Preface to Revolution. C.L.R. James on Melville

Working paper de Matthieu Renault
In 1953, C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian historian and Marxist intellectual, publishes a book on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. This paper shows that this book takes its roots in James’s wider project of a study of « American Civilization ». James conceives of captain Achab as a prefiguration of the « totalitarian type » and argues that, in Moby Dick, resistance does not come from Ismaël, the « intellectual », but rather from the ship’s crew composed of « mariners, renegades and castaways » coming from all over the world. A century later, according to James, the crucial task of putting an end to totalitarism falls to the working and colonized masses.

The author

Matthieu Renault holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Paris VII Denis Diderot and Università degli Studi di Bologna. He is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Paris XIII Nord (CRIDAF) and associate researcher at Les Afriques dans le Monde (CNRS, Sciences Po Bordeaux). He is the author of Frantz Fanon: From anti-colonialism to postcolonial criticism. Paris: Editions Amsterdam, 2011, as well as of John Locke's America: The colonial expansion of European philosophy. Paris: Editions Amsterdam, 2014.

The text

Ce texte a été rédigé grâce au soutien d’une bourse Fernand Braudel-IFER outgoing lors d’un séjour à la London School of Economics and Political Science de décembre 2012 à août 2013.


Matthieu Renault. Préface à la révolution. C.L.R. James, lecteur de Melville. FMSH-WP-2015-104. 2015.

Published at 17 July 2015