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You’ve Got Whale: Teaching Moby-Dick with Ernail MARY KLAGES University of Colorado,Boulder bove are excerpts from two informal response papers about MobyDick ,both written to fulfill a weekly requirement during the last five Aweeks of a Surveyof American Literature course I taught in the Spring of 1997.2Both are about the idea of multiplicity,which I had stressed as a central component to the novel and to any interpretations of it. The first is the standard plodding of an average undergraduate assigned to write one to two pages on a chapter from the novel; it sets out a thesis which can be covered in the five-paragraph essay format. The second is a flight of what Roland Barthes would call “bliss,”as the student enters into Melville’s text, not just to explain it, but to speak its language, and in the process to give voice to a dozen different texts, ideas, themes, and discussion topics, echoing Melville’sown encyclopedic project.3The first is written by someone who can quote and comment on the text, but who remains an outsider to it; the second, by someone who has become a full participant in the process of reading and making meaning with and through the novel. What explains the difference between the two? Both students, up All quotations are taken directly from students’writing, either in hard copy or email format. 1 have changed the students’ names to preserve their anonymity, and because I did not ask them explicitly for permission to use their work in any publication. The course, English 3655, is a survey of American literature from “the beginnings” to the Civil War. During the first ten weeks of the fifteen-week semester, we had coveted the Puritan period, the Revolutionary period, and the beginnings of the American Renaissance, following a syllabus designed with an eye toward finishing the course with five weeks on Moby-Dick. Prior to this point in the semester, students had been required to write one formal (6-10 page) paper, do an in-class group presentation,and take a midterm exam. In lieu of a second formal paper, I gave students the option of submitting weekly informal reading responses on Moby-Dick. They could also choose whether they submitted these responses in hard-copy or email format. Each response was worth a maximum of 12.5 points toward the final grade, and four were required. I graded them on the general criterion that the responses showed “signs of intelligent life,” that is, some form of engagement with the novel. I encouraged students to use direct quotations , but did not require them to have a thesis statement, nor did I grade them on formal writing criteria. About half the class (17 out of 36) chose to post their informal responses on the class email list. For the fourth and final response, I gave students the option of writing about Moby-Dick or writing about the differences between discussion in class and discussion on the email list. Almost all of the students who regularly posted comments and responses to the email list chose to discuss how the email format altered things; a handful of students who never posted to the list (but who had received all the email postings) chose to write their final hard-copy response on that topic too 3 See Roland Barthes, The Pleasure ofthe Tmt (New York Hill and Wang, 1975),especially pp. 21-22. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 5 5 M A R Y K L A G E S until the final five weeks of the course, were about equal in their class participation and the grades they had earned on assignments; neither showed significantly more engagement, creativity, or ability than the other. One difference lies in the medium each used for his response: Micah wrote a conventional hard-copy response, typed up (probably on a computer) and handed in for the professor to grade, while Luke submitted his to a class email list, to which the...


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