The Whiteness of the Whale: Moby-Dick and Melville’s America (LIT2401.01)

Benjamin Anastas

Poet Charles Olson, in his groundbreaking work of lyric criticism Call me Ishmael (1947), argues that Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) is a truer and more essential literary document than Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) because “it is all of America, all of her space, the malice, the root.” A work of the prophetic imagination that is almost endlessly interpretable, akin to the ocean itself, Moby-Dick has been read as political allegory, a Romantic simulacrum of the “howling infinite,” a proto-environmentalist screed against the savagery of the 19th century whaling industry, and a dissection of demagoguery and its pernicious power–the artist Ellen Gallagher (b. 1965) has referred to the novel as a work of Afrofuturism thanks to the character Pip and his fate in the chapter “The Castaway.” We’ll spend a full term reading Melville’s account of Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the white whale that maimed him–and Ishmael’s similarly obsessive pursuit of understanding–using a wide range of criticism and commentary to help guide us through the text. We will also delve into Melville’s other works, from “Bartelby the Scrivener” to Billy Budd. Students will keep a journal of their reading, collaborate on presentations, and undertake a final project involving individual, self-directed research.


Learning Outcomes:
Students in this course will develop their own capacities to do the following:
--Perform close readings of both primary and scholarly texts and subject them to a sophisticated analysis.
-- Write clearly and persuasively about the texts they encounter and the ideas that animate them.
--Develop and communicate their own ideas as literary citizens in class discussion, in both critical and creative writing assignments, and in oral presentations.
--Conduct independent and collaborative research projects using library materials, online databases, and other sources.


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
M/Th 10:00AM - 11:50AM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years

Categories: All courses , Literature , Fully In-Person
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