Sunday, May 24, 2009

"BENITO CERENO" by Herman Melville

Melville's "Benito Cereno," which I've finally gotten around to reading, is a brilliant, weird, original story, an unexpectedly subtle and ironic critical portrait of a benign racist. Captain Amasa Delano is a 'genteel' or 'liberal' racist, a man whose unquestioned racism blinds him to the reality before his eyes, the elaborate ruse played by the mutinous slaves and their leader, Babo. The story is yet another Melvillean take on race, interpretation and the limits of knowledge, yet another fine fiction that reveals the Old Salt as a postmodernist one hundred years avant la lettre, the most amazingly ahead of his time writer America has ever produced, a dude who made the 'hermeneutic turn' way back in the days of wind power. A powerful and original parable of the blinding effects of racism even in its milder forms, "Benito Cereno" is also, perhaps inevitably, a racist tale. As with Heart of Darkness, however, this is a case in which the tale destabilizes the ideology which it also, in a minor key, perpetuates. A very interesting and complex 'mystery' story.

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