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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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Notes on Aphoristic Genius



A relatively settled literary scholar compelled by a summer office renovation to pack up all his books and papers might experience a familiar contest between Thoreauvian desires for austerity and a Hawthornian attachment to old texts. Fond memories of reading mix with chagrin (I never did get around to that book … oh wait, here are my marginalia), as intellectual aspirations meet the limited capacities of boxes, memory, and time. This summer I came across a survivor of my many academic removes—a three-ring binder with “Smith Barney Shearson” imprinted on the cover, locating it in the mid-1990s when I was a doctoral student at UCLA. Inside are notes, handwritten on trimmed spiral notebook paper, from Michael Colacurcio’s graduate seminars on Emerson, Melville, and the Puritans. I’ve never been one to save my jottings but have held onto these, for even as a callow student—who could write “Who’s Foucault?” on the header of one page—I was just shrewd enough to sense the brilliance of Michael’s teaching, the fullness of which continues to unfold.

Where to start? At the keyboard, decades after graduating, as the flow of one’s argument finds itself following the grooves of early training? In office hours with the phrase, “My advisor once told me,” echoing in a student’s ear? During class when marginalia in a battered book take students to a passage first limned for me by Michael? In belated moments of recognition when, after preparation by seminar...

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