Derridian Philosophy By Poetic Means

Interesting essay here on the poetry of Dan Beachy-Quick:

Beachy-Quick is adept at the classic Derridean move: identifying the simultaneity of irreconcilable contraries that, upon analysis, depend upon and collapse into one another. His book, a collection of lyrical prose meditations on Melville’s Moby-Dick, redounds with collapsed binaries and aporetic splits, contradictions that reciprocally create themselves, terms that imply and give rise to their opposites: interior/exterior, circumference/center, poison/antidote; “Queequeg is illiterate but he reads”; “the wound completes us with our imperfection.” . . .

The book takes its place in a tradition of studies of the American sublime with Melville as their centerpiece. Beachy-Quick’s precursor is Charles Olson, whose 1947 Call Me Ishmael, like Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson (1985) after it, pays homage to a beloved book by creating a citational collage-text that is by turns personal, critical, and lyrical. Olson dissected Melville’s marginalia to interpret Moby-Dick through Shakespeare’s King Lear, but his opening sally identifies his preoccupation as more metaphysical than literary-historical: “I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America . . . . I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.” For Olson, Melville’s book becomes an “American Shiloh,” a sacred sanctuary, a source of “HEIGHT and CAVE, with the CROSS between.” Beachy-Quick likewise reads the American masterpiece as an ur text for spiritual quest and secular epiphany, quoting early the image of Ahab as a man with “a crucifixion in his face.” In this regard, both Beachy-Quick and Olson owe a debt to another great commentator on the Melvillean sublime, D. H. Lawrence: “If the Great White Whale sank the ship of the Great White Soul in 1851, what’s been happening ever since?” Beachy-Quick sets about offering an up-to-date answer, circling obsessively around subjects of awe and terror, exaltation and debasement, testing the sublime as the limit to the mind that proves its capacity.

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