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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2007

E 395M • Melville and Earlier American Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
36290 MW
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
CAL 323

Course Description

Michael Davitt Bell has argued that "to dismiss detailed examination of the trajectories of individual careers as somehow irrelevant to 'culture' is to leave 'culture' itself precisely nowhere. It is not that 'culture' is located in the individuals themselves; it exists in, rather (and is sustained and transformed by), the structures of relation and interaction that make individual careers possible, that allow them to take their distinctive shapes."

We will take the distinctive shape of Melville's career as the organizing principle of our inquiry, which will consider Melville's relation to existing American literary structures. A chronological reading of some of Melville's major works will thus provide the backbone for selected readings from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century.


Some possible groupings:

  • Typee + Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of the Captivity, Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok
  • "Hawthorne and His Mosses" + Washington Irving's A History of New Diedrich Knickerbocker
  • Moby-Dick + William Ellery Channing's "Moral Argument Against Calvinism,"
  • James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie or The Red Rover
  • Pierre + Sarah Ellis's Hearts and Homes, or Social Distinction and/or selections from Grace Aguilar and Elizabeth Missing Sewell
  • "Bartleby the Scrivener" + Jonathan Edwards (selections)
  • "Benito Cereno" + Thomas Gray's "The Confessions of Nat Turner"
  • Israel Potter + Cotton Mather's "Life of Phips," Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

We will read selected scholarship on most of the primary texts; on the Melville side, we will pay particular attention to scholars who have attempted to account for how Melville became Melville. For a reflexive examination of professional Melville inquiry, particularly useful will be Edgar Dryden's 2004 measure-taking in Monumental Melville : The Formation of a Literary Career, Clare Spark's monumental 2001 retrospective, Hunting Captain Ahab : Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, as well as the metacritical efforts of Paul Lauter, "Melville Climbs the Canon," and William Spanos, The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, The Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies. We will likely look at earlier work by F.O. Matthiessen, poet Charles Olson, (Call Me Ishmael), Newton Arvin, Lawrance Thompson, and Milton Stern; and at selections from more recent contributions such as Michael Rogin's Subversive Genealogy, Wai-Chee Dimock's Empire for Liberty: Melville and the Poetics of Individualism, Geoffrey Sanborn's The Sign of the Cannibal: Melville and the Making of a Postcolonial Reader, Samuel Otter's Melville's Anatomies, and Kim Leilani Evans's Whale!


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