This entire week, I explored the concept of unconventional essays, such as video, audio, and hypertext essays. The video essay I chose to explore further was Mangoes, by John Bresland. This video was not the best quality, because it seemed to be shot from an iPhone. This bad quality however added to the effect of his project. The central theme of this essay, is the attempt to preserve masculinity. One thing that Bresland seems to be worried about is that his life as a father is making him less of a man. He refuses to wear the babybjorn because it is a question of his manhood. Overall throughout the video he just seems unhappy with his life and all of the “baby shit” and “injected molded plastics, but babies love injected molded plastics.” He concludes his video essay with questioning his capabilities as a father. He tells us, “I wonder if the best thing I could do for this child is disappear.” Following this, he shows a video of him feeding his baby mangoes just after his wife told him not to feed it mangoes. This shows that he is reluctant to listen to his wife, because it makes him more of a man. His particular choice in words allowed me to realize that he values his masculinity over being a father. Mangoes was not exactly the most entertaining, however it did in fact resemble the essays we read before. The b-roll and music present helped enhance the rhetoric of the project.
The audio essay that I found myself connect with, was the Angelic Symphony heard on Snap Judgement. Being a religious individual, I truly enjoy hearing of stories of divine intervention, and it changing someone’s life. The story begins with Stuart Sharpe telling us of the experience of his son dying. His son, Ben, died during birth. After the burial, Stuart experienced what we know as divine intervention. He had a dream where Ben, his son, rose from his grave, and ascended into the heavens. There was a symphony of angels playing the most beautiful piece Stuart has ever heard. The angel came to him and said, “Ben is safe now. And in these circumstances, we always leave somebody a gift, and the gift for you is you will remember everything. And I could hear every single note of this piece of music. I heard everything.” And so he remembered. He remembered so much, that he devoted his life into recreating this symphony he heard. The only problem was; he did not have any musical experience. The story continues in describing the adversities in recreating this symphony from nothing but his own head. Being the religious person I am, I felt immersed in this audio piece just as I was with the Narrative of Fredrick Douglass, and Girl, Interrupted. The piece contained absolutely no logos however, because there was absolutely 0 logic in him leaving his family and moving to London. The project did contain rhetorical elements, such as pathos, ethos, and metaphors, that were similarly found in our previous readings. The background music allowed for smooth transitions, and helped me stay engaged for the entire 16-minute story.
My Body – a Wunderkammer by Shelley Jackson was one of the hypertext essays I chose to interact with. Although a very strange piece, the essay contained many key words that allowed to connect to me as a reader. The overall piece was a drawing of a body, and you could navigate through each part, learning more and more about this individual. I quickly learned that this is the body of a hermaphrodite or a many girl, that did not seem to shave her legs. There were many disturbing sections of the body that I oddly found myself reading completely through. One section that really disgusted me was the phantom limb. Jackson writes about this body and its vagina. “My vagina has very long and sticky lips and sometimes I would stroll pantyless through a store in a short skirt, brushing nonchalantly against the merchandise, and come out with valuable items stuck to me. I always felt these goods were mine by right, as they had attached themselves to me like burrs without my deliberate intervention.” Frankly after reading this section I was so disgusted that I had to stop navigating through the hypertext. Sections like this did not allow Jackson to be successful in her project because it was just too graphic for readers. But other sections, she uses pathos to allow the reader feel bad for this person and their body. A good example of this was when she was describing her experience in gym class and comparing her muscles to other girls’. She writes, “I knew I was a different animal.” This is a very good choice of words that allows the reader to feel a sense of pity for this person and their struggles of self-perception. This entire project was not as successful as other essayists because of the graphic content that leaves a sour taste in the reader’s mouth. If the project focused more on pathos, and less on graphic content, the reader would better be able to grasp the authors goals.
Lauret Savoy opens a window for her audience in her novel Trace. In this novel, she uses the idea of landscape to tell the story of the history of her family. She takes readers though her journey focusing on the history of the land and the history of people. Before reading the novel, it would be good to know that Lauret Savoy is a mix of different races, and is a geology professor. The interesting part about the novel, is that it is not written as a scientific journal, but that of a personal narrative. She uses many rhetorical techniques to allow readers to connect to her personal anecdotes of her childhood. The inclusion of these personal anecdotes is important to the novel, and is what helps differentiate her writing from a historical geological journal. This lets readers learn the history through Savoy using the technique of pathos.
One particular section that stood out to me was in the chapter Alien Land Ethic: The Distance Between. In this chapter, she explores her thoughts and experiences as an eleven year old. She really introduces her father, and writes more about her father, and his struggles as a young colored writer trying to get published. She then switches the attention to her experiences and the adversities she faced as a young, innocent, mixed race student. The section that stood out the most to me was the inclusion of the ad her parents posted when living in California and looking for a home to rent.
“Monday March 2nd, 1959
San Francisco Chronicle
WANTED TO RENT
NEGRO Account Executive and
Published novelist; wife, operating room
Supervisor, wish to live as human beings
In San Francisco. Seek unprejudiced landlord
To make desirable apt. rental without
Regard to race. QUIET IS ALL IMPORTANT.
Need 3 to 4 rooms plus modern kitchen,
Bath, minimum, 9-12 mo. Lease in $100
Mo. Range. Call OL3-8242, 10 a.m. to
I paid specific attention to “wish to live as human beings in San Francisco.” This is very strong use of pathos, which evokes sadness and pity from the reader. This deeply saddened me because I assumed that other people similar to Savoy’s family that might have not been as educated, were living in animalistic conditions. Her use of pathos helped her project by connected to the readers emotions, and immersing them in her writing. Readers leave the project enlightened and with a different perspective.
One question I am left with after reading Trace is who is the audience that she was targeting when she wrote the book? Was she writing this for strictly non-colored people to try and evoke emotions? Or was she writing this for people like her?
In Susanna Kaysen’s not so typical autobiography, she narrates her experience in the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts. She uses real stories and experiences in attempts to possibly distinguish the difference between patients inside the hospital, and everyday people. We learn that the patients in the hospital seem to be a lot more creative and smarter than we as readers initially assume. One particular idea that Kaysen brings to the table, is that there are no normal people in this world. She claims that it is not one individual in a family that is crazy, but the entire family designates one person to call crazy and send to the hospital. Just as a baseball team appoints their best hitter to be the designated hitter, Kaysen was appointed her family’s designated crazy, similarly seen with the other patients in the hospital.
One particular section of the book that stuck out to me, was the very first chapter. The first chapter of a book is very important to the novel structurally, because this is where you win the reader over. Kaysen does a very good job in this section using imagery and other rhetorical strategies such as metaphors, to immerse her readers into her story. In the chapter “Fire,” she begins to tell the story of a girl who set herself on fire in attempts to kill herself, and also introduces herself and her story of an attempted suicide. In describing the idea of suicide, she says: “We’ve all had those. And somewhat more dangerous things, like putting a gun in your mouth. But you put it there, you taste it, its cold and greasy, your finger is on the trigger, and you find that a whole world lies between this moment and the moment you’ve been planning, when you’ll pull the trigger. That world defeats you. You put the gun back in the drawer.” Talk about a boat load of imagery. In reading this excerpt I found myself clenching the book; nothing could distract me. She continues to tell readers about the time that she took 50 aspirin, went into the street, then fainted. She described her leaving to go to the street as her putting the gun back. This is a great metaphor to show readers how much of an eye opening experience this was for her. Similarly, I would compare this style to the style portrayed in the autobiography of Fredrick Douglass. Douglass uses vivid, painful imagery to help immerse readers into his autobiography.
The next chapter that I noted in my journal was the chapter that introduced Daisy. “Daisy was a seasonal event. She came before Thanksgiving, and stayed through Christmas every year.” One thing that Kaysen does in her book is that she introduces characters, then makes their stories very personable. As a reader, I would almost be thinking that these are my friends as well as hers. The chapter goes on to describe Daisy as a girl who loves laxatives and chicken, and that her own father wants to fuck her. One very peculiar thing was that Daisy’s father would bring her a whole roasted chicken, and she was not allowed to leave the hospital until she has 14 chicken carcasses lined up. I noted this chapter as being completely absurd. Kaysen whether she knows it or not, uses the idea of bathos, unintentionally hilarious emotional appeal. This chapter seems to be full of bathos. I in no way shape or form think that mental health is something to laugh about, however the introduction of Daisy just seemed so absurd, that you can’t help but smirk.
The book “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” by Anne Dillard, is a collection of essays she wrote; some published, and others not. All of the essays have themes pretty similar to each other just as Emerson ties in centralized themes into his writing pieces. Each writing touches on philosophy, nature, religion, history, and general kindness. She uses her personal experiences to help develop these central themes. Dillard tells her readers that she wants her essays to be read how they are, and not delve deep to find a deeper meaning. Each essay touches on different perspectives that enlighten and immerse readers.
In her essay, “Living like Weasels,” she uses plenty of imagery to describe her encounter with a real, live, weasel. In a particular paragraph describing how a weasel lives, she writes: “I might learn something of mindlessness., something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity, and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, just as the weasel lives as he should.” In this excerpt, she focuses on how simply the weasel lives, only doing what it needs to survive. The weasel is driven purely by instincts, while us humans are driven by wants and not needs. We live life measuring success on who drives the nicest cars, while innately, our ancestors were driven by food and instinct. We begin to ignore these instincts when we begin to listen to others and compare ourselves to them. When Dillard says she wants to live in necessity, she wants to live a life where she only has what she needs. Although this statement is quite drastic, something can be taken out of it. We do not necessarily need a fast sports car, or a luxurious home on the beach to be happy, happiness is having the little things in life, such as food on the table, and a roof over our heads. I too am beginning to realize that I have been living a life full of wants, and not needs.
Another essay similar to weasels is “In the Jungle.” In this essay she writes of her accounts in the wilderness of Ecuadorian Jungle near the Napo River. She uses loads of imagery to describe the complete isolation from society in those woods. Dillard uses personal accounts with the native people to have a solid foundation in the essay. She writes of the little girls singing Old MacDonald and braiding her hair while the native boys kicked around a volleyball shirtless in their jeans. The same theme of ditching a materialistic life is present in this essay as well. While listening to one of the men she was with tell his life story of his materialistic Manhattan lifestyle, she notes that he concluded his story with: “It makes me wonder what I am doing under a tent here. It makes me wonder why I am going back.” This part of the essay is very powerful and the addition of this side story drive home her initial argument of a non-materialistic lifestyle. She uses the man to show her readers that if he can ditch his Manhattan-Hollywood lifestyle, why can’t we? Obviously we shouldn’t all drop out and quit our jobs, but I think we are asked to reevaluate our lives, and realize what is important, and what is temporary.
Abstract: The essay is a powerful persuasive art that when used correctly allows writers to successfully have a solid argument. A good essay contains different elements such as originality, self-reflection, epistemology, and other poetic techniques to help strengthen the writing. The idea of originality can be questioned by essayists such as Emerson, but the idea is that since it comes from our mind, our writing is original. The idea of the essay shows the freedom the essayist has with their piece of writing.
When I was a younger writer, I was lead to believe that all essays in life were the same form: 5 paragraph form, with an underlined thesis. The essays I would write would be a regurgitation of another piece of writing and my discoveries. These discoveries were however not my own, but someone else’s that I was being told to view things like. These essays were not essay’s in my opinion, but rewritings. Writing an essay is an art form that not many can quite grasp. This leads to the common question of: what is the essay? The essay is everything from personal, to informative, and very much original. The beauty of the essay is that it is in the hands of the writer to choose where the essay travels.
Essays can be understood to be a reflection of the author’s life. Since the essay is made personal, an author must begin to be wary of showing too much opinion in their writing. Showing too much opinion would stray away from the facts, weakening an author’s argument. Montaigne writes, “I do not teach, I tell.” The essay’s purpose is to not teach individuals, but to relate the individuals to the text. An essay must be “immersive” enough to evoke some sort of emotion in the reader. For an essay to be immersive it must appeal to the reader allowing them to grasp the concept of the essay. Using personal experiences and facts in the essay to support opinions is important to take the formality out of teaching to allow the readers to relate to the essay. If the essay were to strictly teach, it would be too formal; however, if the essay were to be solely based off of opinion, there would be no argument. The frame of the essay is based off of the line between opinions and facts, all branching off of a central argument. A good essayist uses personal experiences mixed with justified beliefs to develop a good argument.
A good essayist uses plenty of different poetic, rhetorical, and philosophical elements to help strengthen their argument. This means that the essay can be dissected into those three main elements: poetic, rhetoric, or philosophy. In one of the essays written by Scott Sanders, “The Singular First Person,” he touches on the formality of the essay. He writes, “The essay is the closest thing we have on paper, to a record of the individual mind at work and play. It is an amateurs raid in a world of specialists.” This excerpt shows the battle between the essay being a teacher, and the essay relating. It shows that there is a lot of leeway as to how an essayist may go about attacking an argument in his writing. Our minds are “at work and play,” at the same time. The essay is a form of writing that is considered more free and leisurely from the incorporation of passionate opinion and factual evidence.
When an essayist uses his personal experiences to help form an argument, he is using his originality. The essayist uses originality and a central argument to show that the essay has a greater meaning. In “The Death of a Moth,” Dillard uses personal experience to tell a story of greater meaning. At a glance, a reader may say that “The Death of a Moth,” is nothing but a narrative of the observance of a moth flying into a candle, but the essayist had more in mind. Dillard writes “All that was left was the glowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax—a fraying, partially collapsed gold tube jammed upright in the candle’s round pool. And then this moth essence, this spectacular skeleton, began to act as a wick. She kept burning… That candle had two wicks, two flames of identical height, side by side (Dillard).” For some, this is a simple story of Dillard observing the death of a moth, but the story may very much so question what death is. Dillard may be arguing that the moth never died, because he body is being used as a wick.
This also poses the plausible question of who is the essay written for? The essay is written for nobody more than the essayist, just the same way a song writer would not make a song he does not like. The essay is reflective. Montaigne is known for his philosophies of self-reflection: “You yourself only know if you are cowardly and cruel, loyal, and devout: others see you not, and only guess you by uncertain conjectures, and do not so much see your nature as your art: rely not therefore upon your opinions, but stick to your own (Montaigne).” In this short except, Montaigne tells readers that they people themselves are the only one who truly knows what they are thinking. Another interpretation of Dillard’s “The Death of a Moth,” could be that the moth is a reflection of himself as a writer. The moth dying symbolizes the death of his creative genius, and it burning like a wick is how his ideas stay alive, even after he dies. The essay if filled with different metaphors which helps build poetic and philosophical elements of a good essay.
As one can argue that our essays are original, others can argue it is not. Emerson is one of the greatest essayists because of his ability to incorporate all the right elements to write his essays. In “Quotation and Originality,” he writes that throughout our existence as humans, there has been “millions of men, and not a hundred lines of poetry.” This idea confronts the originality and personality of the essay. Emerson tells us that writers are influenced by older pieces, and convey our interpretation using our thoughts and knowledge. This challenges all of the pieces of writing that have ever been made. This challenges this essay I am writing using the philosophies of several writers. Our interpretations are our own beliefs and words; therefore, they are to be considered original.
A good essay has its own twist, like a remix. This is what makes all essays original. In “The Essayification of Everything,” Wampole writes: “The essayist samples more than a DJ: a loop of the epic here, a little lyric replay there, a polyvocal break and citations from greatness past, all with a signature scratch on top.” This ‘signature scratch’ is what makes each essayist different. Emmerson’s ‘signature scratch’ is how he intertwines the philosophy between nature and humans. This is much like the concept of sampling between rappers. Multiple rappers can rap over one producer’s instrumental, but they are all different songs. It is much like when a DJ remixes a song, the new song is his song, this can also translate to a writing remix. The goal of the “remix” is to be better than the original song.
The act idea writing an essay is an art that is perfected by none. There is always room for improvements with every writing piece because of the endless combinations of poetic, rhetorical and philosophical elements that can be incorporated into writing. Each essay is unique in the sense that it is a relation of personal experience, opinion, and fact, to a central argument. The essay is a unique form of writing because the writer chooses which way the essay travels, much like a DJ, or a songwriter. Each essay has its own ‘twist’ to it making it an original piece. The freedom of the essay is endless while our minds are “at work and play,” writing.
Wampole, Christy. “The Essayification of Everything.” The New York Times 26 (2013).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Quotation and originality.” The North American Review 106.2 (1868): 543.
Montaigne, Michael Seigneur de. “Of repentance.” (1776).
Sanders, Scott Russell. “The singular first person.” The Sewanee Review 96.4 (1988): 658-672.
Navigating back to Emerson, last week we read “Quotation and Originality.” In this piece he writes throughout our existence there has been “millions of men, and not a hundred lines of poetry.” This confronts the originality and creativity of men and all writers. From this excerpt I took a quick reflection of my past writings and other projects and was very shocked to see that I agree with Emerson. My past writings are all based off of another writing, and I personally have only had a few original writing pieces that I composed in a creative writing course. This is a great example of philosophy in Emerson’s writing. Throughout the rest of Emerson’s piece, he continues to argue that the book is still most enjoyable literature even though writing is repeated so much. Emerson tells us throughout that essay that we as writers are influenced by older pieces, but use new ideas to convey our view points through our thoughts and knowledge.
Ironically, the book we had to read this week was “Reality Hunger: a manifesto” by David Shields. I personally laughed a little after reflecting upon my readings this past week because we read Emerson who was telling us that writings are all based upon older writings, and this book is completely plagiarized! “Quotation and Originality…….” hmm. Interesting enough there is no originality in Shield’s piece, other than this is the first of its kind. Using Emerson’s ideas, Shield is simply using other peoples’ ideas and forming one big idea.
Shield’s in his writing investigates the history of early writing. He “writes” about the literature of older civilizations and how most of them included simply only the most important events and accounts. Shields uses a weird style in his writing that I would consider more “new era,” and I am very indifferent about it. This book reminds me of a compilation of a bunch of tweets. All of the numbers seen as though they could fit in a tweet, 180 characters or less. After mentioning different types of writings, Shields moves onto the topic of gossip and lies, and other (in my opinion) pointless topics. One section that stuck out to me was section 32. This goes hand in hand with Emerson’s idea of the novel being the “highest delight.” “The word novel, when it entered the languages of Europe, had the vaguest of meanings; it meant the form of writing that was formless, that had no rules, that made up its own rules as it went along.” This excerpt of an excerpt has a very powerful connotation and persona of the idea of the novel. Both Emerson and Shields use many different poetics in their novels that help amplify their message. Well for Shields, other writers’ messages.