Herman Melville and the American Calling

The Fiction after Moby-Dick, 1851-1857

By William V. Spanos

Subjects: American Literature, American Studies, Critical Theory, Cultural Critique, Literary Criticism
Paperback : 9780791475645, 294 pages, July 2009
Hardcover : 9780791475638, 294 pages, August 2008

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Table of contents


1. Melville’s Specter: An Introduction

2. Pierre’s Extraordinary Emergency: Melville and the “Voice of Silence”

3. Herman Melville’s Israel Potter: Refl ections on a Damaged Life

4. “Benito Cereno” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener”: Reflections on the American Calling

1. “Benito Cereno”: The “Vision” of American Exceptionalism

2. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Wall-Street Story”: Melville’s Politics of Refusal

5. Cavilers and Con Men: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade
6. American Confidence in the Age of Globalization: Melville’s Witness


Argues that Herman Melville’s later work anticipates the resurgence of an American exceptionalist ethos underpinning the U. S.-led global “war on terror. ”


Oriented by the new Americanist perspective, this book constitutes a rereading of Herman Melville's most prominent fiction after Moby-Dick. In contrast to prior readings of this fiction, William V. Spanos's interpretation takes as its point of departure the theme of spectrality precipitated by the metaphor of orphanage—disaffiliation from the symbolic fatherland, on the one hand, and the myth of American exceptionalism on the other—that emerged as an abiding motif in Melville's creative imagination. This book voices an original argument about Melville's status as an "American" writer, and foregrounds Melville's remarkable anticipation and critique of the exceptionalism that continues to drive American policy in the post-9/11 era.

William V. Spanos is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the author of many books, including American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam, also published by SUNY Press, and The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies.


"[The author is] at his best when connecting the theoretical perspectives to the literary and cultural narratives, shedding light on both. Just as important … Spanos extends new Americanist reconsideration of American literary studies into more global perspectives. This provocative study will be most useful to advanced scholars. " — CHOICE

"In this uncannily timely book, Spanos provides a brilliant interpretation of the history of Melville's reception and discloses the pertinence of Melville's work to the present historical conjuncture—when American exceptionalist rhetoric has resulted in a rehabilitation of the representation of the United States as the 'Redeemer Nation' engaged in a global war on terror. This book is an extremely important intervention into American literary and political culture by one of Melville's, and America's, most gifted critics. " — Donald E. Pease, coeditor of Futures of American Studies

"Spanos interprets Melville's major writing after Moby-Dick by using the resources of deconstructive and poststructural theory to demonstrate the powerful relevance Melville's work maintains for our day, even as it arises from the specific history of Melville's time. In developing this argument, Spanos differs not only from many major past critics, but also from important contemporary 'New Americanists. ' He exercises an independent and distinctive intelligence, and this book will enter the body of writing on Melville as both authoritative and controversial. This is an outstanding piece of work. " — Jonathan Arac, author of The Emergence of American Literary Narrative, 1820–1860