One Foot in the Finite


Northwestern University Press (2017)                                    Click to read a sample

One Foot in the Finite inspires a radical shift in our view of Melville’s project in Moby-Dick, for its guiding notion is that Melville uses his book to call into question the naturalism that distinguishes the early modern period in Europe. Naturalism is not only the idea that reality is exhausted by nature, or that there exists a domain of physical entities subject to autonomous laws and unaffected by human ingenuity; it also implies a counterpart, a world of pretense and deception, a domain of mental entities ontologically distinct from physical entities and therefore constituting a different realm. To naturalists, whales are part of the background of existing objects against which man assembles his various, subjective, rather arbitrary interpretations. But in Moby-Dick Melville casts upon the world a more ingenious eye, one free of the dualist veil. He confronts a basic misconception: that the contents of consciousness comprise a different order from physical life. He rubs out the dividing line modernity has drawn between the human world of names or concepts and the nonhuman world of plants, creatures, geological features, and natural forces. Melville’s philosophizing, carried by fiction, has dramatic consequence. It overturns our view of language as a system of mental representations that might turn out to represent falsely.

Melville’s Philosophies

Coedited with Branka Arsic, Columbia University

Bloomsbury (2017)

Melville's Philosophies departs from a long tradition of critical assessments of Melville that dismissed his philosophical capacities as ingenious but muddled. Its contributors do not apply philosophy to Melville in order to detect just how much of it he knew or understood. To the contrary, they try to hear the philosophical arguments themselves—often very strange and quite radical—that Melville never stopped articulating and reformulating. What emerges is a Melville who is materialistically oriented in a radical way, a Melville who thinks about life forms not just in the context of contemporary sciences but also ontologically. Melville's Philosophies recovers a Melville who is a thinker of great caliber, dramatically reversing the way the critical tradition has characterized his ideas. Finally, as a result of the readings collected here, Melville emerges as a very relevant thinker for contemporary philosophical concerns, such as the materialist turn, climate change, and post-humanism.

“By engaging Melville's singular ways of thinking, the contributors to Arsic and Evans' 'untimely' collection show how Melville's writings anticipate and clarify the philosophical stakes of intellectual preoccupations—speculative materialism, new formalism, relational aesthetics, object-oriented ontology, inoperative communities, ecocriticism—we recognize as our own. In so doing they render Melville's Philosophies indispensable to thinking contemporaneity.

Donald E. Pease, Director of the Futures of American Studies Institute, Dartmouth College, USA, and author of The New American Exceptionalism

“It's easy to imagine that Melville would have delighted in the creative, thoughtful, and daring essays collected in Melville's Philosophies. With a striking originality, erudition, and insight, these essays, in the spirit of their subject, deftly unmap conceptual certainties and open unanticipated wonders in Melville's philosophical visions. With topics diverse as signs and subjectivity, empiricism and the unobservable world, doubt and impersonality, unreciprocatable love and community ethics, the immateriality of pain and feeling faith, prosthetic sovereignty and the politics of new beginnings, Melville's Philosophies gives us an exhilaratingly re-imagined Melville and, in the process, gives us much-needed insight into contemporary questions of belief and attachment, materiality and ethics, aesthetics and sensation, and the limits of justice.”

Christopher Castiglia, Distinguished Professor of English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Pennsylvania State University, USA, and author of The Practices of Hope: Literary Criticism in Disenchanted Times


University of Minnesota Press (2003)

Whale! explores Melville’s Moby-Dick as a tale not of vengeance but of the search for connection and meaning, interpreting Ahab’s near-pathological agitation as indicative of his refusal to accept the world as unknownable.


Introduction: Reconstructing Melville

Branka Arsic (Columbia University, USA) and K. L. Evans (Cornell University, USA)


1. Gospel Cetology

        K. L. Evans (Cornell University, USA)

2. Billy Budd, Billy Budd

        Stuart Burrows (Brown University, USA)

3. Science, Philosophy, and Aesthetics in “The Apple-Tree Table”

        Maurice S. Lee (Boston University, USA)

4. Clarel, Doubt, Delay

        Paul Hurh (University of Arizona, USA)


5. The Lawyer's Tale: Preference, Responsibility, and Personhood in Melville's "Story of Wall-street"

        Rachel Cole (Lewis & Clark College, USA)

6. Pierre in Love

        Kenneth Dauber (SUNY-Buffalo, USA)

7. Phenomenology Beyond the Phantom Limb: Melvillean Figuration & Chronic Pain

        Michael Snediker (University of Houston, USA)

8. "Learning, unlearning, word by word": Feeling Faith in Melville's Clarel

        Rhian Williams (University of Glasgow, UK)


9. Fateful Gestures: On Movement and the Maneuvers of Style in “Benito Cereno”

        James D. Lilley (SUNY-Albany, USA)

10. Melville, Poetry, Prints

        Samuel Otter (University of California, USA)

11. A Final Appearance with Elihu Vedder: Melville's Visions

        Elisa Tamarkin (University of California, USA)

12. La téméraire littéraire: Reckless Adaptation in Pierre and Pola X

        Paul Grimstad (New York University, USA)


12. Melville's Leviathan

        Paul Downes (University of Toronto, Canada)

13. Bartleby's Screen

        Colin Dayan (Vanderbilt University, USA)

14. Melville's Misanthropology

        Michael Jonik (University of Sussex, UK)

15. Desertscapes: Geological Politics in Clarel

        Branka Arsic (Columbia University, USA)




“Crash! Now, you can hear it! Boom! What’s left of the old, ivy-covered walls dividing literary theory from analytical philosophy are, at long last, tumbling down. Kim Evans and her new book are in charge of the demolition. Evans’s fluent expertise in all her subjects—including Melville studies and Wittgensteinian philosophy of language—runs deep and broad. Her writing is crystal clear, always incisive. Grab a copy of the book and watch the walls crumble! Stand back! Once those dreary walls are down, whole new disciplinary vistas open up.”

                                                                                        —David Charles McCarty, Indiana University

“A beautiful study of Moby-Dick that opens up not only a new way of reading the novel but also a new way of linking Melville’s philosophy of language with that of Wittgenstein. This is an extraordinarily important work that brilliantly bridges the fields of literary criticism and philosophy.”

                                                                                        —Michael Puett, Harvard University

"This is an important book, which goes far to rescue Melville from the charge of inconsistency of genre and feeling: of swinging between factual reportage and romantic fancy. It does so by making Melville’s dissatisfaction with both poles of nineteenth-century thought—Lockeian empiricism and Kantian idealism—central to his later work. It argues that Melville’s deeply American concern with the centrality of the practical in human life and consciousness allies him far more with such twentieth-century philosophers as Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, or Stanley Cavell, than with the thought of his own day."


                                                                                       —Bernard Harrison, University of Sussex and Utah

"Rather than dwelling on Melville’s doubts and ambivalences, as many literary critics do, Evans emphasizes his certainties. She contends that in Moby-Dick he is a literary realist in the classical—that is Platonic—sense, refusing the persistent dualism of mind and world in Western philosophy since Descartes and Locke. Melville shows how concepts are formed in human activity, and he verifies the ability of language, and especially of fiction, to connect the sensible with the ideal. In this bracing, consequential book, Evans alters our understanding of the relationships among literature, philosophy (especially Wittgenstein), and aesthetics."

                                                                                        —Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley

"I much admire how K. L. Evans brings together philosophy and literary criticism in order to provide an exciting account of what Melville sought in realism. Learned, lucid, and passionate, this book claims that realism is a less a matter of accuracy and range of accurate sensuous detail than a way of realizing the force of how those facts and the discourses accompanying them give shape to imaginative spaces. Realism for the most ambitious writers makes vivid the conceptual frameworks cultures have produced around a concrete name—like the whale. Only Ahab, and the author emulating Ahab, fully see what the whale is by imagining its full implications for those who have tried to name it accurately. A thrilling account of Wittgenstein's Tractatus provides the conceptual substance for this view of naming by stressing how Wittgenstein's states of affairs are not descriptions but images for how language has developed stages for acknowledging what naming can involve."


                                                                                       —Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley