20 Matching Annotations
  1. Oct 2018
  2. allred720fa18.commons.gc.cuny.edu allred720fa18.commons.gc.cuny.edu
    1. his glance fell upon the row of small, round dead-lights–all closed like coppered eyes of the coffined–and the state-cabin door, once connecting with the gallery, even as the dead-lights had once looked out upon it, but now calked fast like a sarcophagus lid

      Melville imbues this seemingly merely descriptive passage of the state of disarray of the Saint Dominick with foreboding images of death.

      Delano's glance falls on the deadlights, which the OED defines as "a strong wooden or iron shutter fixed outside a cabin-window or port-hole in a storm, to prevent water from entering." He then notes that they are "closed like the coppered eyes of the coffined" referring to the practice of placing coins on the eyes of the dead--a gesture evolved from the ancient Greek tradition of providing a corpse with "Charon's obol" (see reference below)--money to pay the ferryman Charon to cross the River Styx to the underworld. He rounds the passage with an even more final closing of the windows behind the deadlights, noting they are "now calked fast like a sarcophagus lid" and referencing the most lasting of burial options: the stone coffin.

      References to these formal and ancient burial methods serve not only serve as ominous observations, but they provide stark contrast to the grotesque reversal of funerary rites given to Benito Cereno's best friend, Don Alexandro Aranda. Rather than be sealed up and given his fare to the next life, the slaves have laid his bones bare and nailed them to the prow, forcing his spirit ever to wander the sea. In the deposition that follows the initial episode, Cereno reports his desperation over exactly that fate, asking Babo about his friend's remains and "if still on board, whether they were to be preserved for interment ashore, entreating him [Babo] so to order it."

      For more on Charon's obol, see: Stevens, Susan T. “Charon's Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice.” Phoenix, vol. 45, no. 3, 1991, pp. 215–229. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1088792.

    2. master and man

      This is the fourth use of this phrase to describe the pair of Benito Cereno and Babo, seemingly (respectively) the master and the man.

      Travis has well pointed out that the casting of Babo as a man here separates him from his black shipmates who are regarded as animals--an elevation reinforced by his dress, his language skills, and his proximity to Cereno.

      Beyond its alliterative quality, the phrase's repetition seems certain of the natural order of the perceived relationship. In Delano's eyes, Don Cereno must be the master, and Babo--even as an exception to his race--the man. We learn, of course, that Babo has made himself the master of the man Benito Cereno, which the Norton commentary reminds us is his Cereno's ultimate unmanning. We also learn that Babo is the mastermind of the revolt and perhaps emblematic of enslavement's ultimate undoing--of mastering the "masters."

      (On a side note, the tricky issue of who rules whom in the relationship of "master and man" may be the thematic thread that joins all that I've read of Melville: Bartleby, this, and Moby Dick.)

    3. Egyptian priest

      The reference to the legendary Gordian knot gains greater intratextual significance as Melville places it in the context of the temple of Ammon in Egypt rather than Phrygia (an ancient town in what is now western Turkey) where the knot was severed by Alexander the Great. According to Andrew Collins of the University of Queensland, Alexander traveled to the temple to confirm rumors that he was a son of the Egyptian god Ammon-Ra, which would legitimize his kingship over Egypt as foretold by the act of solving (or dissolving) the Gordian knot.

      The inclusion of that element of the Gordian knot story may suggest a parallel to the genesis of the power struggle in Benito Cereno: the West's claims of superiority and dominion over black Africans, whose roots are found in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Nubia.

      For more, see: Andrew Collins. “ALEXANDER'S VISIT TO SIWAH: A NEW ANALYSIS.” Phoenix, vol. 68, no. 1/2, 2014, pp. 62–77. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7834/phoenix.68.1-2.0062.

    4. Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones

      The reference here to the "Valley of the Dry Bones" in Ezekiel may seem paradoxical: after all, this is the sea, with little of anything dry in sight. But the reference has resonance, even beyond the general atmosphere of decay and death Melville has depicted in this story. Bones are mentioned a few times in the text, including when the Bachelor's Delight's longship is described as "warped as a camel's skeleton in the desert" and, more importantly, as the reader learns that the slaves in revolt replaced the Saint Dominick's figurehead carving of Christopher Columbus with the murdered bones of Alexandro Aranda, the slave owner.

      In chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is brought by God to a valley filled with dried bones. God exhorts him to preach to the bones, to bid them rise up and come alive, to re-incorporate with tenons and muscles and skin and breath, which Ezekiel does. The result in verse 10: "So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army."

      God explains himself in the next two verses, saying to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel."

      At the very least, the reference is rich with the connection to what the bones say: "Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off." Certainly, this seems true for Benito Cereno, cut off from all hope, as the reader finds him a few pages later.

      The full nature of this reference, though, may have two distinct meanings: one seen through the eyes of the Westerners and one through the eyes of the slaves. To the Westerners (including Delano and Benito), the reference may suggest that the slave revolt will be ultimately unsuccessful. That the bones will figuratively rise up (with the help of the "army" of Delano's crew) and restore hope in the system in which Europeans and Americans enslave. But through the eyes of the slaves, alike to the Israelites in their own history with enslavement, this may portend the ultimate wrath of God against the perpetrators of the institution of slavery.

    5. Ashantee conjurors

      The reference to the Ashantee (now called the Ashanti) here and throughout the story is noteworthy. The source material for Benito Cereno, Chapter 18 of Amasa Delano's Narrative of Voyages and Travels, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, notes only that the slaves on the boat were from Ghana, never specifying any distinct groups of people therein.

      The Ashanti were an ethnic group in what is now southern Ghana who gained power through conquest and who themselves relied on enslaved labor (often of those they conquered). Scholars argue about the degree to which their practices of enslavement were similar to or influenced by that of the Europeans, though most agree that Ashanti slaves were allowed freedoms such as marriage and paths toward emancipation.

      Identifying the hatchet polishers aboard the Saint Dominick as Ashanti may, in one fell swoop, indicate their ability to fight back as well as their profound recognition of what it is to be enslaved.

      For more, see "Britain and the Suppression of Slavery in the Gold Coast, Ashanti, and Northern Territories" in The End of Slavery in Africa (https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=G3VSwvEG4QcC&oi=fnd&pg=PR4&dq=ashanti+slavery&ots=EISRfyD_cS&sig=634EUNacTmb-ieHSV5R89VnlNOQ#v=onepage&q=ashanti%20slavery&f=false)

    1. 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.

      Since first reading this a few days ago, I've come to be a bit obsessed with the metaphor of the oued. I realize, now, that Barthes disdain in these lines for avant-garde works may be because rather than provide the viewer with representation "half identifiable" from "codes which are known" but with unique combinations, they are unidentifiable or from codes unknown. Alien, truly.

  3. Sep 2018
    1. the Text is that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder.

      I wonder if Barthes would feel elated or appalled at the digitization of social reading. His line about what schools were teaching in the 70s suggests he would be disgusted. But his line here, if he truly believes that the text leaves no language safe, would suggest he would embrace it. Maybe he'd just go smoke some Gauloises.

    2. a pleasure of consumption

      Yes, and it's a pleasure particularly highlighted by the closing of a the physical book, as if ready to cast it off (or entomb it on the shelves). He makes a good point here that the text gives a different joy in that it lasts and continues to provide pleasure in its many manifestations.

    3. why not?

      Didn't he just point out that taste that arbitrates "good" literature is antithetical to real reading?

    4. In fact, reading, in the sense of consuming, is far from playing with the text.

      Much like listening to music is different from interpreting it in performance, as we've discussed in class.

      (I've since then come to believe that if we want readers to be discussing the variations of interpretations of text the way they would, say, the etudes of Chopin, that we'd better start a trend of audio short stories or even flash fiction.)

    5. while the Marxist interpretation of works, so far resolutely monistic, will be able to materialize itself more by pluralizing itself (if, however, the Marxist 'institutions' allow it).

      Funny that he puts this parenthetical about whether an institution will allow such plurality here instead of after the phrase about religion. By the 70s, had the Marxists outstripped organized religion in its intransigence?

    6. My name is Legion: for we are many.'

      Or, to quote without looking up Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Bhagavad Gita: "These are just a few of my many manifestations. Were I to tell them all, there would be no end to the telling."

    7. to try to find the 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation;

      Yes!!! (And yet, I still do it.)

    8. The difference is this: the work is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books (in a library for example), the Text is a methodological field.

      My mind leaps directly to "the work" as the idea of the material book. The work is the thing, the object, the produced result of author/editor/publisher (whether printed, on cassette, or, unimaginable to Barthes at this time, digital). "The text" is the life of the words in the work, the malleable, interpretable, connectable, uncontrollable shaping that, as a methodological field, academics bring to it as they read, annotate, discuss, critique, and write in response to it. (I'm eager to see if he thinks "the Text" lives outside of academia as well, in the hands of any reader.

    9. All these incidents are half identifiable: they come from codes which are known but their combination is unique,

      A concrete and helpful visual of interpretation. We recognize the elements of the story (characters, situations, descriptions of places, words), but they are new in their combination of choices, so only half familiar.

    10. from any imaginary);

      Random side note: new to graduate school, I'm fascinated by the proliferation of adjectives conscripted to the army of academic nouns: the symbolic, any imaginary, a signified, the very plural. One of the many challengings, I suppose.

    11. the work in the best of cases -- is moderately symbolic (its symbolic runs out, comes to a halt); the Text is radically symbolic:

      The life force of text, then, is time, which allows not only room for the inexhaustible disinterment of meaning, but a perpetually evolving set of circumstances that, like fractals, spin new possibilities for meaning, yes? And doesn't this also make an excellent case for diversity in the classroom, where every unique person and their cumulative experiences come to bear on a text.

    12. The answer is so difficult that the literary manuals generally prefer to forget about Bataille who, in fact, wrote texts, perhaps continuously one single text.

      Ooh! Love this idea that in the desire for classification, we may have tossed out a few gems (like Jean Toomer, perhaps). The walls of genres (and disciplines) may have crushed important voices and developments.

      I'm also enthralled with the romance with which Barthes (who seemed miserably clinical in the intro) is now starting to speak about the text. It's "held by language," it "knows itself," it is unbound, and, almost hauntingly, some authors may, across their many works, have been writing one text all along. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin comes to mind here as sometimes nearly literally writing the same story, though Lahiri, Faulkner, my pal Du Bois, and a host of others all fit that bill.

    13. the solidarity of the old disciplines

      I'd love to read a broader history of the evolution of what became such heavily isolated disciplines. Leonardo da Vinci (indeed any brilliant thinker deemed literally or figuratively a Renaissance man) would surely scoff at the term interdisciplinarity.

    1. Do I love books or do I love reading?

      For all of us bookworms who may have sneered at audio, this is the question. Some, like those of the Frankfurt School, may say that listening isn't reading, but her later line about "how a text reveals itself differently as the reading context changes" suggests that listening isn't merely being a passive captive. Rather, it may open up aspects of the text--the sounds of figurative language, the pace of syntax, and even unwritten movement and sound between the lines--that an author may intend but not explicitly note.