hilton obenzinger on melville, holiness, and settler colonial studies


Hilton Obenzinger, ‘Melville, Holy Lands, and Settler-Colonial Studies’, Leviathan: A journal of Melville Studies 13, 3 (2011).

When American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania appeared in 1999, it was situated within several broader contexts: American literary studies, of course, but also the field of America-Holy Land studies. And I placed America-Holy Land studies within the even broader framework of “settler-colonial studies,” a field that was barely, if at all, acknowledged twelve years ago. These three categories have developed considerably with regard to what had been two relatively neglected Melville works. In the last decade or so, scholars have engaged both Melville’s journal and poem-pilgrimage, either in monographs or as part of broader studies. Clarel has been increasingly recognized as a major work, one that calls out for further readings. Here I want to revisit the heuristics of America-Holy Land studies and settler-colonial studies. These evolving conceptual frameworks have raised new awareness about the effects of culture and colonialism upon each other, about religious-nationalist perceptions in the United States, and about the changing understanding of America’s relationship to the Middle East over an increasingly troubled decade. As a result, critical responses to Clarel are far richer now particularly because Melville’s poem-pilgrimage has come to feel so contemporary.

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