Here is the abstract of a paper I just presented at the 2009 WVU Grad Colloquium this last weekend. The paper is still in progress, so I will refrain from posting it at the moment.
(btw, if you haven’t seen this, holy moly)
Perhaps what is most striking to a contemporary reader of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (1857), is the manner in which it mirrors current experiences of identity mediation through technology. From avatars on discussion boards, to spam and electronic advertisements claiming their authenticity, to the necessity for various passwords proving who one “is,” to identity theft in general—everywhere the postmodern subject is being asked not only to verify who they are, but to have confidence in what things and people say they are, who, like the Confidence Man himself, often have malicious ends predicated upon having confidence in the authenticity of another’s identity. This paper will explore some of the implications of reading The Confidence Man as a postmodern allegory avant la lettre: how Melville’s text both prefigures the multiplicity of postmodern identity, while exploring the inevitability of the fragmentation of the Western subject when faced with the mediating effects of accelerated technologization brought about by the increasingly efficient working of capital towards the reification of that subject. Ultimately, this paper will argue that the Confidence Man can be read parallactically as both a posthuman figure of resistance to the regime of multiple avatars or identities, and as a figure of that regime himself; that the Confidence Man perhaps finds his most appropriate analogues in the ambiguous artificial intelligences found in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (2006) and Leinad Zeraus’ Daemon (2006), than previous modes of reading him as an allegory for Satan.