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Pierre’s Extraordinary Emergency: Melville and‘‘the Voice of Silence,’’ Part 2
William V. Spanos 
Silencepermeatesallthings,andproduceditsmagicalpower,aswellduring the peculiar mood which prevails at a solitary traveler’s firstsetting forth on a journey, as at the unimaginable time when beforethe world was, Silence brooded on the face of the waters.—Herman Melville,
Pierre; or, The Ambiguities 
In the first part of this essay (published in
28, no. 2 [sum-mer 2001]: 105–31), I undertook a reading of
Pierre; or, The Ambiguities 
that focused on Herman Melville’s critique of the hegemonic discourse ofAmericaasthatimperialandtotalizingdiscourseisreflectedinhisdevastat-ingly ironic treatment of the American cultural memory’s will to monumen-talize the American past in its obsessive effort to annul—to silence—theambiguities that would undermine its authority—and the national consen-sus on which it relies. In the last section, I noted that Melville’s fundamen-tal intent in thus interrogating the American discourse of hegemony is notonly to thematize—to give voice to—these hitherto invisible and unspeak-able ambiguities but also to endow them with a positive ontological force. In
boundary 2 
28:3, 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press.
134 boundary 2 / Fall 2001
so doing, I claimed, Melville’s novel was anticipating the Copernican revolu-tion Martin Heidegger inaugurated when he retrieved ‘‘the nothing’’ that thediscourse of modernity ‘‘wishes to know nothing about.’’
Taking my pointof departure from this reconstellation of Melville’s novel out of the discur-sive domain in which it has hitherto been imbedded by Americanists intothepostmoderncontext,Iwant,inthissecondinstallment,tothinkMelvillesattunement to ‘‘that profound Silence’’—‘‘that divine thing without a name’’from which ‘‘those imposter philosophers pretend somehow to have got ananswer’’
—in terms of the directives for thought and practice suggested bythe most recent explorations of the ‘‘other’’ silenced by the triumph of ‘‘theworld,’’ often referred to as the ‘‘Americanization of the planet.’’
What about this resonant silence? As I have suggested, the pas-sages on the metaphysics of monuments and on narrative from
quoted in the previous installment of this essay are written by the narratorin the context of Pierre’s ‘‘extraordinary emergency.’’ They constitute
dis- closures 
of the dark underside of—the shadow that belongs to—the lumi-nously white truth discourse of America. I mean this not simply in the senseof the negative effects of a totalized thinking/saying that claims to be posi-tively ameliorative but also in the sense of precipitating into
the‘‘ambiguities’’ that, in its will to power over difference, this thinking/sayingfinally—that is, essentially—cannot accommodate to its discourse of Pres-ence:thespectralnon-being,asitwere,thathauntsthedominantdiscourseof Being. As Pierre puts this resonant, if unspeakable, revelation in lines im-mediately following the second passage on the metaphysics of monumen-talization, quoted in my first installment, lines, not incidentally, that conflatethe metaphorics of memorialization and narrative:As for the rest—now I know this, that in commonest memorials, thetwilight fact of death first discloses in some secret way, all the ambi-
1. Martin Heidegger, ‘‘What Is Metaphysics?’’ trans. David Ferrell Krell, in
Basic Writings from ‘‘Being and Time’’ (1927) to ‘‘The Task of Thinking’’ (1964) 
, rev. and exp. ed. (NewYork: HarperCollins, 1993), 96.2. Herman Melville,
Pierre; or, The Ambiguities 
, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker,and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and TheNewberry Library, 1971), 208. Hereafter, subsequent references to this text will be citedparenthetically as
Spanos / Pierre’s Extraordinary Emergency 135
guities of that departed thing or person; obliquely it casts hints, andinsinuates surmises base, and eternally incapable of being cleared.DecreedbyGodOmnipotentitis,thatDeathshouldbethelastsceneof the last act of man’s play;—a play, which begin how it may, in farceor comedy, ever hath its tragic end; the curtain inevitably falls on acorpse. Therefore, never more will I play the vile pygmy, and by smallmemorials after death, attempt to reverse the decree of death, byessaying the poor perpetuating of the image of the original. (
, 197–98)What Pierre is intuiting in discovering the irreducible and thus dread-ful ambiguities subsuming his father’s portrait—the hitherto totally chartedtemporal and spatial world of Saddle Meadows—is precisely what Ishmaeldis-closes in his narration of Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale in
Moby- Dick 
: the essential unnameability, the unpicturability, the unrepresentability,the unsayability of being itself.
In a way that uncannily anticipates the Der-ridean analysis of the non-concept
, the act of naming/picturing/ monumentalizing/mapping is simply the substitution or supplementation ofa sign for that which would be brought to presence.
The process of repre-sentation, whether it takes the form of a memorial portrait, a monument, ashrine, a narrative, a cultural model, or a structural ‘‘world,’’ always alreadypostponesordefersthatwhichitwouldbringtopresence,thatwhichitwouldre-present. This motif of deferral, which is intrinsic to representation in gen-eral and to the American discourse of hegemony in particular, pervadesMelville’s novel. Indeed, it could be said provisionally that it constitutes theirreducible absence that haunts the
of Pierre’s story. And its spec-tral force is underscored precisely because it is precipitated into ‘‘visibility’’as a radically contradictory ‘‘other’’ by the very fulfillment in violence of theimperial logic of the American discourse of hegemony.A decisive example of this insistent motif of deferral occurs in Mel-ville’s commentary on Pierre’s burning, but finally abortive, Titanic desire,in the face of the reigning ‘‘Olympian’’ gods, to write the ‘‘comprehensivelycompact’’ book that would ‘‘gospelize the world anew’’ (
, 273) after having
3. See Spanos,
The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies 
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995), 124–31; 169–72; 197–201; 269–70.4. Jacques Derrida, ‘‘Différance,’’ in
Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs 
, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern UniversityPress, 1973).

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