Scholars aspire to make “a contribution”: we seek to add to the already existing store of knowledge about a subject. In literary scholarship, new insights are often built on the insights of those who have gone before, and when it comes to classic texts like Melville’s Moby-Dick, the mass of previous scholarship is truly daunting. It’s hard to imagine that one might be able to contribute anything “new” to what we already know about a text like Melville’s.

So it’s particularly gratifying to discover that someone out there values something I had to say about my favorite novel. The article in question, “Cosmopolitanism and Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick,” appeared in recent volume from Ashgate Publishing entitled The Turn Around Religion in America, edited by Nan Goodman and Michael P. Kramer. The volume brings together work inspired by the scholarship of my dissertation advisor, Sacvan Bercovitch.

Here’s what the review in the May 1st issue of Choice had to say about the book:

More a festschrift dedicated to a distinguished scholar than a fully cohesive set of essays, this collection addresses Bercovitch’s characteristic themes during a long career at Columbia and, ultimately, Harvard. Best known for his work on Puritanism, Bercovitch has included all of American literature in his scope, and he is one of the vertebral forces behind recent revisionary conceptions of the field. The contributors to this volume are former students of Bercovitch and distinguished contemporaries such as Michael Colacurcio (who writes on Emerson). Receiving full treatment are typology and its millennial-Christian reading of Judaic biblical motifs; dissensus and its role in regulating American life while providing an aura of rebellion; Edward Taylor, brilliantly reconceived (by Shira Wolosky) as Hebraic; and Herman Melville and Nathanael West. Goodman (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) and Kramer (Univ. of Bar-Ilan, Israel) also include essays on Bercovitch’s work: e.g., Andrew DuBois’s masterful discussion of irony in Bercovitch’s writing. Further afield, Cyrus Patell on Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick and Giuseppe Nori on “process and continuity, genealogy and destiny” in the Romantic historiography are major contributions to scholarship. This reviewer cannot imagine the Americanist who will not need to refer to this book at least once in his/her career. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. — N. Birns, The New School

To become a “vertebral force” — now that’s an aspiration I’d never thought of before. But, actually, it’s a pretty good description of Saki’s contribution to literary scholarship and cultural studies.

Thanks again, Nan and Michael, for including me among the contributors. It was an honor to participate.