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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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Bartleby and the Prophet of Reality



I first attempted to write about “Bartleby, The Scrivener” in my first semester of graduate school, in Prof. Colacurcio’s seminar on “The American Renaissance” (and as framed by the emergence of a scholarly American Renaissance Renaissance). Returning my paper with generous words of encouragement delivered in what he has called his “own astringent manner,” he concluded with a challenge: “Can you imagine a lucid form of this argument?”1 I have been attempting to do so ever since.

One thing that Prof. C modeled for us on a daily basis was a commitment to a command of argument. Holding himself to his own high standards of what was relevant to advancing a discussion and what was not, he might stop himself to interject a simulated sound cue from sports radio analyst Jim Lampley (himself a practitioner of rigorous autocritique): “Get to the point, will you, Jim!” He coached us, in our seminar presentations, to play our cards one at a time, such that the order would matter, forming a sequence that added up to a greater revelation. (Here I think of one genre of gift that his students were inspired to make for him: a flower pot decorated with small, glittery disks; a token offering to “The Order of Sequence.” While the deliberately tautologous phrase itself was meant to signify a skepticism about mistaking mere chronological sequence for grand design, that shimmering object, a loving gift to a revered teacher, might be...

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