- Oct 2018
Since which period, almost without a crew, and almost without canvas and almost without water, and, at intervals giving its added dead to the sea, the San Dominick had been battle-dored about by contrary winds, inveigled by currents, or grown weedy in calms. Like a man lost in woods, more than once she had doubled upon her own track.
“It is now a hundred and ninety days,” began the Spaniard, in his husky whisper, “that this ship, well officered and well manned, with several cabin passengers–some fifty Spaniards in all–sailed from Buenos Ayres bound to Lima,
The "Golden Round" - how ships circumnavigated the continents, or the globe, prior to construction of the Panama and Suez canals.
See this animation by Ben Schmidt of 19th-century shipping routes from 1800-1860, based on ship's logs and extant records.
To procure substitutes for his lost sailors, as well as supplies of water and sails, the captain, at the earliest opportunity, had made for Baldivia, the southernmost civilized port of Chili and South America;
This "civilized port" called Valdivia, was named for invader Pedro de Valdivia, who also established what became Santiago de Chile in the mid 16th century.
Valdivia became the first governor of the Captaincy General of Chile. In that post, he obeyed the viceroy of Peru and, through him, the King of Spain and his bureaucracy. Responsible to the governor, town councils known as Cabildo administered local municipalities, the most important of which was Santiago." (History of Chile), Wikipedia)
"The greatest resistance to Spanish rule came from the Mapuche people, who opposed European conquest and colonization until the 1880s; this resistance is known as the Arauco War. Valdivia died at the Battle of Tucapel, defeated by Lautaro, a young Mapuche toqui (war chief), but the European conquest was well underway." See "A Brief History of the Mapuche People."
But the principal relic of faded grandeur was the ample oval of the shield-like stern-piece, intricately carved with the arms of Castile and Leon, medallioned about by groups of mythological or symbolical devices; uppermost and central of which was a dark satyr in a mask, holding his foot on the prostrate neck of a writhing figure, likewise masked.
Robert Shore, The San Dominick, 1965 Something similar to the "ample oval" appears to be on the visible side of the ship, just in front of the stern. The figures are, unfortunately, indiscernible.
The iconography lends itself to multiple interpretations, and stands out as one of the few overtly ekphrastic passages in the novella. The subjugated figure in the image is not described as human or animal, simply as "writhing" - struggling against the satyr's dominance. This figure would seem to represent both an allegory for and a critique of slavery -- the prostrate figure being the slave. However, the "dark satyr" in Greco-Roman mythology is a hybrid man-beast, associated with what in Melville's time would be considered animalistic passions including revelry, madness, violence, and lust. Given Delano's repeated, obtuse descriptions of slaves in animalistic terms, this is one clue that suggests the satyr represents, if not the slaves themselves, then the reversal of power that has taken place on board the ship. It may also reflect the institution of slavery, which, regardless of who is master and who is slave, is fundamentally immoral and based on violence. This ambiguity is heightened by fact that both figures are masked; neither Delano nor Melville's readers are able to see their faces, and, this would suggest, their races.
"View of Concepción, 1615." Concepción is situated just north of the Island of Santa Maria.
while upon the tarnished headboards, near by, appeared, in stately capitals, once gilt, the ship’s name, “SAN DOMINICK,” each letter streakingly corroded with tricklings of copper-spike rust;
The extended rebellion of enslaved people on Santo Domingo (in English, Saint Dominick) began in 1791 and lasted until 1804. Known today as the Haitian Revolution, the revolt remains the only "slave revolt" ever to result in the establishment of a free state. Per Wikipedia, "It is now widely seen as a defining moment in the history of racism in the Atlantic World."
Voyage of the Empress of China, 1784. See this site for a detailed history of early US-China trade.
A passage in Chapter 1 of Moby Dick describes a vigorous trade with the far East: “Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries … some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China.”
However, trade between China and the U.S. commenced in 1784, just after the Treaty of Paris was ratified; by 1799, when Benito Cereno is set, it would still have been a relatively young trading relationship, especially considering the lengthy sea voyages required.
Principal commodities exchanged included the items mentioned by Capt. Delano (silks, sealskins, coin (specie), as well as ginseng tea, porcelain "China ware," lead, and cotton goods.<br> A.D. Edwards, Empress of China at Mart's Jetty, Port Pirie, 1876
-- Robert Bennet Forbes, Remarks on China and the China Trade. Samuel N. Dickinson, printer, 1844.
And among the Malay pirates
The Malaysian archipelago was a major center of the spice trade and maritime commerce with Europe. Its takeover, first by Portugal in 1511, then by the Dutch East India Company in the mid-16th century, and followed by British colonization at the end of the 18th century, further complicated the diverse socioeconomic and cultural conditions that develop in the midst of international trade. Then as now, the flow of capital and goods made piracy a lucrative, albeit dangerous, activity. For more information see The Maritime Heritage Project.
for Lima, her destined port.
Map of Lima, cir. 1750
Lima was "founded)" by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who assassinated the Inca ruler Atahualpa in his effort to claim Peru for the Spanish crown.
As the seat of the Viceroyalty of Peru, Lima was also the center of the brutal Peruvian Inquisition, which ended for good in 1820.
Painting of a victim of the Inquisition paraded through streets by afro-Peruvian painter Acuarela de Pancho Fierro (1807-1879).
See this page on the history of the saya y el manto in Spanish colonial Peru
a sort of Castilian Rothschild, with a noble brother, or cousin, in every great trading town
This is an anachronism. That the storied Rothschild family had not yet established a widespread business network across Europe in the period Benito Cereno is set. This didn't develop until the first decades of the 19th century; by Melville's time, the family had become a well-known economic powerhouse. Either Melville never bothered to fact check such small details, or else he didn't mind bending the truth a bit in the service of art.
A brief history of the family business from the Rothschild Archive: "Mayer Amschel Rothschild was born in 1744 in the Judengasse, in Frankfurt. His father had a business in goods-trading and currency exchange. He was a personal supplier of collectable coins to the Prince of Hesse. By the early years of the 19th century, Rothschild had consolidated his position, and in 1810, renamed his firm M A Rothschild und Söhne, establishing a partnership with his four sons still in Frankfurt, (his son Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) having already established a business in Manchester and London).
Nathan Rothschild’s increasingly successful business provided a model for his brothers back in Frankfurt. In 1812, James Mayer Rothschild (1792-1868) established a banking house in Paris. Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774-1855) settled in Vienna in 1820. Carl Mayer Rothschild (1788-1855) set up business in Naples in 1821, leaving Amschel Mayer (1773-1855), to head the Frankfurt bank. From these roots, the Rothschild banking business spread out across much of Europe becoming the most successful international bankers of the age." Rothschild Archive.
Interestingly, the Rothschilds were instrumental in helping another South American nation, Brazil, achieve independence from Portugal in the early 19th century.
Benito Cereno–Don Benito Cereno–a sounding name. One, too, at that period, not unknown, in the surname, to super-cargoes and sea captains trading along the Spanish Main,
The Spanish Main comprised all colonial properties of Spain in the Americas.
Captain Delano could not but bethink him of the beauty of that relationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the one hand and confidence on the other. The scene was heightened by, the contrast in dress, denoting their relative positions. The Spaniard wore a loose Chili jacket of dark velvet; white small-clothes and stockings, with silver buckles at the knee and instep; a high-crowned sombrero, of fine grass; a slender sword, silver mounted, hung from a knot in his sash–the last being an almost invariable adjunct, more for utility than ornament, of a South American gentleman’s dress to this hour.
See this article by Verônica Undurraga Schüler on the dynamics of class relationships as they pertain to Spanish-colonial constructions of masculine authority and honor. In particular, it addresses "the relationship between honor and social practices in Chile's eighteenth century and analyzes ... various manifestations of the social ways used to deal with honor at that time, together with the inquiries about mechanisms used to restore honor and its links with traditional masculinity."
At this moment the young sailor’s eye was again fixed on the whisperers, and Captain Delano thought he observed a lurking significance in it, as if silent signs, of some Freemason sort, had that instant been interchanged
Freemasonry was and still is a secretive fraternal order originating in the British guild system; it took root in the American colonies and was popular before and after the American Revolution. (George Washington and other founders are frequently cited as "famous Freemasons.") Its relationship to both the church and state has historically been a subject of controversy (and mystification) and it remains a perennial hobby horse among conspiracy theorists fixated on the existence of one-world governments. "Brothers" are known to use a series of symbols and hand gestures to recognize and communicate with each other in public.
there was a certain precision in his attire curiously at variance with the unsightly disorder around; especially in the belittered Ghetto, forward of the main-mast, wholly occupied by the blacks.
The term [Ghetto has a murky origin](https://www.momentmag.com/jewish-word-ghetto/), but the first ghettos were the enforced Jewish quarters of Venice, Rome, and and and other Western European cities. The first appearance of the word "ghetto" in English literature dates from the early 17th century.<br> Map of Venice ghetto by architect Guido Costante Sullam, late 19th C.
An excerpt from an 1829 travelogue paints a vivid socio-economic picture of the Roman ghetto, which was demolished in 1888. It is noteworthy that when Benito Cereno was published in 1850, although the Roman ghetto was still in existence, the word had already become a term of figurative speech. Could this have been an indirect result of the gradual loosening of restrictions on Jewish life that the author mentions, by which ghetto was no longer used to refer to a community bound to a specific location?
Map of Roman ghetto, 1777
"The "Ghetto" is a generic name, and used in every large town in Italy, as the distinctive appellation for the" recinto," or walled enclosure, allowed by the " toleration," (so intolerance is denominated all over the world,) to the Jews, whom their wants, rather than their charity, have consented to spare. But in most of these towns various reforms, all silent, but not the less irresistible, have successively taken place. I stopped some few instants at the entrance, not well knowing whether I should or could pass on, it looked so like the court of a debtors' prison. I asked one or two questions — they were scarcely answered. The Papal soldier at the gate at last volunteered a reply. He twirled his moustaches, and with the biliousness of his nation whispered sulkily, " il Ghetto." I took a glance for a moment at the contrast between the two people. Here were the masters on one side, the servants on the other. In the square I had just left I saw a squalid and sullen race of men, with nothing to qualify them for superiority but the conviction and habit of power. Their features glared with the gloomy force of concentrated or exploded passions. All here is combat or sleep, dangerous or useless energies." -- "Walks in Rome and Its Environs: The Ghetto degli Ebrai." The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Part II. Vol XVI, Original Papers, 1829. 529-537.
Franz Ettore Rosler (1845-1907), "Vicolo Capocciuto in Ghetto (rione Sant'Angelo)" cir. 1880
Lima intriguante’s one sinister eye peering across the Plaza from the Indian loop-hole of her dusk saya-y-manta
Intriguante: noun, archaic. a person who intrigues; intriguer. (In this case, female.) The narrator, speaking from Delano's point of view, likens the San Dominick to a native woman--possibly a descendant of the decimated Quechua-speaking Chincha people--of Lima, Peru--in traditional dress. Is she mysterious and sinister because she is native, or because she sees but cannot be seen, i.e. "inscrutable"? Or both? Image: Mauricio_Rugendas (1802-1858), Study for Lima's Main Square, cir. 1843.
in the harbor of St. Maria–a small, desert, uninhabited island toward the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili.
Map of Santa Maria, 1700
Santa Maria is a possession of Chile, roughly 10 nautical miles from the mainland, and just south of the port town Concepcion. More recently the island was used as a penal colony for supporters of Chile's Salvador Allende after his government was overthrown by a US-sponsored coup.
Although Delano describes it as nothing more than a "desert, uninhabited island" it in fact has a well-documented history in the European colonization of South America, especially concerning the Dutch West India Company's conflicts with Spain in the late 16th century (note mentions of Santa Maria in Lane, pp. 73-77).
Note as well that by the conclusion of the narrative, the Saint Dominick does fulfill its intended journey from Valparaiso, Chile to Callao, a port just outside of Lima, Peru. (See map, contemporary with the composition of Benito Cereno.)
the consequent prolonged beating about, the past sufferings from obstinate calms, and still continued suffering from thirst; in all these points, as well as others, Don Benito’s story had corroborated not only the wailing ejaculations of the indiscriminate multitude, white and black, but likewise–what seemed impossible to be counterfeit–by the very expression and play of every human feature, which Captain Delano saw.
These "obstinate calms" probably refer to the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ. Also know as "the doldrums," in this zone around the equator wind currents of the northern and southern hemisphereshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doldrums converge. The doldrums are known for both storms and minimal wind. "Colloquially, the "doldrums" are a state of inactivity, mild depression, listlessness, or stagnation" - which also seems to be the prevailing mood of Benito Cereno, as Capt. Delano perceives him. See also: Page note 1, Tag: "doldrums"
In the year 1799, Captain Amasa Delano, of Duxbury, in Massachusetts, commanding a large sealer and general trader
The sealing industry, particularly in the Southern hemisphere, was at its peak in 1799, when Benito Cereno is set. It was not uncommon for whaling ships to be repurposed as sealers, and the Bachelor's Delight seems to be no exception, as Delano refers to the ship's longboat as a whale boat--a rowed boat that would be used to get close to a whale and finish off the hunt.
"The first cargo of seal products from the Falklands was sent to France in 1766 by temporary settlers from St. Malo, inaugurating an industry that continued sporadically until 1972. Periodic hunting also took place in the Dependencies, terminating at South Georgia in 1964 with closure of the Grytviken whaling station. The rush to make windfall profits during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries resulted in the rapid decimation of stocks on the Falklands and later in the Dependencies. The industry was primarily prosecuted by sealing and whaling crews from New England, although British vessels were involved to a limited extent. These collective activities reached a peak at the Falklands in the late eighteenth century, with sealers thereafter moving to exploit other southern hemisphere stocks, including those on the then-Dependencies of South Georgia and the South Shetlands, and to a lesser extent at the South Orkney and South Sandwich Islands. These stocks were also destroyed by the 1830s. Some sealers did, however, continue to visit the Falklands, usually to start or top up cargoes from the Dependencies. But they found the earlier unhindered hunting controlled by the United Provinces de la Plata (later Argentina) and by the permanent British administration established in 1834" (Anthony .B. Dickinson, "Early Nineteenth-Century Sealing on the Falkland Islands: Attempts to Develop a Regulated Industry, 1820-1834. The Northern Mariner / Le marin du nord, Vol 4:3, 1994. 39-49.)
Assured of the welfare of his spirit, its departure I could have borne like a man; but that honest eye, that honest hand–both of which had so often met mine–and that warm heart; all, all–like scraps to the dogs–to throw all to the sharks! It was then I vowed never to have for fellow-voyager a man I loved, unless, unbeknown to him, I had provided every requisite, in case of a fatality, for embalming his mortal part for interment on shore. Were your friend’s remains now on board this ship, Don Benito, not thus strangely would the mention of his name affect you
Delano' does not only grieve the death of his brother, but also that his brother did not receive a proper Christian burial. Had his brother's body been preserved, this, theoretically, would have been possible, although quite belated. The secrecy and, to Western sensibilities, gruesome manner in which Aranda's remains were preserved by the Africans on board further exacerbates the suggestion that they are inhumane and amoral. See this article in Vol. 8 of Sharpe's London Magazine (1849) for perspectives on the burial practices of "barbarous nations" contemporary to the composition of Benito Cereno.
Western embalming techniques were first developed in 16th century England for scientific purposes; at the time this story is set, embalming the dead was a more common practice.
"The English physician William Harvey created the modern method of embalming in the 17th century. This method involves injecting chemicals into a dead body's arteries to keep the body from decaying. Up until the middle of the 18th century, embalming was used mostly in science and medicine. However, in the mid-18th century, the Scottish surgeon William Hunter used Harvey's methods to preserve bodies in morgues. His brother, John Hunter, was the first to advertise embalming to regular people who wanted to see their loved ones' bodies preserved after death." https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embalming#The_17th_and_18th_centuries
the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza, met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites;
This final gruesome image recapitulates the moral ambiguities and multiple power reversals in the narrative. Ostensibly serving as a warning to other slaves in Lima, it is an example of an old practice in European cultures of "piking" the heads of executed convicts and enemies of the state in the public square.* As an anticipatory corrective, the practice exemplifies the physical and psychological brutality of white Christian and Catholic slave-owning colonists.
Conversely, although Babo's body has been dispensed with in a most "un-Christian" manner, (unlike, at long last, his master's) his head -- that "hive of subtlety"-- embodies the colonists' capacity for barbarity and inhumane treatment of those who do not conform to the roles and rules maintaining order. Meeting "unabashed, the gaze of the whites," and addressing his ostensible superiors on their level (albeit voicelessly) Babo's open-eyed, disembodied head remains one of the most chilling images in the novella-- one that readers encounter last, and perhaps are more likely to remember. In this way Babo ironically has "the last word" although it is nevertheless a pyrrhic victory.
*An image from the French Revolution demonstrates how the aristocracy was made to epitomize "enemies of the state," when the French people redefined the body politic, turned the tables of power, and marched with their rulers' heads on spikes.
Battered and mouldy, the castellated forecastle seemed some ancient turret, long ago taken by assault, and then left to decay. Toward the stern, two high-raised quarter galleries–the balustrades here and there covered with dry, tindery sea-moss–opening out from the unoccupied state-cabin,
Captain Delano's initial descriptions of the San Dominick, the initial descriptions of those on board, the ship's stasis in an extended calm (allegedly returning north from a voyage in the extreme southern region of the ocean -- near the South Pole), the alleged death of crew and passengers from lack of water, and the "strange fowl" accompanying the ship, are all reminiscent of passages in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner )(1798) - especially Parts 2-4. Rime was first published a year before the setting of Benito Cereno.
- Moby Dick
- Spanish-colonial Chile
- Christian ritual
- US economic expansion
- Golden Round
- piked heads
- Empress of China
- Spanish colonial cusoms
- Treaty of Paris
- International commerce
- haitan revolution
- maritime trade
- Peruvian Inquisition
- Dutch West Indies Company
- Arauco War
- early US trade
- Spanish colonization
- foreign markets
- saya y el manto
- 18th century
- Santa Maria Island
- Spanish colonies
Irwin Chusid, journalist, music historian, radio personality and self-described "landmark preservationist,
The racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory website JewWatch.com added "Bon Vivant" to Chusid's numerous descriptives.
What’s striking about annotation at the present time is how ubiquitous it is—indeed it is so common that it is almost becoming invisible.
Expanding the definition and media of "annotation" really reveals how it ingrained it has become, at least in our electronic lives. If annotation becomes widely understood on these terms as no longer a text-based, academic activity, I wonder if or how that will increase public participation in collaborative models of knowledge and creative production. (I also wonder if or how it will prompt an increase in personal reflection on what we read in our analog lives, and what impact that could have).
tion, such as Pinterest or even meme generators and GIF tools.
Emojis come to mind too - although they are limited to personal communication, they function alternatively (or at once) as punctuation, "shorthand elaboration," and annotation.
The theory of the Text can coincide only with a practice of writing.
So that's what we're doing, eh?
the Text is that social space
I like this - it's the least articulated but clearest description of what he's been getting at IMO.
But this pleasure, no matter how keen and even when free from all prejudice, remains in part (unless by some exceptional critical effort) a pleasure of consumption; for if I can read these authors, I also know that I cannot re-write them (that it is impossible today to write 'like that') and this knowledge, depressing enough, suffices to cut me off from the production of these works, in the very moment their remoteness establishes my modernity (is not to be modern to know clearly what cannot be started over again ?)
What about porn, or to use the polite term, "erotica"? (I'm not even thinking of jouissance yet, just the dislocation he describes in reading historical fiction.)
Or maybe that is a huge can of worms better left for another course to open...
The Text is very much a score of this new kind: it asks of the reader a practical collaboration. Which is an important change, for who executes the work? (Mallarmé posed the question, wanting the audience to produce the book). Nowadays only the critic executes the work (accepting the play on words). The reduction of reading to a consumption is clearly responsible for the Boredom' experienced by many in the face of the modern ('unreadable') text, the avant-garde film or painting: to be bored means that one cannot produce the text, open it out, set it going.
OK, I "diatribed" too soon on Proposition 5.
Given this extremely dense translation I find the last sentence a bit ironic though.
He becomes, as it were, a paper-author: his life is no longer the origin of his fictions but a fiction contributing to his work; there is a reversion of the work on to the life (and no longer the contrary); it is the work of Proust, of Genet which allows their lives to be read as a text. The word 'bio-graphy' re-acquires a strong, etymological sense, at the same time as the sincerity of the enunciation -- veritable 'cross" borne by literary morality -- becomes a false problem: the I which writes the text, it too, is never more than a paper-I.
Proust is the easiest example - that's the way Proust is always read, no? What about authors who remain unknowns? Or authors lost to vagaries of popular opinion and the publishing industry who are "rediscovered" (or rather, "discovered") by some critic 200 years later? Then the author's work refers back to a life that is not only connected to Barthes's Text but, along the lines of New Historicism, made to be representative of all text created by a subject who is produced by a particular historical period and place.
Something in me has always resisted this practice. I suppose I can't shake the belief that life comes first, text is superimposed, or may only be read retrospectively. And anyway, sometimes you just want to read a friggin' book.
the metaphor of the Text is that of the network; if the Text extends itself, it is as a result of a combinatory systematic (an image, moreover, close to current biological conceptions of the living being).
), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse
I read this as: the Text is a kind of discourse, the work is the articulation of specific instantiation of it.
the Text is radically symbolic: a work conceived, perceived and received in its integrally symbolic nature is a text.
This has a whiff of Benjamin's "storytelling vs. novel" to it
OK, possibly it's because I'm recovering from surgery but reading Barthes on a screen single-spaced is very difficult, no matter how much I enlarge it. Or possibly reading a single-spaced text on a screen is just difficult.