Caroline Chung Simpson
Themes and topics offering special approaches to literature.
Special Studies in Literature: “Reading Around Bartleby”
“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the short story by Herman Melville, is routinely considered among the best short stories written in English. It has produced a virtual avalanche of critical and cultural responses, from scholarly articles to film versions and even a few sit-com episodes. It would be foolish to think we can cover all of that activity, but we can focus on a few things. In the first part of the course, we will work our way carefully through the many levels of play, allusion, and perplexity in Melville’s story by reading it very carefully, and asking about what is both explicit and embedded in the narrative, including primarily: Melville’s purported interest in the changing and related politics of slavery and wage labor in an industrializing economy; the limits of rationalism; the violence of language and writing. We will also read critical, literary essays on “Bartleby,” along with a couple of other Melville stories from the same period dealing with similar themes or questions. In the second part of the course, we will explore the ways the figure of Bartleby has been recycled in contemporary critical theory and popular culture. We will be concerned at this point with what theorists find the story has to say to us about power or authority, especially with regard to the law and writing, and the modern conditions for the legibility of the resistant/desiring/abject body.
Student learning goals
Students will learn to read literary works with attention to politics of language use and forms.
Students will learn to interpret and debate various types of critical writing on and about literary works.
Students will hone skills in research and drafting longer essays.
General method of instruction
Class discussion, little to no lecture.
Class assignments and grading
Students will be expected to prepare and present written reading responses to jumpstart our discussions; to write in-class from time to time; to participate in occasional in-class group work; to turn in an early abstract/description of a final long paper topic, along with an annotated bibliography; and, finally, to complete a final written project (15-20 pages) for the course.