Melville's Wisdom: Religion, Skepticism, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century America

ISBN : 9780197585566

Damien B. Schlarb
272 ページ
163 x 250 mm

In Melville's Wisdom: Religion, Skepticism, Literature in Nineteenth-Century America, Damien B. Schlarb explores the manner in which Herman Melville responds to the spiritual crisis of modernity by using the language of the biblical Old Testament wisdom books to moderate contemporary discourses on religion, skepticism, and literature. Schlarb argues that attending to Melville's engagement with the wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) can help us understand a paradox at the heart of American modernity: the simultaneous displacement and affirmation of biblical language and religious culture. In wisdom, which addresses questions of theology, radical skepticism, and the nature of evil, Melville finds an ethos of critical inquiry that allows him to embrace modern analytical techniques, such as higher biblical criticism. In the medium of literature, he articulates a new way of accessing the Bible by marrying the moral and spiritual didacticism of its language with the intellectual distance afforded by critical reflection, a hallmark of modern intellectual style. Melville's Wisdom joins other works of post secular literary studies in challenging its own discipline's constitutive secularization narrative by rethinking modern, putatively secular cultural formations in terms of their reciprocity with religious concepts and texts. Schlarb foregrounds Melville's sustained, career-spanning concern with biblical wisdom, its formal properties, and its knowledge-creating potential. By excavating this project from his oeuvre, Melville's Wisdom shows how Melville celebrates intellectually rigorous, critical inquisitiveness, an attitude that we often associate with modernity but which Melville saw augured by the wisdom books. He finds in this attitude the means for avoiding the spiritually corrosive effects of skepticism.


Chapter 1 Divine Justice and Sublime Suffering: The Book of Job
A. The Hoary Deep: Multi-perspectival Inquiry in Mardi
B. The Book of Many Jobs: The Literary Representations in Moby-Dick
C. What Job Taught the Lawyer: Moral Didacticism in Bartleby
the Scrivener
D. A Potsherd World: Suffering as Topography in The Encantadas
E. Job Critically Regarded: Materialism and Skepticism in The Confidence-Man
F. What to Do with Job
Chapter 2 Dread, Foolishness, Wisdom: The Book of Proverbs
A. Revolutionary Proverbs: Politics and Jurisprudence in Mardi
B. Fear God and the Rod: Religious Rhetoric of Scientism in The Lightning-Rod Man
C. The Avatar of Folly: The Battle against Wisdom in Modernity in The Confidence-Man
D. The Problem of Evil: The Reptilian Moderner in Billy Budd
E. Melville and Wisdom Aphorisms
Chapter 3 Moderation, Self-Reflection, and Evil: The Book of Ecclesiastes
A. Wisdom as a Guidebook: Truth-Seeking as Way-Finding in Redburn
B. Wisdom as Corrective: Introspection in Moby-Dick
C. Seeking Too Intensely: The Problem of Radical Inquiry in Pierre
D. The Politics of Moderation: The Civil War as Religious Crisis in Battle-Pieces
E. Reflection and Critique in Wisdom
Conclusion: Melville's Wisdom


Damien B. Schlarb is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany, where he teaches courses in American literature and culture. His research focuses on American romantic literature and culture, the history of the Bible, and, most recently, Digital Games Studies. He has performed editorial work for South Atlantic Review, the journal of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA), and served as Managing Editor of Amerikastudien/American Studies, the journal of the German Associates of American Studies (GAAS).