CLR James on Melville’s Starbuck (and, I suppose, Seattle’s), quoted in Loren Goldner’s book on Melville:

His is the story of the liberals and democrats who during the last quarter of a century have led the capitulation to totalitarianism in country after country. On the night of the great storm, Starbuck, forgetting himself, shouts to Ahab before all the men, to turn back. He points to Ahab’s harpoon which has caught fire from the magnetic flame on the mast. The voyage, he says, is doomed to disaster. For a moment, it seemed that Starbuck was saying what the men were thinking. They raise a half-mutinous cry and rush to the sails. One word from Starbuck and Ahab would be over the side. But Ahab seized his harpoon and swearing to transfix with it any man who moves, tells them that he will blow out the flame and blows it out with one breath. His fearlessness, his skillful pretense of being able to command the mysterious magnetic flame, terrify the men. It is characteristic of Starbuck that, having missed his chance when he has the men behind him, he seeks out Ahab that night, alone, to plead with him. Ahab dismisses him contemptuously. No need to emphasize that in reality, Starbuck hates the men and looks upon them as uncouth, barbarous sub-human beings.

The Washington Post:

GOP leaders hastily scheduled a vote on a measure to require the Bush administration to bring the troops home now, an idea proposed Thursday by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). The Republican-proposed measure was rejected 403 to 3, a result that surprised no one.

The idea was to force Democrats to go on the record on a proposal that the administration says would be equivalent to surrender. Recognizing a political trap, most Democrats — including Murtha — said from the start they would vote no.


4 thoughts on “Starbuck

  1. hi Eric,
    Thanks for this. Melville, Goldner, and James are all people I keep planning to really read. Someday. Have you by any chance read Cesare Casarino’s book Modernity At Sea? It’s about Melville, among other things, and uses a lot of Negri et al (I’ve read half of it. The stuff on Marx makes sense and I quite like, the Melville is harder to follow because I’ve not read him. I’m considering reading Moby Dick over the christmas holiday.)
    Of these folks I know the most (which isn’t much) about James, mostly though other figures he was associated with or just encountered. I’d really love to hear more from you on any/all of this, as it’s really interesting.
    take care,

  2. Hey Nate,

    I haven’t read Casarino’s book. I’d never even heard of it, or him, but my googling dug up some pretty interesting-sounding words about it, in that he seems to combine Melville, the Grundrisse, and Deleuze & Guattari, which sounds right up my alley.

    I’m not familiar with either Goldner or James either, having read only a few articles by the former and nothing by the latter. But I really like Goldner’s Melville book (available here), though I only pick up a chapter now and then. James is someone who’s intrigued me, but I haven’t gotten around to him yet. I suspect I will soon. And I haven’t read Moby Dick since high school, but in the last few years I’ve periodically picked up some of Melville’s later work, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, and Billy Budd. It’s fabulous. And now I know I need to reread Moby Dick.

    I don’t know how much I have to say about this stuff. Goldner reads Melville, I think correctly, as a critic of Transcendentalism (which is hard not to notice, since The Confidence-Man has brutal satires of the fictionalized persons of Emerson and Thoreau), but also of the bourgeois ego, Orientalism, and primitivism. He also reads him alongside Marx, Moby Dick with The Eighteenth Brumaire, which were written in the same year, particularly as they both are “constantly emphasizing the hollow quality of modern ideology dressed in traditional garb,” the past replayed as farce. Both books also chip away at the myths that sustain the bourgeois imagination. And of course they are both amazingly complex portrayals of class antagonism…. Yeah, you should read Moby Dick.

    The later books move both inland and inward. I suppose this could be taken as a criticism, but not if you look to Melville as a historical representative rather than as a revolutionary counsel. Several things were happening in the 1850s that caused the inward turn. First, the impending showdown over slavery meant an established, lucrative way of life was being put at risk. Second, the U.S. was rapidly expanding it territories, so that this outward material expansion provoked (ironically) a solipsistic psychological movement. Third, the working classes, with industrialization, were becoming both more “visible,” in that they were becoming a mass of workers rather than just individual laborers, and more active politically.

    I think some of this departs from Goldner, but it’s what I get from Melville’s later work.

    Take care, Nate,


  3. hi Eric,
    Casarino has a paper you may be interested in, here

    He’s also done an interview with Negri that’s quite good, called “It’s a Powerful Life”, which I’ve read but can’t find online. He translated some of Agamben’s stuff, among other things, and co-edited the collection Marxism Beyond Marxism. I don’t know the Deleuze stuff at all, so that goes over my head, but I like everything he has to say about Italian political thought. I have to run.
    take care,

  4. Nate,

    Thanks for the link. Sorry for the slow response time. I’ve been travelling, and between exhaustion and technical glitches, I’ve been unable either to respond or to read the Casarino paper. I will return home today and have a chance to start to catch up on my reading, which is now a huge task.


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