Luke on essay, argument, voice, and pleasure. James has a nice discussion with Graham on Graham and the essay. Caitlin muses on essays and argument, it is probably important to realise that even the sort of essay writing that Graham discusses involves argument, but it is a different sort of argument than what we might ordinarily think is the case. But it still needs evidence, argument, and research. Stephanie thinks Graham might be right that the internet heralds a golden age of the essay.
Callum likes the Graham reading to the point of how he was taught not to meander. (As the symposium should show, we celebrate the meander). Rebecca seems to have had a very brave and very good teacher in Year 12 (the exception rather than the rule). As humanities students essays are our thing, it is our main language, the joy is in doing them properly, and not in that TEEL preplanned TV dinner fast food bullshit way. Laura speculates about essays, high school, and enjoying writing. For me this is the heart of the matter. As a humanities academic writing is my laboratory, where I do my thinking. It is not where I report on what I have discovered somewhere else but writing is the very place where the discovering happens. So I want my writing to have this spirit of insecure wonderment. You still argue a position, or positions, you still need evidence, but you learn how to let the ideas talk back at you instead of making them fit something prearranged. It’s the difference between very formal classical music and jazz. Both have their place, but if you want to ‘think’ musically, you play jazz (or write symphonic scores). This is a great post which is sort of about network literacy but is as much about the essayistic. Felicia has a well considered post about how she is good at essays, they work for her, but blogs do too. This is good because if you’re a good writer then blogs aren’t that big a step, on the other hand if you really like preplanned structure and your writing is more a reporting, then blogs can be very intimidating (and I’d argue you’re a great report writer, but not a good writer). Blogs let you find a voice, and a good essay should have your voice too.
Mia is surprised to realise the ‘essay’ is not really what was taught. Next step? Blogs are a great place to learn how to write to figure things out. Writing is a thinking, not a reporting, well it ought to be, certainly for education in the humanities. George found the reading resonated, and that the model taught in high school (and we have to admit, celebrated in universities) is broken. Kiralee also enjoys the Graham reading, yes explore ideas, but also realise that many of your university teachers are stuck in what I’d call single loop learning – you might write a great essay really testing ideas, only to be dealt the infamous “but you didn’t answer the question” hand of death. So tread cautiously, but in network media, we expect, welcome, celebrate smart writing. The role of a good question is to do that, not close thought down.
Dominic realises that he might, could, maybe, let go of so much planning. Again, think about how blogging is great practice for this.
Lauren on how the essay means ‘to try’. The essay is where you think in the writing and so is fluid, personal, subjective, but also uses evidence and makes an argument. The best work is highly erudite, yet personable. This doesn’t necessarily easy to read, but it has a voice which is grounded in a life world of a writing-thinkerer, so that writing is the lab or studio of ideas learning to dance, rather than reporting of some research that has happened somewhere else. It’s the difference between following a recipe slavishly because you don’t get how foods and flavours work, versus, well, getting that cooking is a game of anthropomorphic organic chemistry. What’s it got to do with the subject. We are taking this as a way to approach entries in niki. As a place to think in, not just report. That letting writing become the space of thinking is a good rule of thumb for a good blog. That in the subject we are trying some ideas and they will take us places. That the internet is a great big ideas bank, engine, swamp, so while it is good for answers, to go with its flow is not just to make answers but to ask better questions, and to begin to build connections between otherwise or once separated things. Finally, in this course you all know how to write (because of the English score you need to get in) so I know I can use writing as a way to get at other ideas, because you all ‘get’ writing, though you aren’t particularly aware you do. Writing is the way most of us make, all the time, blogging is just making. As is niki. Making is how the network happens.
Imogen wonders about all that she learnt in high school being wrong. Not all, but the essay is turned into a dead thing. The essay is a living thing. Hypertext is a living thing because it lets you write and read by following and making rivers (just read the Nelson again as an ideas stream trying to be literally realised on a book), one reason I did the work on teaching was to make this something present to everyone. Now I’m doing it with what we think writing is. Hypertext does the same with what we think narrative is. Denham joins the Graham reading on the essay with the role of the blog, which is one of the reasons Graham might speculate that the web could see a golden age of the essay (though now we have Medium where there is some very high quality essaying going on), in particular the importance of the essay as a form of thinking where you think out loud. This is a writing where you do the thinking in the writing, not somewhere else and then report on what you thunked. Daniel provides the crib reading notes of key takeaways. Which reminds me, the form of the subject, its shape and style, is essayist in the way that Graham describes in the reading. It is following some ideas, not necessarily defending positions, which is perhaps why it is difficult for students, used to being trained to defend positions and therefore told the positions that matter, to get a hold on. Ideas are always slippery, particularly if you bother to listen to them.
Torika picks up some points, that other forms of writing might matter too. Perhaps, but language is the stuff we have to think with, so the essay becomes the place where thinking can and does happen. So it matters simply for that. On other hand, while the ‘traditional’ essay might help develop organised thinking for me this is precisely the problem. Why is organised thinking important? This becomes a tautological argument because it turns out organised thinking is useful if you need to write organised essays. But if you think that connection, complexity and how thickly things join is important, which you really can’t ‘organise’ (which is one of the ways in which creativity and innovation happens – they’re its ingredients if you like) then being organised isn’t so useful anymore. This matters simply because high school and then university privileges this idea of being able to ‘order’ and so those who are very smart, but have highly cluttered minds, struggle. As Einstein said (a famously disorganised thinker) “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Patrick has a long post about the essay, tying the reading to Mode 2, while also weaving in several other’s comments. This is a blog that is beginning to mature as it writes with ideas and other people’s stuff. His observation that people might have gone better at school if they could write in the way the reading describes, rather than the more rigid way prescribed, is one of the things I was getting at in my lecture about why come to lectures. VCE and university preselects certain sorts of competencies. If you don’t have them, if you haven’t immersed yourself in them (generally unknowingly) then you don’t even get here. One of the things we’re doing in this subject is letting some other competencies be legitimated. Not great at the ‘formal’ essay, but good at tech, write lots of help. Or write some wiki entries that look at that door ajar.