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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.4, 585 ~ 601, 2018
Revisiting Transnational American Studies: Race and the Whale in Melville’s Moby-Dick
Yeonhaun Kang
Over the last three decades, the field of American Studies has increasingly paid attention to transnational approaches in an effort to diversify and expand the field’s concerns beyond the narrow sense of the nation-state in today’s globalizing world. Yet, the mediation of the transnational requires a careful analysis of the nation that is still in transit. In this context, this essay examines Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick (1851) as a case study that vividly shows how reading American literature and culture through transnationalism not only offers new interpretations of canonical texts, but also helps us to better understand the historical roots and cultural contexts of contemporary issues such as global labor and migration, US citizenship and racial justice. To address the complexity of the text’s circulation and reproduction, coupled with US national ideology and cultural conditions, I first turn to the canonization of Melville’s Moby-Dick during the Cold War era as a national project and then explore the possibilities of transnational readings by focusing on the politics of race and global capitalism in the nineteenth century whaling industry. In doing so, I argue that critical transnationalism allows readers to keep questioning about their own understanding of race, nation, and cultural identity while remaining attentive to the destructive force of US imperialism and global capitalism in the twenty-first century.
Key Words
Transnational American Studies, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, whaling industry, racial politics
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