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The CLR James Journal

Volume 23, Issue 1/2, Fall 2017

Michael E. Sawyer
Pages 157-174
DOI: 10.5840/clrjames2017112844

Undoing the Phaedrus
Melville’s Rereading of Plato

Readers of C.L.R. James are familiar with the thinker’s careful reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick in his text Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways. In that work James proposes that Melville exposes the foundations of societal level fascism as exemplified by the monomaniacal purpose of Ahab. The purpose of this effort is to push further into the concept of societal division as exemplified by Moby-Dick by proposing that Melville is taking on the discourse of color (black vs. white) and its relationship to ontological value (bad vs. good) by imploding the internal logic of Plato’s Phaedrus. What concerns this project is the relationship between the phenotypic “blackness” of the characters of African descent in Moby-Dick and ways in which Melville endeavors to destabilize skin color in the western imaginary as a means to correct the negative consequences of this flattening of the hierarchical nature of society on the part of Ahab.