Testimony without Voice
Melville cryptically closes Benito Cereno by emphasizing the “voiceless end” of the slave leader, Babo. On the one hand, the weight of the story, including all of its omissions and oddities, seems to land in this phrase, rendering it a final testimonial claim. On the other hand, Melville is insistent (especially in Pierre) that silence cannot be translated into voice, which means that Babo’s voicelessness can make no claim at all. This chapter examines how to adequately engage the voiceless end. It reads Melville’s words against the etymological history of silence, and it compares his challenging position to that of more recent human rights writing. Ultimately, Melville is shown to elide the expectation that testimony be correlated to the category of voice. Other narrative entities, in particular the air around the ship the San Dominick, register the truth of the text by disturbing the characters without saying anything.
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