Men in Coats - Nixon

Melville insists that his final fictional revisiting

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Unformatted text preview: f Cereno, his emphasis on Cereno's refined attire marks the Spaniard culturally as the equivalent of the Neversink's Selvagee or Commodore. Melville's incessant return to the issue of o clothes, his rewritingof his early representation f the "slendersword, silver mounted"and Cereno's ornamentalattireto insist that they were not worn "for utility"after all (57), stresses the convergence of sartorial and verbal ornament, of "precise and costly dress" and rhetorical "symbol" (116). Because of this intersection, Delano's inclination to read singularly-to have "suchnative simplicity as to be incapable of satire or irony" (63)-is problematic. And his penchant for ordinary and plain speaking places him in a peculiar relation to Cereno, given the latter's command of social form and its hidden discourses. Melville insists that his final fictional revisiting of the early inscription of Cerenoas a dandyis more thana reinflectionof the Spaniard,for Melville has alreadymade it patently clear that Cereno's command was merely decorative or ghostly, contrived to dupe Delano. In reinvesting emphasis on Cereno's clothes, Melville accentuatesthe figure of the effete gentleman as a crucial tool for Babo in the ongoing confusion of Delano-a figure whose elegant effeminacy, far from detractingfrom his authority,only serves to Nicola Nixon challenge Delano's muscular command. And aui thority,underthe rubric"leadership,"s indeed one of the more gnawed-over problematics both in Amasa Delano's accountof the rescue of Cerenoin his Narrative of Voyages, which begins with anxious references to the possibility of mutiny aboard the convict-staffed Perseverance (320-22), and in Melville's tale, which returns repeatedly to the larger implications of the injunction "follow your leader"paintedonto the hull of the San Dominick. Fromhis firstencounterwith Cereno,Delano observes the seeming "impairing[of] the Spaniard's o o authority" ver the slaves, the "relax[ation f] good t c order," he apparent"misrule" haracterized y the b slaves' free behaviorandby Cereno'sindulgenceof a it, and Cereno'sgodlike "reserve" nd "slumbering dominion"(51-53). Such perceptionsare invariably linked to observationsabout Cereno's appearance, as if his laxity of captaincywere explicable through referenceto his mannerismsand garb: 365 inflected authoritypreventsDelano at every quarter from voicing any of his frequentself-doubtingobjections to Cereno's curious command of the San Dominick-a command that rarely presents itself overtly but nevertheless gets identified with the sense of menace Delano experiences. Now, on one level Delano's silence in the face of Cereno's overdressed effeminacy is complicit in the unspokenbut pervasivehomoeroticismthat infuses almost all the relationships aboard the San Dominick: between Delano and Cereno, between Cereno and Alexandro Aranda, between Cereno and Babo, and, as Karcher points out, between Delano and the magnificentblack slaves Atufal and Babo (132). Delano's preoccupationwith Cereno's sword, which turns out to be the illusion of an "artificiallystiffened"scabbard,gesturesto a symbolic betrayalof sexual promise-a betrayalinherent in Cereno's not having "willingly" put on his fancy clothes for Delano, in his thwartingof desire by opting for a monastic life.6 Because the clothes seem to constitute the mystery aboard the San [Cereno]wore a loose Chilijacket of darkvelvet; Dominickand because they are linked to the possiwhitesmallclothesandstockings, ithsilverbuckles w ble rhetoricalunveiling of truth,they always tease at the kneeandinstep;a high-crownedombrero, f o s finegrass; slender word, ilvermounted, ungfrom with the enticing prospect of their removal; Dela s s h a knotin his sash;the lastbeingan almostinvariable ano's desire to uncoverwhat is beneaththe garb,or m adjunct, oreforutilitythanornament...]. [T]here to witness the stripteaseeffect Barthesdescribesas [ wasa certain recisionn attire, uriously t variance producingthe pleasureof the text, necessarily pari a p c with the unsightlydisorderaround[...]. [T]here ticipates in the erotic promise of the male body seemedsomething o incongruousn the Spaniard's shrouded by fancy dress. Such homoeroticism is s i a apparel, s almostto suggestthe imageof aninvalid part of the questionable manliness of the dandy, courtierottering boutLondon treetsin thetimeof a s t who was constructedcontradictorily s both emasa theplague. (57-58) culated and a rake-as too concerned with the "sickly and perfumedatmosphereof the drawingSandwichedwithin this elaboratedescriptionis the rooms"to be among what Fraser's called "brother brief observation that the "servant [Babo] wore sailors"but too courtlyand smoothnot to be a dannothing but wide trowsers [. . .] made out of some ger to ladies (Moers 171, 175). This is the sort of old topsail." Delano's recognition of...
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