***PLEASE READ ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY*****we have focused on arguments and evidence. As a result, logic has been at the center of our studies, and we have practiced being skeptical, in the best sense of the word. We have studied induction and deduction, fallacies and rhetorical strategies, and the three kinds of appeals—rational, ethical, and emotional. We have analyzed both form and content of essays, and looked at how different writers have approached the same subjects..Now you will be encouraged to use these same techniques in a less argumentative way to write an essay on a topic of your choice..Read the accompanying article, “A Brief History of theEssay” (reprinted below), think of a topic, and write an essay that attempts to “try out” or “test” or “work through” some idea of your own..Title your essay with some variation of “On [Something]” or “Of [Something],” as many good essayists have done (for example, “On Going Home,” “On Boxing,” “About Symbol,” “On Keeping a Notebook,” “Of Revenge,” just to name a few). The selected readings from the “Reader” section of the textbook are also good examples of this kind of writing..This essay is not meant to demonstrate your understanding of others’ ideas, although you are free to show such understanding, to reference other writing if it helps to elucidate yours. Rather, it is to discuss, to theorize, to opine. Think of it as a chance to tell the world what you think—about anything..Choose something you have a genuine interest in, something fun or funky or weird if you like. Use your own voice: it can be academic, satirical, irreverent, spiritual, socially conscious, goofy, or angry..As “A Brief History” notes, often “essays represent thinking more than thought,” so it is all right to be somewhat tentative in your assertions and development. However, you do need to have a thesis statement, encapsulating your central idea, and there does need to be some sense of organization and rhetorical strategy. Above all, however, try to write with some measure of enthusiasm for your subject, and joy in the language if possible. Try to write something you would enjoy reading..Possible topics (just to get you started thinking; there is no restriction on what you may choose): Ants, books, cheating (at cards, relationships, diets?), dogs, eggs, failure, ghosts, heroism, illness, jury duty, King Kong, lollipops, motorcycles, nepotism, overheard remarks, pastries . . .Brainstorm some ideas of your own..A Brief History of the Essay (From A Closer Look: The Writer’s Reader by Sidney I. Dobrin & Anis S. Bawarshi) We have chosen the contemporary essay as our main genre in this book because of its rhetorical range. As we will discuss in more detail in the next few sections, the essay is difficult to define. It is many things to many people. While this flexibility at times frustrates attempts to categorize it, this very flexibility nonetheless makes the essay a useful genre for examining rhetorical choices and effects, as we are doing in this book. The essays collected here are written for a wide range of audiences, from readers of Ms. Magazine to readers of Golf magazine, and on a range of subjects, from political exile to breast implants, from gardens to naps. They are written in various subgenres, from personal essays to academic essays to political essays. This range gives you a chance to examine and compare very different rhetorical strategies with very different rhetorical effects. The word “essay” comes from the French word essai, which Michel de Montaigne first used in 1580 to describe his prose writing. Essai literally means an attempt, a testing out of something. The word itself is derived from the French verb essayer, which means “to try, taste, or test the fitness of a thing or idea” (Miller 1997, 44). To write an essay, as Montaigne suggested, is to work through something, with the resulting essay a product of that working through. It is not surprising that the essay as a genre manifests itself in various forms. After all, the very thing or idea that the essayist is working through will in part determine how he or she writes about it, and essayists as you will see write about many subjects. And then, of course, different writers have different ways of working through ideas and things. As a result, the essay is a dynamic genre, its resulting form depending on the particular contingencies of the writer’s subject, ways of seeing, and rhetorical situation. Looking closely at the essays collected in this book will give you a chance to consider a wide variety of rhetorical strategies writers have used to address these contingencies. Some scholars have traced the history of the essay before Montaigne, locating its origins in classical Greece and the works of Cicero and Seneca in Rome. Other scholars, including Shirley Brice Heath, have noted the relationship between the essay and the classical epistles or letters, while others have traced a connection between essays and journals, diaries, and commonplace books (Heilker 1996, 15). By all accounts, however, Montaigne is acknowledged as the inventor of the essay. We must look to his ideas about the essay as well as the cultural conditions that helped him form these ideas in order to more fully understand the history of the essay. As Paul Heilker has chronicled, the essay as a genre emerged alongside cultural phenomena taking place in the late 1500s and early 1600s, namely the Renaissance spirit of discovery, which perceived knowledge not as fixed and already ordered but in flux and requiring exploration; the rise of antischolasticism, which resisted the idea that the world could be neatly and precisely categorized into disciplines and specializations; and the rise of the baroque style, which rejected the symmetry, polish, and order of the classical “Ciceronian” style and became more irregular and spontaneous (Heilker 1996, 16-20). These cultural developments conspired to create the conditions that gave rise to the essay. Indeed, many of the essay conventions we use to this day—conventions first articulated and practiced by Montaigne—arose as a result of and in relation to these cultural developments. Heilker, for instance, made the following generalizations about essays, all of which can be attributed to the above phenomena: First, essays by their very nature are skeptical, questioning perceived truths in an increasingly uncertain universe. They are driven by a spirit of discovery, “an exploration of a world in flux that leaves old, inadequate orders behind in its quest for new ideas, new insights, and new visions of the truth” (p. 17). Second, essays do not present experience and ideas in discrete and separated units; rather, they bring “together contrasting and incongruous points of view in an attempt to more fully and deeply address whole problems of existence” (p.19). Finally, essays rhetorically record the movement of the writer’s mind in the process of working through ideas and things. Stylistically, then, essays follow the motion of the mind as it contemplates, digressing at times to make spontaneous connections and to trace consequences (p. 20-21). Locating the origins of the essay in its historical context allows us to see that the essay emerged as a challenge to traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world. After Montaigne, other writers took up this challenge. In England, Francis Bacon used Essays for the title of his collection of writings in 1597, thus helping establish the genre in English. Bacon’s essayistic style differs from Montaigne’s in being less self-expressive and conversational and more unadorned, but in both we notice the same meditative quality of the writer drawing on his experience in the process of making knowledge. Following Bacon, English essayists such as Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, and Samuel Johnson in the 18th century; Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Thomas De Quincey, and other in the 19th century; and G.K. Chesterton, A.C. Benson, and George Orwell in the early part of the 20th century all contributed to the complex evolution of the essay, an evolution that saw the emergence of humorous, personal, argumentative, informal, conversational, expository, and critical essays. You will notice even more variations of the essay in the more recently published essays collected in this book. Today, the notion persists that essays represent thinking more than thought. As Montaigne described his experience of writing essays, “I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering with a natural drunkenness. I take it in this condition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being; I portray passing” (Montaigne 1957, 610). Although Montaigne’s reference to drunkenness suggests that essays are somehow rambling or out of control, this is actually not the case. Montaigne’s essays do have an order; they are driven by a certain logic and by certain rhetorical choices. Heilker calls this essayistic logic “chronologic,” a logic that refers to “an arrangement based on the linearity of time” as well as the movement of thought on a subject associated through time (Heilker 1996, 23). It would be a mistake, then, to assume that essays have historically given writers unbridled freedom of expression. Writing about Montaigne, Heilker noted, “He must stay attentive to his subject and not lose it…continually offering the attentive reader some ‘sufficient word’ that allows her to see how his ideas follow one another” (p.27). The contemporary essayist inherits the same burden. “In fact,” Douglas Hesse reminded us, “one characteristic quality of the contemporary essay is the attempt to cast the widest net of associations possible, then struggle to bring the gathered ideas into some meaningful relation” (p. 36). As you look at this collection of essays, pay attention to how the writers gather their ideas into a meaningful relation, a relation that balances the writers’ goals and the demands of their readers’ expectations..
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