This essay reads Herman Melville’s final novel Billy Budd (written 1886–1891) in light of recent scholarly interventions into "oceanic studies." Melville’s parable of authority and resistance reveals how oceanic forms of power are contained and appropriated by national discourse. Focusing especially on the vexed relationship between the eponymous "Handsome Sailor" and Captain Vere, the essay claims that Billy Budd depicts the conflict between the transformative potential of what Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker term "hydrarchy" and the "formed, measured forms" favored by Vere and the nation-state he represents. In narrating Billy Budd’s incorporation into the machinery of state power on board the Bellipotent, Melville’s novella reveals the complicity between official accounts of history and the counterinsurgent project of colonial power. Even as Melville depicts this process of historical fashioning, however, he also points to ways in which such a logic might be resisted by a canny reader who looks to the "ragged edges" of narrative.
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