The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (V)

The title begs for details, it just does: why would the frontier pop up there in the first place?

The novel, The Confidence Man, is supposedly set in the 1850s, and it describes a voyage through territories – the Midwest and the Coastal Plains, or: the area wedged between the Appalachians and the Great Plains, or: Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana – that had well been integrated into the union.

[first posted by EricGjerde, some rights reserved]

To wit, in this context –

The Indian Removal Act had been ratified in 1830, under the auspices of President Andrew Jackson, signing into jurisdiction a forced westward movement –

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other. (my emphasis)

A sharper edge than mine is applied on the act – here – what the law implied was, of course, the forced removal of member of the Five Civilized Tribes from the South East into the West, here meaning: west of the Mississippi river.
Indian and frontier fighting, in the vein of Colonel John Moredock, was introduced into the White House with the presidency of William Henry Harrison (1840-1841, being the ninth president and the first to die in office, obviously. He was not impeached out of it.). The White House biographical info page introduces his vita thus –

“Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, ” a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibes, “he will sit…by the side of a ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.”

– which seems like a very fair deal. Earlier in his life he had been governor of the Indiana Territory, moving in that position into the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, against the Indian forces under the command of Tecumseh, below in a British uniform, documenting the fact that he went into an alliance with the British after his forces had been defeated in 1811. The iconographic conventions baffle me somewhat – most of all the lady on the medallion. If anyone, it should show George III, king of Great Britain & Ireland from 1800-1820, which it clearly does not. Since the painting was done in 1848, decades after Tecumseh’s death (at the hands of said William Henry Harrison, as the uncorroborated story goes) in 1813, I would think the artist gave a damn for historical accuracy and planted Queen Victoria into the painting – though she, whoever she is, doesn’t seem to wear any regal apparel – crown, diadem, or something – or any other thing indicating her status.

Chief Tecumseh

So. At the time of the Fidèle scuttling down the Mississippi river, the frontier had been established as a place of presidential geo-politics – at the same time, Indians were hurried out of the Eastern seaboard colonies, West and in the direction of the frontier – which around 1850 had, of course, long reached the Western seaboard.

The Mexican-American war had brought California into the Union, ceded by Mexico in 1848 – with General William Tecumseh Sherman playing a major role in the events, of course.

The Bear State Flag, as hoisted by the Sonoma, Ca. crew who went to occupy the Mexican garrison in the city.

The Fidèle is an all-comprehensive stage for a self-contained narration. Using what must by needs and apocalyptic logic be the final hours of the world, a judgment day presided over not by a celestial panel, but, well – by the reader, to whom the con man is busy catering, – using these final hours productively entails a reconstruction.

Melville brings back the frontier into the middle of the country, – the sense of it radiates off board the Fidèle, that brave Mississippi steamer acting as a world stage, as a diorama of the world. On rolling down the river, she is creating a steadily updated sense of frontier, en passant, if you will – an inside (the ship= the world) and an outside (historical, secular reality outside the confines of the ship/world stage: such as the extended chapters on Indian hating, which present a geographical frontier themselves, THE frontier as worked into the site by real life explorer-heroes like Daniel Boone and fictional, ambiguous villain-heroes like Nick of the Woods).

This is not so much a geographical frontier, but more a figurative, spiritual one. And that new frontier experience is part of the apocalyptic one-day-one-stage-experience that the con man, aka Satan, aka What-was-his-name, brings to an end when he smothers the light of the candle at the very end of the novel. There is no one left to reach out after that, no narrator lucky enough to be spared just for the sake of the narration, the way Ishmael takes the narration away from the capsizing of the Pequod –

[The Crew of the Pequod; first posted by Dunechaser, some rights reserved]


I realize this is a way, way, way messed up argument that I would liberally cover in red if one of my students handed it in like that – I need to work out that frontier/apocalypse-interpretative-routine more, and my next chapter (and that’s where I’m escaping to now) on the Riders of the Purple Sage will give me the chance to.


The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (IV)

[ first posted by Farol, some rights reserved]

So, here I go to conclude that part of my investigation, the purpose of which is to evaluate how the concepts of race, frontier, and apocalypse go together in Lovecraft’s fiction. More precisely, the issue was race, and I tried to establish, and am still trying to, that it cannot be evaluated without also involving the other two.

That does not at all explain what Melville is doing in there. I should add that I am somewhat obsessed with literary genealogies, at least where Lovecraft is concerned: I’m always ever trying to formulate and re-formulate him pedigrees, outside the usual and well-established circle of suspects – may Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and: Poe, forgive me.

That makes Melville one of my usual suspects…he’s just as bitter in his morals as is Lovecraft, and just as grand in his cosmological ensemble, man vs. universe.

[first posted by Lance McCord, some rights reserved – the sign reads: Melville Candy Shop]

That said, here’s the job. I gave a general introduction to Melville’s The Confidence Man, asked whether or not it was actually staging Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal recurrence, then went on to give another introduction, to the actual corpus delicti, the chapters on Indian hating, took an important digression to Lovecraft’s “Indians”, or rather, his re-erection of the frontier, and now am stranded here, knotting up the strings.

Alright. The deal is this.

The Fidèle – a boat and a stage: and one that is not much smaller, if at all, than the Pequod, is going down the Mississippi river, headed for New Orleans. In steps the trickster, the con man, aka the great merchant of souls, boarding the boat in St. Louis.

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the waterside in the city of St. Louis.


April 1, sometime in the 1850: as the boat is going downriver, the con man sits on deck and falls into a conversation on Indian hating with –

A man neither tall not short, neither stout nor gaunt; but with a body fitted, as by measure, to the service of his mind.

Since he doesn’t have any physical characteristics (neither-nor), does that also mean that he doesn’t think at all? After all, he doesn’t narrate any experience he himself would have made, but rather he refers, as in a quote, to James Hall, and paraphrases Hall’s account of the archetypal Indian slayer and hater, the Colonel John Moredock. Basically, he – the man without qualities – works in encyclopedic knowledge, into the narration, selected by Melville, of course, to give a biased, unbalanced account very unfavorable to the Indian.

It’s all an April Fool’s Joke, you douchebag!

It sure is. That doesn’t mean that the events on stage are not political: that extended part of the joke is placed a little too squarely into the overall layout of the novel to be whisked away, just like that.

To quote from Elizabeth S. Foster’s introduction to the novel, graciously excerpted in the Norton edition (472-475), –

This interpolated account of Indian-hating and Colonel Moredock, which occupies Chapters XXVI and XXVII, is the turning-point of the novel at its symbolical levels and the apex of the whole argument; it has been, furthermore, a stumbling-block to several critics. Therefore it will be pertinent here to examine closely Melville’s treatment of the material that he borrowed from Judge Hall.

Stumbling block, indeed. I flummoxes me out for now. I need to go a little deeper, it seems, into the relation symbolism-politics before I write a conclusion. Ah.

Indoctrination for Beginners

You couldn’t possibly start early enough with teaching your toddler the…oh, well…wisdom? grandeur? magnificence? …of great Cthulhu.

Here’s how to do it –

Tales of the Plush Cthulhu

(via Lovecraft Country)

Also, I will get the final part of my inquiry on Melville’s frontier apocalypse online this weekend. These last few days I’ve been a bit swamped with work and the not so colorful implications of the wet, cold summer we are just having here.

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (III)

This is not so much a romanticized introspection into a patron-customer-relation, but rather a justification of a territorial expansion that was still rolling on when Melville and Bird wrote their novel.

Lovecraft never saw the Mississippi. Of course Lovecraft saw the Mississippi, in New Orleans (thanks to Kenneth Hite for the hint!). He never saw the west: his personal route of territorial expansion mostly took him all the way up and down the east coast and was memorized in several travelogues of varying literary merit – quote Sunand T. Joshi:

Lovecraft’s travel essays form a unique body of his work. True, few of us have the patience to wade through the eighteenth-century diction of A Description of the Town of Quebeck (1930-31) – his single longest work, and a self-conscious flaunting of his utterly non-commercial stance – but such things as “Vermont – A First Impression” (1927) or “The Unknown City in the Ocean” (1934; on Nantucket) speak poignantly of his constant need to be aesthetically revivified by actual contact with the relics of the past.

The droll caveat (“few of us have the patience” – obviously enough readers do to warrant a re-edition by Joshi`s able editory hands, and an affordable one, too) notwithstanding, the paragraph concludes concisely the terms of Lovecraft’s understanding of the land, of the country and sites in it – as a repository of memories to be cashed in on wandering through. His fictional treatment of nature and site is peculiar enough, not only because his places often tend to be so brittle and fragile that they promise to crumble even as you read them: he uses nature in a way that re-erects the frontier as it was in early generation Puritan times, pushed just slightly beyond the extents of the original colonies, but when you consequently come to this new frontier, prodded on by Lovecraft’s always prodding narrators, you find that Lovecraft was there before you, storing nasty, bileous surprises where you really don’t want to find them.

Stories like The Picture in the House depend on a sense of re-discovery, a sense of almost having been there before, but not quite – déjà vu with a generously applied layer of decay . The frontier the story leads us to is, however, a new one, not just a copy of the old Puritan style frontier: and Lovecraft seems to develop some touristy qualities when he has his narrator drone that –

But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

and –

In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilization, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folks were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed. Only the silent, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days, and they are not communicative, being loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these houses, for they must often dream.

That is rolling so many potentially and actually ridiculous notions into a jumble, that I wonder if he even was awake when he wrote it in 1920, not just sleepwriting at the guidance of a spirit in the form of Cotton Mather who whispered to him and let him in on the dark secrets of the Northern Puritan warriors of the conquering race.

[The soundtrack is here supplied by Norwegian black something band Dimmu Borgir, who I remember having the dubious pleasure of seeing live some 10 years back.

The video (rather than a hearty thundering sermon) is the first thing YouTube brings up for the search term “puritanical”: well. Satan made them do it, I guess. They do have a decent bass drum, and I can imagine that laboredly demonic sprechgesang works well enough to impress your regular 16-year old who discovers for the first time that there is a metal bottom to the pop-ping chart world of music: it certainly worked on me when I was 16.]

Lovecraft’s notion of Puritanism, as far as it can be constructed, was quite negative – when they figure, they figure as exponents of oppressive religion and ignorant narrow-mindedness. Here, they are installed with a crude racial agenda – to make up for the deficit they, as the narrator imputes, grow into by severing the ties with their kind – that is, they alienate themselves from the body politic of Mother England (“gloomy and fanatical belief”), go into exile, and there they develop and rear their “Northern” heritage, whatever that is in this context: a Danish Viking seems to be insinuated here.

Gracefully, that is not the end – under that jumble of ethnically prejudiced bias lurks the dark.

Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed.

And all out of a sudden, wouldn’t they know it, these Puritans are inscribed into a Gothic register – and pay a tribute to Lovecraft’s creative license. Puritan sins may not have been elegant, but for the most part they were out in the open, explicitly named and re-cycled in preaching culture and religious discourse, and occasionally even tagged with names, so everybody in the community knew who to lay the finger of blame on. Sure, “unspeakable” sins were unspeakable – in public – but these were few. Debaucheries, hetero-sexual licenses, alcoholism, all of them: signs of an unholy covenant with the devil, are quite explicitly present in and around, for example, the Salem trials. Naturally, all these sins nailed to the public pillory served to appeal to that sense of cohesion that the Puritan settlers had started to lose around 5 minutes after they touched American soil.

It’s in a systematical denial of the community aspect – that personal sin is, indeed, very pertinent to the welfare of the whole community – that Lovecraft is here re-invoking a Puritan populace. For the “strange people” out in the wooded hinterland, sin is a very private and personal thing, to hide, to reel in in the dark, but not to actually engage in a public discourse: Lovecraft’s Puritans wouldn’t have ostracized and trialled Hester Prynne, they would have locked her away in an attic and found her a forced mating partner among the ranks of the alien pantheon.

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (II)

I find the idea of the Fidèle as a theatrical stage a little tricky to maintain when the novel moves into the topic of Indian hating & killing.

I find it tricky – what position would it provide to the extended chapters on Indian hating? Would it make them a tragic interplay in an otherwise comedic comedy, infuse some brutality into a story normally as light in tone as it is bitter and sardonic in import? Melville certainly creates a sense for how outré the whole Indian hating episode appears in the whole of the novel – he adapts for it, famously or infamously, passages from James Hall’s Sketches, Life, and Manners, in the West….and leaves out all the important parts, it seems at first (a short comparison between the treatment of Indian hating in Melville’s novel and Hall’s work is here, give or take the cheap advertisement) . The Indian turns into a demonic figure, unadressable and irremediable in his evil –

” As the child born to a backwoodsman must in turn lead his father’s life — a life which, as related to humanity, is related mainly to Indians — it is thought best not to mince matters, out of delicacy; but to tell the boy pretty plainly what an Indian is, and what he must expect from him. For however charitable it may be to view Indians as members of the Society of Friends, yet to affirm them such to one ignorant of Indians, whose lonely path lies a long way through their lands, this, in the event, might prove not only injudicious but cruel. At least something of this kind would seem the maxim upon which backwoods’ education is based. Accordingly, if in youth the backwoodsman incline to knowledge, as is generally the case, he hears little from his schoolmasters, the old chroniclers of the forest, but histories of Indian lying, Indian theft, Indian double-dealing, Indian fraud and perfidy, Indian want of conscience, Indian blood-thirstiness, Indian diabolism — histories which, though of wild woods, are almost as full of things unangelic as the Newgate Calendar or the Annals of Europe. In these Indian narratives and traditions the lad is thoroughly grounded. “As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” The instinct of antipathy against an Indian grows in the backwoodsman with the sense of good and bad, right and wrong. In one breath he learns that a brother is to be loved, and an Indian to be hated. (chapter 26)

Innate evil is fought by innate good: the backwoodsman is as genetically biased against his opponent as is his opponent, and neither religious intervention (the Quakers, of course, being the archetypal ally Native Americans had among white settlers), nor education (“little from his schoolmasters”) would change anything about that. Melville Indian-slayer Colonel John Moredock treads the steps not so much of Cooper’s Natty Bumpo (Leatherstockings has his serious issues with the native population, but never quite seems able to surrender his idea of their inherent goodness and noble savagery), but rather those of Robert Montgomery Bird’s Jibbenaynosay – featured in an 1837 novel of quite some rarity these days. I wouldn’t even know it, most likely, had not my adviser dealt out the whole story, copied, to his seminar one day.

[These were exceedingly many names to store in one single sentence. Here is for some entertainment, before the argument resumes – provided by Dominique Signoret – and off, again, goes the argument.]

Rather than carry a peace corps spirit to the frontier, Nathan”Jibbenainosay” Slaughter, aka Nick of the Woods, takes his battle axe instead and massacres whatever Indians come his way – a genuine evil charm to protect the white frontier population. The novel makes for an excruciating, but highly interesting read, if you manage to claim one of the rare copies.

Nathan, and that makes him more than just a maniac on a killing binge, is a Quaker going the killing way & no longer searching for the “Christ within” the Indian. In short: he is as ruthless as Melville’s Colonel Moredock – whatever Indian crosses his way, automatically slides on his personal black list. Both Bird and Melville don’t seem to grant any plot devices into their narration that would allow at least some sympathy engendered for the Indian – in fact, anything but. By transporting hatred against Indians as not only a coincidental experience, but a pre-condition for survival at the frontier at all, both inscribe an agenda into their slayers’ register and make their reading audiences sign it: the western expansion, it goes, was possible exactly because backwoodsmen braved the Indian danger and thus guarded the white settlers from their encroachment. This is not so much a romanticized introspection into a patron-customer-relation, but rather a justification of a territorial expansion that was still rolling on when Melville and Bird wrote their novel.

[to be continued]

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (I)

Some two weeks ago, after I had taught a class session on Melville’s The Confidence Man, I needed to do some grocery shopping, and who would I meet, right there at the register, if not a student of mine, who was just about to act a practical lesson in charity: a customer had run out of money and needed some change to pay for the few odd wares she had lying there. The money was procured, offered, accepted – and she went away, slowly, staggeringly, intoxicated or just out of her wits (and most likely both).The sight is not too unusual in that place which an old acquaintance of mine once refered to as having that “quaint anti-social charme”, – a pretty roughed urban discount grocery store and a drop-in popular with all the boozers living close by.

Obscurely enough, the woman had to make a choice, when she was standing at the register, all flustered because a dozen or so customers were queuing in line, waiting nervously for her to make a move. Even with some money proffered, she had to make a decision between a bunch of beer bottles and a bag of candy – and finally chose the candy.

All the while, I was standing there, mildly amused, and repeated to myself, silently -“Give me your confidence! -…now give me 23 cents!” – several times over, until she had cleared the area and the chance to crack a real good insider joke (that exactly two people would have appreciated at the time) was gone with her.

The joke would have been on the tag line of Melville’s protagonist, of course, of whom I have yet to find any image, at all – Give me your confidence…now give me 100 dollars!.

The details have been told to familiarity, how Melville based his con man on a real life model, who had cheated confiding people for their watches – and how Melville made his novel into an April Fool’s Joke – published in New York on April 1, 1857 and set on April 1 – an excruciatingly bitter joke that has been ringing for 150 years ago. It tends to be one of these books that (academic) readers rate high exactly because they understand just enough of it to get a glimpse of its richness – not quite as “unread, but talked about” as Joyce’s Ulysses (guilty on that count) or Finnegan’s Wake (and on that) or Homer’s Iliad (though not on that), but almost there. It’s a complex read, and saying that is to sweet-talk the experience, – all the more did I find it great to read it with second year undergrad students who are not yet beyond saying they don’t understand, when they don’t understand – and since I just barely got a teachable hold on that one, the experience was one of shared bewilderment and confusion…

…and it didn’t transmute into easier going, when we finally came to the Indian hating cavalcade in chapters 24-28.

I now realize my frantic attempts at comprehending the novel as, explicitly, apocalyptic were doomed as long as I didn’t also involve the downriver voyage of the Fidèle as a frontier experience. The application of the apocalyptic label, as brought forward, most systematically, by Jonathan Cook, is strongest on the The Confidence Man when it operates with structural – “stage” – devices that stress the theatricality of the plot: action almost being excised from the novel, the characters move into various conversational constellations, and the confidence man plays the anchorman and tries to get his play onto the stage. Notably, the curtain rises and falls with him –

AT sunrise on a first of April there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the water-side in the city of St. Louis. (ch. 1)


“I have indifferent eyes, and will show you; but, first, for the good of all lungs, let me extinguish this lamp.”

The next moment, the waning light expired, and with it the waning flames of the horned altar, and the waning halo round the robed man’s brow; while in the darkness which ensued, the cosmopolitan kindly led the old man away. Something further may follow of this Masquerade. (ch. 45)

Something further may follow of this Masquerade. – naturally, that does not refer to any sequel, or the possibility thereof. Melville quit the novelistic writing treadmill after the apparition of the con man and helped make New York a little safer by serving the city as a custom officer. Strange how custom offices can literally kill off creative drives, isn’t it?

The final sentence, of the paragraph and of the novel, opens the historical timeline, flexes it and bends it into a circle – the Fidèle’s stage apocalypse, opened and consummated so nonchalantly by the con man (and realized, prepared, and set in countless references to the biblical apocalyptic: Cook really does a fine job and gropes all of Melville’s threads in that direction apart in his careful study), will be rewound and repeated. The actors will cast off their masks, and the play will begin anew.

This looks bold, reads bold and very self-confident, in an abstract, metaphysical way – is Melville here anticipating Nietzsche’s idée fou and introduces the eternal recurrence, before the German even had the chance to? Nietzsche is difficult to handle on that point. It seems most tightly and comprehensively argued for in The Gay Science, paragraph 341

The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again—and you with it, speck of dust!”— Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine!” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you; the question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? — (Nietzsche’s emphasis in cursives, mine in bold print)

The notion is an affirmation of life, all of it, including pain: the eternal recurrence becomes thus a baptism of fire: you have to comprehend and appreciate your life in the fullest sense possible, so as not to be driven down the road of insanity by the thought of living it again and again, and then some more, along exactly identical routes. This may not be plausible in the domain of quantum theory, but it helps define Nietzsche’s stand on history – brave it, you’ll never get rid of it, anyway.

The character cast on the Fidèle, that good steamboat going down the big river from St. Louis, is not quite up to it – yet.

In comes the confidence man, in various disguises (and apparently somewhat unimaginable: or is it just me who cannot find images of the Melville character on the net?), but always acting as a Nietzschean prompter – teasing the travellers into re-affirming their biases and positions and prejudices (and greeds and compulsions…), but never changing their course.

“SO you are a philanthropist, sir,” added the barber with an illuminated look; “that accounts, then, for all. Very odd sort of man the philanthropist. You are the second one, sir, I have seen. Very odd sort of man, indeed, the philanthropist. Ah, sir,” again meditatively stirring in the shaving-cup,” I sadly fear, lest you philanthropists know better what goodness is, than what men are.” Then, eying him as if he were some strange creature behind cage-bars, “So you are a philanthropist, sir.”

“I am Philanthropos, and love mankind. And, what is more than you do, barber, I trust them.” (ch. 43: “Very charming” – the barber is conversing with the con man).

He has to be philanthropic at least in so far as the characters, “mankind” as far as it is represented on the boat, are his to direct – he cannot quite be as devastating to them as, say, Goethe’s Mephisto – also, like the con man, a tempter, deceiver, trickster – is to Faust. Unlike Faust, the people on board are never aware of who it is they are communicating with – they are naive, slow to react, and in need of protection. And the con man grants as much to his personnel inventory.

I find the idea of the Fidèle as a theatrical stage a little tricky to maintain when the novel moves into the topic of Indian hating & killing.

Ménage à trois, premiere fois

It is possible to read these passages I quoted in my last post, from Moby Dick and Steppenwolf, as social critiques: in fact, how not so? They are positing their speakers in an unmitigated opposition to society, squarely, and for very similar motives: to escape the drudgeries of modern life, Ishmael and Haller take off into their own violent escape routes. Both are ineffective, of course, in pursuing these, so the critique is rather a commentary, and Haller’s is more deeply politically and historically charged. It adds mechanized routine to the worldweariness so strong in Ishmael. To revived Melville and Hesse – add Lovecraft, child of no age: add Lovecraft and see how he stirs the ensemble out of its agreed-on hang to self-irony and destruction, and the combination of the two. Both passages, quoted in the previous post, share in that self-ironic narrative voice that is probing for the audience, almost desperately, at the same time that it tries to repel it, & and all humanity at all.

that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off –

Just moments later, Melville’s Ishmael re-invites the reading audience that he had implicitly included in his general regimen of hat-knocking –

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs – commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. (my emphasis)

And so on. Out goes the romantic violence-fantasy, in comes the (disciplined) narrative and with it the readers. From the second paragraph onward, they are re-admitted, re-addressed in an immediate way. The steppenwolf’s ennui du monde seems a little more self-centered, in contrast, presumably because his narration is processed within a personal log-record of some kind, “For Madmen only”: nevertheless he is far from unraveling a monologue, but instead includes narrative gimmicks as, for example, sustained dialog sequences in exposition of himself and his partners in dialog.

Both protagonists envision the(ir) end, both enroll the audience in their telling of it and take them all the way through it: the end, not necessarily in an apocalyptic sense (though in Moby Dick it is as much as that), is a shared experience.