Monday, September 04, 2023

Pg. 99: Jonathan Alexander Cook's "Neither Believer nor Infidel"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Neither Believer nor Infidel: Skepticism and Faith in Melville's Shorter Fiction and Poetry by Jonathan A. Cook.

About the book, from the publisher:
Shedding new light on both classic and lesser-known works in the Melville canon with particular attention to the author's literary use of the Bible, Neither Believer Nor Infidel examines the debate between religious skepticism and Christian faith that infused Herman Melville's writings following Moby-Dick. Jonathan A. Cook's study is the first to focus on the decisive role of faith and doubt in Melville's writings following his mid-career turn to shorter fiction, and still later to poetry, as a result of the commercial failures of Moby-Dick and Pierre.

Nathaniel Hawthorne claimed that Melville "can neither believe nor be comfortable in his unbelief," a remark that encapsulates an essential truth about Melville's attitude to Christianity. Like many of his Victorian contemporaries, Melville spent his literary career poised between an intellectual rejection of Christian dogma and an emotional attachment to the consolations of non-dogmatic Christian faith. Accompanying this ambivalence was a lifelong devotion to the text of the King James Bible as both moral sourcebook and literary template. Following a biographical overview of skeptical influences and manifestations in Melville's early life and career, Cook examines the evidence of religious doubt and belief in "Bartleby, the Scrivener," "Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!," "The Encantadas," Israel Potter, Battle-Pieces, Timoleon, and Billy Budd.

Accessible for both the general reader and the scholar, Neither Believer Nor Infidel clarifies the ambiguities of Melville's pervasive use of religion in his fiction and poetry. In analyzing Melville's persistent oscillation between metaphysical rebellion and attenuated belief, Cook elucidates both well-known and under-appreciated works.
Visit Jonathan Alexander Cook's website.

The Page 99 Test: Neither Believer nor Infidel.

--Marshal Zeringue