Saturday, April 22

The Personalized Logic of Evaluating Essays

I'm supposed to be writing an essay about how I evaluate essays, but I don't really feel like thinking as I've just taken all of my medications and am feeling the effects of them (one antibiotic, one nasal decongestant pill, two inhalers; all these make me woozy and tired and have the odd consequence of making me cry a lot) so I will be frivolously honest and unwisely write this in one draft. Since this is the state I normally write and read essays in you will be given the sneak peek issue of my reading life and might possibly find me very annoying by the end of it. Do realize, though, that I normally edit things more and can certainly conceive of being more politic than what follows.

To be entirely frank, my evaluation of anything tends to be subjective first and only after that initial judgment try to look at the piece with a view that's more socially accepted. It's hard to write an essay like this because my writing skills aren't that bad except that I have these moral soapboxes that I use as stepping-stones whenever I write an opinion piece. That means I generally have a temptation (not an urge, drive, talent, or inclination) to write them rather than research papers (although research papers always--and I mean without fail--leave me more satisfied). Reading essays is all the more difficult because I have to try and filter out my personal sentiments, views, opinions, and (sarcastically) even my convictions.

For example, bad spelling or inappropriate use of our privileged "free speech" principle (e.g. bizarre grammar) just get on my nerves. So, all points ought to be taken off for not being able to write. Then it must be realized that the point of writing is to communicate, and so the aforementioned sins can also be classified as misleading communication. As a morally relativistic nation, America cannot hold people to a standard of right or wrong and so "misleading communication" gets to stand in for what might otherwise be called "bad writing skills".

Being able to think is a different matter, though--some people tend to be utterly sporadic in their organization of thoughts, and I'd love to label that as "misleading communication" except that Finnegan's Wake and The Sound and the Fury are so widely considered to be masterpieces. Oh, I am aware that they are not essays, but then the principle is still sound as they are pieces of the same body, pieces of literature, and meant as an expression of self.

For myself, I prefer the classic syllogism. It is most likely to be understood, most easily written, and easiest to reference, and therefore that is the structure I tend to look for in an essay. Though open to literature as a means of personal expression and therefore something that often consists of unorthodox methods of organization, I remain a young woman who tends, like most of her generation, to want to read concise and simply written material that lasts for a very short period of time: in short, I think the ancient Romans and Greeks had it right the first time. Not that I always follow their auspicious example; obviously my logic is lopsided and piebald in comparison--completely postmodern and hypocritical--and besides, my tastes and inclinations vary widely from each other.

In line with my proclamation of being a woman of my generation, I like introductions and conclusions to be somewhat catchy and thought provoking. Don't mistake me! I do not mean this preference to be any kind of absolute judgment and I thoroughly intended to discuss introductions and conclusions here, as they are not as important as the logic or the linguistics of an essay even if they are essential. I want them to be catchy so that people will read them and thought provoking so that I feel as if I have not wasted my time. Summaries I will use when writing because I have exhausted myself or am too biased to continue and I will accept them when reading if the topic is especially dense, but I prefer to think that I can squeeze a little more learning or teaching in the tiny space left to me in an essay. Essays are generally too short to exhaust any subject worth the time to write about, and so the introduction and conclusion should place the subject in its context. This requires the writer to be well read in their field and also to know that his or her writing is but a humble effort in the long run.

If you were to extract an outline for this essay, you would be able to see that what I value in reading and evaluating any essay are its use of language, logic, and its ability to engage the reader, and that the particulars of the issues in question are completely subjective--and that I am not altogether comfortable with this subjectivity even though I freely acknowledge it. Most people will agree with me that language, logic, and circus animals are all very useful and scholarly to be nicely arranged in an essay format, but they don't like to admit their personal hand in the work aside from the arrangement of said attributes. On the contrary, I think an individual voice among the crowd of computerized and over-practiced monotones is a useful, even a good thing in an essay; one must eventually learn to be politically correct and to acknowledge in humility their own opinions, but at the same time it is valuable to find an appetite or struggle with the information being presented--an essay must be alive.

(You can't argue with me, and I know it, so I will say whatever I darn well please. Written for a class on expository writing early in March 2006.)

1 comment:

The Ultimate Quill said...

I adored this. You continue to rock the literary world.