L369 1977 ELMER
Studies in British and American Authors

9:30a-10:45a TR (30) 3 cr.


This course will serve both as a fairly thorough introduction to one of the most challenging of American authors, and as a semester-long inquiry into the nature, uses, and pleasures of criticism. We will begin with a consideration of the ups and downs of Melville's reception and reputation, from the early triumph of his first novel, Typee, through an increasingly indifferent American public in the 1850's, thence into his rehabilitation in the 1920's and installation as an icon of what came to be known as the "American Renaissance." Such an overview will bring home how closely tied an author's critical reputation is to the moment of his reading and reception. But we will also be asking certain questions about Melville's work and about criticism as a practice in a more philosophical way. Why do people produce criticism in the first place? Is there an important difference between the kind of philosophical reflections present in novels like Moby-Dick and The Confidence Man and the "secondary" criticism produced on such novels? One of the interesting things about Melville is that many non-academic writers, historians, philosophers, poets, etc. have written fascinating critical appreciations of his work--Charles Olson, C. L. R. James, Gilles Deleuze.

We will read four (or maybe just three) novels: Typee, Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence Man. We will also read the influential short fiction ("Bartleby, the Scrivener," "I and My Chimney," "Benito Cereno"), as well as his posthumously published novella, Billy Budd. We will read critical work by many of the following: F. O. Matthiessen, Perry Miller, Charles Feidelson, D.H. Lawrence, Charles Olson, C. L. R. James, T. Walter Herbert, Wai-Chee Dimock, Ann Smock, Gilles Deleuze, Barbara Johnson, Peggy Kamuf, James Creech.

The course will involve a large amount of reading, and the writing will consist of regular short response and "experiment" papers, a take-home midterm essay exam, and a long final paper of 15 pages. The course is open to all who wish to learn more about Melville and different critical approaches--historicism, the myth and symbol school, Marxism, deconstruction, and queer theory. It would be especially appropriate for undergraduate majors considering graduate study in literature, though it is not restricted to such students.