Cold war allegories and the politics of criticism

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Abstract

That Melville has been the object of numerous “political” readings is not news. Melville is credited with perpetuating, reflecting, or subverting a host of ideological structures, among them imperialism, slavery, national expansion, market capitalism, anticolonialism, and heteronormativity. Reading Melville politically is also not new. In the mid-twentieth century, as Americans came to terms with the collapse of what had seemed to some the utopian promise of the leftist activism of the 1930s, Richard Chase, an eminent literature professor at Columbia University, turned to Melville to formulate a new version of liberalism. Chase is best known as the author of the influential study The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957), one of the earliest “myth and symbol” studies often criticized for forming a “consensus” around American “character” through the establishment of a canon of “great” American literature. Although less well known, his earlier monograph, Herman Melville: A Critical Study (1949), a foundational text in Melville’s Cold War “revival,” is more important for Melville studies, which gained in breadth and sophistication following the end of World War II.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages219-232
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139149952
ISBN (Print)9781107023130
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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