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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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Michael J. Colacurcio’s (Un)Godly Letters



Perry Miller was not the only Harvard professor who could not quite read godly letters, … Which we ought to learn to read.1

“that state of sin called empire”; “these latter days of just about anything just about anywhere”; “the more friendly terrain we call the Abyss”; “what is (barely) taught from the corpus of seventeenth-century British literature”; “only the conspicuously dull will find prosaic, and only the terminally distracted will find beside the point”; “whether the readerly sensibility may not often possess itself in works less palpable and more mute than, say, globed fruit”; “‘the needless Alexandrine,’ for those who stay awake to count in Lotus Land.”2

These are some of Michael Colacurcio’s introductory characterizations in his 2006 Godly Letters, always quotably trenchant and original, of the present, of present students, of present pedagogy. Unlike the most famous champions of Early American literature—“Authentic American Literature as Such,” in CAPS—all of whom promote it for its crescive anticipation of later American literature (Colacurcio, beneficiary[/victim?] of “a monastic education grown giddy with advancing age,” taught “crescive” to this non-Latinist), Colacurcio has throughout his career insisted, emphatically and at erudite length, that it be understood for its own aesthetic excellence and theological/philosophical profundity. Special, and, he encourages his admirers to consider, in many ways also a needful corrective to “that state of sin,” “these latter days,” “Lotus Land”—to emulate, poorly, Colacurcio’s signature full-stop frequently paragraph-ending...

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