matt's Reviews > The Confidence-Man

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville
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's review
Jun 18, 09

bookshelves: america-f-k-yeah, fictions-of-the-big-it, satire, social-crit
Read in June, 2009

Combustible, brilliant, dialectical, like a Marx brothers film in the mid American 19th Century. Literally filled with ramshackle, charming, sleazy, opportunistic, phantasmal, eccentric, grotesque, gaudy, loquacious characters who are all out to

* Talk- to anyone, about anything, especially their own opinions, biases, agendas, philosophies and observations

* Trick- (see above) that is, to "con" anyone they can get their hands on to abide by or follow or merely acknowledge their particular grievances and demands

* Make $- beg, borrow, sell, steal, panhandle, wheedle, commiserate, gyp, or simply buy and sell

* Survive- this ship of fools has a definite Melville-ian touch of foreboding, decadence and chaos. Nobody here gets out alive, if you will. Everybody's flying by the seat of their pants and everyone is (or seems to be) desperately trying to talk themselves out of thinking about it for very long, if at all.

"The Confidence Man" serves as a devastating critique of the rootlessness of American life and the chaotic fabric of the society we know a tad better (a tad, I say, a tad!) than our ancestors did more than 150 years ago. The formlessness of many of the usual social blocks- class, hereditary privilege, indigenous roots in the soil, etc is very much part of the drift and sway of the Fidele, as it heads down the Mississippi river (like, O I dunno, some other guys did once or twice) and into....whatever...

The whole experience of reading this text (Novel? Digression? Dialogues? Sketches?...never mind writing the damn thing in the first place. What was that like for poor tormented, incessantly metaphysical Melville?) has everything which has now known to be categorized as 'Post-modernism': discordant narrative, free interplay of signs and identities and constantly re-imagined borders of the self, language, the world at large. the humor, the self- awareness of the narrative creating itself out of itself, the self-mocking overtures of any definitive statement or final Logos....

In a way, it sort of reminded me of Richard Linklater's film "slacker", in that it has a similar rambling, spontaneous, chain of conversational quality. The camera is always moving from table to table as everyone carries on their conversations at any spot at which they happen to be: Smurfs, political insights, Madonna's pap smear, suicide notes, conspiracies and conversations.....

It's absolutely indispensable reading for anyone who is, like me, obsessed with the "psyche" or "soul", "spirit" or "inner nature" of America.
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Quotes matt Liked

Herman Melville
“Money, you think, is the sole motive to pains and hazard, deception and devilry, in this world. How much money did the devil make by gulling Eve?”
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man

Reading Progress

06/05/2009 page 210

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Sckenda Great introduction to a lesser-known Melville. I will read this. Thank You.

matt Thanks! I hope you enjoy. It's sort of like Moby Dick's edgy, nervy, cerebral, jaunty little brother...

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