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Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man

Embark on a riveting exploration of trust, deceit, and existential uncertainty in Herman Melville’s masterpiece. Join us as we dissect The Confidence-Man, delving into its satire of capitalist modernity and probing questions of faith, knowledge, and societal norms. 

  • All levels
  • 21 and older
  • $335
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  • Online Classroom
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions

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  • $335
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions
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Class Description

Description

What you'll learn in this lecture class:

Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man depicts one day aboard a New Orleans-bound Mississippi River boat the Fidele. The novel’s titular character assumes a variety of guises—from legless beggar to worldly “cosmopolitan” to bankrupt divorcee—as he perpetrates a series of petty cons on his fellow passengers. Written in the midst of the U.S.’s rapid industrialization, set on a vessel headed into recently acquired slave territory, Melville’s ninth and final novel satirizes a society in which neighborly norms of community and religion were being increasingly displaced by the impersonality of the cash nexus. With his tricks and backslapping deceits, Melville’s confidence man engineers an existential drama that seems quintessential to capitalist modernity: in a world of self-interested strangers and distant institutions, how do we trust, befriend, and believe? How do we live when, as Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, we “can neither believe nor be comfortable in [our] disbelief”?

In this course, we will read The Confidence-Man in its entirety, alongside primary sources and select secondary readings, as we explore the troubled, and troubling, interdependence of economy and confidence, greed and trust. We’ll attend to the novel’s historical context and formal innovations, and explore the rich variety of readings generated by its ironies, ambiguities, and racially and economically diverse cast of characters. We will ask: what kind of figure is the confidence man—devil, prophet, or, as the critic D. Graham Burnett suggests, messiah? How is distrust conducive to knowledge? Is it existentially necessary, amidst doubt, to have faith? Is it socially necessary, amidst constant uncertainty, to cultivate an aspect of willful ignorance? Is there a difference between a legal transaction and a con? Where exactly is the line between acceptable spin and criminality located?

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

Refund Policy

  • Upon request, we will refund less 5% cancellation fee of a course up until 6 business days before its start date.
  • Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to 75% refund or full course credit.
  • After the first class: 50% refund or 75% course credit.
  • No refunds or credits will be given after the second class.

In any event where a customer wants to cancel their enrollment and is eligible for a full refund, a 5% processing fee will be deducted from the refund amount.

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Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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