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Specters of DemocracyBlackness and the Aesthetics of Politics in the Antebellum U.S.$
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Ivy G. Wilson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195337372

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195337372.001.0001

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The Spectacle of Disorder

The Spectacle of Disorder

Race, Decoration, and the Social Logic of Space

(p.126) 6 The Spectacle of Disorder
Specters of Democracy

Ivy G. Wilson

Oxford University Press

This chapter interrogates the idea of visuality in Herman Melville's short story “Benito Cereno” (1855) by examining the arrangement of space about the slave ship San Dominick. Turning away from the prevailing New Historicist readings, it argues that the text's fraught aesthetic sensibility needs to be correlated to the ambiguous social position of the African slaves. In Melville's story, the Spanish ship is riddled with improperly placed things, half-finished pieces of art, rude performances, and graffiti scrawling. “Benito Cereno” is best understood through its staging of art that are put into high relief if one thinks about the Africans as curators of sorts; the story sets the American Captain Delano's desire to restore law and order against the statelessness of the slaves whose insurrection is fashioned as a veritable example of Outsider Art.

Keywords:   San Dominick, decoration, New Historicist readings, graffiti, Melville, stateliness, statelessness, icon, objets d'art, zones of perspective

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