Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival
The "Melville Revival" commenced in 1919 in an intellectual atmosphere of unprecedented and unresolved global crisis. After decades of neglect, Moby-Dick was promoted by American and English publishers and Ivy League scholars, but with hot disagreement as to the author's politics. Three of the most influential Melville scholars (Henry Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda) were propagandists allied with the Roosevelt administration. Their handling of biographical and textual evidence in Herman Melville's life and art to conform to an antidemocratic agenda is the subject of this book. During and after the late 1930s, assessments of Captain Ahab (a synecdoche for "the essential American type") drastically changed from radical democrat or romantic artist or tragic hero to "totalitarian dictator." This shift coincided with changing elite perceptions of Hitler, no longer the neoclassical defender of "community" but now a romantic artist/the masses run amok. Hence Melville criticism, its twists and turns, is intertwined with redefinitions of fascism and Hitler's appeal, before, during, and after World War II. The implications for the teaching of the humanities are stressed throughout, with light shed on the "canon wars" that have roiled the academy for the last twenty years.
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