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.


Bullet to the Net

Speaking of al-Maliki, well – no, dropping his name, basically, as I was doing and really no more than that, but – the Iraqi football national team won the Asian Cup yesterday, in a 1:0-win over Saudi Arabia. The final was played in Jakarta (Indonesia). People in Iraq celebrated the triumph. Also, people in Iraq died when bullwhipped suicide bombers exploited the situation – thousands of people crowding on the streets of Baghdad, –

The crowds briefly regained Baghdad’s streets from the gunmen, dancing to patriotic songs, waving the flag, and shooting into the air.

US army helicopters wisely interrupted their regular flyovers of the capital until the partying had stopped. (The Guardian)

– intoxicated over their team’s really quite spectacular success (they kicked out South Korea in the semi-finals, ranked considerably higher in the Fifa ranking [South Korea is at 58, Saudi Arabia at 61, Iraq is at 80] and so is Saudi Arabia, of course ) – and killed dozens of people, around 50 after last Wednesday’s win over South Korea.

Not one of the players on the Iraqi national squad plays at a Bundesliga side (although Bielefeld were just recently rumored [the guy on the photograph is Ernst Middendorp, Arminia Bielefeld’s coach, not Hawar] to look into signing Hawar Mohammed) – still, it makes me think.

Here in Germany, football is generally and by common agreement so definitely and only and exclusively a game, and just that – that is, politics are to be kept away from the pitch, and you won’t see clubs supporting any explicit political alignment oftheir fan base. That is not to say it doesn’t happen – especially (though not nearly exclusively) teams in East Germany have strong right-wing influences on the stands.

Still, basically, and at least as far as professional league football is concerned, match day is an opportunity to probe just how far rage, hatred, and intensity can go without starting a revolution or any political movement on any level. The most intense of these non-revolutionary experiences, for me, have usually come over the years in our matches against the league’s arch villains, FC Bayern München (I shall be damned if I directly supply them traffic in any way, so no link here). My side, FC Nürnberg, bless it, has its issues with the über-team from Munich – mostly because they have shoved us from the throne of absolute dominance in German football.

Growing up with the team involved, for the most part, a subtle maneuver between the glories of former days (nine championships, 3 cup wins, streaks of unbeaten games so long the sheer possibility of losing was a merely theoretical construct) and the embarassing pain of the present (six relegations, including one into third league football, plenty of amateurish players, ridiculously bad football that even a regular MLS game looks like the thrill of a century in comparison) – but however hard to bear it was at times, fans always stood firmly united against the Munich side – and the one notorious slogan you could always hear at the derbies, twice a season, even now that we’re are way better off again, run – Tod und Hass dem FCB (Death and Hatred to the FCB), often combined with some affirmation of Franconian independence – Franconia as opposed to loathed Bavaria, the grander unit on the political map, of which Franconia is a part.

There is a whole pseudo-political jargon arisen from that very intense rivalry – I remember talking to friends about the Bavarian occupying forces and their propaganda tv station (Bavarian Broadcasting – generally favorable to the Munich side, but not to us: or so it is said).

Now, seeing the news line on the Iraqi victory, the violence it inspired, as well as the joy, and the implications it might have (Iraq has a very real chance of facing the USA national team on the 2009 Confederations Cup, for which it qualified with its win) – I feel reminded that a) football is never a-political, that b) it is decadently foolish to even approach it in a fake-political way, and that c) I will henceforth refrain from refering, in the football context (not that I would do it anywhere else) to Bavaria as an occupying power like I mean it.