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ENGLISH 127A: Moby-Dick and the Role of the Animal in Fiction

Herman Melville's white sperm whale Moby-Dick is arguably the most famous animal in world literature. The whale is more than the sum of its sizable parts, though Melville does tell us in great detail about the whale's size, weight, brain, lungs, blowhole, skin, ribs, eyes, ears, blubber, tail, and phallus. But he, his characters and his readers have also attributed all manner of significance to the whale. Most centrally, Captain Ahab's passionate and paranoid reflections on the whale's mind predetermine the novel's plot from beginning to tragic end. No one escapes the physical enormity and monstrous intelligence of Moby-Dick. In this course, we'll read Moby-Dick with a focus on the portrayal of animal consciousness and the role it plays in the novel's radical experiments with plot, genre, character, and fiction itself. In advance of reading the novel in the second half of the quarter, we will consider a number of authors and philosophers whose works attempt to understand that which by more »
Herman Melville's white sperm whale Moby-Dick is arguably the most famous animal in world literature. The whale is more than the sum of its sizable parts, though Melville does tell us in great detail about the whale's size, weight, brain, lungs, blowhole, skin, ribs, eyes, ears, blubber, tail, and phallus. But he, his characters and his readers have also attributed all manner of significance to the whale. Most centrally, Captain Ahab's passionate and paranoid reflections on the whale's mind predetermine the novel's plot from beginning to tragic end. No one escapes the physical enormity and monstrous intelligence of Moby-Dick. In this course, we'll read Moby-Dick with a focus on the portrayal of animal consciousness and the role it plays in the novel's radical experiments with plot, genre, character, and fiction itself. In advance of reading the novel in the second half of the quarter, we will consider a number of authors and philosophers whose works attempt to understand that which by definition disallows understanding. In addition to Melville, authors may include Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Soseki Natsume, Bernard Malamud, Mark Haddon, Art Spiegelman, and J. M. Coetzee. Philosophers may include Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking, Cary Wolfe, and Stephen Mulhall.
Terms: Spr | Units: 5
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