CVC Lecture | Extractive Nostalgia: Obsolescence and Skeuomorphism in Rockwell Kent’s “Moby-Dick”

Jamie Jones

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Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L150
@ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Extractive Nostalgia: Obsolescence and Skeuomorphism in Rockwell Kent’s Moby-Dick

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick was a flop when it was first published in 1851, but it finally became a hit in 1930, when Lakeside Press issued a new bestselling new edition of the novel with Rockwell Kent’s iconic black and white illustrations. Kent’s images look like wood engravings, but they were actually pen-and-ink drawings made to look likewood engravings. In other words, they were skeuomorphs: objects made in one medium made to look as if fabricated in another, older medium. This lecture explores the politics and aesthetics of Kent’s skeuomorphic illustrations for Moby-Dick, critiquing the way Kent understood his art as an expression of his commitments to communism and labor. Drawn from my first book, Rendered Obsolete: Energy Culture and the Afterlife of U.S. Whaling (UNC Press, 2023), this talk also contextualizes the 1930 edition and the 1851 novel in the massive energy transitions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States, when the accelerating extraction of fossil fuels gave rise to new regimes of energy and labor.

Jamie L. Jones is an Assistant Professor in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  At UIUC, she also holds appointments in the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment. Her research explores the historic pivot in energy use in the nineteenth century, when whale oil and other organic energy sources gave way to fossil fuels.  Jones considers the way that U.S. literature, art, and popular culture represented that energy transition, and she finds that those cultural representations in turn have shaped our perception of environmental change, our practices of energy extraction and consumption, and our imagination of the world’s oceans. Her research has been published in American Art, ConfigurationsResilience, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, and elsewhere.  Her first book, Rendered Obsolete: Energy Culture and the Afterlife of U.S. Whaling, was published last fall by UNC Press.