Friday, September 23, 2016

David Samuels on Melville as all-American fraudster

Over time, the injury that Melville did to his own sense of truthfulness in pursuit of an audience exploded into a higher consciousness of fraud as the essence of literary art. --David Samuels - "A Fish Tale"
In case you missed it like I did, here's a link to the fine online essay "A Fish Tale" by David Samuels in the ultra-elegant Lapham's Quarterly, Spring 2015 issue:
Samuels gets the gist of things right, or close enough in my book. So he should, with Leon Howard's wonderful biography in front of him, and the first volume of Hershel Parker's biography which he credits, more or less. Herman Melville: A Biography has all the quoted reviews, not to mention a juicy treatment of Melville's veracity problem.

Weirdly though, David Samuels gives Melville's blast at "enormities perpetrated in the South Seas upon some inoffensive islanders" as something "Melville wrote to his brother, before he sat down to write Typee." Say what? That's in Chapter 4 amidst two pages of similarly slanted Reflections on Europeans' Cruelties that were cut in the American Revised Edition of Typee. What gave David Samuels the idea that he's quoting a letter from Herman Melville to his brother?

If David Samuels didn't make up the letter from Herman to his unnamed brother (Gansevoort? Allan? Tom?) just for the Swindle-edition of Lapaham's Quarterly, maybe he read it in a book. About Melville I guess, rather than by Melville. Hmm. Maybe he saw the quoted passage in a book of Melville criticism, couldn't find it in the American Revised Edition of Typee and inferred the phantom letter. Or, maybe the letter does exist and I'm the last to know. That's it, I hope.

Update 09/24/2016: Elizabeth Hardwick slightly misquotes the passage from Typee in the same way that David Samuels slightly misquotes it in "A Fish Tale," omitting two words, of the: "some inoffensive islanders" instead of "some of the inoffensive islanders" as printed in Typee. Not available on Kindle. Guess I'll have to buy back my copy of Elizabeth Hardwick's Herman Melville at Half-Price Books to see what else might be recycled in "A Fish Tale."

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