"Of course it was the stutter in Melville's handsome sailor, his 'lurking defect,' that has been at the heart of my lifelong attraction to Herman Melville's late masterpiece, Billy Budd"so begins Myron C. Tuman's new study of the strange, distant bond between a series of fathers (literary or otherwise) and their mostly inarticulate sons.
At the center of this book is Tuman's sense that what at first looked like the relatively minor detail of Billy's stutter might provide a path into a new understanding of his own lifelong struggle with stuttering-that his own stutter, like Billy's, might be part of a larger narrative related to fathers and authority generally.
This interest in stuttering and fatherhood soon led to two additional concerns: first, the need to make sense of the peculiar mandate that the story's surrogate father, Captain Vere, feels to oversee Billy's execution-that is, a filicidal impulse that Melville compares to Abraham's mandate to bind and sacrifice his son, Isaac-and, secondly, the aura of homoerotic desire directed throughout the tale towards Melville's "handsome sailor." Into these four seemingly unconnected concerns-stuttering and fatherhood, filicide and homoerotic desire-was added one additional concern, from a second Melville tale of perplexed fatherhood, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," namely, anorexia, which here can be seen as the child's willing acceptance of the father's own filicidal impulse.
The result is "literary" study of unusual breadth, one that moves across a wide body of romantic narratives, alternating between Melville and a host of other writers, from Joseph Conrad to Vladimir Nabokov, from Giambattista Vico to Sigmund Freud. A climactic final chapter compares Billy Budd and another knotted tale of an innocent child protected by another filicidal protector, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.
Myron C. Tuman is perhaps best known for his work in literacy theory and technology, including the monographs A Preface to Literacy and Word Perfect, as well as the Connect software he helped to develop. Language and Limits (1998) and CriticalThinking.com (2002), extend this analysis of contemporary language education, casting a wary eye on changes promoted as "progress," including the widespread promotion of all things critical. Tuman's latest work, Melville's Gay Father, is a literary analysis of the filicidal impulse in a series of fictional fathers, along with a look at two perplexing and possibly related psychological issues: stuttering and anorexia. He has continued his pedagogic interests in technology with his new Web project, ReadingLinks.com. Tuman began his career teaching middle and high school and in 2003 became the first Belle and Leonard Toups Chair in English at Nicholls State University, located in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
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