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Beschreibung des Verlags

HERMAN MELVILLE'S THE CONFIDENCE MAN (1857), CHAPTER XVI, "A SICK man, after some Impatience, Is Induced to Become a Patient," finds us aboard the steamboat Fidele, gliding down the mighty Mississippi on our way to New Orleans and the Gulf. It is April 1st, the Feast of All Fools, and the confidence man, disguised as an herb-doctor, is plying his trade. Like a salesperson at Whole Foods, well-informed and bursting with good faith, he is selling his "Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator" to those passengers who will profit most from it--if only they have confidence in its curative powers and confidence in him. The confidence man inveighs against the atheistical science of his day, priding himself on his piety and his complicity with nature. "How different we herb-doctors!" he exclaims, in disdain of the scientists. For the herb-doctors "claim nothing, invent nothing; but staff in hand, in glades, and upon hillsides, go about in nature, humbly seeking her cures." (1) Theirs is the piety, humility, and wisdom of Solomon. Yet also of Medea, whom the herb-doctor also cites: Medea, who serves up wolfs-bane, or aconite, distilled from the foam spewed by the hellhound Cerberus. Hebrew king and Greek witch--that is Melville's figurative lineage for the herb-doctor. When an invalid begs to know precisely which herbs are mixed in the Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator, the confidence man refuses to list them. "A sick philosopher is incurable," he says, if said philosopher lacks confidence. "Because either he spurns his powder, or, if he take it, it proves a blank cartridge, though the same given to a rustic in like extremity, would act like a charm. I am no materialist; but the mind so acts upon the body, that if the one have no confidence, neither has the other" (86). The invalid timidly objects that he has heard of a book entitled Nature in Disease. The herb-doctor professes to be shocked: "Get nature." One is reminded of Derrida's allusion in Of Spirit to Matthew Arnold, one of whose fictitious personages urges us to "Get Geist." (2) Get nature, and you get well, says the ethereally oily herb-doctor. Get nature and you get the good Geist into the bargain.

Gewerbe und Technik
1. Januar
Boston University

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