseau in favor of savages" (chapter 26), in The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1984, 138-59); and "Benito Cereno," The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860 (1987, 45-117).
(33) See also page 172.
(34) What the narrator knows--and Pierre does not yet--unlike the omniscient narrator of the traditional novelist, like Austen, is that he cannot know.
(35) Melville, I suggest, is fully aware of the etymology of "comprehend": from the Latin prefix cure (with) and prehendere: "to take hold of" or "to grasp [that which is ungraspable]."
(36) This passage might be read as betraying Melville's "Orientalism." In my mind, however, his emphatic identification of the object of the Western archeologist/geologist's quest with humanity at large obviates such a possibility.
(37) I am thinking here of Derrida's essay "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy" (1982, 207-72).
(38) This objectification of the nothingness of being to alleviate the anxiety it activates is a major critical theme in Melville's work. It is at the heart of Moby-Dick, as the terrible consequence of Ahab's naming of the "white whale" (to render it "practically assailable") testifies.
(39) The narrator uses this term to character Pierre's titanic--and misguided--effort to write the "comprehensively compact work" (Melville 1971a, 283) that would "gospelize the world anew" (273): "And as the now advancing and concentring enterprise demanded more and more compacted vigor from him, he felt that he was having less and less to bring to it" (338). Melville frequently uses the unusual word "concentred" (or variants, such as "centralizing") in his fiction to refer to the eye of one, such as Captain Ahab and Captain Vere (in Billy Budd), whose vision is determined by a principle of presence. Thus, for example, "That before living agent [Ahab], now became the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark" (Melville 1988, 185).
(40) "This is, in fact, the point the French theorist Alain Brossat makes in an essay on Melville's Billy Budd pointedly entitled "L'inarticulable," published in France in the wake of the bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11. In this essay, Brossat points to the analogy between Billy's speechless death blow against the master at arms, who, in the context of the state of exception, is the real master of the ship of state ("the master of masters"), and the global multitude that has been rendered inarticulate by the dominant American culture: "Morphologically, the event of September 11, 2001, presents an obvious kinship with the scene imagined by Melville: it is indeed a kind of super-Claggart, master-at-arms on the world ship, that that day sees itself dealt the most tremendous blow it has ever received, right in the face (Manhattan). It does not of course die but there is, symbolically, irreparable damage where the immunity of the body of this master of masters has been so directly and brutally affected. One also finds here the link between the impossibility for a plebeian multitude subjected to the harshest neglect, suffering the course of historical things as a daily renewed outrage, to expose the suffered wrong and the instantaneous unleashing of a violence run amok. And one finds the constantly manifest incommensurability between the harshness of the ordeal suffered by this multitude...and the resources offered by language to the outraged.... The return of that violence which Walter Benjamin called 'mythic' [sic], indissociable from the return in force of the politico-theological, a violence destined to strike the persecutor with lightning (symbolically in any case) is produced in this configuration where the dominated feel themselves humiliated and neglected and where their fury against oppression continually fails to be transcribed as the filing of a complaint or the uncovering of a wrong" (66). See also Spanos (2011, 100-02).
(41) See Schmitt (2005).
(42) See also Benjamin (277-300).
(43) As Benjamin puts it, "On the breaking of this cycle maintained by mythical forms of law, on the suspension of law with all the forces on which it depends as they depend on it, finally therefore on the abolition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded" (300).
(44) In the face of the tendency of American Melvilleans, vestigially tethered to the American exceptionalist perspective, to limit Melville's influence to the Anglophone world, it is worth observing that his de-centered fiction has had a massive impact on contemporary European literary, philosophical, cultural, and political thought, particularly that which goes by the name "poststructuralist." See, for example, Blanchot (1996), Derrida (1992), Deleuze (1997), Agamben (1999), and Hardt and Negri (2002).
(45) "We must distinguish between secularization and profanation. Secularization is a form of repression. It leaves intact the forces it deals with by simply moving them from one place to another. Thus the political secularization of the theological concepts (the transcendence of God as paradigm of sovereign power) does nothing but displace the heavenly monarchy onto an earthly monarchy, leaving its power intact. Profanation, however, neutralizes what it profanes. Once profaned, that which was unavailable and separate loses its aura and is returned to [common] use. Both are political operations: the first guarantees the exercise of power by carrying it back to a sacred model; the second deactivates the apparatuses of power and returns to common use the spaces that power has seized" (Agamben 2007, 77).
(46) For Agamben elucidation of this profane understanding of time (kairos), see The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to tire Romans (138-45).
(47) For the sake of convenience, I cite Leland de la Durantaye's genealogy of this key word of Agamben's discourse: "What the term inoperative stresses [in opposition to the received assumption about the relation between potential and act, which privileges the latter] is the other side of potentiality: that a thing might not come to pass. For Agamben, as for Aristotle, potentiality conceived of as merely the potential-to-be is but half the story. An idea of potentiality worthy of the name must also include a potentiality that does not pass into act, that is truly potential in the sense that it contains the possibility of not actualizing itself. It is for this reason that Agamben stresses both 'the potential to be' and 'the potential not to be,' because in his words, 'only a potentiality [potenza] that is capable of both potentiality and impotence [impotenza] is then supreme potentiality' (Coming Community, 36). For Agamben, not only is this second mode of potentiality not of less interest or importance than the first, but it also is absolutely necessary for understanding potentiality's 'originary figure' (Profanations, 182). For this reason Agamben finds that 'politics is that which corresponds to the essential inoperativeness of mankind,' and it is this idea that lies at the heart of much of his work (Means Without End, 140)" (19-20).
(48) See Agamben (1993, 34-36; 1999).
(49) For an amplified account of this, see Spanos (forthcoming).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||general articles|
|Author:||Spanos, William V.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
|Previous Article:||Magritte, Cladel, and the tomb of the wrestlers: roses, daggers, and love in interarts discourse.|
|Next Article:||Toni Morrison's Beloved: space, architecture, trauma.|