Harvey – “Presence in the Essay”

Harvey, Gordon. “Presence in the Essay.” College English 56 (1994): 642-654.

Harvey shares a concern with the problem with the way textual analysis has been taught in the past, but doesn’t agree with the solution – that the personal should be played up in these textual analyses (642).

some profs have brought “autobiography into cultural theorizing, not into the kind of close analysis of primary texts that freshmen need to learn and that is much harder to interrupt or contextualize with personal report….For another thing, much of the autobiography that these writers bring into their academic writing itself comes out of academic life” (644).

we need to avoid the loaded language that causes all traditional literary analysis to be called bad and all the personal to be called good (644)

students who try to put personal into textual analysis have “unusually bad papers” (645).

“the assignments also provide an excuse to avoid even the more basic textual work of focusing closely and describing accurately.” …”the students grant the text no complexity of statement, no otherness, thereby precluding any real sharing of it” (645). MY COMMENT: we need to ask students to dive into ambiguity, don’t make it black and white; no, your grandmother’s experience is not exactly like the book (to related back to Harvey’s examples of a bad paper). Relate to Sommers (ambiguity, etc.)

claims that personal/textual assignment is a good preliminary assignment to the essay – helps to determine feelings and understanding/lack of understanding about text (646)

some teachers use this type of assignment as an essay, not hoping to help freshmen write good essays, but to write towards a good essay, but the teacher never says where this essay is going (647).

need to build bridge so that women and working class students feel more comfortable, but that doesn’t mean throwing out the form; rather, write from personal as a preliminary assignment and then do textual analysis; or start with textual analysis os something closer to students (an ad, for example) and then move to harder (e.g., Shakespeare) (647).

even recent advocates of this mixing of personal/textual fail at it b/c it’s hard – example of Atkin’s Estranging the Familiar, in which the voice shifts from professorial to autiobgraphical to “freinds-of-the-essay.” College freshmen certainly can’t master personal/textual mix if Atkin’s can’t (648). MY THOUGHTS: I wonder (just wondering right now) if it’s bad to have multiple voices in a text? Why not mix the voices? Why does a text have to be univocal? Why can’t it be multivoice, since it’s already multigenre? Hmmm…

Harvey’s argument doesn’t mean we discount the personal essay – in fact, the personal essay is more complex than others say (because it involves argument and anaylsis, etc.) (648-649).

“…we should assume the broad view that “the personal” in essays can be implicit as well as explicit – a matter of felt life in the writing rather than anecdote or self-analysis. Assuming this broad view will entail changing out metaphors for the essay, which currently, for all our tlak of blurred genres and border-crossings, tend to be dualistic, picturing the personal and th etextual as different ingredients or categories. This is the picture that leads us to think that our students have the option of writing a textual essay, or a personal one, or a textual plus personal one – a Frankenstein. Instead, we should adopt metaphors of embodiment, manifestation, and informedness. How, we should be asking, can textual analysis manifest or embody the personal? Or, how can academic writing be informed by personal experience without injecting personal information?” (649).

MY THOUGHTS: up until this point in the essay, I was kind of resistant. Harvey says some things that I wasn’t sure if I agreed with (although he also said plenty that I agreed with), but this statement, for the most part, is brilliant!

instead of “personal” (because it connotes autobiography or introspection) use “presence,” which means “a certain feeling in the reader, subjective but discussable, caused by something in the writing” (650). THOUGHTS: seems vague

Ways personal shows up without injecting personal:
1. In motive (show motive, why this is interesting/important)
2. in development (“willingness to pursue a topic thorugh twists and turns”; “focus on moments of complication”)
3. control of quotation and detail
4. awareness of cliché and what doesn’t need saying
5. in broadenings (going beyond particular, beyond text)
6. judgments and reasons (650-653).

I think I can draw on this quite a bit. Yay!

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