Friday, August 20, 2021

2 + 2 = 4, Melville's anti-communist math

Nero Palatino Inv618

Here's another reason why leftist academics in or out of The Melville Society must cancel Herman Melville. Call it historical necessity. Melville in his writings defies rebranding as a Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, or any kind of communist by refusing to believe in the perfectibility of human nature. By contrast, communists recognize no evil, no mystery of iniquity that history cannot fix through critical theory and ideologically correct action up to and including mass murder.

Against all experience, communists dream of creating the new man. For Melville, transformations that radical must be accomplished in another world. This one requires due allowance for the "power of blackness" that Melville discerned in short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Certain it is, however, that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance. --Hawthorne and His Mosses part 1, The Literary World August 17, 1850, page 126.

This is why leftist critics which is to say most academic commentators hate Melville's 1857-8 lecture on Statues in Rome. There Melville marveled over the recognizable features and traits of "ancient" humans as portrayed in busts of famous figures he saw in the Vatican museum. Socrates looked to Melville like an Irish comedian; Seneca like a Wall Street broker; Nero like "one of our fast young men who drive spanking teams and abound on race-courses." 

Staggering advances in science and technology had and have not altered human nature. To not see it today, you would have to cover human faces with masks and somehow keep them covered. Near the end of that same lecture on the statuary of Rome, Melville observed that socialist utopias require misplaced faith in the perfectibility of mankind.  "Or shall the scheme of Fourier supplant the code of Justinian? Only when the novels of Dickens shall silence the satires of Juvenal." Melville understood that Fourier's utopian Phalanstery of "liberated souls" could never dissolve away the problem of evil that necessitates compendious law codes, personified in Justinian. Fourier personifies the utopian dream of creating or evolving a new kind of human with a higher, more liberated consciousness. The point is not to discourage dreamers and idealists, except when they want to dismantle your constitutional republic with the idea of creating a new political society and new way of life for The New Socialist Man.

Melville's rhetorical question, “Can art, not life, make the Ideal?” has one right answer. Yes, Art can. Communism doesn't know how. 

Worst of all for the collapsing future of woke Melville studies, the author of Moby-Dick expressed the inherent depravity of human beings here in the real physical world as a mathematical certainty:

"As 2 & 2 made 4 in Noah's time, as now, so man figures ever."

-- Marginal comment by Herman Melville in his copy of Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well; accessible via Melville's Marginalia Online

As transcribed on the word figures is conjectural. Whatever you put there will not alter the essential claim. 

Immortalized in marble the face of Nero reminded Melville of a "fast" young sportsman, a sort of 19th century James Dean. To me he looks like a rising professional golferThe more things change... 

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  1. Do you think evolution true, that through mutations, species change?

    Communism, in the human realm, is simply a mutation from capitalism, which mutated from feudalism, which mutated from . . .

    It is a change in human productivity. Human nature need not change at all. But aspects of our nature, previously hidden or unimagined, may arise. After all, Elon Musk would have appeared as ridiculous as Fidel Castro to denizens of the 12th century.

    This is not a utopian venture, it's a necessity. Unless humans develop, at this stage, a way to accept strangers, we are destined for extinction. This was not necessary before, although Hiroshima and Nagasaki should have been a sign, but it is now.

    Which would be a greater indication of Original Sin, communism or annihilation? Do we selfishly save ourselves or selfishly destroy ourselves?