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The essay in the postmodern era
h [electronic resource] /
by Xiqiao Wang.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2004.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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ABSTRACT: The overarching goal of this study is to suggest that the essay as a genre, although seeming to manifest the epistemological conceptions of the modern, possesses certain qualities from its origin that justify and strengthen its position in the paradigm of the postmodern condition. It is my argument that misconceptions about such qualities have led to its mistreatment by writing teachers in accordance with two dominant pedagogical approaches, formalism (current-traditionalism) and romanticism (expressivism). My argument requires a detailed examination of the political, historical and cultural reality that cultivated and nurtured the genre of the essay, and a major focus of my study is on the way Montaigne conceived of the new mode of writing as his response to the new social realities of the sixteenth century, an age marked by discoveries and inventions. To justify this approach, I consider works by composition theorists who promote an agenda of critical literacy, scholarly works on Montaigne's essays, as well as various relevant works on postmodernism and literary theory. Perhaps more importantly, I look back to the chaotic, unpredictable, and skeptical mentality of the sixteenth century and attempt to draw connections between that time period and the present, as our present postmodern era is also marked by major shifts of conceptions about reality, knowledge, authority, and the self. From this framework, I indicate connections can be drawn between the two revolutionary ages, both marked by explosion of new knowledge and dissipation of authority and certainty. It is my proposition that the essay, arising from the need to question traditions and to adapt to new emerging realities, possesses qualities--explorative, skeptical, and dialogical--that procure a valid position in the ongoing questioning and challenging of the Modern by the Postmodern. Finally, I examine how essay has been and continues to be taught just for its formalistic merits and ignored for its epistemological, aesthetic, and philosophical values, an examination that serves to repudiate the wrongful relegation and dismissal of the essay and to establish a justification of not only the literary merits, but also the pedagogical values of the essay.
Adviser: Jacobs, Debra L.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
The Essay In The Postmodern Era by Xiqiao Wang A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Debr a L. Jacobs, Ph.D. Gary A. Olson, Ph.D. Lynn Worsham. Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 4, 2004 Keywords: essay, postmodernism, montai gne, composition studies, renaissance Copyright 2004 Xiqiao Wang
i Table of Contents ABSTRACT ii CHAPTER ONEShifts, Concessions, and Turm oil 1 Misconceptions of Writing-As-Process 2 CHAPTER TWOPostmodern Reality 6 Liberal Education in Postmodernity 6 Knowledge, Self, Responsibility, and Authority 9 Redefining Literacy 15 CHAPTER THREEÂ“Essaying to beÂ” 18 Discoveries and Transitions of the Re naissance 18 Tentative Understanding of the Essay 21 CHAPTER FOURRecording the Natura l Mode of Thought 27 Â“MatterÂ” and Â“MannerÂ” 27 MontaigneÂ”s Rhetoric against the Classi cal 29 Unmethodical Method of Compos ing 31 CHAPTER FIVEQuotations, References and Allusions 34 Juxtaposition of Voices and Perspectives 34 The Idea of Intertextuality 36 Heteroglot and Dialogic 38 Critiquing Discourse Community Pedagogy 40 MontaigneÂ’s Negotiations with Discourse 43 CHAPTER SIXRelegation and Justificat ion of the Essay 45 Formalist and Romantic Approaches to Teaching the Essay 45 The Continuation of the Essay in th e Postmomdern 47 WORKS CITED 51
ii The Essay in the Postmodern Era Xiqiao Wang ABSTRACT The overarching goal of this study is to s uggest that the essay as a genre, although seeming to manifest the epistemological c onceptions of the mode rn, possesses certain qualities from its origin that justify and stre ngthen its position in the paradigm of the postmodern condition. It is my argument that misconceptions about such qualities have led to its mistreatment by writing teachers in accordance with two dominate pedagogical approaches, formalism (current-traditionalis m) and romanticism (expressivism). My argument requires a detailed examination of th e political, historical and cultural reality that cultivated and nurtured the genre of the essay, and a major focus of my study is on the way Montaigne conceived of the new mode of writing as his response to the new social realities of the sixteenth century, an age marked by discoveries and inventions. To justify this approach, I consider works by composition theorists who promote an agenda of critical literacy, scholarly wo rks on MontaigneÂ’s essays, as well as various relevant works on postmodernism and literary theory. Perhaps more importantly, I look back to the chaotic, unpredictable, and skepti cal mentality of the sixteenth century and attempt to draw connections between that time period and the present, as our present
iii postmodern era is also marked by major shif ts of conceptions a bout reality, knowledge, authority, and the self. From this framework, I indicate connec tions can be drawn between the two revolutionary ages, both marked by explos ion of new knowledge and dissipation of authority and certainty. It is my proposition that the essay, arising from the need to question traditions and to adapt to new emerging realities, possesses qualitiesÂ— explorative, skeptical, and dialogicalÂ—that procure a valid position in the ongoing questioning and challenging of the Modern by the Postmodern. Finally, I examine how essay has been and continues to be taught just for its formalistic merits and ignored for its epistemological, aesthetic, and philosophical values, an examination that serves to repudiate the wrongful relegation and dismi ssal of the essay and to establish a justification of not only the lite rary merits, but also the peda gogical values of the essay.
1 CHAPTER ONE Shifts, Concessions, and Turmoil As Lester Faigley and Susan Romano ar ticulated in their article the ongoing argument that computer networks disrupted assumptions about advanced literacy, they also urged writing programs to take serious ly studentsÂ’ demand for an education they perceive as relevant to the twenty-first cen tury, as opposed to the nineteenth (57). Their argument represents an attempt to subvert the framework of writing programs across the country, whose curriculums and pedagogies ar e based on a series of assumptions about essayistic literacy. What they are chal lenging, however, goes beyond the legitimate position of essayistic literacy in writing programs as the ba ckbone of writing instructions. Their questioning not only attempts to problematize the aim of such writing practicesÂ— the production of texts characterized by a ppropriate length, personal integrity and engagement, and conceptual unity and complex ityÂ—but also raises va lid interrogations of the agenda of literacy (or literacies), the doubt ful status of Western literary tradition in current humanity departments, and the goals and implications of liberal education in American colleges and universities. It is their address of such concerns that makes what writing programs do meaningful on both pedagogical an d epistemological levels. In their effort to position the goals and obligations of writi ng programs in the macro-framework of liberal education, they locate and examine in American college s and universities the cen ter of conflicts and
2 quarrels between Postmodern context and the long-ingrained Â“m eta-narrativesÂ” of Modern society. According to these compositi on theorists, as well as many others, the introduction and proliferation of computer networks and postmodern social-political context call for the ascension of network literacy and repudiat ion of essayistic literacy. Faigley and Romano advocate diffe rent types of writing tasks that are characterized as terse in content, colloquial and dialogical in style, most of ten single-drafted and immediately responsive to exigencies, and much more dependent on humor and pathos when relating to audiences. Underlying such an advocacy for an expansion of network literacy in the curriculum is an important skepticism toward the traditional goals and rationale of liberal education, the authority of self-evident canon of humanistic thought and texts, and Modern meta narratives of knowledge and in stitutions constructed by modernist epistemological assumptions. Misconceptions of Writing-As-Process The curriculum turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s, with its shifts, concessions and experiments, found its voices in writing progr ams forged from debates and agreements among a variety of approaches towards writing curriculum and instruction. These different approaches found common ground in their attempt to understand learning to write as a process of gradual acquisition of the functional literacy of writing. Nevertheless, the predominate approaches to teaching, although profe ssing to be processoriented, still focused on the acquisition of sk ills. To this day, most pedagogies treat the learning of writing as a gradual and progressive mastery of basi c skills by the students.
3 Teaching of writing can then be summarized as the scientific analysis, synthesis, generalization, and modeling of basic skills in order to demonstrate the merits of Â“goodÂ” writing. Despite the contribution and accomplishm ents of the process movement, it is my contention that writing as pro cess is not and has not been one of the dominate approaches to teaching writing. Instead, the formalism (c urrent-traditionalism) and romanticism (expressivism) predominated over the decades. Of these two, expressivism is presented as a process pedagogy, but I believe it lacks some of the basic features of writing as process. As a result, when criticism are lodged agai nst the so-called process paradigm, these criticism actually have mostly to do with formalism and current-traditionalism and little to do with what Writing-as-Process pedagogy tried to articulate. A Back-to-Content backlash against the process movement in the 1980s called for a restoration of the humanities and the reestablishment of th e canon of Western literature and culture. It also signaled a shift away from process-oriented, skill-acquisitionmotivated, cognitive-developmental approaches to curriculum and instruction in writing classrooms. Cultural literacy proponents such as Bennett and Hirsh campaigned for a content-based curriculum as they erroneously accused the process movement as participating in the larger formalisti c and pragmatic undergraduate curriculum reformation in the 1960s and 1970s, when, according to Bennett and Hirsh, colleges turned out students who could read, write, wo rk a computer, and find jobs, but are not equipped with an basic unders tanding of the political, cult ural, artistic achievement of Western tradition and, thus, are not liberally educated. Benn ett and Hirsh believed that the process movement helped the erosion and deterioration of the broad humanizing goals
4 of the liberal arts by focusing just on the Â“teach ablesÂ” and the scientific aspects of writing and thus losing sight of the socially-constr ucted and dialogic na ture of all writing activities. The critiques of the writing pedagogies of ten focus on their formalistic approach to teaching of writing. Hirsh, for one, attempts to locate the source of the crisis in the formalistic pedagogies. For him, teaching skil ls independently of content by emphasizing the phonetic, lexical, syntactic, heuristic, a nd rhetorical skills has ignored the tacit cultural knowledge that determines the c ontent of composition product. According to cultural literacy proponents, effective communication through reading and writing depends as much on the store of background knowledge readers and writers bring to a text as the formal techniques of composing process. Formalistic pedagogyÂ’s focus on the studying, imitating, and reinventing of models of good writing does not help to serve these ends because it makes the teaching of writing a formal, technical, and procedurally unmediated process. In their efforts to address this crisis of Â“cultural literacyÂ” and to move back to content, Bennett and Hirsh both tried to a ssemble lists of books and items of cultural information students should read and know in order for them to acquire an understanding of the political, cultural, and artistic achiev ements of the great Western tradition. But in HirshÂ’s attempt to justify this reemphasis on content and restoration of canon, he is more concerned with the failure of formalistic pedagogy to promote political and cultural integration, claiming that the formalistic peda gogy facilitates an ex clusion of culturally illiterate students from the democratic arena of public discourse that articulates the
5 purpose of our society. Students who lack th e cultural literacy to communicate about complex issues are walled out of a Â“full citizenship and full acculturation into our societyÂ” (36). His call for a return of the ca non of Western culture to the center of liberal education, however, is not free from contr oversy because the very Â“central traditional materialsÂ” he promotes are seen by postmode rn theorists as a by-product of the modern hegemony of state power that overturns not onl y local traditions a nd dialects, but also private and communal lives. It is exactly the modern politics of the authority of knowledge and its institutions that authorize and legitima te such a unified body of knowledge that need to be questioned a nd problematized under postmodern conditions. The concessions, shifts and turmoil of over four decades in composition studies, each epoch of which is represented by a unique way of translating th e responsibilities of writing programs into pedagogies and moveme nts in terms of a broad conception of liberal education and ideology, help to ar ticulate the transformation of the social conditions and ideologies of the respective decades. The arguments, debates, and complexities within composition studies can be seen as mirroring the sometimes tumultuous changes in ideologies. Within the same circumstances, the essay, as a literary genre and teaching material for composition classrooms, has had its own victories, defames, and catastrophes.
6 CHAPTER TWO The Postmodern Reality Liberal Education in Postmodernity Assumptions involved in the shift from modernism to postmodernism that typifies American society and the current thought and reformation of composition studies and pedagogies can be examined with the refe rence to the back-to-content movement. John Trimbur, for one, suggests in that th e roots of the discou rse of crisis in liberal education Â“reach deeper than econom ic trends or generational stylesÂ” (24), involving a wider crisis in knowledge and its institutions. Trimbur argues that the traditional goals of liberal education have lost their power and legitimate status because the world in which we live in has changed to a place where not a single self-evident canon of humanistic thought and texts can be rest ored at the heart of the curriculum. Thus, Trimbur contends, writing programs shoul d respond to the drastic change of epistemological conceptions accompanying a di fferent social reality. The postmodern reality Trimbur refers to denies any absolu te truth and certainty and heartily welcomes the coexistence of knowledges and authorities in their plural forms. This recognition of a radical plurality of knowledge which typifies postmodernism, comes as the result of an ever-increasing awareness of the diversit y in human cultures, which typifies a postmodern epistemological framework. Postmodernism invites a multiplicity of thought, encouraging an open acceptance of a divers ity of frameworks, the juxtaposition of
7 different perspectives and voices, and th e contemplation of the connections and associations of different conceptual sche mes and ideas. Such a multiplicity undermines the idea of a general consciousness where a hierarchical structure of perspectives privileges a unified body of knowledge that can claim the ce ntral position of a curriculum as canon. As a result of this acceptance of multiplicity and refusal of unified authority, postmodernism casts doubts on the possibi lity of any Â“universalÂ” truth. Trimbur suggests an alternative approach to Â“the canon,Â” one that defamiliarizes Â“authoritativeÂ” interpretations of the great We stern works and questi ons the Â“TruthÂ” that resides in such works (28). To demystify th e canon by Â“leading stude nts to see that the authority of the canon does not reside in the works that comp ose it but rather in the ways we have developed to talk about it, the reas ons we give for studying it, and the social arrangements that locate it in historical and cultural context and make it meaningfulÂ” (29), teachers of literature present an honest recogn ition of the uncertain and dialogic nature of literature and composition. No longer rega rding themselves as the possessor and transmitter of fixed Â“TruthÂ” and knowledge, t eachers can begin to see themselves as comparatively equal participants in a dynamic discourse that is char acterized by diversity and plurality. Students, on the other hand, w ill no longer see themselves as inheritor of a permanent tradition and are empowered to get engaged in the ongoing dialogue that recognizes the equal coexistence of culture s, which constantly reconstitutes and reinstitutionalizes knowledge and Truth. According to the French philosopher of postmodernism, Jean Francois Lyotard, Â“an incredulity toward metanarrativesÂ” typi fies the postmodern mentality toward the
8 modern. As a result of the questioning of th e previously self-evide nt and self-justified account of knowledge that determines the goa ls and practices of liberal education, the present crisis of liberal education is a reflect ion of the state of disbelief toward the two main accounts of knowledge in metanarratives: th at of enacting a history of freedom in the name of secular humanism, reason, and sc ience; and that of unifying knowledge and realizing philosophical truth through overcoming th e disciplinary dispersals. In this chain of actions, social material realities dete rmine what constitutes knowledge, a shift of perception that necessitates adapting the goals and practi ces of liberal education. The dissipation of traditional conceptions of knowledge and its institutions is only one of the numerous phenomena that accompany the partial transition from modernism to postmodernism we are witnessing and particip ating in. Trimbur argues that these new conceptions of epistemic instit utions and new ways of thinki ng and acting arise out of the changed circumstances of our lives and our attempts to adapt to them. Such changed circumstances can be described in American cultural and social reality as such: the unprecedented expansion and democratizati on of higher education and the growing connections among universities, government, and the corpor ate world (nationally and internationally); the globaliz ation of economy and commerce as a result of new corporate developmental strategies and policies; and th e formation of the global village as a result of new communication and transportation tech nologies. Accordingly, the traditional role of higher education to prepare liberal elites to fulfill the two meta narratives of knowledge in the modern era is no longer sustained or guaranteed by the quickly dissipating
9 institutions. As a result, the mission of the uni versity is bound to cha nge with the rest of the world. Knowledge, Self, Responsibility, and Authority The notion of knowledge as discursively c onstructed by the voices of multiple and internally contradictory indi viduals underscores that knowle dge conveys only partial and temporary truths in the writing classroom. Such a conception foregrounds tremendous pedagogical innovations that are rh etorical, collaborative, and democratic in nature. In Â“ Postmodern Pedagogy in Electronic Conversations Â”, Marilyn M. Cooper echoes Lester FaigleyÂ’s call for a more in-depth theorizati on of the network peda gogy that arises from the use of electronic discussions in writing classroom. Both Cooper and Faigley regard electronic writing as the most effectively attentive to shifts to postmodern assumptions. As a result, both scholars consider network lite racy to be superior to other literacies, especially the essayistic lite racy, because network literacy is the most reflective of the multilayered Â“postmodernÂ” dimension of writing. But the irony of their argument lies in their refusal to recognize the possibility of th e coexistence of genres and pedagogies in a single paradigm. By not only pr ioritizing one liter acy over the rest, bu t also polarizing electronic/hypertextual/postm odern against general print/ literate/modern modes of teaching writing, some postmodern composition theorists do not allow for the existence of multiple voices and perspectives. The repudi ation and the necessity to legitimate the essay is just a result of such intolerance.
10 According to Cooper, the postmodern c ondition, when applied to modify and constrain the practices of teaching writing, invo lves a transition in a ssumptions in at least four areasÂ—Â“a transition in assumptions a bout knowledge, language, and the self, a transition in assumptions about power, a tran sition in assumptions about responsibility, and a transition in assumptions about the te acherÂ’s role in the classroomÂ” (143). In addition to the dissolution of a modernist notion of knowledge as the Â“apprehension of universal truth and its transp arent representation in langua ge by rational and unified individual,Â” postmodernism also brings unde r question the romantic conception of the authorial self that can seek allegiance with universal truth and ach ieve unified identity through contemplation (144). This romantic notio n of Â“intellectual se lf-realizationÂ” stems from the Platonic philosophical conception of beauty and ar tÂ—that individual thinkers move toward the discovery of universal tr uth and beauty and live in line with ideal Â“formsÂ” through a contemplative pr ocess. In this way, the Â“selfÂ” is a stable and coherent identity. Understood in the c ontext of the postmodern condi tion, however, the self moves toward the discovery of the diversity of cu ltures through upfront confrontations of the self with the diversity, a process where the self is forced to occupy different positions and to negotiate conflicting ideas and various pers pectives. This socially-constructed nature of knowledge and self also poses serious chal lenges toward the romantic conception of language as a transparent window that mediat es the unified self and permanent truth. By endowing upon the self and language the power of par tially constructing meanings, identity, and discourse, postmode rn theory breaks down traditional power relations in classrooms. If knowledge is not a stable cons truct possessed by teachers and
11 passed to students, the basis for teacher-cente red classroom practices is threatened; and when knowledge is seen as socia lly constructed and pl uralistic, with the self and language seen as contributing to this construct, both teachers and students are allowed to participate in this process as equals. Postmodern analys is of power relationships by Michel Foucault challenges the notion of power as possession and suggests that dominance in power relationships arises from relations and actions am ong all participants. Through a continuous modification of their ac tions that impact othersÂ’ actions, each individual shares the res ponsibility of structuring a temporary and fluid power relationship that is constantly subject to change. Power in the postmodern classroom is not Â“possessedÂ” by the teacher, nor can it be Â“g iven upÂ” or Â“givenÂ” to the students. Each different teaching situation sets up one possi bility among a range of possibilities, which produces a certain pattern of t eacher-student actions that impa ct each other and constitute a temporary power relationship that is specific to the given situation. For Faigley and Cooper, an electronic writing situation is different from a traditional essayistic one because electronic writing classroom provi des a different range of possibilities of actions for students and teachers, through which an ongoing situation is constructed through a chain of actions that mu tually impact each ot her. Student-centered teaching practices arise not from the Â“sharingÂ” or Â“givingÂ” of power on the teacherÂ’s side, but through this different patt ern of power relations. In a traditional classroom, where teacher-student identity and institution are fossilized, students are forced to occupy roles that classroom politics prepare for themÂ—usually passive recipients of knowledge who are subject to a single absolute authority, th e teacher, who possesses all the power. But in
12 an electronic instruction classroom, which, according to Cooper and Faigley, emulates a postmodern culture, students have more free dom to choose or refuse to take up roles prepared by the teacher, and more frequently they act upon such freedom to initiate, define, modify, and change their positions according to the ongoing actions. Through these changes of actions, a more democra tic and equal power relation pattern is established where each individual agency assu mes the responsibility and obligation for oneÂ’s course of action an d its impact on others. Here arises a fear some wr iting teachers have toward el ectronic writing situation, and more importantly, a fear toward the consta ntly transient shifts of identities in a postmodern condition. The fear of the loss of meanings arises from a modernistic assumption that universal truth and enduring values exist and need to be approved by external authorities. When no such universal et hical codes or external authority are to be found, it is feared that people w ho are not coerced to abide by any moral principles would behave irresponsibly. Cooper here uses French philosopher, Zygmunt BaumanÂ’s conception of responsibility as grounded on a Â“pre-ontological impulse to be responsible for the OtherÂ” (151) as opposed to seeing re sponsibility as externally imposed ethics. BaumenÂ’s thesis is that it is the very need for individual significan ce and subjectivity, not the force from external authority, that oblig es each individual to respond to the Other. Cooper advances BaumenÂ’s notion of morality th at refuses to conceive of the individual as an isolated entity that is absorbed in self-interest, emphasizing instead the fundamental sociality of humanity. It is through the act ion of being responsive to Other that each
13 social entity establishes its irreplaceable individuality and independent subjectivity, thus becoming a social agent whose existence ma tters and imposes significance upon society. Responsibility for Other in writing cla ssrooms, when explained with modernist assumptions, can be seen as studentsÂ’ being compelled or habituated by social institution and their previous education to comply to th e rules set up by the teacher. This subjection to power and authority is conve niently considered as interest -oriented: those who do what the teacher tells them to do get good grades This assumption, however, does not provide a sound basis for studentsÂ’ active engagement a nd truly motivated part icipation in writing activities. Postmodern theory, however, woul d rather see such a motivation as derived from neither self-interest nor forced subject ion to institutional fo rms of power relation pattern, but a sincere ne ed to be responsive a nd responsible for the te acher, other students, and the task itself. If we assume responsibil ity as an obligation to the Other and not a submission to authority, our students become independent agents who listen to, recognize, and respect differences and are willing to cont ribute to diversity and plurality of the classroom. Postmodern theory suggests that teachers acknowledge these notions of morality and put more trust in studentsÂ’ moral self-conscience in such a way as to motivate their consideration a nd sense of responsibility for the influence their actions have on others. When teachers encourage each stud ent writer to consider his/her self as a member of a discourse that is multiple, competitive, and fluid that helps to constitute, modify, and mold the individual identity, t eachers concurrently identify themselves no longer as the authority in classroom, but as facilitators of the constituting process.
14 The teacher in a postmodern classroom, acco rding to Cooper, Â“will not try to set standards, lay down the law, or take respons ibility themselves for everything that goes onÂ” (157). While this Â“lossÂ” of authoritar ian role can make teachers Â“powerlessÂ” and uneasy, Cooper suggests that that instead of a complete submission of controlling power in classroom, teachers should be able to ta ke advantage of the postmodern classroom condition and help students to Â“learn how to be open to unassimilated otherness, learn how to take responsibility for others, and learn how paratactic juxtaposition of ideas and perspectives can lead to a better understan ding of issues and problems that confront themÂ” (157). Cooper believes this type of postmodernist teaching leads to a more democratic teaching-learning environment, where teacher responsibility and student responsibility are balanced. According to Ira Shor and other practiti oners of the kind of teaching practices Cooper describes, teachers should pose gene rative questions that motivate studentsÂ’ reflection on daily experiences helps to sort out from the myriad of complexities that stands out as important. ItÂ’s important for th e teacher to listen to such complexities, to grasp the significant themes in these di verse experiences, and to represent these complexities as in relation to the central problem. It is during such a re-presenting process that students become aware of complexities and di versities within their own discourse, and the teacher, as the facilitator, helps to make the relation between the ordinary (complexities within studentsÂ’ discourses) and the extraordinary (the contradictory and complicated problem) visibl e to the students. While fulfilling such a responsibility, Cooper cautions that the teacher should also be very careful when offering
15 his/her perspective in order to avoid an imposition of any specific and seemingly authoritative view that must be adhered to or a pronouncement of a single perspective as the only correct one, the Â“officialÂ” line to take on a problem. As Cooper suggests, drawing from Foucault, intellect uals and teachers should take the role of f acilitator in Â“helping students become conscious of the co mplexities of the problems that face themÂ”; however, Â“they cannot legitimately or effec tively impose their own hypotactic structuring of the problems on studentsÂ” (159). The postmodern condition entails a new set of assumptions that enables us to perceive the teaching environment from whole new perspective. The shift of assumptions about authority, knowledge, self and other le nds strengths to the postmodern theoristsÂ’ interrogation of the past peda gogies in writing classroom. Ne vertheless, in their attempt to transform the writing classroom in such a radi cal way that it keeps pace with the rest of the world, however, their privileging of ne twork literacy as the only applicable mode against any other traditiona l genre may seem overly zealous and even rash. Redefining Literacy The postmodern transition of assumptions about knowledge, authority, self, and responsibilities raises questions about the current ontological status, curricular arrangement, and pedagogical implications of composition programs all over the country. In Â“ Beyond Imagination Â”, Lester Faigley, for one, insists that two questions need to be answered before teachers and administra tors can respond to the urging demand of postmodern conditions, manifestated in our re ality that is daily modified by network
16 technology. First, what do we want our students to learn (r edefining literacy)? Second, how do we create the best learning envir onments for our students (pedagogical consideration)? Given the socially-constructed nature of literacy, our reality, which is marked as an information explosion age, dictates a fundamental redefiniti on of literacy and educational goals. A redefinition of literacy that is contingent upon our current social reality demands a new agenda for not only wr iting teachers, but also for educators in general: we want students to be able to eval uate, analyze, and synthesize vasts amount of information available, to value the breadth of information, to be able to utilize and assimilate such information, to communicate in a variety of discourses, and to participate in the knowledge-constructing process. And last of all, students are to become responsible citizens and community members who understand the ethical, cultural, and social values of the discour ses they are positioned in. Given the unique strength of network technology in storing and juxtaposing information that is easily manipulated by a us erÂ’s sorting and synthe sizing, it seems only logical to argue that itÂ’s time to mark th e literacy agenda of postmodern condition as technological, and it is then time for tec hnology-facilitated classrooms, which promote and correspond to postmodern reality, to replace the traditional classroom setting and its pedagogical practices. According to Faigle y, the Â“best possible learning environment with technologyÂ” shows its strengths in producing student -centered and collaborative learning environment, encouraging student-t eacher interaction, a nd promoting studentsÂ’ higher achievement, self esteem and motivation for learning (Â“ Beyond Imagination Â”138).
17 It seems that it is inevitable and necessary to make a full acknowledgement of the new age and to remove all the by-produc ts of modernistic classroom. Unfortunately, the essay, as a genre of th e modern, falls under the category that is to be discarded. For many zealous advocates of network literacy, a sh ifting away from the essay to multimedia websites is risk-fr ee and necessaryÂ—just one minor pedagogical modification, where no epistemic or aesthetic va lues of the genres need to be evaluated and questioned, nor do the pedagogical implicati ons of the vast change to be considered and interrogated. It is unfair, however, to rem ove a genre from the literacy agenda of one era just because such a genre has been used to mark the literacy and educational issues of the previous era. Without a fair treatment a nd exploration into the features of the genre and the underlying assumptions that make its historical emergence, the decision to remove the essayistic literacy is fundame ntally scarred with irresponsibility and negligence. It is necessary to free the essay from a historically i ngrained confusion over what it is and then observe what essay can be in a postmodern writing classroom.
18 CHAPTER THREE Â“Essaying to beÂ” Discoveries and Transitions of the Renaissance Montaigne states in his famous notice Â“To the ReaderÂ” in the 1580 edition of Â“ Essais Â” that he considers himself the subject of his book; that he intends to portray his true natural form with its inpe rfections and defects; that it is only the respect to social conventions that prevents him from pres enting to the public th e Â“entire and wholely nakedÂ” self. ( Complete Essays 2) Montaigne takes ever y opportunity to express, elaborate and comment on his intentions, desire s, and obsessions to Â“portray himself to lifeÂ” and to represent things as they are. The essay, a new genre invented by Montainge, provided a prose composition that was particular ly suited to the selfÂ’s pursuit of selfaffirmation through a careful examination a nd problematization of the the encounter between the individual and the discourse that determines and modifies the individualÂ’s point of view. By examining features of the essay that distinguish it as a revolutionary genre that arises from the historical, cultura l, philosophical and literary traditions of the Renaissance, we can better articulate the spir it of discovery that marks its particular historicity and justifies its legitimate positi on in a postmodern epistemological paradigm. The emergence of the essay as a new genre is associated with something that was taking place throughout Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuryÂ—an awakening and response to the impact of Renaissance scientific inventions and
19 discoveries, and an unsettling sense of uncer tainty toward precon ceived and received notions of not only astronomy, science a nd geography, but also theology, cosmology and epistemology. Advancements in observati onal astronomy proved CopernicusÂ’ hypothesis that the earth was the center of universe wrong and establis hed the new theory that the earth revolved around the sun. As a result, so lid religious and cosmological notions of human existence based on the traditional idea s were shattered. Inve ntion and application of the marinerÂ’s compass, the printin g, and the telescope made possible human circumnavigation of the world and then the geographical discovery of America. Such endeavors captured human imagination not simply with promises of political and commercial fulfillment, but also with visions of a new world. A zealous revival of ancient wisdom of Greek and Rome, the restorati on of lost languages, and the editing and dissemination of lost texts and knowledge al so carried its full im pact well into the seventeenth century. The spirit of discovery necessitated by sc ientific evidence that threatened the traditional notions and conceptions of human ex istence elevated itself into a whole new mode of thought and discourse that defines the Renaissance. Renaissance is an age replete with discoveries and inventions that had a powerful and profound impact on our vision of the self, the earth, and the univer se. Long-lasting debates between philosophers and poets with their ingrained beliefs and sc ientist with their mounting evidence marked a sense of uncertainty towards cosmological an d epistemological issues that could not be settled by political propaganda or persecu tion, leading to a thorough examination of received opinions and notions of heaven and earth. The urgency to locate humanÂ’s
20 position in a shattered conceptual fram ework of the universe also makes the establishment of a new order from the ruin s of the ancient inevitable and necessary. The new discoveries, which so successfu lly diminished the validity of the old order, however, failed to provide a solid ground on which stable new cosmological and epistemological structures could be establishe d to sort out the rising complexities into a new logical and orderly fash ion. New inventions and discoveries were subjected to frequent revisions and modifi cations in light of infinite possibilities introduced by explorations. Knowledge, shifti ng and elusive, allowed brief glimpses into its tentative nature. Like our postmodernist era, the Renaissance experienced shifting of assumptions about knowledge and truth without any sense of full disclosu re due to the fact that Renaissance scientists could no longer rely on classica l authorities for explanations of the ways that things were. Nor could they rely on the tautological system of Aristotle or the Ciceronian scholasticism for an effective inqui ry into the order of things. When they started to alter the inherited pa tterns of explanations in lig ht of new discoveries, they were also ready to break away from the dom inion of classical authority, and a new mode of empirical research grounded in experien ce rather than pure deductive or inductive argument was soon to be appearing on the emerging Renaissance discourse agenda. In the face of shattered authorities, c onflicting claims, and uncertainty about the nature of human knowledge, truth in any re alm is no longer attain able through a careful assimilation of received notions and theore tical deduction and induction, but has to be sought after through exploration of internal and external experiences. If the world eludes certainty and stability, the proper stand for the philosopher is to doubt everything, especially the notion that an individual can count on reason and sense-evidence for a
21 comprehension of truth. From this particular history, a new genre, a mode of inquiry, a new style of prose that bears the same spir it of discovery and invention that marks the Renaissance arose: the essa y. Â“EssayingÂ” was conceived as a mode of discovery, facilitating exploration into a world in flux for new ideas and new insights. Tentative Understanding of the Essay According to discourse theorist Michael L. Hall, the emergence of the essay provided a new mode of composition that part icularly suited the needs of Renaissance minds to articulate their fascination with the implications of the new philosophy and the new discoveries. This novel written discourse allowed the writer to think freely outside the constraints of trad itional rhetorical formulas and dict ating authorities. At a time when Ciceronianism and old doctrines of philosophy do minated the rhetorical domain of prose composition, MontaigneÂ’s claim in Â“Of Experi enceÂ” that he sought to portray in his language Â“the progress of my humors, that every part be seen or remembered distinguished, as it was producedÂ” ( Complete Essays 187), carries the same spirit of discovery and invention, and manifests the same doubt and uncertainty toward Â“authorityÂ” and human understanding. Montai gne, the skeptic philosopher and the inventive writer, positioned himself to br eak away from the conventional mode of argument that depends on the classical domain for authority and reli es on the tautologous system of Aristotle and the schol astics for logical coherence. It is through hi s invention of a recursive and infinite ly progressive mode of Â“essayingÂ” that Mongaigen attempts to reconcile his fundamental epistemological skepticism and his assiduous pursuit after tentative knowledge.
22 MontaigneÂ’s Essais when considered for its literary values, does carry a different epistemological agenda from its literary predecessors. No stable, immutable and permanent world of Â“formÂ” of Plato, or the idea of an ultimate Â“OneÂ” that is the source of all matters and beauty for Plotinus exists in MontaigneÂ’s conception of the world. In fact, the discovery of the New World and the new stars unsettled the Re naissance world view and challenged the core notions of Medieval science and religion, which are based on the totalitarian notion that a Christian hermeneu iticsÂ—a fourfold interpretive systemÂ—can be referred to for a model of the corporeal world. The existence of such totalitarian notions, be it the world of Â“form,Â” the Â“One,Â” or the Â“s criptureÂ” that explains all physical objects and phenomena, provided a source of certain and stable truth and knowledge that philosophers and poets could rely on. It was through their effo rts to imitate, emulate, and articulate certain knowledge th at poets of the ancient times constructed meaning by what they do; it was also the very certainty that justified and accounted fo r the values of poetry and literature. The meaning of the word Â“essayÂ” itself reveals its experimental and tentative nature. Coming from the old French word essai that means Â“a trial, an attempt,Â” the English word is defined as Â“A composition of moderate length on any particular subject, or branch of a subject; originally implying wa nt of finish, but now said of a composition more or less elaborate in styl e though limited in range. The use in this sense is apparently taken from Montaigne, whose essais were first published in 1580Â” (Oxford English Dictionary). For Montaigne, the composing of the essay was an experiment, a try out, a test, even of oneÂ’s own cognitive powers and limits. The word itself connotes a tentative,
23 progressive and groping method of gathering together anecdotes, memories, conjectures, beliefs, and wits for possible meaning-constructing. What the reader observes in the early e ssay genre is a mind roaming in the realm of assumptions, conceptions, and opinions stopping occasionally to reflect upon a relevant view point, and then moving on. Even the essayist was not very certain of the essayÂ’s thesis at the beginni ng of composing, nor at the e nd. The progressive and probing process, which involves such a complicated ex amination of and inquiry into the values and meanings of personal experience, convent ional wisdom and received opinions, more often than not generate contradictions and c onflicts rather than l ead to a single valid agreement that corresponds to the authorÂ’s intention and predeter mines an authoritative interpretation. The explorative mind incessant ly subverts and substi tutes one conjecture with another, leaving plenty of space for c ontroversies and contradictions without ever raising a definite thesis that Â“successfullyÂ” concludes the writing. If it is the authorÂ’s choice, the progressive and recu rsive exploration on a topic ca n continue indefinitely. It is the desire for knowledge and tentative truth th at motivates the endless pursuit, but it is the epistemological skepticism towards any claim for ultimate and absolute truth that prevents the author from forming a stable and certain opinion towards an issue. In the essay Â“Of Sadness or SorrowÂ”, for example, the reader notices that Montaigne rarely argues for a thesis and he often digresses from a Â“logicalÂ” elaboration on his topic as dictated by Aristotelian syll ogism. He never attempts to establish logical coherence among the multi-persp ectives that evolve around hi s subject--anecdotes from history and personal experience, allusions to and quotations from classical authors, and commonly accepted philosophical assumptions. If the statement he makes at the
24 beginning should be considered as the thesis of the essayÂ—Â“I am one of those freest from this passion. I neither love nor regard it, Â” the anecdotes that follow of PsamneticusÂ—a king of Egypt and the story of a prince can be very disturbing in the sense that they do not serve as proofs or unquestioned author ity to support and confirm this thesis. Psamneticus, who endures the degradation of his daughter and execution of his son with undaunted countenance, but Â“manifest(s) extreme griefÂ” at the sight of a friend hailing as a captive, explains that the last incident can be relieved by tear s, but the first two incidents far surpass any power of expression an d so can not be relieved by tears. From this example, Montaigne concl udes that tears and excess of grief lead to the passionate release of emotions. Such a conclusion subve rts the conception of sorrow and fear as Â“foolish and baseÂ” and explicitly contradicts the conjecture Montaigne makes immediately after, that tears help to dilute the violent passions of grief. After such an examination of the nature of sorrow and f ear by presenting contradictory evidence and conflicting cases, Montaigne rather curiously sh ifts his discussion to love and joy that can cause the same violent passion. He explores the topic by presenting examples from lore and literature, anecdotes and classical assump tions, but he never explicitly states his thesis, nor does he explain the purpose of his attempt. The conclusion at the end that he is Â“little subject to these violent passionsÂ” does echo his first statement, but can hardly be seen as the logical conclusion derived from the main body of his discussion consisted of anecdotes and allusions ( Complete Essays, 6, 52, 54). Reading of Montaigne is a discursive and progressive experience following a juxtaposition mode of explora tion, not a definitive and formulated defining or persuading process following a predictable line of l ogic. Through a juxtaposition of parallel
25 examples that rarely subordinate them selves to a single governing assumption, MontaigneÂ’s essay circles around the topic but never concludes it. Each example initiates a tentative conjecture and awa its immediate subversion by the following set of examples and conjectures. As we read in MontaigneÂ’s Â“Of RepentingÂ”: I can not keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness. I ta ke it in this c ondition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being: I portray passing. Not the passing from one age to another, or, as the people say from seven years, but from day to da y, from minute to minuteÂ…This is a record of various and changeable occu rrences, and of irresolute and, when it so befalls, contradictory ideas: whether I am different myself, or whether I take hold of my subjects in different circumstances and aspects. So, all in all, I may indeed contradi ct myself now and then; but truth, as Demades said, I do not contradict. ( Complete Essays 611) MontaigneÂ’s discursive comb ination of the received know ledge of his age, which is seen by him as false and inaccurate, and his own empirical summary of personal experiences enacts a process of the writer attempting to desc ribe and picture the flux and uncertain reality of the real world. Meanwhile, by turning both outward and inward for knowledge and truth, Montaigne was also forced to c onclude that the self is as uncertain, as elusive, and as protean as the outside world. His discovery of himself proves to be full of surprises since
26 the better he knows of the subject--the self Â“the less do I comprehend myself.Â” The essay is the writerÂ’s response to th e world that has become problematic and is still keeping changing from moment to moment. In the process of discovering and enacting such changes in personal writing, the writer accomp lishes a momentary real ization of the self even as it is passing from day to day and from moment to moment.
27 CHAPTER FOUR Â“Recording the Natural Mode of ThoughtÂ” Â“MatterÂ” and Â“MannerÂ” It is obvious that Montaigne invented the term and the genre for his own prose style, which later inspired and motivated ma ny authors and gradually came to be applied to a much broader category that includes any composition that fails to be included in other more clearly defined genres. The essay arose as a revolutionary invention of a new mode of rhetoric and discourse that confr onts the conventional and familiar. Seen as a novelty discourse at the time, which adopts methods and ideas that are unfamiliar and elusive to the reader, Montai gneÂ’s essays have been seen as fundamentally formless, unstudied, and spontaneous. Montaigne himsel f announces that what he puts on paper is the same as a simple and natural speech, Â“far removed from affectation, free, loose, and bold,Â” and thus the author himself is just an objective observer detached from the situation. For those who accuse Montaigne of writing formless and unmethodical composition, MontaigneÂ’s own statement in Â“O f FriendshipÂ” that his compositions are Â“antlike works, an monstrous bodies, patched and huddled up together of divers members, without any certain or well ordered figure, having neither order dependence, or proportion, but cas ual and framed by chance.Â”
28 seems to confirm their argument that it is through sheer Â“chanceÂ” that Montaigne randomly throw his thoughts and ideas toge ther to represent the course of the writerÂ’s capricious mind ( Complete Essays, 130). Montainge was very explicit about what he perceives to be the essential qualities of his prose that defines and di stinguishes itself from the el aborate rhetorical conventions of Ciceronian form of writing. Â“M atterÂ” claims much more a ttention of the author than Â“artÂ” in MontaigneÂ’s prose because Â“words,Â” according to Montaigne, should Â“serve and waite upon matterÂ” ( Complete Essays 25). The essay, regarded by Montaigne himself not as the products of art or study but an honest record of a mind reflect ing upon a topic, can be taken as loosely structured, with each part standing comparatively independent of others, and the work in general in lack of logical cohesion and rhet orical symmetry. Each of such Â“divers membersÂ” seems to be th rown together in a random orderÂ—whichever appears first in mind comes first in the compos ition. It is easy to e xpel the essay from the literary studies and composition st udies if the essay is seen as merely an approximation of the natural form of thought. Such an understanding of the essay, according to Renaissance scholar Graham Good, assumes th at the composition product is an Â“honestÂ” report of Â“actual thought which moves by associ ation and intuition rather than strict logical order.Â” In other words, essay writing is pre-rhetorical, illogical, and not tempered by writerÂ’s intention and any structuring effort s. In seeing Montaigne Â’s essay writing as Â“writing things down as they occur or emergeÂ” without definite Â“set Â‘frameÂ’ or filter for discourse,Â” Good recognizes skep tical spirit of essay writin g on a stylistic level (101). The set Â“frameÂ” Good refers to ought to be the Cicerorian rhetorical tradition, with its
29 balanced clauses and studied formal symmetr y, and the Aristotelian syllogism, which Montaignes intends to undermine in his Â“naturalÂ” mode of thought and composition. MontaigneÂ”s Rhetoric against the Classical The authorÂ’s attempt to record and port ray the very process of a mind exploring and pursuing after truth refuses the prescripti ve rhetorical formul a of composition that started as early as Aristotle and prevailed at MontaigneÂ’s time. For Aristotle, rhetoric derives itself from occasions offered by ci vic life in GreeceÂ—an orator attempts to deliberate and decide the course of a future action, to persecute or defend past actions in order to determine the just resolution of an action, or to praise or blame someone or something without calling for any immediate acti on. It is obvious that in all three types of occasions the speakers seek to persuade or influence the beliefs of their audience, to change their course of action, and ultimately to implement and impose their values upon the public. Given the utilitarian and pragmatic goa l of orations, all rhet oricians agree that the most efficient oration should follow a fa miliar mode of persuasion that prescribes means of persuasion, major divisions of ar gument, and general organization of the discourse. Even in todayÂ’s college writing cl assroom, we still find the manifestation of such prescriptions in the fi ve-paragraph-paradigm for essay composition: we find in the opening paragraph exordium that states the main point a nd the largest divisions of the argument; we wish to see in the three body paragraphs the contrasts of ideas, confirmatio and refutatio ; we also want the paper to be concluded with a peroratioa that summarizes the argument and restates the main point. A dvance planning and meticulous attention to form and shape in the process of compos ition is crucial under this paradigm.
30 Montaigne carefully disavows such assump tions of classical rhetoric and argues against a solely utilitarian conception of composition as a means of persuasion. He attempts to establish the essay as a different kind of discourse from an oration, as the essay allows space not just for persuasi on and motivation for action, but also for spontaneity and sharing of pr ivate thoughts. In the process of composing, the essayist does not explicitly seek to accomplish anything as pragmatic as what the ancient rhetorician did, and it seems that there is no st andard mode of development to be found to prescribe the division and form of the discourse. Montaigne, who received systematic trai ning in reading of Latin and ancient classics, is well aware of the Platonic notion mimesis and the notion of Â“the unity of actionÂ” in Aristotle even though he may not share with later new classical literary theoristsÂ’ reading of Aristotle as prescrip tive rather than descriptive. Montaigne is certainly aware of the literary tradition of mimesis, starting from the notion of the poet as a mere imitator of appearances that is changele ss in nature (Plato), or as an imitator and creator who takes a form from nature and reshapes it into a ne w medium of meaning governed by new principles and orders (A ristotle). In a sense, MontaigneÂ’s essais is indebted to the notion of mimesis in that, as many MontaigneÂ’s scholars argue, his essays portray a more Â“naturalÂ” form of thought than other litera ry genres. For Good, the fact that Montaigne does not filter, condense, subst itute, delete, or refashion the elements of his thought to make them fit into the static formal stricture of the traditional rhetorical models, and that he allows his thought to associate and evolve more freely over time than is permitted by classical logic model, sugge st that MontaingeÂ’s composing embodies a more Â“naturalÂ” process and honestly repres ents Â“actualÂ” thought patterns. Such a
31 proposition is problematic, however, if we take into consid eration MontaigneÂ’s conceptions of truth, reality, a nd knowledge. For Plato and Aris totle, the poets attempt to grasp intellectual beauty through imitation of natureÂ’s way because nature embraces the ultimate knowledge and truth. But for Montaigne, when such a source of stable and universal truth is drained by the chaotic and disturbing reality, it se ems only logical to argue that the philosopher turn s inward for a comparatively st able source of meaning and that imitation of the Â“naturalÂ” thought process is an alterna tive way of grasping truth. The mimetic reading of Montaigne attempts to just ify the Â“rambling developmentÂ” of the essay by resembling it to a mode Â“typical of actual thought which moves by association and intuition rather than strict logical order.Â” All the Â“digressions, false starts, circumlocutionsÂ” and Â“twist and turns of thoughtÂ” manifest the normal thought patternÂ” (Good 100). Unmethodical Method of Composing Is MontaigneÂ’s essay writing really the em bodiment of a thinking process that is uncontaminated by rhetorical designs? Is the spirit of MontaigneÂ’s essay writing Â“one of writing things down as they occur or emerg eÂ” without the Â“applica tion of a preconceived method or structureÂ”? If we acknowledge the wr iterÂ’s intention to be that of subverting the authority of classical rhetorical trad ition and challenging received notions and assumptions, we ought to realize that Montai gneÂ’s Â“unrepressed thinking-writingÂ” as Good puts it (Good 31), cannot possibly be just an honest record of the flow of thoughts put in writing, where no rhetorical design was imposed. It has long been noticed by Montaigne scholars such as O.B. Hardison that ever since the first publication of
32 MontaigneÂ’s Essai in 1580, major revisions and additi ons were added to the volumes with each of its editions, and the posthumous ed ition that serves as the basis of standard editions of the Essais until the twentieth century presen t some major changes from the first version (16). The existence of such revisions rea ffirms the assumption that MontaigneÂ’s composition is not unmethodical, pre-rhetorical and primordial record or natural thought process. The intention of the e ssayist dictates the use of rh etorical designs that find its philosophical roots in the sixteenth century reality. Th e seemingly undetermined and directionless exploration is an extensi on of MontaigneÂ’s skepticism towards human pretensions to systematic knowledge th rough reason. For literar y theorist Lane Kauffmann, the fragmentary and experimental fo rm of essay carries the polemical intents of the essay to reject the Â“identity pr inciple upon which all systems are basedÂ—the epistemological assumption that their network of concepts mirrors the structure of reality, that subject and object of cognition are ul timately identicalÂ” (230). In other words, Montainge refuses to subsume the individual experience beneath the ontological priorities of systems. Denying the privileges of the universal over the indi vidual and historical, Montaigne refuses to surrender individual experience to the va in project of explaining the particular through the rigid universal logical or conceptual framework. By insisting on seeing himself and the world as equal identities that are inconsistent and contradictory in nature, Montainge demonstrates in his essa y a methodical discursive conveyance of a reality that is fragme nted and discontinuous. The essay is only unmethodical in the sens e that it refuses to subordinate its elements to a unity of meaning that is accomplished through a foolproof deductive
33 sequence. But it is highly met hodical in the sense th at it gains its unity by arresting the conflicts that are inherent in the fragmented reality, by coordinating its internal elements to convey the feeling of movement and indu ce the experience of thought in the reader, and by rhetorically dismissing the pret ense that thought could achieve total comprehension of its objects. One can no l onger pretend that the essay expresses the discovery of a point of view that is base d on chance and caprice. Nor can one degrade the ontological status of essay writ ing by identifying it with the mimetic practice of portraying the natural form of thought. The e ssay protests against and responds to the fragmentation of Modern life, where knowle dge can only be gained through dialogues among different compartments of knowle dge and the individualÂ’s momentary transcendence above the chaos. Through essa y composing, the write r thinks about the unmethodical reality in the methodical way. MontaigneÂ’s questioning of the epistemo logical, philosophical, and conventional framework of the previous age echoes the sa me interrogation the postmodern age impose upon the modern agenda. By protesting against th e unified universal Â“systemÂ” that can be used to explain the world and emphasizing the individual and hi storical, Montaigne accomplished something that the postmodernist ha s been attempting: the interrogation of authority, the elevation of marginalized and subordinated voices and persp ectives against the universal and hegemonic, and the reconcep tion of the self and its power relationship with the other and the world. MontaigneÂ’s emphasis on the fragmentary and uncertain nature of the reality responds to the same uncertainty that typifies the postmodern condition.
34 CHAPTER FIVE Quotations, References and Allusions Juxtaposition of Voices and Perspectives MontaigneÂ’s essays are engaging becaus e he always amazes the reader with numerous recounts of stories, personal advent ures, folklores, and intriguing anecdotes that seem to relate to each other but never really strike a point. Although the practice of using frequent quotations from and allu sions to authorities was prevalent among Renaissance humanists who attempted to demonstrate and synthesize their knowledge about their favorite passages and familiar quot ations from ancient and modern authors and incorporate their personal observations, it is clear that Montaigne Â’s intention is to subvert received opinions through such a prac tice in his writings. He provides an open landscape where examples from various discour ses, historical periods, and genres are generously supplied to agree, contradict, s upport, and subvert each other. Thus any single assumption is open to various interpretati ons, and the reader, when confounded and confused after a futile effort to see the Â“point Â” that does not exist, is encouraged to join the meditation process and to construct a unique comprehension of his/her own. What we witness in MontaigneÂ’s progressi ve and subversive topic-exploration is the authorÂ’s persistent str uggle to negotiate his way through various tensions that problematize and complicate his writing. Such te nsions in MontaigneÂ’s writings resist the
35 submission of his writing to a stable and rest rictive mode of development that can be used to define the genre in any narrow sense. The first tension is the rhetorical tens ion between Montaigne and his audience. Montaigne claims that he wishes to present to his readers a true a nd honest self essaying himself on the paper. Such a simple and truthful presentation that calls for elimination of any artistic intervention, howev er, is a carefully premeditate d construct that is subtly immersed throughout his writing with sophisticat ed rhetorical techniques. Such tensions and complexities also deny any single inte rpretation of the mean ing of an essay. The implication here is that essa y writing is dialogic in nature Â—both the writerÂ’s and readersÂ’ comprehension of issues, debating and fo rmation of opinions, and construction of meanings are enacted through numerous dialogu es between the indi vidual and communal, the internal and external, th e writer and the audience, and among voices and perspectives that coordinate or subvert each other. Second, the often confounding combination of the authorÂ’s personal experiences, anecdotes, and reflections with historical and classical assumptions universally acknowledged by the public are often deployed not as proofs of a certain notion, but as a point of dissonance where conflicts are raised but never resolved by the author. Critics of Montainge, such as Paul Heilk er, reveal to us Montaigne th e radical who is preoccupied with Â“promulgation of radical thinking a nd writing,Â” According to such critics, MontaigneÂ’s essays are a calcu lated Â“rebellious response to the rigidity of the dogmatic tracts which preceded itÂ” (He ilker 21). They argue that, through such a calculated combination of contrastive and conflicting cases and evidence, Montaigne attempts to subvert not only received epistemological assumptions, but al so the rationalistic
36 rhetorical tradition based on Aristotelian prem ises and axioms he inherited and worked within. This tension between the private a nd the public establishes and incessantly affirms MontaingeÂ’s conception of tr uth as temporary and uncertain. Lastly, in MontaigneÂ’s frequent and adri ft use of quotations, references, and allusions from authorities, we see the write rÂ’s attempt to enact his internal dynamics through the text and the circumstances surrounding the composition, and thus strive to reconcile the tension between the indivi dual discourse and community discourse. A dialogic reading of MontaigneÂ’s essays reve als Montainge the writer, not unlike any other individual writer, who is striving to subsume his indi vidual subjectivity into the communal convention of the discourse comm unity he seeks to belong to. To borrow James PorterÂ’s metaphor of the writer as a Â“c ollector of fragments, an archaeologist creating an order, building a framework, from re mnants of the pastÂ” (35), we seem to find in the notion of Â“intertextualityÂ” and Â“het eroglossiaÂ” a justific ation of MontaigneÂ’s abundant yet frequently Â“digressiveÂ” refere nce to historical anecdotes, classical assumptions, and his frequent quotations fr om both Modern and ancient writers. The Idea of Intertextuality The idea of intertextuality is closel y associated with structuralism and poststructualism. For postmodern theorists such as Michel Focault all writing arises from a network of meaning construc ted by other texts. They re define the notion of Â“text,Â” asserting that text is by nature intertextual, be cause a text always refe rs to other textsÂ—its language system, its lexicon, its diction and gr ammar heavily immersed in its precursors; and an individual text relies on other texts for its own mean ing. Porter argues that our
37 understanding of a text can only be achieve d based on our comprehension of numerous texts that lend to the text its ideas, assump tions, beliefs, and arguments. In this sense, Â“The text is not an autonom ous or unified object, but a se t of relationship with other textsÂ” (59). An intertextual reading of text repud iates the notion that the text can be regarded as an autonomous entity whose meaning is inherent in the te xt itself, completely subjected to the authorÂ’s inten tion or the readerÂ’s isolated interpretation. Instead, we shift our attention away from the author and the text as individual entities and focus on the social contexts that produce and cultivate the text and the sources that shape, modify, and qualify the meaning of the text. Such a shift of focus qualifies the authorsÂ’ role in the construction of knowledge and meaning and attr ibutes to the discourse and its community for a collective defining of individual workÂ’s meaning. Porter suggests two types of intertextual ity that prevail and constitute the meaning of the text. Both can be found in Mont aigneÂ’s composing discourse. From this perspective, MontaigneÂ’s quotati ons from and allusions to the classical authorities and his choice of topic of problematic and historical nature are manifestati ons of Â“iterabilityÂ”Â— Â“repeatability of certain textual fragments.Â” As Â“Of Fear and SorrowÂ” demonstrates, these fragments are all pieces of other texts, be they from ancient philosophy, historical accounts of events, fictitious folklore, or just hearsay. MontaigneÂ’s di scourse is composed of such bits and pieces of fragments that the writer borrowed from references and combined in his text, which cooperate on the constitution of the textÂ’s comprehensible meaning. An intertextual readi ng of text seems to impose on the writer the role Aristotle assigned to the poetÂ—the one w ho imposes order on the events to create the best effect. The essayistÂ’s creative power exists not in hi s ability in emulating divine inspirations in
38 his work, but in sewing together relevant but disparate and divers elements in such a unique way that the text cont ributes to the discourse comm unity not with individual genius or personal insights, but with the ingenuity of synthesizing and re-presenting knowledge. Thus the intertext, not the author, constrains writing and defines meaning. Heteroglot and Dialogic Here arises the relevance of Mikhail BakhtinÂ’s conception of discourse as heteroglot to the analysis of the dialogic quality of essay compos ition. Bakhtin recognizes the unbridgeable gap between mind and world, which predetermines the uncertainty of every exigent moment when a writer starts to write. All writing starts from the problematic situation of the writer who seeks to differentiateÂ—through joining and separatingÂ—the particularity of the individual subjectivity an d the reality that precedes the self in existence, which is intertwined with everything else. For Bakhtin, existence is a shared experience that is dialogic in nature and each present moment is not a static one, but a Â“mass of different combinations of past and present relations.Â” The Bakhtinian perception of the self as a Â“constantly potenti al site of being,Â” Â“a flux of sheer becomingÂ” (37) appears very similar to MontaigneÂ’s pe rception of a self th at is situated in uncertainty and flux and calls fo r constant defining. The Â“essayingÂ” of the self is the very act of filling the gap between self and othe r through language that carries the similar implication as Â“I author myselfÂ”(28). Langua ge and writing is affirmative in the sense that language provides the modeling pattern th at helps subjectivity forge through the ruledriven, Â“generalizing centripe tal forces of extra-personal systemÂ” (29) for a temporary and uncertain definition of self. The essay finds its strongest a ppeal in identifying
39 uncertainty as the fundamental quality of th e genre. The essayÂ’s preoccupation with the uncertainty and fluidity of the writerÂ’s situ ation implies the possibili ty of transcending oneÂ’s own subjectivity and acquiri ng a relative Â“consciousness.Â” MontaigneÂ’s Â“essayingÂ” of self is the wr iterÂ’s effort to connect self to other through language, to define self through ente ring the discourse shared by other writers, and to equalize self with ot her through differentiating its own voice from the other. According to Bakhtin, such an accomplishment is based on the writerÂ’s mastery and control of language and discour se that are both heteroglot in nature. Bakhtin sees the language we use Â“filled to overflowing with other peopleÂ’s words, which are transmitted with highly varied degrees of accuracy and im partialityÂ” (337). For Bakhtin, all users of language share a common stock of words, and each time we strive to a verbal or spoken expression, we refer to and compete with our predecessors for a unique ways of using the same stock of words. Meaning of our utteranc e is constructed insofar as it transcends the subjectivity of an isolated self and bonds w ith the experience, pe rceptions, and language of others. Positioning and locating the indivi dual voice in the context of other voices is based on a continual interpretation of language of the discourse. We constantly recall, synthesize, evaluate, and even predict elemen ts, such as earlier conversations, anecdotes, past experiences and things that are exp ected to be but not yet said, such as presupposition, referring to Â“assumptions a text makes about its referent, its readers and its contextÂ” that are not explicitly in the text (Porter 54). The hetereoglot nature of discourse calls for such implicit or explicit in terpretation of the language on the side of the writer, for it is in the very act of conti nuous interpretation that the writer struggles to accommodate self to other.
40 Critiquing Discourse Community Pedagogy Poststructuralist views challenge the Ro mantic notion that writing is the single action of the writer and the meaning of the te xt is determined by the writerÂ’s will and knowledge. The reader, as passive receiver of such knowledge, is denied the power of text-interpretation and meaning-construction. A poststructural pedagogy is valuable in the sense that it challenges on of the prevai ling composition pedagogies of its time, one emphasizing the autonomy of the writer, wh ich is based upon the rather Romantic conceptions and views of art: that writers are enabled to compose and that writing is isolated and individual, no t social and collaborative. Such a pedagogy requires the students to find the motivation for writing from inside, and good writing is marked by personal insight, originality, and autonomous voice. By ro manticizing and emphasizing the autonomy of the individual writer, the traditiona l pedagogy is found by critics to be pessimistically deterministic. For those stude nts who were not born with the talent to writeÂ—those who, unfortunately, constitute the majority of our students populationÂ— there is nothing writing teacher s can do except for helping them to find the insight that was not inside. Such a pedagogy assumes that teachers have little ability to teach. Intertextual pedagogy (discourse comm unity pedagogy) suggested by Porter was initiated by David Bartholomae and Patricia Bizzell. These theorists believe that the primary responsibility of writing teachers is not to help stud ents find inspiration, or what is already inside them, but to introduce to th e students the conventions of a variety of discourse communities students may choose to join through their writing. Essay reading and imitating are easily faulted by such theori sts in that such practices glorifies the
41 creativity and genius of i ndividual essayists and overl ooks the power of discourse production and the social nature or writing activ ities. These theorists sh ift the attention of writing teachers from the cultivation of the indi vidual, internal, and in herent to the social, external, and instruction asp ects of writing. An assumption of this pedagogy is that poor writers cannot produce competent discourse because they are not familiarized and immersed in an discourse community with its presuppositions, explicit and implicit conventions, existing conversations and e xpectations of newly coming membersÂ—the students. The goal of the writing teacher is thus to acquaint student writers with the conventions and assumptions of Â“OurÂ” discourse. It is very curious to observe that su ch a pedagogy that is oriented toward liberating our students from the constraints of the essay conventions ends up dictating a new sets of standards and criteria that ar e even more conventionally specific and rulegoverned. To quote from Porter, Â“Acceptability . includes choosing the Â‘rightÂ’ topic, applying the appropriate cri tical methodology, adhering to standards for evidence and validity, and in general adop ting the communityÂ’s discourse valuesÂ—and of course borrowing the appropriate tracesÂ”(43). By seeing a successful writer as a Â“creative borrower,Â” yet a writer who can contribute only to the Â“maintenanceÂ” of the definition of the community, we are subjugating each indivi dual writerÂ’s former knowledge, personal will, and individual choice to our own standa rd. In our effort to acquaint our students with Â“ourÂ” language, we run the risk of sacr ificing the diverse and rich resources each individual student brings to our classroom: ethnic and cu ltural background, dialect and language habit, educational e xperience, and most important of all, the studentÂ’s own thoughts about what successful writing should be. It is even more ironic to see that these
42 theorists, who so firmly repudiate essay read ing and appreciation, ut ilize essay for their own use. That is, as teachers, these theorists use essays to teach sta ndard conventions of a genre. Essay reading is now fulfilling an impor tant stage in the linguistic development of the writer. Good example of essays can now be used as models for imitation just for an acquisition of sophisticat ed linguistic skills. Discourse, for Bakhtin, is also contextual communal, and heteroglot in nature, but it is the very act of each user of language dialoguing with other members that defines the dialogic nature of discourse. The communa l context for the conversation encompasses a broad territory. It can be the act of one indi vidual writer or speak er struggling to make meaning through language and the context defi ning the use of language; it can be the dialogic relation betwee n this individual with other users of the same language in one or any number of possible discourse communities; it can also be the language usersÂ’ struggling and negotiating among different discou rse communities through their effort to comprehend, accommodate, and modify each other. One aspect of the writerÂ’s engagement with the discourse community is the writerÂ’s struggle to locate the subjectivity of the self in th e context of the discourse through language. Familiarity with discourse conventions and subor dination of self to the comm unal standard are paramount at this stage. As Montaigne has shown us, how ever, the individual discourse is not simply confined and inhibited by the existing disc ourse conventions. Inst ead, the individual verbal construct continuously modifies di scourse conventions th rough the authority and autonomy of individual consci ousness that is impacted by and responds to other voices. According to Bakhtin, Â“OneÂ’s own discour se and oneÂ’s own voice, although born of
43 another or dynamically stimulated by anothe r, will sooner or later begin to liberate themselves from the authority of the otherÂ’s discourseÂ” (339). MontaigneÂ’s Negotiation with Discourse The Bakhtinian view of the self in th e infinite process of becoming through language recognizes the fluidity and tempora lity of discourse and fully acknowledges the constructive power of each individual partic ipant. MontaigneÂ’s Â“essaying-to-be,Â” when applied with Bakhtinian interpretation, implies a self acutely sensitive to the impulse of the individual subjectivity struggling to tran scend the isolated meaning-construction; his abundant references and allu sions to presuppositions, assu mptions and pre-knowledge on the topic, on the other hand, re flect the self responding to th e pressures of other voices. Montaigne is very aware of the complexity of the discourse and r ecognizes the limitation and uncertainty of his individual consciousne ss. Never fully trusting his own voice, but also refusing to submit to the authority of th e discourse tradition, he seeks to balance and modify his personal perception with numer ous allusions, quotations, and anecdotes. In MontaigneÂ’s essays, we witness a mind l earning through navigating among voices that transcend geographical and historical local ities. Montaigne engages himself with a variety of discourse communities that do not inhibit the self in pursuing personal knowledge through exploration in these territories but subordinate themselves to the self by providing resources to substantiate and enrich a unique discourse marked by MontaingeÂ’s individual subject ivity. Be it Roman, Greek, Christian traditions, personal experiences, historical accounts, folklores, stories, religion, morality, or philosophy, the orchestration of voices in Mont aigneÂ’s discourse helps to liber ate the self and define the
44 personal, not to subjugate the self under discourse conventions. Through the navigation among the various modes of discourses, Montai gne also negotiates his shifting sense of self in its process of Â“becomingÂ” through language. The sense of Â“becomingÂ” also implies that no ultimate and fundamentally stable assertion can be made to describe and standa rdize a discourse, thus none of the voices can be truly authoritative. Mont aigneÂ’s strategic juxtaposition of authoritative texts that contradict or confirm each other to substantia te his own discussion not only helps him to locate the self within the dialogue, but also equalizes all the members of the dialogic discourse. Â“Essaying to beÂ” is the becomi ng of the individual writer, but more importantly, it is also the becoming of the heteroglot discourse that depends on each individual voice and perspective. Maki ng of meaning through language does not legitimate certain usersÂ’ domi nation in the discourse. Some participants can be more powerful users of language than others, and th e center of authority in the discourse may change, but the terms of any discourse are unde r constant pressure for revision with the formation of each assumption by any individual participant at any moment. The fluid and protean nature of discourse undermines the co nception of authorities, be it the authority of classical traditions, genius of canonic essayi stsÂ’ writings, or the defining power expert Â“insidersÂ” within discourse communities.
45 CHAPTER SIX Relegation and Justification of the Essay Formalist and Romantic Approaches to Teaching Essay Proponents of discourse community peda gogy reduce the essay as a genre to a series of fossilized forms to be imitated by beginner writers. For them, the essay has clearly definable forms that can be categori zed into the narrative, the expository, the argumentative, or the descriptive. The underlyi ng assumption of such classifications is that the essay is predictable and stable; the dialogic and explorative qualities of the essay are ignored. Once such classification of the Â“mannerÂ” of writing is institutionalized, Â“mannerÂ” no longer waits on Â“matterÂ” as Montai gne intended in his essays. A formalistic pedagogy for teaching the essay in writing classrooms conveniently simplifies the complexity of essay writing, ossifies the flui d forms of essay into rigid, inflexible, and rule-driven model modes and formats, and pol arizes self and other. The historical fragmentation between the e ssay of the Renaissance, wh ich is later regarded as expository, and the Â“formalÂ” essay deprives writers of a meaningf ul and constructive confrontation between self and context in the same discourse. The formal, usually the research mode, on the other extremity, presen ts the discourse as the vast and devouring territory of authoritative a nd objective truths, which threat en to subjugate and even diminishes the role of individual writers. Romantic, expressivist pedagogy, on the other hand excessively privileges the expressive inner self and minimizes intervention of
46 teachersÂ—as well as any Â“otherÂ”Â—denying the dialogic aspect of the essay. The polarization between these two dominate pedagogiesÂ—formalism and Romanticism denies student writer the chan ce to explore through language their personal world and the discourse communities. Never encouraged to ga in control of their own language and their perspectived comprehension of the world, students have been forced to abandon a genuine search for meaning, and writing is no longer the process of Â“becomingÂ” that defines our existence. Discourse-specific writing instruction fails to rec ognize the heteroglossia of discourse. Its insistence on the primacy of syst ematic thinking from within the definite boundaries of a single community is not comp atible with BakhtinÂ’s and MontaigneÂ’s conception of language as the representati on of co-existence and interpretation of historical, social-ideological localities. By characterizi ng discourse communities as monolithic, closed unities independent of each other, discourse community pedagogy denies the validity of studentsÂ’ home cultures. Indeed, studentsÂ’ en try into a discourse community is at the price of their renunc iation of their home culture. The premium placed upon the entry into community power opposes MontaigneÂ’ belief that knowledge and human experience are not to be define d by any single linguistic, cultural, or philosophic community. For Montainge, Â“few th ings touch me, or, to put it better, hold me; for it is right that things should touc h us, provided they do not possess usÂ” ( Complete Essay 864). For Montaigne, an essay writer utili zes and incorporates discourse-specific evidences and conventions to constitute a nd enhance exploration, and ultimately, to affirm the self, but the personal voice is neve r subjected to or domi nated by the dictates
47 of a single discourse community. The forma list approach toward reading, teaching, and writing of the essay, as dictated by di scourse convention pedagogy, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of essayÂ’s generic features. It is also reasonable to argue that the accusation of the essay as an empty, oppressive, and outmoded genre is unjustified due to the fact that such an accu sation is derived from problematic pedagogies of teaching the essay, not from a t horough understanding of the genre itself. The Continuation of the Essay in the Postmodern If we recognize the dialogic qualities of the essayÂ—qua lities that show us that exigency of writing is contingent on the ci rcumstances of individual experience and contextual historicity, that essay writing is open to egalitarian multiplicity of voices, that writer is compelled to atta in autonomy and control through languageÂ—we should not teach the essay as manifestations of sophist icated linguistic skills to be applied to standardized modes of craf ting and organizing. Such a formalistic approach reduces writing to a mechanic action of imitation for preconceived ends. The origin of the essay as a flexible and fluid form of writing, w ith its combination of forms that shunned the rhetorical tradition, identified the genre as the m eans of searching after meaning, not as an end in itself. As a fluid means of wr iting, the essay reflects very sensitively the situation of writers ac tively responding to infinite and sh ifting contingencies of discourse, and the formal form their discourse takes is determined by the purposes of writers working in the multivoiced and temporary contexts.
48 Teaching essay-writing as a flexible and teachable approach to meaningconstruction reconciles the expres sive voice of the individual w ith the formalistic features of the rhetorical traditions of different modes of writi ng by offering a valid means for examining and shaping both. This dynamic and dialogic approach recognizes the temporality and uncertainty of any tentative resolution to a problematic situation; it encourages students to uncover sources of their dissonances and compare the personal perceptions against the percep tions of others. It opens up spaces within the discourse community where student writers are viewed as equal participants and constructors of the terms of the discourse, students whose opinions are as valid as that of the experts in shaping and determining the terms of the discourse. Teaching essay writing not as formalistic writing models but a dialogic mean s for critical and collaborative thinking and meaning-constructing decenters the authority of the discourse and empowers student writers. Liberated from the empty, abstract forms of writing that ignore personal voice, students can step into a context where the pr ivate and public territories are fused and an individual voice is found and established through conflicts and confirmation. In composition studies, the relegation of essay has been historical and political. Expository writing as personal writing has b een positioned in opposition to the scholarly research writing as unworthy of scholar ly interest. In composition classrooms, experience-based writing has been consider ed by proponents of discourse convention pedagogy as isolated individual activities th at do not respond to or substantiate the socially-constructed and discourse-defined nature of meaning making, and thus do not help students to critique the social instituti on that shape their values. On the other hand,
49 scholarly essay writing, with its traditional prac tice of using canonic essays as writing models to be imitated and imposed upon st udentsÂ’ writings, has been criticized by theorists who are eager to make students the center of writing classrooms and provide them with opportunities to au thorize their own meaning. Cu rrently, postmodern pedagogy proposes a whole new agenda for literacy, whic h again tends to expel essayistic literacy from its framework as an incompatible opposition, arguing that essay writing does not correspond with the twenty-first century reality and will not prepare the students for their future career needs. Such relegations or understandings of th e essay are fundamentally inadequate and unjustified due their confused definition of the genre. Tracing back to the origin of the genre to Montainge, we can recognize the essay as a fundamentally dynamic discourse that is highly adaptive and fully applicable in current composition studies and writing practices. The essay is an explorative genre, providing the writer a chance not only to examine the rhetorical, historical, social and cultural context that cultivates and shapes the writerÂ’s values, but also allow the pe rsonal to navigate through such traditions, preconceptions, and assumptions for a meani ngful comprehension and resolution, albeit tentative and never fully disclosed. The essay assumes a skepticism toward the authority of received notions and rhetorical conve ntions, recognizing the uncertainty and temporality of knowledge and truth, which marks both MontaigneÂ’s sixteenth-century reality and our postmodern consciousness. The essay is dialogic from its birth, empowering a dialogic self as an agent who is equally important as the Â“authoritiesÂ” in meaning-making and knowledge-constructing. The genre is resistant to any rigid forms of
50 development, allowing the writer to initiate the responsibility for finding the fitting form for the progressive process of the mind em plotting experiences, ideas, and readings. Instead of setting the essay agai nst the new technology literacy as Faigley suggests, such generic features and underly ing assumptions of the essay closely correspond to the postmodern reality of our time. The major sh ift of assumptions about knowledge, from authoritative and individual to egalitarian and communal; classroom power politics, from teacher-centered to dialogic and studentinitiated; responsibility, from imposed on students by teacher to collaboratively constr ucted through dialogue a nd interaction; and the self, from solitary and isolated to a dialogic explorer attempting discovery through associationÂ—opposes the postmodernist view of the essay as an ossified, authoritydictated modern hierarchical structure. It is not difficult to observe the similarities between the new Renaissance and our own pos tmodern age, both marked with radical transformation of consciousness after seve re questioning and in terrogation of preconceived notions. The very fact of its emergence from the struggles through the revolutionary social context of the Renai ssance serves as compelling testimony to the essayÂ’s compatibility with the postmodern condition, a comp atibility that affirms the vitality of the essay as a genr e not to be repudiated by posmode rnist composition studies.
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