Thanks, Russ. You're right -- I have heard you argue in this direction
before, but I wasn't sure that you were arguing in a similar vein this
time. Let me see if I can respond to a few of your points, below --
Chair, English Department
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Avenue
Canada R3B 2E9
Phone: (204) 786-9294
Fax: (204) 774-4134
On Fri, 17 Jul 1998, Russ Hunt wrote:
> Anybody who's heard me on about this before should tune out now.
> Remembering Whitman . . . do I repeat myself? Very well then, I
> repeat myself; I am large, but I apparently contain only One Big
> Idea. Here I go again.
> > Am I reading correctly, Russ, when I understand you to be saying,
> > above, that the academic essay is typically "entirely without
> > authentic, instrinsic purposes"? If that is more or less what you
> > intend, could you elaborate a bit? Or have I misunderstood?
> Yes, I think you're reading correctly, that's just what I mean. And
> the reason I say it is that the academic essay is read only by one
> person, and that person is not (is certainly not seen by the writer
> as) in a dialogic relationship with the writer.
That is not necessarily so. The academic essay, either in or
out of the classroom, need not be read by only one person; need not be
addressed to only one person, rhetorically or otherwise; and need not be
written exclusively "to" or "for" one person. Nor can I accept your
construction of the writer (in the classroom, I assume) as "certainly" not
seeing herself in a dialogic relationship with the instructor. Yes, the
classroom is in one sense (but not in all senses, not monolithically) an
artificial venue wherein, to be sure, academic essays of the kind you are
describing are often written. But that is not the whole story.
She's assessing and
> helping; she's not being informed, being persuaded, being engaged.
> Nor, even if she were, and even if the student believed it, is she
> the appropriate _rhetorical_ audience for that essay. If a student
> were writing _to me_, she'd write something _very_ different from the
> essay she actually wrote. If she were writing to inform some
> general audience, she'd write something else again.
> What she's doing is writing an _example_ of public discourse, which
> will never be public (except perhaps as an example). There is no
> (real) audience for the rhetorical artifact of the student essay.
> What we do, of course, is _pretend_ there's an audience ("out there
> in chairs," as Anthony Pare says). The students who get the good
> marks, and who learn from the exercise, are those who can pretend in
> effective ways. Those who can't, can't learn from trial and error
> because the trials and errors have no authentic connections, and
> because what they're really trying to do (get a good mark) is
> different from the ostensible rhetorical purpose of the essay.
> > The second part of the sentence is a bit puzzling as well. Are you
> > distinguishing between (inauthentic?) writing that is written "to
> > demonstrate knowledge or ability" and, on the other hand, writing
> > that "persuades, amuses, engages, informs, etc."? As if the two
> > purposes and intentions were mutually exclusive? And the academic
> > essay falls into the first camp? Or have I misunderstood you here
> > again?
> I don't necessarily mean "the academic essay" here, I guess: what
> I'm talking about might better be called the _class_ essay, the
> essay written as part of an assignment to demonstrate either
> knowledge of a subject or skill at an analytic activity or discourse
> form. Such an essay can be _stipulated_ to have some rhetorical
> purpose. "Write an amusing essay," perhaps? No. "Write a
> persuasive essay." That's better. But no one is going to be
> _persuaded_ by that essay; someone's going to judge it as a
> successful example of persuasion, or not. So the student never has
> the experience of having wanted to persuade someone, and succeeding
> (or wanting to, and failing). She has the experience of having
> a professor as examiner try to explain why his judgement is that it
> was, or wasn't, an example of successful persuasion for some third
> > My questions are not, obviously, unmotivated. To begin with, an
> > academic essay that is persuasive and engaging, as I understand it,
> > may often also demonstrate knowledge and ability. And it might be a
> > better academic essay if it accomplishes several of these goals.
> "An essay that is persuasive and engaging" can't, if it's an essay
> for a class, be one that has actually persuaded or engaged . . . but
> it _can_ be one that demonstrates knowledge or ability. I'll buy
> that last sentence ("it might be a > better academic essay if it
> accomplishes several of these goals"), for sure -- what I'm
> questioning is whether, given the way academic essays exist, we can
> ever get past someone's judgement that that essay is or isn't a good
> example of persuasion.
> My students regularly come into my class, never, ever, having had the
> experience of writing extended discourse in order to inform,
> persuade, amuse, or present themselves to someone they care about
> informing, persuading, amusing, or presenting themselves to, and
> either succeeding or failing. My central aim as a teacher is to
> offer them that experience. Academic or class essays aren't a tool I
> can use for that.
> -- Russ
> Russell A. Hunt __|~_)_ __)_|~_ Aquinas Chair
> St. Thomas University )_ __)_|_)__ __) PHONE: (506) 452-0424
> Fredericton, New Brunswick | )____) | FAX: (506) 450-9615
> E3B 5G3 CANADA ___|____|____|____/ [log in to unmask]
> \ /
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~ http://www.StThomasU.ca/hunt/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~