Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Passing or Failing the Test of Useful Intelligence in Academia--the case of Robert Milder

What I found when I was discovering pretty often new episodes in the life or Herman Melville or at least new sidelights on previously known episodes was that the "full" implications of the discoveries rarely revealed themselves at the moment of discovery (not that the full implications ever reveal themselves). The more we thought we knew about Melville, it seemed, the harder it was to give up the familiar story and tell a new story or a partly new story, and the harder it was to put the new information into meaningful relationship to what we knew of the rest of Melville's life. The way I was working meant that I kept plowing onward after many of the moments of discovery, so that some of the implications began to come clear only long afterwards, when I read great swatches of the LOG on the computer, 1951 and 1969 all mixed in with what I had been adding from the Augusta Papers and other sources.

Many professors, I found, could not adjust to new information if they thought they knew something about an episode in Melville's life.

Many more professors, I found to my horror, could not admit that new information could be discovered about Melville after, say, the 1930s, even if the evidence was right there on a page they were supposed to be reading before writing their reviews.

I've talked about the difficulty of comprehending a new and fuller trajectory of Melville's career. Robert Milder conspicuously fails to do so in my "Part 2" post: he simply cannot think of Melville's real life, of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS as taking months and (for the poems) years of his creative life. In his "A Brief Biography" in the Gunn collection he says Melville "evidently" wrote "a narrative entitled "The Isle of the Cross." As for POEMS, the contents could not have been very good because Melville in them was only "a fledgling poet." A fledgling poet? Melville started in 1857 or early in 1858 and for two or three years wrote only poetry except for a couple of lectures and never got very good at poetry in that time? The man who went from OMOO (1847) to MOBY-DICK (1851), or REDBURN (1849) to MOBY-DICK (1851)? Melville was, really now, a pretty fast learner for someone without a PhD.

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