Taylor reads Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) through the history of the captured prosthetic limb of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. U.S. travel narratives, soldiers' accounts, and P. T. Barnum's 1847 display of the captured prosthesis in his American Museum figured the leg as a symbol of the regenerative and reembodying benefits that territorial imperialism offered to Jacksonian working classes. Melville's journalism on Barnum's exhibit evinces a deep anxiety about the enthusiasm of Barnum's working-class audience for the prosthesis of empire, scrutinizing the figurative and rhetorical modalities by which the limb gained its symbolic value and affective force. Moby-Dick, Taylor argues, turns the figurative operations that Melville isolated in his reading of Barnum into a hermeneutic for interpreting the symbolic economies governing the interclass relations that produced populist imperialism. Moby-Dick narrates how hegemonic redeployments of the working-class rhetoric of loss transformed the hands of industry, seeking autonomy through territorial imperialism, into the prostheses of an Ahabian empire.
Christopher Taylor; The Limbs of Empire: Ahab, Santa Anna, and Moby-Dick. American Literature 1 March 2011; 83 (1): 29–57. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2010-062
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