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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/13/21

Sizing Up Melville for the 21st Century (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Herman Melville by Joseph O Eaton.
Herman Melville by Joseph O Eaton.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 13, 2021: In this review essay, I aim to join the distinguished American Melville scholar and biographer Hershel Parker's enterprise of sizing up the American novelist, short story writer, and poet Herman Melville (1819-1891) who died in obscurity.

For my present purposes, I will bring to bear certain pertinent aspects of the thought of the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955), who served as president of the Modern Language Association of America in 1978. His family name is English (it was earlier spelled "Onge"; it is probably related to the English name Yonge). Ong's ancestors left East Anglia on the same ship that brought Roger Williams to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631 - five years before the founding of Harvard College in 1636.

As far as I know, in Ong's 400 or so distinct publications (not counting translations or reprintings as distinct publications), his only, admittedly brief, discussion of Melville occurs in his essay "Personalism and Wilderness" in his 1962 essay collection The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies New York: Macmillan, pages 233-241, at 234 and 236).

For a bibliography of Ong's 400 or so distinct publications, including bibliographic information about translations and reprintings, see Thomas M. Walsh's "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in the 2011 anthology Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Thomas M. Walsh (New York: Hampton Press, pages 185-245).

Now, at times in the present essay, my style of composition will seem associative and digressive as I attempt to weave together relevant points from diverse sources. But they say that forewarned is fore-armed.

Now, let us note here that the fifteen volumes of The Writings of Herman Melville were published by Northwestern University Press and Newberry Library from 1968 to 2017. Known as the Northwester-Newberry Edition (abbreviated NN). Hershel Parker was involved as an editor of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition.

Hershel Parker has published four remarkably candid biographical volumes about Melville:

(1) Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 1: 1819-1851 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996);

(2) Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002);

(3) Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press, 2008);

(4) Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (Northwestern University Press, 2013).

Now, the 2018 third edition of the Norton Critical Edition of Herman Melville's 1851 masterpiece Moby-Dick comes equipped with maps, illustrations, amply footnoted text (pages 1-418), and abundant backward-glancing and forward-oriented contextualizing material (pages 419-704), including references for further reading (pages 705-706). But stand forewarned: the print is small.

It is edited by the indefatigable Hershel Parker, who supplies the "Preface" (pages xi-xv), headnotes, footnotes, and four selections:

(1) "Melville's Reading and Moby-Dick: An Overview and a Bibliography" (pages 501-510);

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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