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Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 11 Oct 2015, 5:01pm
by Kory
Dr. Medulla wrote:Brief update about my class last night and the Beatles book. A couple students were pretty vocal about their hostility to the book—and I appreciated that, just being passionate about assessing an author—but one guy totally got the argument and intent. Just completely, even suggesting aspects that I hadn't considered. Afterwards he told me that reading it was a revelation in terms of our relationship with history. He was already one of the best two students, but, damn, that was satisfying. If nothing else happens in the class the rest of the way, one person had that too-rare "holy fuck" intellectual moment (two others were basically in his camp, but I don't think they appreciated the significance quite as profoundly). There's a basic truism that if you can reach 10–15% of the students, that's a success, and I've found my 3 or 4 in a class of 24.
Mmm-hmm satisfyin'!

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 5:53pm
by eumaas
Just thought I'd dump a gripe here.

Dear English composition courses of ten years ago that I still remember,

You know, a lot of actual essays don't conclude the introductory paragraph with a thesis statement. Often they add a transitional sentence. Sometimes they postpone it until the second paragraph, which is shocking, I know.

I understand why composition is taught in a mechanical, schematic fashion, but it probably wouldn't hurt to indicate that good English literary criticism does not adhere to that formula. It probably makes grading easier, and I know grading is a horror, but isn't the end of all this supposed to be good writing?

Thanks again,
- Gene

P. S.
T. S. Eliot began a lot of essays with "It is" or "There is" and similar constructions, which as I recall you weren't too fond of either.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 7:39pm
by Dr. Medulla
The advice I give: Present your thesis within the first 10% of the paper. If you have ten pages to work with, get it in by the end of page one. It's a real estate matter. The more time you spend on set up, no matter how brilliant and helpful it is, you're taking away pages from proving your case. I'd like to think that that approach is a useful medium between rigid first-paragraph thesis statement and endless rambling, still allowing the writer some freedom to be creative while being responsible to the reader.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 7:47pm
by eumaas
Dr. Medulla wrote:The advice I give: Present your thesis within the first 10% of the paper. If you have ten pages to work with, get it in by the end of page one. It's a real estate matter. The more time you spend on set up, no matter how brilliant and helpful it is, you're taking away pages from proving your case. I'd like to think that that approach is a useful medium between rigid first-paragraph thesis statement and endless rambling, still allowing the writer some freedom to be creative while being responsible to the reader.
Exactly. You gotta have it in the beginning, or else you're lost in a pathless wood as a reader, but insisting on the final sentence of the first paragraph is stifling. Moreover, the whole first couple of paragraphs should have a sense of things coming gradually into greater and greater focus. Diffusion at that stage is often deadly, unless one is doing what I'd call a survey essay. Even in the latter case, which isn't terribly common in writing for coursework anyway, you want to have some criteria or guiding lights marked out at the beginning, though you needn't do it in a heavyhanded way. Some of the best essays are able to do that without the reader consciously registering it.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 7:54pm
by eumaas
A lot of Rexroth's essays are survey essays in that sense. You don't necessarily get a strong thesis statement at the get-go, but the temper of the writing together with small specific statements throughout the beginning give you a strong sense of the lines along which the essay will unfold. By the end, you've absorbed the argument without being as conscious of where the thesis is placed unless you reread it.

That kind of writing, though, is a bit of a high-flying exercise and should be reserved for very good writers. It doesn't fit in academic contexts for the most part.

Unless it's the essay under examination in a lit class, of course!

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 7:56pm
by Dr. Medulla
eumaas wrote:
Dr. Medulla wrote:The advice I give: Present your thesis within the first 10% of the paper. If you have ten pages to work with, get it in by the end of page one. It's a real estate matter. The more time you spend on set up, no matter how brilliant and helpful it is, you're taking away pages from proving your case. I'd like to think that that approach is a useful medium between rigid first-paragraph thesis statement and endless rambling, still allowing the writer some freedom to be creative while being responsible to the reader.
Exactly. You gotta have it in the beginning, or else you're lost in a pathless wood as a reader, but insisting on the final sentence of the first paragraph is stifling. Moreover, the whole first couple of paragraphs should have a sense of things coming gradually into greater and greater focus. Diffusion at that stage is often deadly, unless one is doing what I'd call a survey essay. Even in the latter case, which isn't terribly common in writing for coursework anyway, you want to have some criteria or guiding lights marked out at the beginning, though you needn't do it in a heavyhanded way. Some of the best essays are able to do that without the reader consciously registering it.
The thing is, most academics (let alone grad student TAs) are not good writers let alone self-conscious writers. It's easier to default to The Rules because at least they have something to fall back on for justification. I don't think the answer is much more involved than that. If I'll grant some leeway to them, most students aren't good writers either, so forcing them into that box might be beneficial. However, I don't think you encourage good writing—thoughtful, expressive, involved—by handcuffing them. Give students room to work and critique the work on its effectiveness.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 8:01pm
by eumaas
Dr. Medulla wrote:
eumaas wrote:
Dr. Medulla wrote:The advice I give: Present your thesis within the first 10% of the paper. If you have ten pages to work with, get it in by the end of page one. It's a real estate matter. The more time you spend on set up, no matter how brilliant and helpful it is, you're taking away pages from proving your case. I'd like to think that that approach is a useful medium between rigid first-paragraph thesis statement and endless rambling, still allowing the writer some freedom to be creative while being responsible to the reader.
Exactly. You gotta have it in the beginning, or else you're lost in a pathless wood as a reader, but insisting on the final sentence of the first paragraph is stifling. Moreover, the whole first couple of paragraphs should have a sense of things coming gradually into greater and greater focus. Diffusion at that stage is often deadly, unless one is doing what I'd call a survey essay. Even in the latter case, which isn't terribly common in writing for coursework anyway, you want to have some criteria or guiding lights marked out at the beginning, though you needn't do it in a heavyhanded way. Some of the best essays are able to do that without the reader consciously registering it.
The thing is, most academics (let alone grad student TAs) are not good writers let alone self-conscious writers. It's easier to default to The Rules because at least they have something to fall back on for justification. I don't think the answer is much more involved than that. If I'll grant some leeway to them, most students aren't good writers either, so forcing them into that box might be beneficial. However, I don't think you encourage good writing—thoughtful, expressive, involved—by handcuffing them. Give students room to work and critique the work on its effectiveness.
Yeah. That's exactly what I meant by knowing why schematic, mechanical essay writing is drilled into students' heads. Trust me, I've read the shit these little fuckers write, and it is godawful. My only qualm is that people can continue to write that way well past undergrad and not feel free to develop. Some room a little earlier on may be beneficial for certain students; if they can't hack it, just tell them at that point to use the formula until they've developed a better sense of the form.

Of course, the real elephant in the room is that many students just don't grow up reading all that much good writing, and don't really absorb work on that level in college either. As Tim Seibles says, reading is writing with your eyes--the best way to learn good writing is to read a lot of it and let yourself interalize it. Then practice it.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 13 Oct 2015, 8:13pm
by Dr. Medulla
eumaas wrote:Of course, the real elephant in the room is that many students just don't grow up reading all that much good writing, and don't really absorb work on that level in college either. As Tim Seibles says, reading is writing with your eyes--the best way to learn good writing is to read a lot of it and let yourself interalize it. Then practice it.
That's something else I tell students. When you're doing your research, pay attention to how your guy writes. Look at the style. How does he/she organize material? I told my current class about how, in my 3rd year as an undergrad, I tried to write like Hunter Thompson. It was short-lived (thankfully) and mostly unsuccessful, but the point is that I was self-conscious about what I was trying to do. It's about developing a split personality where you learn to read your own writing and become more demanding of the writer. At it's most crude, it's about fucking trying.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 14 Oct 2015, 6:17pm
by Silent Majority
I'll say this about my studies: I'm greatly looking forward to being challenged by them once we get through this entry level stuff.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 14 Oct 2015, 6:31pm
by Dr. Medulla
Silent Majority wrote:I'll say this about my studies: I'm greatly looking forward to being challenged by them once we get through this entry level stuff.
Unless things are different in the UK, that you want to be challenged will make your instructors love the fuck out of you. Students who want to engage are what make the job satisfying. It's like meeting someone who shares your interest—it just makes it all the more enjoyable.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 10:12am
by revbob
Dear Dr and eumaas,

Thank you for reminding me why I prefer math and science.

I don't mean that in a negative way.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 10:25am
by Dr. Medulla
revbob wrote:Dear Dr and eumaas,

Thank you for reminding me why I prefer math and science.

I don't mean that in a negative way.
:lol: No offense taken. Humanities people think the purpose of questions is to ask more questions; science people think the purpose of questions is to obtain answers. That's a bit crude and brutal, but mostly true and eliminates any kind of ranking.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 2:10pm
by Dr. Medulla
Tonight we're discussing a Marxist interpretation of punk and alt music. Based on the summaries they've submitted, they all love the book. I'm gonna call them a bunch of dirty Commies tonight. I might also mention Kulaks and the Khmer Rouge.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 3:23am
by Silent Majority
Dr. Medulla wrote:Tonight we're discussing a Marxist interpretation of punk and alt music. Based on the summaries they've submitted, they all love the book. I'm gonna call them a bunch of dirty Commies tonight. I might also mention Kulaks and the Khmer Rouge.
Having Toby running round the house, I decided this morning that if I get a dog of my own, he'll be called Bones McCarthy. "The only rabid thing about my dog, sir, is his aggressive anti-communist stance." And if he makes a mess in the house, I'll be able to say things like "At long last, Bones, have you no sense of decency?"

Toby had me up early. I should really go back to bed.

Re: Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 6:26am
by Dr. Medulla
Silent Majority wrote:
Dr. Medulla wrote:Tonight we're discussing a Marxist interpretation of punk and alt music. Based on the summaries they've submitted, they all love the book. I'm gonna call them a bunch of dirty Commies tonight. I might also mention Kulaks and the Khmer Rouge.
Having Toby running round the house, I decided this morning that if I get a dog of my own, he'll be called Bones McCarthy. "The only rabid thing about my dog, sir, is his aggressive anti-communist stance." And if he makes a mess in the house, I'll be able to say things like "At long last, Bones, have you no sense of decency?"

Toby had me up early. I should really go back to bed.
I have, on my fur, 205 communist fleas.