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Abrams, Matthew Jeffrey: "Illuminated critique. The Kent Moby-Dick." In: Word & Image 33.4 (2017), S. 376–391.
|Resource type: Journal Article
BibTeX citation key: Abrams2017
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Keywords: "Moby Dick", Illustration, Intermedialität, Literatur, Melville. Herman, Randformen des Comics, USA
Collection: Word & Image
Rockwell Kent is famous for the near three hundred illustrations he made for two simultaneously released 1930 editions of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851). But Kent’s illustrations, while widely praised, also mark a complex intervention that was explicitly designed to critique Melville’s own visuality. Kent spent five years researching and designing his project, during which he discovered many of the nineteenth-century textual and visual sources that had influenced Melville, or that Melville had outright appropriated. These include the illustrated whaling chronicles of William Scoresby, Thomas Beale, Frederick Bennett, and John Ross Browne. Kent’s highly stylized illustrations remediate these chronicles and their attendant imagery through three approaches: by directly copying illustrations that Melville used as sources; by hybridizing Melville’s visuality with its actual antecedents; and by pre-empting the “pictures” that Ishmael—the only surviving crewmember and narrator of the book—hopes to “paint,” thus complicating, if not abrogating, the narrator’s will to ekphrasis. In other words, Kent’s images complete a tripartite, verbal–visual signal jamming that could magnify, reverse, collapse, or ironize Melville’s own visuality. Moreover, because Kent identified Melville’s source imagery decades before anyone else, and then critiqued Melville’s visuality based on these hard-earned discoveries, his illustrations constitute a historiographic origin point for the literary discipline now called “Melville and the Visual Arts.” The Kent Moby-Dick, as well as its many foreign translations, is a novel replete with much more than images: it is a novel saturated with an ongoing, albeit wholly visual, dialogue about Melville’s own visual program. It therefore represents a unique category of production, where illustration becomes literary criticism, or, one could say, illuminated critique.
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