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A Passion for Getting It Right

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

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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“Awakened” by “the Sacred Whispers” in James Salter’s “Akhnilo”



Suppose that in the last quarter of the 20th century an ordinary “post-Christian”1 American had something like a “religious” or “mystical experience.” Suppose he heard and hearkened to the call of a being from “an order vaster and more dense than our own” (108);2 a sort of “pioneer” (109), this caller, a footsoldier or scout, a messenger, angelos, from Somewhere Else. The man who hears the call of course cannot be just everyman or anybody, a generic brand-x American; he must be somebody particular, with his own singular undistinguished history. Not a paragon, neither of Classical nor of Christian virtues. He’s “a carpenter,” say, “though he’d gone to Dartmouth and majored in history,” “thirty-four,” nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita minus one, with “thinning hair and a shy smile. Not much to say”; and mostly “he worked alone.” A man with “something quenched in him” that, “when he was younger … was believed to be some sort of talent, but he had never really set out in life, he had stayed close to shore”—like most of us, most of the time. He’s married, has daughters; his “tall and nearsighted” wife is the daughter of a banker (105). He can admit to himself that “his life had not turned out as he expected but he still thought of himself as special, as belonging to no one.” “He carved birds, or he had,” but now “the tools and partially shaped blocks of...

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