ENGL 407 A1: Constellating Moby-Dick

M. Simpson

Ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars.

- Walter Benjamin The Origin of German Tragic Drama


This course offers a semester-long investigation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick aimed at gauging its investments in labor and power, aesthetics and politics, matter and spirit, desire and belief. At stake, when assessing issues of whaling, or political economy, or resource extraction, or race, or mobility, or sexuality, or imperialism, or affect, or authorship, is a sense not just of the relevance of Moby-Dick to mid-nineteenth century US culture, but also of its resonance for our own moment - of the ways in which the narrative might serve to render the history of the present. Our approach in the course will encourage sustained close reading and re-reading and at the same time will foster the study of theoretical perspectives and the practice of interdisciplinary methods together useful in reckoning culture's often unruly constellations.

The Longman Critical edition of Moby-Dick is recommended for our course. Additional materials we will constellate with Melville's novel, all available through e-Class, may include selections from works by theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Lauren Berlant, Jodi Byrd, Sylvia Federici, Karl Marx, Jacques Rancière, and Christina Sharpe.