Comparing Melville's Benito Cereno And Minding The Body

1202 Words5 Pages
Melville 's “Benito Cereno, published in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in 1855, has been considered “‘one of the most sensitively poised pieces of writing’ that Melville ever conceived” (Feltenstein, 246). The intricacy of Melville’s story holds many hidden meanings and varied readings. Rosalie Feltenstein, Max Putzel and Matthew Rebhorn have taken it upon themselves to uncover some of these mysteries in their respective articles, “Melville’s ‘Benito Cereno’”, “The Source and the Symbols of Melville 's ‘Benito Cereno’ and “Minding the Body: ‘Benito Cereno’ and Melville’s Embodied Reading Practice”. While these authors develop different interpretations, the recurrence of motifs concerned with evil, its persistence, symptoms, causes and ambiguity…show more content…
What stands out are Melville’s uses of symbolism to explore themes of matter and spirit, bridging the inner and outer worlds through symbols (Feltenstein, 250). Furthermore, symbols become an extensional device that can encompass a wider range of reality, going beyond “the Emersonian doctrine that natural facts correspond to spiritual facts” —physical descriptions become spiritual ones as well (Feltenstein, 250). The analysis of these symbols is complicated in that they avoid universals, with Melville offering no key to begin unravelling the layers of meaning (Feltenstein, 251). However, in relation to his other work, “Benito Cereno” seems preoccupied with the themes of “the nature of evil and the ambiguity of appearances, especially as related to evil” (Feltenstein, 251). Feltenstein believes there is friction between truth and appearance in this text, with appearances disguising the truth, usually with negative outcomes (251). By making Babo the primary evil operative of the story, Melville is reinforcing the ambiguity and non-discriminative nature of evil, even victims can be evil (Feltenstein, 255). In conclusion, Melville is “examining in the actions of the Negroes how evil operates and, in Don Benito and Delano, what it’s effects are”, discovering that it is…show more content…
Matthew Rebhorn’s analysis argues that ‘Benito Cereno’ offers both an ‘inside narrative’ to be analyzed, as well as a guide on how to properly read analytically (157). Melville is using our hunger to understand the truth as a tool to display the negative effects of such an appetite, like Delano’s quest to understand the mysterious intentions of Cereno blinds him to the reality of the situation aboard the ship, in this sense, he traps the reader in this ambiguity in order to guide the reader out of it (157-8). Melville uses language to tangle and subvert meaning, challenging our “logocentric reading practices” and highlighting the “[in]adequacy of rational discourse” (Rebhorn, 158-9). ‘Benito Cereno’ discredits an objectivist reading practice, and replaces it with what Rebhorn identifies as an embodied reading practice. (161). Melville understood how physiological processes are vital to consciousness and communication, and how “we lay the foundation for our consciousness not through abstract thought but through our body’s reaction to external stimuli” (Rebhorn, 160). Furthermore, body language should be given more recognition, since “we are not simply embodied minds but also cognitive bodies, bodies that use nonverbal communication to elaborate verbal discourse as well as to explore alternative ways of decoding our reality” (Rebhorn, 162) The issues arise as Delano dismisses Cereno’s body language only as “symptoms of an absent or moody mind”, instead of considering them
Open Document