Reading Notes

Discussion Themes for Thursday February 28

  1. Person | Persona | Self

“No matter how revealing, confessional, narrative, or self-reflexive writers decide to be, no matter how completely writers rely on autobiography as the source of inspiration and evidence, and no matter how visibly and often writers figure their presence in the first-person singular, essays are not “personal”.” 167

“…the word ‘personal’ ‘has another shiftier side. Its roots reach back to the Latin persona, the literal term for “mask” and by metonymic extension, a theatrical character (dramatis persona). Thus, oddly enough, the terms we automatically use to convey intimacy and sincerity has hidden overtones of disguise and performance. Readers may overlook this sense, but personal essayists never do.”

 “…essays are not ‘personal…’ This truth claim…inverts the common wisdom that… all writing is… autobiography

“Anything we call “personal writing” tends to connote the kind of writing that includes material that ​ought to remain p​ rivate… it can be easy to assume that all personal essays must reveal something private about the writer.” 168

“It is true that our experiences are personal to us, but it is the art we make of them through the craft of writing, and, especially in essay, the ways we see the writer engaging the imagination, which makes what was once private more public, what was once personal hold the possibility for transcendence.” (170)
“…what we are actually seeking is intimacy with the author that goes beyond the mere sharing of the details of our physical or emotional state.” 171

“Essays, like any other art form, need the self and world in dynamic relation to realize the possibility that our work might transcend the limits of both.” 196

2. Reflection: Idea, Presence, Evidence

”Dogmatic assertions about “society” are no more moving or convincing to readers than solipsism. Writing essays and reading them must never be understood as a false choice between choosing the self and choosing the world.”

“Reflection creates small, sometimes unnoticeably small interruptions of the experiential narratives of an essay. Reflection is the moment when the writing persona pauses to muse or question or challenge something the experiencing presence cannot.” 191

“[Simic] achieves intimacy with the reader through his images’ ‘precision’ but even more potently through his struggle to make something of his images—to read experience as evidence for an idea that he is only just discovering, it seems, in our presence” (179)

“The intimacy of this moment is not that of the tidy, small epiphany that we might expect from reflection, but something more complex, difficult, and perhaps true: that the images that haunt us, and to which we return repeatedly over the course of our lives, yield primarily more and more responses” (184)

“The pauses are the places where a writer hears the reader’s presence most acutely. Truth slows down stories and insists on pauses because life as lived is punctuated by greater and lesser activity, greater and lesser meaningful time; essays must carry some of that unevenness in them for readers to believe them” (194)

“There was something else there, and this quality drew a line between all pieces of our students’ writing without it and those with it; I started to hear myself in conferences talking with students about places where they were most “alive” and “visible” on the page…”

  • This is speaking to me. Often when I am writing my own pieces there are sentences that, at the time of writing them, I think are crucial to the essay. But when others read my work they find these sentences to be less intriguing; they lack liveliness. It is hard to see it in your own work, and I often think, “well without these boring explanatory sentences, will my essay even make sense?” I think a good writer lets go of the obsession of complete rationality of their essays. If you are pulling your reader in with every sentence that they read, logicality will fall into place naturally.

“… “should be written by the first person singular—by you” (2). They claim, “[i]nteresting essays are produced by a real and distinct person, not an automaton following a set of mechanical rules and abstract principles”

  • The best way to find your presence, or voice, in writing, is to keep writing. Let the voice in your head take the lead. Don’t worry too much about sounding intelligent or trying to sound like other writers. A writer’s voice is what makes them unique and interesting. Personally, I write as if I were having a conversation with someone. I let go of all of the grammar rules that I have been taught for so many years, and try to maintain a down to earth, witty approach to my tone. I am still trying to perfect this.

3. Doing Chores (Alli)

in·trin·sic / inˈtrinzik,inˈtrinsik/ adjective belonging naturally; essential.

“To focus first on skills in writing asks students to compose for purposes that masquerade as genres—for example, a “summary,” “description,” “analysis,” or “narrative.” However, these skills do not carry intrinsic motives for writing.”

  • Students are first taught to learn to write, and then they are taught to write to learn. There should be another emphasis on writing for personal enjoyment. Writing is no longer seen as an artistic expression anymore. It is viewed solely as catalyst for learning. Many students who have this mindset write for the satisfaction of others, like teachers or parents. Writing when you are not under the thumb of grades or correction, changes one’s feelings towards it completely. It is no longer a chore.
  • Many of us have our own thoughts, beliefs, teachings, and understandings that are piled high in our brains. Expressing these ideas through essays helps to organize our brains, acknowledge our thoughts, and solidify ourselves as individuals. I have heard many times (in terms of therapy) that if we have too many thoughts going through our mind, that verbalizing these thoughts can take a weight off of our shoulders. Well, I think that this can be applied to writing as well. Internalizing all of your ideas and thoughts is self-destructive. You owe more to yourself, and society, to let share your point of view. You can teach others, and learn a lot about yourself.

Chapter 5 “Crafting A Self Made of Images in Essays”

Sonja

I was fascinated to read that in identifying the origin/root of the word, “personal,” Robert Atwan discovered that “the word ‘persona’ has another shiftier side. Its roots reach back to the Latin persona, the literal term for ‘mask’” (169). In this observation, the idea of an essay being “personal” also appears to imply that within it, the author is also hidden. According to Wallack, Atwan believes this is a form of “distance,” which she describes as being much like the space between a painter and a mirror when “composing a self-portrait” (169). At the same time, it seems that the personal in the essay is the spark that inflames us to seek the things that are beyond our own experience. Virginia Woolf speaks of the essay writer as “giving himself away;” of coming “out of hiding” or “sacrificing” some aspect of his own privacy.

Wallack suggests however, that without “a fierce attachment to an idea,” the personal narratives may subvert a student’s “exploration” of the idea within the narrative (173). Later she explains that it is only when the “essay comes alive” to both writer and reader that “the form and the language animate the writer’s idea” (179).

As she continues to speak of “crafting self,” Wallack references an essay by Franklin Burroughs, who “visits with an old version of self..” to suggest that teachers “need to have strategies for helping students to engage them as texts that intersect with at least two moments in time: the time of the experience itself and the time of writing [about the experience]”(180).

Wallack also identifies the “awakening” experienced in essays in terms of a reader being “…witness to the writer’s self or soul not so much in the process of ‘realizing itself’ but in “revising itself” and that “In awakening, we find the essayist ‘coming to their senses’ in very clearly marked ways” (174-75). Again, this is something that revolves around or is the result of a central idea.

Alexa

“No matter how revealing, confessional, narrative, or self-reflexive writers decide to be, no matter how completely writers rely on autobiography as the source of inspiration and evidence, and no matter how visibly and often writers figure their presence in the first-person singular, essays are not “personal”.” 167

“Anything we call “personal writing” tends to connote the kind of writing that includes material that ​ought to remain p​ rivate… it can be easy to assume that all personal essays must reveal something private about the writer.” 168

“Woolf’s musing on the great essayists of the past, are most delightful to read when they break from the consideration of some abstract quality to explore the peculiarities of their bodies and souls… linger for a moment on the complexities of “giving away” the self in writing.” 170

“…what we are actually seeking is intimacy with the author that goes beyond the mere sharing of the details of our physical or emotional state.” 171

“Most compelling and important for those of use interested in understanding this form better as writers and readers is to watch the transformation of “actual things” into something more surprising for the essayist having brought them to our attention.” 176-177

“No image, once introduced, remains untouched by revision and additional exploration.” 179 “Every essay has a central emotional focus or key scene.” 182
“No sensation in an essay is simple, otherwise why bother to write about it?” 187

“Reflection creates small, sometimes unnoticeably small interruptions of the experiential narratives of an essay. Reflection is the moment when the writing persona pauses to muse or question or challenge something the experiencing presence cannot.” 191

“Essays, like any other art form, need the self and world in dynamic relation to realize the possibility that our work might transcend the limits of both.” 196

Kyle

P.168. Private writing is written differently than other types of writing because we don’t have the intent to share it with anyone besides ourselves, therefore making it more personal than a so-called “personal essay”. It ought to remain private if it is personal.

We write essays enlivened by experience as a way, in part, of remembering our mortality, rather than to attempt to escape it or transform it into something more transcendent of lasting.” p. 170

“More delightful”, “break from the consideration of some abstract quality… none of these men has the least fear of giving himself away, and perhaps in a short piece that is the only thing of value one can give away” Virginia Woolf.

Lexi

“It is true that our experiences are personal to us, but it is the art we make of them through the craft of writing, and, especially in essay, the ways we see the writer engaging the imagination, which makes what was once private more public, what was once personal hold the possibility for transcendence.” (170)

“Essays are not poetry, just as they are not fiction; Jocelyn Bartkevicius (1994) suggests that we might call the genre a form of ‘non-poetry’ just as readily as we could ‘nonfiction.’” (179)

“[Simic] achieves intimacy with the reader through his images’ ‘precision’ but even more potently through his struggle to make something of his images—to read experience as evidence for an idea that he is only just discovering, it seems, in our presence” (179)

“The intimacy of this moment is not that of the tidy, small epiphany that we might expect from reflection, but something more complex, difficult, and perhaps true: that the images that haunt us, and to which we return repeatedly over the course of our lives, yield primarily more and more responses” (184)

“The pauses are the places where a writer hears the reader’s presence most acutely. Truth slows down stories and insists on pauses because life as lived is punctuated by greater and lesser activity, greater and lesser meaningful time; essays must carry some of that unevenness in them for readers to believe them” (194)

Nicole

1.)“…essays are not ‘personal…’ This truth claim…inverts the common wisdom that… all writing is… autobiography.”

The author is claiming that for a writing to be an essay, it can’t be personal. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I don’t think it is mentally possible to completely separate yourself from your writing. In many of my essays, I have explained that an essay is not truly yours without injecting some of your ideology and “voice” into it. An essay will always be a bit personal due to the writer’s unique voice and writing style.

2.)“The presence of a dominant first person stance, such as in Kenneth Mclabe’s essay or in Franklin Burroughs’s, does not mean that these essays should be understood as equally or similarly revealing of the writer’s character, disposition, values, and habits.”

Even when writers use “I,” they aren’t necessarily adding their full selves to an essay. Some are, some aren’t, and some are that don’t even use “I.” This concept was interesting to me due to the fact that I have always correlated the use of “I” with the writer. I suppose this notion is ingrained in my mind from grade school. It was helpful to read this text, as I can now consciously separate the writer from “I” to see if they are actually correlated in each individual essay.

3.)“…the word ‘personal’ ‘has another shiftier side. Its roots reach back to the Latin persona, the literal term for “mask” and by metonymic extension, a theatrical character (dramatis persona). Thus, oddly enough, the terms we automatically use to convey intimacy and sincerity has hidden overtones of disguise and performance. Readers may overlook this sense, but personal essayists never do.”

Even “personal” essayists have ulterior motives. How they choose to show themselves affects their message and how the reader will respond to them. If they show themselves in a negative light, making fun of themselves, the reader will respond differently to a conclusion or counter point than if they had just bragged for three pages.

Writers must establish a sense of voice within their pieces to better understand themselves and what they are trying to convey to the readers.

4.)“‘The art of writing has for a backbone, some fierce attachment to an idea…’ and it is only attached to this spine that an essay can reach ‘the farther shore’ of aesthetic and intellectual quality.”

The author is stating that the only way for an essay to be any good, it has to have one idea that it carries throughout. I believe this is a very important concept when establishing ourselves as writers. Personally, I write some of my pieces in fragments. I feel that writing essays in bits and pieces can alleviate writer’s block and ensure that each point is not ignored. Although, it is a learning process of its own to make sure each piece flows into the next to ultimately carry out the main idea of the essay.

5.)”Dogmatic assertions about “society” are no more moving or convincing to readers than solipsism. Writing essays and reading them must never be understood as a false choice between choosing the self and choosing the world.”

Universal beliefs that do not argue with one or more of societal expectations and standpoints do not fully engage with readers. As humans, we find literature to be worth reading when it challenges our preconceived notions in regards to the way we view the world and ourselves. I enjoyed seeing the word, “Dogmatic” within the text because I feel that we often do not pause for a moment to think about what society as a whole needs to hear. It is an intriguing thought to consciously consider what we actually need to read in order to expand our minds and become thoroughly engaged readers and writers.

Chapter 6 “Learning the Essay”

Sonja

In this chapter, Wallack suggests that now is the time to consider the possibility that the essay could be the tool that might “repair the seemingly permanent disciplinary rifts among the former sub-fields of English: composition and rhetoric, creative writing, and literature” (197).  This seems obvious to me on one level as I find them inseparable in producing decent writing of any form. Wallack goes on to offer a prescriptive suggestion:

Writing programs must be sites of rigorous inquiry into teaching and learning, writing and reading, drawing on the many literate traditions from which the majority of us come literature, composition and rhetoric and creative writing. (200)

In discussing the integration and acceptance of the essay, Wallack identifies and suggests an “essay-centered curriculum” in which—not coincidentally—she describes some of the methods being utilized in the class I am now and writing these notes for:

…students would learn the history of the essay in different periods and cultures; they would be expected to read the genre’s major practitioners and innovators and learn about how and where subgenres of the essay have arisen. (210)

Lastly, she mentions the “commonplace book” as a resource for new ideas for essays, an idea I find both useful and appealing.  It reminds me of a passage in the Emmerson piece, “Quotation and Originality”: “‘He that borrows the aid of an equal understanding,’ said Burke, ‘doubles his own; he that uses that of a superior elevates his own to the stature of that he contemplates.”

Alexa

“One or two writing courses alone cannot ensure that students will intuit the discursive expectations, research strategies, and citation conventions they will need as they advance and choose the disciplines they will work within or across in the future.” 198

“…evidence is a special emanation of the writer’s presence in which the essayist simultaneously reads texts and writes about them, conscious that we, the audience, are listening in on the dialogue.” 205

“In essays, a writer explores an idea that he or she uncovers by looking closely at particular events, sensations, problems…” 212

Kyle

P. 198. Elizabeth Wardle, Talks about the “Informative Paper” (informed classmates with their views) vs. the “Position Paper” (makes argument on a topic).

“Mutt genres” – genres that don’t  respond to rhetorical situations requiring communication in order to accomplish a purpose that is meaningful to the author

Talks about how students are taught how to write, and how it is the wrong way of learning to write.

Refer to last paragraph of chapter 6. P. 212. “It is a fine time to essay”.

Lexi

“Allen worries that any gesture to make an intellectual problem, claim, or motive explicit will eclipse or compromise his authority as a reader. He may resolutely refuse to write in anything but the third person and may cling to the passive voice and nominalizations with a belief that these choices provide him both anonymity and authority” (206)

Discussion Partner Notes Tuesday February 19
Lexi and Alexa

Jill Tolentino, “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over”

Alexa

“They were ​too​ personal: the topics seemed insignificant, or else too important to be aired for an audience of strangers… Finally, there were those essays that directed outrage at society by describing incidents of sexism, abuse, or rape.”

The idea of a “too personal” essay mostly written by women is quite annoying. If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that your whole life is out there for everyone to see. Everything you choose to share is permanent, no matter how personal it is. Do people just want to see the good/glamorous side of our lives? Probably, as it would explain how seeing the raw/natural side makes people uncomfortable. Perhaps they want to live in this fantasy world where these things don’t happen or they want to turn a blind eye to articles written about assault or rape. It’s not hard to believe.

“The change has happened quietly, but it’s a big one: a genre that partially defined the last decade of the Internet has essentially disappeared.”

“Attention flows naturally to the outrageous, the harrowing, the intimate, and the recognizable, and the online personal essay began to harden into a form defined by identity and adversity—not in spite of how tricky it is to negotiate those matters in front of a crowd but precisely because of that fact.”

People want to read these outrageous stories, but then the moment they get ​too ​outrageous or personal, they lose interest? There is no pleasing everyone, but it seems that the marketing and ad-campaign to maximize page views destroyed this genre for everyone.

“Killingsworth echoed this, talking about her work at the Awl and the Hairpin: “I want to encourage people to talk about mostly anything other than themselves.””

Once the 2016 election took place, a lot changed for journalism. It’s clear that now we’re in an age where we should be talking about what’s going on in the world. Not to show bias, but to inform people of how this is going to affect us all. Essentially, we have to put writing about ourselves on the backburner and instead write about how our world and country is changing because of certain events.

Lexi

“‘First-person writing should not be cheap, and it should not be written or edited quickly,” Gould wrote to me. “And it should be published in a way that protects writers rather than hanging them out to dry on the most-emailed list.'”

  •  Quality always
  •  seems to become inconsistent when profit, rather than passion, takes priority, in all mediums. By monetizing the online personal essay, equating the value of the piece with the number of views it accumulates, and then
  • not providing just compensation for writers’ work, the whole thing becomes inauthentic and feels kind of like a scam, for readers and writers.
  •  

“Individual perspectives do not, at the moment, seem like a trustworthy way to get to the bottom of a subject”

Thinking about how social issues/political climate affects the relevancy of everything, even reader interest in personal experiences, the value of which seems unrelated to current events. I’m reminded of Horace, who suggested that after you write something you should put it away for nine years before you look at it again; if it’s still relevant and interesting, only then should you show the world.

Michael Depp, “On Essays: Literature’s Most Misunderstood Form”

“A real essay, Atwan says, never begins with its end.”

“Yet whatever it might borrow from fiction—or film, for that matter—Lopate says, the essay reverses one fundamental rule of good fiction writing: Show, don’t tell. When writing an essay, Lopate says, ‘It’s not enough to render the experience. You also have to put it in perspective. It’s not enough to show. You also have to tell.’”

I really like the emphasis that the essay breaks the rules that we are taught as writers from the beginning of school. We have talked about this a lot in class, that the essay breaks typical conventions and structure. Learning the essay also requires unlearning.

Alexa

“…even talking about them, trying to get at what they are, it’s hard not to cleave to the spirit of the essay, that inconclusive, most outwardly formless of forms, which spills and seeps into so many other kinds of writing-memoir, feature, commentary, review—and punctuates every assertion with a qualification, a measure of doubt, an alternate possibility.”

This entire article sums about my thoughts about the essay, as he illustrates that the genre is really undefined and attempting to define it, just complicates things.

“He showed readers the colliding intersections of his own thoughts. He didn’t begin with conclusions, and often he never found them.”

After touching on Montaigne, Depp goes on to say that everyone’s first introduction to the essay is high school homework, five-paragraph structure of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. It’s what my introduction was and what I thought an essay was up until this point, when I decided to take this class. This essay resonated with me on many levels because he has many of the same opinions as I do.

“Another compelling feature of the essay is that it opens wide the doors of structural possibility. Essays inherently lend themselves to meandering, anecdote, and disclosure…. And therein also lies the essay’s struggle for identity, the point at which it threatens to dissolve into so many other things or into nothing at all. Any form, after all, must have shape, no matter how pale its lines or fluid its borders.”

He pinpoints the problem, that essays have so many possibilities, it seems almost impossible to define what an essay is or isn’t. He also outlines the most important aspect of the essay, which is that it highlights the rule, “Show, don’t tell.”

“Still, the essay’s beating heart is the writer him- or herself, the story (or stories) subordinate to what the individual is making of it (or them).”

  Laura Bennett, “The First-Person Industrial Complex”

Lexi

“And first-person essays have also become the easiest way to jolt an increasingly jaded Internet to attention, as the bar for provocation has risen higher and higher.”

This is definitely a reason that the popularity of personal essays has burnt out. What else is there to write about? What could top having a sexual relationship with your father? There is a shock factor that things on the Internet need to have in order to be noticed.

“Even when they are graphic and raw, their self-revelations are strategically dispensed. They don’t merely assert the universality of their experience; they arrive at it by guiding us through the precise arc of their self-reckoning.”

“On its face, the personal-essay economy prizes inclusivity and openness; it often privileges the kinds of voices that don’t get mainstream attention. But it can be a dangerous force for the people who participate in it.”

“Writers’ Views: The Art of the Essay”

“The essay is a kind of state of mind” -Robert Atwan

Alexa

“It would feed the Internet’s bottomless appetite for harrowing personal essays.”

Is that all that matters at this point? The essay continues with the editor warning the author that this piece could change her life, but did they really care? It seems that all that matters now are stories that will go viral and increase popularity to the overall site. It becomes clear that audiences are always looking for the next big story, which usually involves some sort of trauma. What does that say about us as a society?

Alexa Unger

“Take a safari through these sections and the main impression—aside from despair at the exhibit of dire human experience on display—is that all the headlines tend to blur together.”

“But this is an inevitable feature of today’s first-person essays: the push to ensure that every story, no matter how narrow, will find an ardent audience of cheerleaders (or hate-readers) and a corresponding number of clicks—to dress up the personal in the language of the political.”

Again, going back to the views – is this all that matters? We crave interesting stories to distract us from our mundane lives and create entertainment from other people’s trauma. It’s very strange when you take a step back and consider what you’re actually doing while reading an essay.

Listening: ​Talk of the Nation “Writers’ Views: The Art of the Essay”

“Essay has been re-energized”

Defining the essay, bringing in Montaigne, goes from one point to the other. A flow of thoughts. Mental aerobics. An epiphany? A moment? Comes across as fictional. Creative nonfiction much bigger now than it was. Does anyone mean to start writing essays or do they stumble into it? Huge distinction between memoir and essay…. Essay goes beyond the “I” narrator. Jumping point to talk about larger phenomenon going on.

Sam Anderson “What Cross-Country Skiing Reveals about the Human Condition”

“…cross-country skiers lean right into a bleak truth: We are stranded on a planet that is largely indifferent to us, a world that sets mountains in our path and drops iceballs from 50,000 feet and tortures our skin with hostile air.”

“Cross-country skiing expresses something deep about the human condition: the absolute, nonnegotiable necessity of the grind. The purity and sanctity of the goddamn slog.”

This article takes a sport like cross-country skiing, and discusses it in terms of how we live our lives on this planet. It turns this winter sport into something profound. I never in my life would make this comparison and yet I’m reading about this as if it makes total sense to me.

The commentary is also perfect, their portrayal of the inner monologue of a cross-country skier is both humorous and realistic.

Discussion Partner Notes Thursday February 14
Daniel and Kyle

Mariano Picon-Salas “On the Essay”

Roy

  • “The essayist doesn’t pretend like a philosopher to offer a systematic understanding of the world universally valid but works from and within the immediate situation or conflict” (75).
  • I think this quote raises questions about the writing identity and authority in essay writing.
  • Do you have to fully understand something to write about it? Is questioning a topic or exploring it give you authority as a writer?
  • “The formula of the essay—how simple this seems to affirm—is that of all literature: have something to say, say it in a manner that excites the conscience and awakens the emotions of other persons, in a language so personal and appropriate that it is recognized as one’s own” (77).
  • Awakening emotions is a powerful way to convey a message to a reader. But every Essay is a statement of some kind, this isn’t always the thesis, so what is one saying?

Daniel

  • Picon-Salas places much emphasis on the inherent connection between philosophy and the essay that has always been present, though the essay itself doesn’t necessarily provide the “systematic understanding” that philosophy hopes to achieve. Some examples: elements of both philosophy and the essay are found in the works of Plato and St. Augustine, namely Platonic Verses and Confessions respectively.
  • p.76 (3rd paragraph)

“In its own nature, the essay develops in epochs of crisis, when humans feel most confounded and, threatened, are expressing with alarm—before new ones emerge—the values of an older culture.”

  • Moments of profound, philosophical contemplation, frozen in time from when they were experienced, e.g., Isaac newton seeing the apple drop, recording the moment and cultivating our rudimentary understanding of gravity. Michel de Montaigne seeing Catholics slaughtering protestants & vice versa, and the philosophical notion that no religion can fully wipe out another.

Kyle

  • “Metaphorically, that the essayist writes an apple has fallen at his feet and when, with the fine senses of a hunter and a poet, he detects that something is happening or is going to happen.” I think this quote is saying that we write what we see and we interpret our environment around us in that moment when we write and we add on to what we see with a vision of what we want to happen of what we think could happen to this environment.
  • We are influenced by our surroundings when we write. We want to write about events happening in our own personal lives but those events can translate to something deeper in meaning. We write about comedy, tragedy, crime, crisis, the list goes on but the things we write are affected by everyday life and the human nature.
  • “The formula of the essay – have something to say, something that excites the conscience and emotions.” If we are forced to write something half of us would do a decent job but the other half would not because it is not something they want to write. There is no passion in writing something that is meaningless to the writer.

Aldous Huxley “From the Preface to Collected Essays

  • The essay, like the novel, can cover a wide range of topics and ideas, but can be best understood when examined from three “poles:” personal/autobiographical, objective/factual, and the abstract/universal, each with pros and cons:
  • The personal essay can either be good or bad, like that of Charles Lamb, or as bad as Mr. X’s, as Huxley puts it.
  • The objective essay can be delightful and lively, or it can become more informative and/or subject to academic learnedness
  • The abstract can become “Algebra,” too impersonal and incapable of capturing the data born of immediate experience.
  • p.90 (2nd paragraph)

“The most richly satisfying essays are those which make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist….”

  • Michel de Montaigne, according to Huxley, found that rare balance of the three “poles,” as it were, combining “generalization with the anecdote,” the “homily with the biographical reminiscent,” and using the concrete-particular to find some “universal truth.”

Question: Can anyone truly go so far as to categorize essays as such? Three “poles” still seems like it falls short of the essay’s potential.

Michael Hamburger “An Essay on the Essay”

Daniel

  • Hamburger describes the nature of the essay, its individualistic roots with Montaigne, its flourishing movement through the Victorian era, and its gradual fading into obscurity by the time of Virginia Woolf.
  • The Essay, seen by Hamburger not as a form, but as a style first and foremost. Not concerned with asserting and passing judgment as much as the individualism that makes it distinct from other art forms. The voice, wit, and personality of the essayist being present is what makes this distinction.
  •  p.92 (2nd paragraph)

“The essay is not a form, but a style above all. Its individualism distinguishes it from pure, absolute or autonomous art.”

  • On an optimistic note, Hamburger insists that the “spirit of the essay” lives on, thriving wherever the individual voice may surface, whether it be in articles, novels, poems, philosophy, etc., and perhaps even working to be restored to its former popularity.

Question: So, if Hamburger cannot classify the essay as a form, yet can set it apart from other forms and genres purely based on its focus on individualism, what exactly is he saying? The essay must either be an amalgamation of forms or the complete absence of form? I might have to disagree with Mike; I still feel the essay is a form.

Kyle

Hamburger, he compares and calls “essayists” to walkers. He calls essays the walks. I find this interesting because in a sense it is similar to writing.

He uses the metaphor of transportation, walking, driving, flying and compares it to being a writer and essayist.

“Form is almost what i wrote here, but essay isn’t a form. Has no form. It is a genre that creates its own rules.” Art. Calls it a style as well.

Rachel Blau Duplessis “From ‘f-Words: An Essay on the Essay’”

  • The essay as not a genre, but as the “moment of writing before the genre.”
  • P. 147-148 “What an aura of specialness—the essay as the universe at the second before its dispersion, an impacted point prior to the flying off matter into planets, fragments into texts, and overall a sense of volatile incipience.”
  • Fury, passion, hope, scrutiny, critique, passion of language becoming rhetoric: A “nexus of provocation.”

Cynthia Ozick “She: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body”

  • Ozick writes that the Essay is simply the free mind at play, not having to be educational, polemical, etc. and is closer to poetry than other forms.
  • Genuine essays are not propaganda, though they can be argumentative, they are usually the grounds of “agreement.”
  • P. 154 (1st paragraph) “At the end of the day, the Essay turns out to be a force for agreement. It co-opts agreement; it courts agreement; it seduces agreement. For the brief hour we give to it, we are sure to fall into surrender and conviction”
  • The novel allows the reader to suspend their position in society, while the essay doesn’t allow us to suspend our opinions and sensations, but, rather, makes us deny them to some degree.
  • “An essay can be he product of intellect or memory, lightheartedness or gloom, well-being or disgruntlement. But always there is a certain quietude…. Rage and revenge, I think, belong to fiction” (156)

Question: Could rage and revenge find a home in the essay? I don’t see why not.

Sara Levine “From ‘The Self on the Shelf’”

  • P. 161 “A thoroughly egotistical persona, whose self-absorption might be measured, say, by her inability to modulate pronouns, by her refusal to flex her puny point of view, will fail to create the illusion of an intelligent, complex, dynamic self, one who can look inward and outward.”
  • “The worst thing an essayist can do is fail to make an impression. What I want to do in this essay is talk about how an essayist makes an impression” (159-60).
  • How is making an impression different from making a statement? How does Levine challenge our understood ideas about making impressions?

Oliver Sacks, “The Machine Stops”

Roy

  • “I have not adjusted as well as my aunt did to some aspects of the new—perhaps because the rate of social change associated with technological advances has been so rapid and so profound. I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings” Paragraph 3. Writing from different perspectives is often a struggle in writing, moving back and forth from past and present can be a challenge when we don’t acknowledge time and its effect on our word. 
  • “When I was eighteen, I read Hume for the first time, and I was horrified by the vision he expressed in his eighteenth-century work A Treatise of Human Nature, in which he wrote that mankind is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement”. Paragraph 13
  • The power of having individual thoughts, writing about them and how this is valued in the modern world is often overlooked. Especially in developed countries, where we are often selectively sheltered from reading or seeing certain events in the world.

Discussion Partner Notes Thursday 1/31/19
Sonja Martineau and Michael Cheney

Jean Starobinski begins his discussion of the essay by examining the etymology of the word. He determines that between the roots of the Latin “exagium”, the French, “exagiare and examen” and “the verb exigo,” one could say that “the essay might as well be the demanding weighing, the thoughtful examination, but also the verbal swarm from which one liberates development” (Klaus, Stuckey-French 111). He then attempts to define the genre and identifies Michel De Montaigne as a “specialist” and “artist” who wrote “for pleasure without looking to fill his work with citations and commentaries” and that in contrast,

The University…fixed the rules and the canons of serious exhaustive research, rejected the essay and essayism to foreign darkness, at the risk of banishing at the same time the splendor of style and the audacities of thought. (112)

Starobinski further defines the essay as having two distinct “sides” identifying one as “objective” and the other as “subjective” which clearly describes the scholarly vs the personal essay (114).

“The essay might as well be the demanding weighing, the thoughtful examination, but also the verbal swarm from which one liberates development”. (111)

I enjoy how Starobinski builds upon his etymology examples here, satisfying payoff.

“And in declaring himself the author of essays, Montaigne presents another challenge. He leads us to believe that a book warrants being published, even if it remains open, if it achieves no essence”. (113)

I like his interpretation here, almost uplifting. In my understanding—every piece of writing is worth saving.

  • The “two sides of the essay” concept seems to parallel the discussion we’ve been having over the last two classes. We should not think of essays as being either creative or analytical in nature but incorporating aspects of both.
    • “the practice of internal reflection is inseparable from the inspection of exterior reality”

Lopate, from “What Happened to the Personal Essay?” (1989) 127-36

Essayist, Phillip Lopate points to the variety seen in modern essays in his attempt to define the genre. He states that the “personal or familiar essay” is “a wonderfully tolerant form, able to accommodate rumination, memoir, anecdote, diatribe, scholarship, fantasy, and moral philosophy” (127). He calls Montaigne the “father of the essay” and also points to the word’s French origin “to attempt, to try” stating that writing the essay is to “leap experimentally into the unknown” (128). He credits Francis Bacon with the more scholarly style,

The formal essay derived from Francis Bacon; it is said to be ‘“dogmatic, impersonal, systematic, and expository,” written in a “stately” language, while the informal essay is “personal intimate, relaxed, conversational, and frequently humorous, (New Columbia Encyclopedia). (129)

Lopate goes on to explain that the personal or “familiar” essay was “given a boost” by the proliferation of magazines and newspapers, calling the “journalistic situation” as “fluid enough to allow original thinkers a platform” but that “by the turn of the century, it seemed rather played out and toothless.” He believes that this led the “modern aesthetic” to speak about the personal essay “with a sneer, as though implying a sauce without the meat” (130). Additionally, Lopate points to the loss of a “shared literacy” in favor of “popular culture” and that modern essayists are replacing “that shared literacy culture with more and more personal experience,” something that is more than evident in the twenty-first century (131-132).

“The essay . . . is a great meadow of style and personal manner, freed from the need for defense except that provided by an individual intelligence and sparkle”. (128)

“in an essay, the track of a person’s thoughts struggling to achieve some understanding of a problem is the plot. The essayist must be willing to contradict himself, to digress, even to risk ending up in a terrain very different from the one he embarked on”. (128)

These are such profound thoughts to me. I think a lot of us have an instinct telling us to be right about everything said or done. Before I even begin typing a typical academic essay, I already loosely know what I’m trying to accomplish and how to support that vision. That way of thinking is a bit robotic, like an assembly line putting together components of a product. The idea that it’s okay—even encouraged to break from this convention is appealing to me. As someone who is most entranced by poetry and its many forms, this small tweak in my thought process has plenty of potential. Ah, I’m digressing a bit now but that’s okay! My definition of the “essay” has been remedied already so soon into the semester. Form is just the vehicle to get where your mind wants to go.

Atwan, from “Notes towards the Definition of an Essay” (2012) 194-201

Robert Atwan states that Montaigne “deliberately pursued an anti-systematic and anti-rhetorical method of composition” and that “he thus established an ironic authorial posture: the art of his essays would be grounded in the illusion of their artlessness” (195). In lamenting that the essay’s “literary identity was almost totally lost early in the century” Atwan cites Lynn Bloom’s observation that the essay has “become a catchall for any sort of nonfiction prose” and in his own words, in “Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, an essay can be whatever anyone claims it is” (198). He also raises a point about the “pedagogical problems” with modern education of the essay stating that it is “taught in composition courses” but is not “taught as literature” and that it “remains largely undefined and un-discussed as a literary medium” (198).

  • “The essay has always been experimental, experiential, exploratory, and open-ended. It is hardly ever categorical, dogmatic, systematic, or conclusive. It resists narrow professionalism and academicism”. (201)

I like how Atwan phrases this. He doesn’t say that it is impossible for the essay to be used as a tool of academia but it “resists”. As if the essay is a wild animal that man has tried and failed to domesticate. The thinking behind that action was misguided from the start.

Discussion Partner Annotations ~ Hazlitt, Lamb, & Emerson

Sonja Martineau Jan. 29, 2019

William Hazlitt ~ The Human Condition

He defines the essay more by what it does than what it does not do:

It does not treat of minerals or fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does not meddle with the forms of belief, or systems of philosophy, nor launch into the world of spiritual existences… (15-16)

Basically, what it does do is record of the behavior of men and women, which includes their “actions, motives, whims, pursuits, ridicules their absurdities, exposes their inconsistencies. It holds a mirror up to society and human nature.

He too mentions the roaming nature of putting together these personal thoughts and describes it this way:

 It makes up its general accounts from details….as it finds them blended with “the web of our life, which is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” (16)

He calls essayists “moral historians” which he views as better than “moral philosophers” and credits Montagne as the first of such men.

He wrote that Montaigne’s “great merit” is that he had “had the courage to say as an author what he felt as a man.” Also that he had independent thought which he recorded as opposed to regurgitating what others around him had thought.

He said Montaigne was the first author “who wrote not to convert others to established creeds and prejudices, but to satisfy his own mind of the truth of things” and does not “converse with us like a pedagogue… but like a philosopher and a friend.” (17)

He felt that Montagne paved the way for other “Periodical Essaysists” so that those that followed did not hide behind their words but put their names to them.

Charles Lamb ~ Adopting a Persona

Lamb believed that the essayist must have his own character, which he said, Montaigne did

without mercy or measure—imparting their own personal peculiarities to their themes. (19)

He believed the “charm” of the essayist that “binds us to his writing” was in his ability to;

…deal out opinion, which he would have you take for argument; and is perpetually obtruding his own particular views of life for universal truths. (19)

This speaks to the personal and individual nature of the essays.

Of Hazlitt, Lamb writes that:

..strong traits of character stand out in his work; and it is not so much a series of well argued treatises, as a bold confession, or exposition, of Mr. Hazlitt’s own ways of feeling upon the subjects treated of. (22)

He states that Hazlitt adopts a character in “the style of a discontented man” that if it is not his own, gives force & life to his writing.

Ralph Waldo Emmerson ~ Plain Talk

Emmerson’s observation is that Montaigne’s essays reflected the unpredictability of life—its transient nature.

He writes that Montaigne’s essays are:

 …an entertaining soliloquy on every random topic that comes into his head; treating everything without ceremony… (24)

He feels Montaigne’s work was “never dull, never insincere…” and that he has “the genius to make the reader care for all that he cares for.”

I know not anywhere the book that seems less written. (24)

Here he is highlighting the sincerity and conversational tone of Montaigne’s essays.

He points out that Montaigne “keeps the plain” but the one exception to this is when he writes of Socrates:

In speaking of him, for once his cheek flushes and his style rises to passion. (24)

Ashley Jones Discussion Partner Notes Tuesday 1/29/2019

Montaigne, from “Of Practice, “Of Repentance,” and “Of Vanity” (1580), 1-6;

  • “Of Practice”
    • The self-oriented Essay: the writer is the topic of the essay
    • “To follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind”
    • “We can misuse only things which are good”
  • “Of Repentance”
    • “Not the passing from one age to another, or, as the people say, from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute. My history needs to be adapted to the moment I may presently change, not only by chance but by interaction.”
      • This particular quote stood out to me because I personally found connections from discussions I have had in some of my acting courses about moment work and living from moment to moment. This means capturing the intentions and relationships between every moment of interaction and emotion. I think this doesn’t just apply to acting but writing as well. I feel that a good writer also follows the idea of working moment to moment the difference between acting and writing is the actor must find the moment in analysis where the writer must construct it in a different way.
  • “Of Vanity”
  • Comments on Style
    • Bases essays off of own experience
    • Uses lots of comparisons and metaphors
    • The writer is pretty clear in the topic of the essay and transitions nicely from “minute to minute”
    • Became very clear to me as I was reading the author’s string of thought
    • Uses a lot of philosophical references
  • Questions
    • Why would the author choose to explicitly write about themselves? Does it make the subject matter easier in the sense that it is familiar? Or does it become more difficult to deeply analyze one’s self?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Montaigne, or the Skeptic,” 23-24;

  • “The Essays, therefore, are an entertaining soliloquy on every random topic that comes into his head”
    • I found this quite funny I got a similar impression when I read the previous essays that it was more of a string of consciousness than a topical essay. Not that I found anything wrong with it but it did seem more like an entry into a journal or diary than an essay intended for the public.
  • Comments on Style
    • This seems more of a review of Montaigne’s work stylistically contrasting from the work by Montaigne that was previously read
    • Emerson also utilized beautiful imagery (as it is known for him to do so) and I think it can’t be stated enough
  • Questions
    • What urged him to use the tactic of turning what could have been a negative comment about “rambling” into a praise of Montaigne’s use of language and sincerity? I understand that there is a moment where it can be perceived that Emerson is being more critical than positive and I found the moment where it shifted to a discussion on the sincerity of the writer to be the most interesting.

William Hazlitt, from “On the Periodical Essayists” (1815), 15-18;

  • “plays the whole game of human life over before us”
  • Comments on Style
    • Claims that the essay should be in Montaigne’s style of free thought
    • The author and emotion of the author should be connected

Charles Lamb, from an unpublished review of Hazlitt’s Table Talk (1824), 19-22; 

  • Comments on Style
    • “imparted their own personal peculiarities to their theme”
      • This means that each author has their own voice in their work and it is clear that the voice is specific to each writer
    • The “ideal character” is when an author creates their voice off of a characterization of themselves that is not as true as their own voice.
    • Essay writers who write from their own voice rather than characterizations tend to write better essays because there is a more connected and individualized thought process

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quotation and Originality;

  • See Notes in Hypothesis!

William Gass, “Emerson and the Essay” (1982), 106-09

  • “the essay confirms the continuity, the contemporaneity, the reality of writing”
  • Comments on Style
    • Essay writing is an art
    • Differs from the article in the sense that an essay is a fluid piece of writing that does not aim to pass off as concrete fact but rather an author’s interpretation of a theme or idea.
    • Essays and quotations constantly go hand in hand because quotations are the sharing of ideas among different writers in a positive and encouraging way.

A general conclusion after reading all material:

            Based upon what I have read and understood the Essay as a whole seems to be about the author finding a truthful voice to create a stream of understandable consciousness that a reader can follow and relate to. The essay is a form of expression of the author and can be approached in several ways but the strongest by far are the essays that speak true to the author and the experience of the author supported by facts and information that the author has access to.