Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moby-Dick at Harvard

Julianna Aucoin, a Harvard undergraduate, has written an essay about reading Moby-Dick (sort of) in one night and discussing it in one two-hour seminar meeting:

Fumbling our way through the discussion, we misunderstood major plot points and mixed up the characters. Queequeg, Ahab, and Ishmael, all rather prominent presences within the work, became “his friend,” “the captain,” and “the narrator.” We leapt over important and edifying details and focused on themes and sweeping generalizations about the prose. By posing questions like “Is that scene homo-erotic?” and overanalyzing the secondary source we had also been assigned, we got through the seminar. The class was over and we never mentioned Moby-Dick again.

My experience of plowing through Moby-Dick reveals problems deeper than procrastination.
It’s sad to think of the faux mastery that passes for English studies in this account, and impossible to imagine playing the game, as student or teacher, without losing all intellectual self-respect. I admire Ms. Aucoin’s willingness to question the order of things.

I’m surprised that @English_Harvard is tweeting about this essay. Maybe they’ve only skimmed it. But it doesn’t surprise me that of all possible courses of study at Harvard, Adam Wheeler chose English.

[I’ve corrected Melville’s title in the quoted text.]

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