Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival

Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival

Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival

Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival


In this provocative and vigorously argued interdisciplinary study of the development of institutional censorship, Clare Spark explores the complexities of 20th-century American cultural politics through the protagonists of the Melville Revival. She investigates closely the history of the Revival and its key critics, who manipulated Melville's life and writings in the service of their own particular social and political agendas. Although often boldly conjectural and speculative, Spark's assertions are based on her meticulous and thorough exploration of either newly opened or previously unexplored archival materials of leading Melville scholars -- Raymond Weaver, Charles Olson, Henry A. Murray, and Jay Leyda.

In addressing the distinction between what she calls the radical and conservative Enlightenment -- the conservative masquerading as progressive its attempt to reconcile scientific truth and social order -- Spark makes her way through Melville's often confusing and contradictory texts and examines the disputes within Melville scholarship, which often center on the mesmerizing figure of Ahab as either a democratic hero or a totalitarian dictator, corresponding to the rival epistemologies of modern society.

The manner in which Spark deals with these subjects may startle specialists in Melville and literary scholarship; at the same time this book is accessible to the general reader, to one who may have no prior knowledge of Melville, his life and works, or even an acquaintance with literary criticism.


... the childhood shows the man, As morning shows the day.

—Milton, Paradise Regained

True, if all fair dawnings were followed by high noons and sunsets. But as many a merry morn precedes a dull & rainy day; so, often, unpromising mornings have glorious middles and ends. the greatest, grandest things are unpredicted.

—Melville's marginal comment

The saints, they said, were the salt of the earth; an entire parity had place among the elect: and by the same rule, that the apostles were exalted from the most ignoble professions, the meanest sentinel, if enlightened by the Spirit, was entitled to equal regard with the greatest commander.

—David Hume

[Melville was] a devotee of poetic exaggeration, a propagandist for world peace, a scoffer at gold braid and salutes and ceremonies, an anti-militarist, an apostle of leveling and democracy.

—Rear Admiral Livingston Hunt, Harvard Graduates' Magazine, 1930

Ride over mouldy plain to Dead Sea—Mountains on both side ... all but verdure.—foam on beach & pebbles like slaver of mad dog—smarting bitter of the water, —carried the bitter in my mouth all day—bitterness of . . .

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