English 250

Research Seminar: Melville and Aesthetics

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2007 Otter, Samuel
Otter, Samuel
Tues. 3:30-6:30 201 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Bennett, T: Formalism and Marxism; Creech, J: Closet Writing/Gay Reading: The Case of Melville?s Pierre; Culler, J: The Literary in Theory; Eagleton, T: The Ideology of the Aesthetic; James, C. L. R.: Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In; Kearney, R. and Rasmusen, D.: Continental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism; Lemon, L. and M.J. Reis: Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays; Melville, H: Typee, Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Poems, Billy Budd; Michaels, W: The Shape of the Signifier; Olson, C: Call Me Ishmael; Taylor, R. ed.: Aesthetics and Politics; photocopied cornucopia


"What do literary critics mean by an ?aesthetic turn? or a ?return to form?? (Have we ever left? If we are ?returning? to form, where have we been?) Are these reactionary moves, conjuring the specter of the New Criticism? The latest swing in the pendulum that oscillates between formalism and historicism? An effort to rethink the issues of literary difference and literary value? To rejuvenate the practice of close reading? To replace it? To develop modes of criticism that are attentive to aesthetic experience in the context of the theoretical insights that have been developed over the past thirty years?

One sees the terms everywhere, from special issues of the journals American Literature and MLQ to recent books with titles like The Politics of Aesthetics, The Radical Aesthetic, and Revenge of the Aesthetic. We will try to figure out what is happening out there (and in here) by considering the example of Melville. For reasons of canonicity and complexity, Melville has become a pivotal figure for literary critics who reflect upon their practice. We will examine the range of Melville?s career (prose and poetry) and the institutional reception of his work, including key essays in deconstruction, new historicism, and queer studies. We also will read classic and recent statements in aesthetic theory and major essays in twentieth-century formalism.

Requirements include an oral presentation (or two) and a 30-page research essay, written in stages across the semester. For those not drawn into Melville?s orbit, the research essay need not be limited to Melville?s texts. "

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