Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts

Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts

Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts

Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts

Synopsis

Melville's interest in the visual arts and the translation of that interest into his writings is at the center of this new interdisciplinary study of one of America's most celebrated writers. Melville's lifelong engagement with the visual arts has been noted in other works, but only Savage Eye suggests the extraordinary depth and range of the author's multifaceted interest in the subject. Editor Christopher Sten has collected 13 essays from 12 specialists in the field to produce this ground-breaking study which connects Melville's writings with topics relating to the arts of painting, printmaking, sculpture, architecture, and landscape design, as well as art history. Sten's comprehensive introduction provides readers with a historical overview of the subject, detailing the many works of art Melville knew and commented upon at each stage of his career. He explains when and where in Melville's wanderings throughout America, Europe, and the Near East he saw these works, then describes how Melville made use of the life and work of these artists in his own fiction and poetry. The collection includes new essays on Moby Dick and J.M.W. Turner; Melville's fascination with Dutch genre painting; his appropriation of work by Cole and Vanderlyn for his magazine fiction; his use of early representations of the plague in Israel Potter; the relationship between the satirical cartoons of Daumier and the figures of The Confidence-Man; Timoleon's many artistic subjects; and the power of classical icons to shape the moral and aesthetic conflicts in Billy Budd. Also found here are theoretical essays on Melville and the picturesque; the modernism of Melville's aesthetic vision; his "anti-architectural"theory of literature; and his extensive reading in art history and art theory, from the classical to his own period. Savage Eye argues persuasively that the visual arts sources are comparable in importance to the literary arts i

Excerpt

This collection had its origin in an invitation to arrange the program for the 1986 meeting of the Melville Society in New York, an event scheduled to coincide with the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. Coincidentally, the society had been asked to celebrate the opening of the Herman Melville Study Center at the newly reconstructed South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan, an architecturally distinctive section of the city with which Melville had long been familiar. When I realized the society had never before featured a program on Melville's relation to the arts, I jumped at the chance to arrange a series of talks on the subject. Almost immediately it became clear there were many Americanists concentrating on the relatively more circumscribed field of "Melville and the visual arts" (there were, and are, so far as I know, just a few working on Melville and music or on Melville and dance). But it wasn't until the December 1986 meeting of the Melville Society itself that I first began fully to appreciate how much critical interest there is in the subject, or to sense that a collection of essays by various experts, on Melville and the visual arts, would help to fill a sizable gap, not just in Melville scholarship, but in the study of American life and literature of the nineteenth century. This collection is the result of an effort to capture some of that critical interest and to make it readily available to those having similar or related interests in nineteenth-century American literature and culture. My hope is that they will find, as I have, that their reading of Melville, and of American literary culture of the previous century, has been permanently altered, and enriched, by the discoveries presented here.

In bringing together the essays for this volume, I have been guided by the same principles that guided me in choosing the papers for the Melville Society program. As in that case, so here, I wanted the contributions to be fresh discussions based on original research, and I thought they would be most useful if they addressed one or both of the . . .

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