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Life Arts    H3'ed 8/23/21

Some Reflections on the Melville/Hawthorne Relationship (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) August 23, 2021: In my recent OEN article "Laurie Robertson-Lorant on Melville" (dated August 22, 2021), I discussed her 700-page Melville: A Biography. I commended her discussion of Melville's 1852 novel Pierre. But I highlighted her discussion of his 1876 18,000-line poem Clarel, about which I had written in two previous OEN articles.

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In Melville's Clarel (1876), there is a minor character named Vine. Melville scholars tend to think that Vine is loosely based on the then-deceased American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). For a memorable short time, the younger aspiring writer Herman Melville (1819-1891) and the older established writer Hawthorne felt a certain affinity for one another in the early 1850s. However, after a short time of mutual intensity, their platonic relationship came to an end.

So what? What difference does it make that their intense platonic friendship was short-lived? As Robertson-Lorant and other Melville scholars have pointed out, the intense platonic relationship between Melville and Hawthorne emerged at about the time when Melville was writing his posthumously famous 1851 novel Moby-Dick.

In the colorful figurative terminology that Robertson-Lorant uses, Melville's life was, in effect, a gordian knot for him. Through his writing, he explored the volcanic depths of his life. No doubt his 1851 novel Moby-Dick is an expression of the volcanic depths of his life. In effect, it is a volcanic eruption, figuratively speaking. And his then-emerging platonic friendship with the older established writer Hawthorne undoubtedly contributed to Melville's exploration of the depths of his psyche in his 1851 novel Moby-Dick.

Now, without diminishing the creative wonder of Melville's writing in his 1851 novel Moby-Dick, we are left with Melville's post-1851 life and writings. Yes, as we will not below momentarily, his intense mutual platonic relationship with Hawthorne came to an end in Melville's post-1851 life. However, Melville's life did not come to an end until 1891. But his life continued to be the gordian knot that Robertson-Lorant refers to. In addition, Melville continued to use his writing as a way to explore further the volcanic depths of his psyche, figuratively speaking.

Simply put, was Melville's writing all downhill after the creative wonder of Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick? For the moment, let me characterize Moby-Dick as Nietzschean in spirit. But the German classicist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a younger nineteenth-century contemporary of Melville's. To spell out the obvious, young Nietzsche turned seven years old in 1851, the year in which the American novelist Melville published his Nietzschean novel Moby-Dick. So Melville explored the Nietzschean depths of his American psyche in Moby-Dick, but then Melville continued to explore the depths of his American psyche in his post-1851 writing. So can we perhaps designate Melville's post-1851 writing as post-Nietzschean - that is, what you can explore in the depths of your psyche as a result of exploring the volcanic Nietzschean depths of your psyche in a volcanic eruption of creative writing in Moby-Dick?

Now, I recently published the OEN article "Macey Perceptively Aligns Foucault with Nietzsche" (dated August 14, 2021) about the late British biographer and translator David Macey's 600-page The Lives of Michel Foucault:

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Now, from what I have learned from Macey's biography about the French twentieth-century Nietzschean philosopher Foucault (1926-1984), and from other Foucault biographies, I cannot say for sure that Foucault, overall in all of his Nietzschean writings, explored the depths of his French psyche as deeply as Melville explored his American psyche in his Nietzschean 1851 novel Moby-Dick and continued exploring his American psyche in his post-1851 writings. But I have no doubt that Foucault explored the depths of his modern French psyche.

For Foucault's own discussion of Nietzsche, see the posthumously published book Lectures on the Will to Know: Lectures at the College de France 1970-1971 and "Oedipal Knowledge," edited by Daniel Defert; translated by Graham Burchell (2013; see the "Index of Names" for specific page references to Nietzsche [page 293]).

Now, to avoid a certain possible misunderstanding about the following review essay, let me make it clear here that I do not expect that Melville's 1852 novel Pierre will ever be as widely read as his 1851 Nietzschean novel Moby-Dick has been, because in his 1852 novel Melville explores far too many endogamous kinship libido relationships in his nineteenth-century American psyche, and uses far too idiosyncratic imagery, for most Melville scholars and/or most Melville readers to relate to - with the notable exception of the American Melville scholar and psychoanalyst Dr. Henry A. Murray, M.D. (1897-1967) of Harvard University, whose lengthy 1949 "Introduction" to Melville's 1852 novel Pierre I will discuss at length below momentarily.

But first I want to contextualize a bit my use of the Jungian terminology about endogamous kinship libido relationships. In Walter J. Ong's 1971 350-page book Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Cornell University Press), he succinctly summarizes the eight stages of consciousness that the Jungian author Erich Neumann delineates in his book The Origins and History of Consciousness:

"The stages of psychic development as treated by Neumann are successively (1) the infantile undifferentiated self-contained whole symbolized by the uroboros (tail-eater), the serpent with it tail in its mouth, as well as be other circular or global mythological figures [including Nietzsche's imagery about the eternal return?], (2) the Great Mother (the impersonal womb from which each human infant, male or female, comes, the impersonal femininity which may swallow him [or her] up again), (3) the separation of the world parents (the principle of opposites, differentiation, possibility of change, (4) the birth of the hero (rise of masculinity and of the personalized ego) with its sequels in (5) the slaying of the mother (fight with the dragon: victory over primal creative but consuming femininity, chthonic forces), and (6) the slaying of the father (symbol of thwarting obstruction of individual achievement, [thwarting] what is new), (7) the freeing of the captive (liberation of the ego from endogamous [i.e., "married" within one's psyche] kinship libido and the emergence of the higher femininity, with woman now as person, anima-sister, related positively to ego consciousness), and finally (8) the transformation (new unity in self-conscious individualization, higher masculinity, expressed primordially in the Osiris myth but today entering new phases with heightened individualism [such as Nietzsche's overman] - or, more properly, personalism - of modern man [sic])" (pages 10-11).

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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; Ph.D.in 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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