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That’s America

Stephen Greenblatt, 29 September 1988

‘Ronald Reagan’, the Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology 
by Michael Rogin.
California, 366 pp., £19.95, April 1987, 0 520 05937 9
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... Rogin’s project in these essays, as in his remarkable psycho-historical studies of Jackson and Melville, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (1975) and Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville (1985), is to bring together the public domain of American ...

Versatile Monster

Marilyn Butler, 5 May 1988

In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and 19th-century Writing 
by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 207 pp., £22.50, December 1987, 0 19 811726 4
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... based directly on the Frankenstein plot. Among the novelists who used it, Baldick makes most of Herman Melville and Charles Dickens. He sees Moby Dick as a natural extension of the myth, in which the demon that drives the Frankensteinian Ahab is in effect the dynamic energy of American territorial and industrial expansion. The whale, a mute monster, is ...

Nature made the house

William Fiennes: Barry Topez, 29 July 1999

Arctic Dreams 
by Barry Lopez.
Harvill, 464 pp., £7.99, January 1999, 1 86046 583 8
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About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory 
by Barry Lopez.
Harvill, 275 pp., £12, January 1999, 9781860465659
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... keeps the prose furrowed and set firm. When, referring to the narwhal’s tusk, he writes that ‘Herman Melville drolly suggested they used it as a letter-opener,’ there is an audible note of disapproval in the ‘drolly’, as though laughter were not quite the appropriate response to such a natural miracle. The appropriate response is awe, wonder, a ...

Kooked

Mark Ford, 10 March 1994

Selected Poems 
by Charles Olson, edited by Robert Creeley.
California, 225 pp., $25, December 1993, 0 520 07528 5
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Selected Poems 
by Robert Duncan, edited by Robert Bertholf.
Carcanet, 147 pp., £9.95, October 1993, 1 85754 038 7
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... Five years before that he published his first book, Call Me Ishmael, an intense, sweeping study of Herman Melville that focuses mainly on the opposed characters of Ahab and Ishmael. Olson’s Ahab is a distinctly Poundian figure, driven by a tragically single-minded determination to impose his will at whatever cost, while Ishmael emerges as an incarnation ...

To be like us isn’t easy

Emily Cooke: Dorothy Baker, 20 June 2013

Young Man with a Horn 
by Dorothy Baker.
NYRB, 185 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 1 59017 577 4
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Cassandra at the Wedding 
by Dorothy Baker.
NYRB, 241 pp., £8.99, September 2012, 978 1 59017 601 6
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... raising her eyebrows at the answer. She could see why one might want to read interviews with, say, Herman Melville, but couldn’t see the point in being recorded herself. She was, she said, ‘not quite good enough’, or at least not ‘good enough to be considered good’. Her name didn’t rank: she was ‘not one of the good writers of the United ...

Who does that for anyone?

Adam Shatz: Jean-Pierre Melville, 20 June 2019

Jean-Pierre MelvilleLe Solitaire 
by Bertrand Teissier.
Fayard, 272 pp., €22, October 2017, 978 2 213 70573 6
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Jean-Pierre Melvilleune vie 
by Antoine de Baecque.
Seuil, 244 pp., €32, October 2017, 978 2 02 137107 9
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... the left of the photograph on his FFC visa, Grumbach wrote: ‘I wish to serve under the name of MELVILLE, Jean-Pierre.’ Alain Delon in ‘Le Samouraï’ (1967) and, below, in ‘Le Cercle rouge’ (1970) Herman Melville had been Grumbach’s literary god, alongside Poe and Jack London, ever since he’d read ...

America is back

Alan Brinkley, 1 November 1984

... era than of the more complicated era that followed. ‘We are the pioneers of the world,’ Herman Melville wrote of America in the 19th century. ‘The political messiah has come ... He has come in us.’ For most of American history this sense of American righteousness and American mission have stood at the centre of the nation’s ...

Don’t do what Allende did

Greg Grandin: Allende, 19 July 2012

Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War 
by Tanya Harmer.
North Carolina, 375 pp., £38.95, October 2011, 978 0 8078 3495 4
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... and freedom; with friendship toward all peoples of the world. But Nixon was the kind of Quaker Herman Melville warned against: ‘Quakers with a vengeance’. He couldn’t say Allende’s name without sputtering a curse. Just a few days after Allende’s election, Nixon’s CIA told its Santiago operatives to use ‘every stratagem, every ...

Dye the Steak Blue

Lidija Haas: Shirley Jackson, 19 August 2010

Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories 
edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
Library of America, 827 pp., $35, May 2010, 978 1 59853 072 8
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... elementary misunderstanding of what a writer is and how a writer works, on the order of expecting Herman Melville to be a white whale’. But it might be more accurate, given the clear connections between Jackson’s life and her work, to call it a misunderstanding of what it was (or is) to be a wife and mother. Jackson once said that all her books ...

The Man in the Clearing

Iain Sinclair: Meeting Gary Snyder, 24 May 2012

... lotus-eater land, a buddha-realm of flowers and delight which is really like old captain cook and herman melville’. Money is stolen from his pocket while he swims; he doesn’t care. ‘Other guys lost money too, but it’s all so good-natured.’ Wild pigs. Horses eating flowers. The tanker spewing out its oil, before the return to America. We move ...

A Short History of the Trump Family

Sidney Blumenthal: The First Family, 16 February 2017

... descends into civil war. The end.The Confidence Man: His Masquerade was the last full-length book Herman Melville published in his lifetime. Moby-Dick had been poorly received and Melville could no longer scrape by on his writing. A flat-out failure, he was about to take a job as a clerk in the New York Customs ...

Islas Malvinas

Frank Lentricchia, 1 April 1999

... Tahiti and the rich Japanese cruising grounds. And Lucchesi delights to imagine him there, Melville, of course, ruddiest of writers, strolling in the Malvinas! Strolling beaches of white quartz sand and suddenly seized by impulse, stripping, and plunging out of sight into the frigid surf, to dare the giant kelp coils. Look! ...

Jobs and Sprees and Sorrows

William Fiennes, 16 April 1998

Joe Gould's Secret 
by Joseph Mitchell.
Cape, 200 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 0 224 05107 5
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... of contributors who made the magazine’s reputation. His special subject was the sea: he shared Herman Melville’s vision of New York as a city of the sea, ‘your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted around by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs’. Mitchell was the laureate of the waters around New York. He recorded the arcana of the ...

Post-its, push pins, pencils

Jenny Diski: In the Stationery Cupboard, 31 July 2014

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace 
by Nikil Saval.
Doubleday, 288 pp., £20, June 2014, 978 0 385 53657 8
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... the absolute refuser (1853). Perhaps the two portrayals are not coincidental. In 1851, the Melville family read David Copperfield aloud as their evening entertainment. The pre-20th-century office worker saw himself as a cut above the unsalaried labouring masses, and was as ambivalent about his superiors, who were his only means of rising, as the rest ...

Lucchesi: His Life in Art

Frank Lentricchia: Four Fictions, 12 November 1998

... he left without notice on an open-ended cruise in the South Seas, for the purpose of retracing Herman Melville’s early career, in the hope of summoning, from places Melville had touched, that writer’s robust tutelary ghost. Then, on a soundless veranda in the Marquesas, while making notes on an advanced draft of ...

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