The River and the Sea: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and the Narratives of Capital Flow, 1851-1894
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“The River and the Sea: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and the Narratives of Capital Flow, 1851-1894” explores nineteenth-century waters and the politico-economic culture of the U.S. in a global historical context. I stress the notion of waters in dialectical ways: the space of freedom, liberation, and opportunity, and, at the same time, the space of peril, danger, and crisis. Unveiling interconnections of the local, domestic, and global space and human interconnectedness in Melville’s global capitalist ocean and Twain’s domestic capitalist river, I focus on ships, riverboats, and rafts as a dynamic space that simultaneously allows and suppresses subversive mobility on board. After a long neglect of the sea as a critical cultural space, the critical approaches of oceanic studies to American sea narratives are limited. And the current trend of oceanic studies stresses the distinction between the land and the sea, or, the nation-state and the sea, and thus tends to read the sea as a deterritorialized, extralegal space and pushes a nation and land aside. I argue that the ship on the sea is also the space under national governmentality, although the sea is a transnational global space, and that the ship as the site where the national and the global territories meet. In my Melville section, I argue that Melville demonstrates racial crises at sea, and philosophically meditates on political uprisings, politico-economic unrest, and social conflict on board. I contend that Melville finds the response and resistance to the power hierarchy of capitalism in the multitude of the common sailors who he portrays as a unique race and class at sea. My Twain section borrows and revisits the framework that’s widely accepted and agreed upon in its description and function of the sea, sailors, and ships in the black Atlantic world. I contend that the black Atlantic world can be transformed into the black Mississippi world, which is neglected in literary scholarship. I demonstrate that a ship on the river is a mobile, floating space integrating capital and labor, and that blacks dialectically (im)mobilize their bodies on the Mississippi river.