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By John Wenke

An exam of what it ability - either biographically and textually - for Herman Melville to mix philosopy and aesthetics in his paintings. the writer makes a speciality of Melville's mess ups and successes in constructing fictional kinds to include and show metaphysical speculations.

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Chapter 3, "Perpetual Cycling,'' considers Mardi's long travelogue and Melville's dramatization of two distinct voyages into "the world of mind" (557). Once Taji comes to inhabit an onto logical realm outside the diachronic progression of the narrative, his genial voice becomes diffused, as it were, through four allegorized characters representing Authority, Poetry, History, and Philosophy. Through these questers, Melville adapts the Platonic dialogue and creates fables of identity. He also interpolates texts within the text to engage the problematic issue of narrative authority and the self-exhausting nature of the philosophical quest.

What is remarkable is that his conversation with the Williams undergraduates offered an intensified rendering of those very ideas and predilections that drove him in 1847 and 1848 to remake himself as an artist. Even then, a young author on the rise, Melville betrayed Page xiii an arch disdain for thrilling adventure narratives, which would pay, and worked up a voracious appetite for discoursing on "all things sacred and profane," which would never pay. Melville's failures and successes in developing fictional forms to contain and express "all things sacred and profane" constitute the focus of this book.

As Coan remarked, "We have quite enough of Greek philosophy at Williams College, and I confess I was disappointed in this trend of the talk. " More concerned with "his theories of life," Melville was all too ready to disappoint his auditors and all too insistent upon scandalizing them with a "full tide of discourse on all things sacred and profane" (Leyda 605). It is not so remarkable that this "cloistered thinker" had levied such judgments or betrayed such zest for philosophical disquisition (Leyda 606).

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