Further Reading

Further Reading Presentations

Our studies into the craft of nonfiction can be enhanced by doing some further reading into these writers and their craft beyond the assigned text.  You will present in class some basic research into the writer you have been assigned; you will also initiate discussion into some element of this writer’s biography and/or craft that is of interest and that might provide some context for the book we are reading. With the final project at the end of the semester, you will be selecting a mentor from one or more of these authors to guide you in your own crafting of an essay; at that point, you can return to these further reading posts to delve more into the author and the elements of craft.

Here are the guidelines for this assignment:

  • Research. Find and provide a brief summary of an additional text by the author or about the author: another essay, a chapter from another book, an interview with the author (such as Paris Review), a critical essay or review of the author.
  • Connections. Make note of any elements of style or craft or particular topics in this further reading that might compare/contrast with the text we are reading: further evidence of how the writer writes and thinks that we can apply to our reading.  Identify an element or passage in the class text that you want to highlight for comparison in class discussion. As a way to develop this focus on craft, identify for discussion one philosophical, rhetorical or poetic element of writing relevant to this writer: for example, a particular rhetorical figure used, an element of the writer’s style or grammar you notice and want to highlight, an idea or principle the writer focuses on. You can consult course resources on Rhetorical Figures and the Glossary of Poetic Terms (from Poetry Foundation). Make a link to whatever web resources you find relevant or useful.
  • Question. Sketch out one or two questions or ideas to raise for further discussion in class the day you present. Help us forward your further reading into a better grasp of the writer, his/her text and craft.
  • Publish. Write this up into a 1 page overview and
  • post to this Further Reading page (copy into the “Leave a Reply” box); post before your class presentation. The presentation/discussion should be around 5 minutes. If you desire, you can combine your efforts with another person also scheduled to present on the same day, though will need to post your overview separately.

Schedule of Presentations:

  • W 10/11: Dillard or Douglass
    • Seth, Dan, Mallory, Heather
  • W 10/18: Kaysen
    • Sarah, Alex, Adam
  • W 10/25: Savoy
    • Carson, Abby, Brian
  • F 11/10: Multimedia
    • Devin, Mike H., Mitch
  • W 11/15: Journalism/Documentary
    • Emma, Nick, Jackson
  • W 11/29: D’Agata
    • Michael D., Gabby, Z

31 thoughts on “Further Reading

  1. In Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse” from her collection Teaching a Stone to Talk, she recalls a memory of experiencing a total eclipse. She explains it as a terrifying and possibly even life changing. However, anyone could describe such an experience in a few simple sentences. Dillard takes up nearly 20 pages with highly descriptive sentences. Everything from the land, to the people, to a completely unrelated painting of a clown in her hotel room. In an NPR interview, Dillard touches on how she wrote this specific piece and how it relates to her memory.
    ANNIE DILLARD: It was about the eruption of the irrational into daily life because, boy, is the sight of a total eclipse irrational, and people were screaming. I mean, all sorts of science nuts were out there with their cameras screaming their heads off ’cause it seemed like the end of the world.
    BLOCK: Screaming in terror really then.
    DILLARD: Yes, oh, absolutely. I’d seen a great many partial eclipses, but a partial eclipse has the same relation to a total eclipse as flirting with a man does to marrying him. It’s completely different.
    BLOCK: How easy or hard is it for you to summon up what that experience was like, that of seeing and being part of that total eclipse 37 years ago?
    DILLARD: How hard is it to write? It’s a [expletive].
    BLOCK: (Laughter) No, to remember what that was like, to bring back that sensation 37 years later.
    DILLARD: Well, I’ve thought of it a lot. Old memories are very easy to get except that once you write about something you’ve destroyed it. You no longer have the memory. You only have the memory of what you’ve written.
    BLOCK: What’s on the page.
    DILLARD: Yes. It’s like people who take photographs during their whole vacation. They won’t remember their vacation. They’ll only remember what photographs they took.
    She states herself that since the event occurred so long ago, the memory is clouded by the writing. She has a basic memory of a feeling from that time but not nearly enough to write in such a descriptive manner that she does. This begs the question of why. Why is she so descriptive about things such as the clown painting and actually how accurate is the writing about her experience? It is extremely stylized and she creates a lot of imagery. Did Dillard add or change things to her memory to service some agenda? While it is hard to locate, she must have had some purpose behind writing this. Is she trying to comment on the frailty of everything? Regardless of what actually happened, her memory has been completely affected by her writing and she may truly believe that the piece is accurate. How is your writing and memories affected by an underlying agenda or purpose?

    • Further Reading: Annie Dillard
      Annie Dillard is an avid fan of metaphor, especially those of a peculiar nature. From my first exposure to Dillard with “The Death of a Moth” to Teaching a Stone to Talk, it is clear she values the subtle nuisances associated with metaphor – especially extended metaphors. In order to further expose myself to her philosophy on essay writing, I read the interview from Brainpickings.org entitled “Annie Dillard on the Art of the Essay and Narrative Non-fiction vs. Poetry and Short Stories”.
      In her interview, Dillard discusses how the non-fiction essay is a way to assess human potential through the aspiring writer’s words. Because essays are based on truth – plain facts and symbolic facts – it is not complicated to have something to expand upon, as the world always keeps moving and perspectives always keep changing. There is no drama in essay, just fact, just idealism, just metaphor. Dillard remarks, “The essay may deal in metaphor better than the poem can because prose may expand what the lyric poem must compress,” (Brainpickings.org). There is an extended amount of space to devote to developing a metaphor to relate the human world to something larger than itself. Shortly after that remark, Dillard discusses how essayists must master the art of uncertainty. In this discussion, she employs a metaphor saying, “We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees,” (Brainpickings.org). It almost seems as if Dillard cannot write a thing without including a metaphor!
      In her collection of expeditions and encounters, Annie Dillard uses a collection of peculiar metaphors to discuss everything from organized religion to internal struggles to human motivation. One essay, “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, uses an extended metaphor of relating a man trying to instruct an oval beach cobble in the English language. She is discussing the hard-headed nature of humans, especially how our inability to appreciate silence affects the way in which we live our lives. Although the entire essay is a metaphor of sorts, one section stands out in particular when she writes, “my memories of them had altered, the way memories do, like particolored pebbles rolled back and forth over a grating, so that after time those hard bright ones, the ones you thought you would never lose, have vanished, passed through the grating, and only a few big, unexpected ones remain,” (Dillard, page 92). Her use of peculiar metaphors draw attention to the main points of her non-fiction essays, even when the main points carry over from essay to essay. For example, there are many a similarity between the metaphor of the dying moth and that of the dying deer in “The Deer at Providencia”. Which brings us to the question of what is the deer supposed to represent? The struggles a budding writer faces, like in “The Death of a Moth”, or something greater?

  2. Annie Dillard: Observational and Experimental Writings

    “Excepting only some titles and subtitles, I did not write a word of it,” Dillard states in her Author’s Note for Mornings Like This. Despite her admission that she did not write the majority of the found poems that comprise this work, Dillard does state that the poems are original in that she used pieces of “broken” text and invented the themes and orderings. Underneath the title of each poem, she cites the original work in which she found her poems. This particular collection is reminiscent of Emerson’s “Quotation and Originality” and the idea that everyone quotes.

    In Dillard’s work there are numerous nods to Thoreau and Dickinson, two authors to whom she is routinely compared. These found poems with their intrinsic nature themes are reminiscent of Thoreau, and the way the poems are arranged in broken stanzas employing the use of dashes is of Dickinson. Dillard’s writing is very organized although bordering on stream-of-conscious. In her essay “Living Like Weasels” (pg. 65), she ponders those wild creatures and their way of thinking. She makes observations first about the weasel and then moves onto experimenting with the weasel’s way of life as a comparison for how we, as humans, should live. The process of observation and experimentation is embodied in several of her essays and in her collection of found poems. In her poem appropriately titled “Observations and Experiments” (pg. 15), she describes the process of making observations and then conducting experiments. For this poem, Dillard’s observations and experiments are nature-themed, unsurprising since the text she found her poem in was Alan Dale’s Observations and Experiments in Natural History. While many view Dillard as naturalist who loved to make observations about the world around her and had a writing style that can only be described as experimental, she confessed in her personal note on this poem that she has “preferred to know less and less about more and more.”

    Does Dillard’s unique process of observational and experimental writing impact the way that we are supposed to read her work? Do we take Dillard at her word for her observations and not conduct our own experiments? Did Dillard know that she would become such a well respected and profound voice for the naturalists that she purposely tried to observe all aspects of nature (land, sea, and sky)?

    Her way of writing encourages us to make our own observations (about her work and the world around us) and then experiment with the truth we have found in her style. There are those who say that Annie Dillard’s work contained deep philosophical meaning, but Grace Suh from the Yale Herald spoke with Dillard in 1996 and stated that in the case of “Living Like Weasels” that sometimes “even for Dillard, a weasel is just a weasel.”

    Works Cited

    Dillard, Annie. Mornings Like This: Found Poems. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1996. Print.

    Dillard, Annie. Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. Print.

    Neill, Peter. “Annie Dillard, American Naturalist.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 May 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

    Suh, Grace. “Ideas are Tough; Irony is Easy.” @Herald: A talk with Annie Dillard. The Yale Herald, Inc., 4 Oct. 1996. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

  3. Frederick Douglass- Further Reading

    After having read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” for the second time I decided to look into what Frederick Douglass did after is successful escape from slavery. I also wanted to incorporate some outside perspective, having learned about this essay in a different context. It is surprisingly different learning about this slave narrative in a non-fiction class than in an African American Literature class.
    A major difference between these different classes is how we approached the slave narrative as a genre. In our Introduction to African American class we learned right off the bat the difference between a slave narrative and an autobiography. The reason why I make this point right away is because of the importance a slave narrative has for other people. It is what speaks for a whole race of people who were enslaved at this time. There is also a list of elements that are usually included in slave narratives and if you read Douglass’s slave narrative you can find most of these elements included.
    I believe Douglass’s slave narrative truly is a tragedy when you look at how he and so many other individuals who were enslaved were stripped from any bit of their identity that they had and any bit of pride that they had. We see this in the beginning when Douglass writes, “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.” Knowing your age and birthdate is one of the key pieces to our identities and the slave owners destroyed any pieces of evidence. This is why slave narratives are so important, because it shares the reality with the world of how the slaves were being treated and it gives today’s readers insight into the harsh treatment that slaves were receiving.
    As much as the slave narrative is a tragedy we can also look at it as a triumphant turn around. Slaves were not given any tools to learn to read or right so Douglass had to turn to mentors that were able to teach him some basics, which was rare for slaves and also extremely dangerous and risky. As he learned and taught himself to read more and more he also was forced to face a harsh reality for himself. “The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could see them in no other light than a band of successful robbers… I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” This quote really stood out to me because we have grown up hearing how much of a gift it is to be given an education. Yet to this man and many other slaves the gift of an education was also the insight to their wretched past.
    I think it is important to look at what Douglass did past is escape because it shows he did not just stop at “freedom.” Douglass went on to work tirelessly with abolitionist groups and leaders and he continued to educate himself more and more. He made a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s Annual Convention where a correspondent said of him, “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence.” Frederick Douglass was an extremely important figure during this time to help bring attention to the realities of slavery and help slaves have hope.

  4. After reading the narrative of “the Life of Frederick Douglass”, I did some further research on Douglass and his experience going through and overcoming slavery. Not only is Douglass a writer, but he also gave many speeches throughout his life that educated people and spread awareness about his struggles. As a child, he only met his mother a few times before she passed away. Douglass was eventually enslaved in the country and was treated horribly. He notes that he was “broken in body, soul, and spirit”. Eventually, he was able to escape and began a new life in Massachusetts. He began to make speeches and fight for the rights of other people of color, as well as the rights of women in later years. This research allowed me to see that Douglass is not only a writer, but also went on to educate himself and advocate for people in similar situations to the one that he was once in. Though he went through a great deal of struggles himself and easily could have given up at many times, he never seemed to think that he was out of chances to advance himself. At one point in time, he attempted to escape from slavery and failed, but he still found a way to escape later on. Still, even after escaping, he began to make a difference in the world by writing and giving speeches.
    Douglass has a way of writing that allows readers to truly feel where he is coming from. He is a wonderful storyteller and takes the time to thoroughly explain his story so that as readers we can understand. One quote that stands out to me in “Narrative of the Life” is, “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.” (page 37). This quote is in reference to the affects the slavery has on its victims. Additionally, on page 68, Douglass recalls a time when he had to go visit his master. He says, “I then presented an appearance enough to affect any but a heart of iron. From the crown of my head to my feet, I was covered with blood. My hair was all clotted with dust and blood; my shirt was stiff with blood. My legs and feet were torn in sundry places with briers and thorns, and were also covered with blood. I suppose I looked like a man who had escaped a den of wild beasts, and barely escaped them. In this state I appeared before my master, humbly entreating him to interpose his authority for my protection.” This quote particularly resonates with readers because it is specific and brutal. You can fully understand how Douglass must have felt in that situation, even though he does not simply say it. It is through his use of rhetoric that we can feel his pain and cringe at his appearance.


  5. Further Reading: Susanna Kaysen
    I chose to explore a novel that Kaysen wrote as a kind of prequel to Girl, Interrupted, though she wrote it after Girl, Interrupted was published. The novel, Cambridge, delves into Kaysen’s troubled childhood: her poor relationship with her family (especially her mother), her awareness of the fact that she was considered “weird” and “different” from every other nine-year-old, her awkward appearance and her self-pity all combining to create the perfect storm of psychological insecurities and problem patterns.
    The story Kaysen recounts spans five years and takes her far from the comforts and familiarity of Cambridge, placing her in places like dreary England and sun-soaked Greece. Although when Kaysen thinks back to her time in Greece, she describes it as “a long lesson in her insignificance.” Even in her youth, Kaysen was prone to disturbances in her normal functioning and thought (which would later be diagnosed as a mental disorder). Looking back she claims, “I don’t think I grew up very effectively.” And though Kaysen describes her only thrills to be from causing worry and havoc for her parents, her constant disappointments to her mother and the stresses of living in such an academically-inclined household, the overall tone of her writing is one of a sort of happy nostalgia. If not happiness for the youth she did have, the yearning for the childhood that she always wanted.
    All of this recollecting and analysis leads us to the point that we met “Susanna,” the day she was admitted to McLean Hospital. Girl, Interrupted is an autobiography because it is based strictly on the clear memories and facts that Kaysen has from her time spent in McLean. It stays true to life and documents a particular experience in her life. While Cambridge is almost entirely based off of fact, Kaysen calls it a novel so as not to be so stressed trying to remember exactly how events took place because they happened so long ago and across a large span of her youth. She felt freer having the liberty to call it a novel and expand on events and characters. In both of these works made very effective use of ethos. In Girl, Interrupted, Kaysen includes actual documents from her stay at McLean which establishes her credibility. There is also ethos in the fact that these are based off of real experiences.
    Questions/Ideas: Do you think to get a better idea of where Susanna stood during Girl, Interrupted you needed the background information provided in Cambridge? Do you feel enough information was provided with the Susanna we met in Girl, Interrupted? Do you think it matters that the prequel Cambridge was written as an afterthought?

  6. Susanna Kaysen
    -She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts
    -Carl Kaysen (father) economist
    -Annette Neutra Kaysen (mother) pianist
    -She attended high school in Boston before she was sent to the psych ward
    -Entering McLean, she was undergoing treatment for depression
    -Kaysen was then diagnosed with borderline personality disorder- when one struggles with their moods, relationships, and behavior.
    By doing some further reading on Kaysen, I have made the conclusion that she is constantly writing her novels on herself and what she has experienced. She tends to focus on the more of the struggles of her experiences though. In her novel, Cambridge, she talks about her childhood and how she had troublesome relationships with parents. Throughout the book, she includes that there were many struggles along the way because she felt as though “she was a child in an adults’ world”. Her family moved from place to place as a child, but always would come back home to Cambridge. Throughout the book, she tends to feel lost and excluded as she travels from place to place for her father’s job.
    I can make an assumption that her troublesome childhood led her in the direction of her personality disorder. She constantly traveled around, and this inhibited her to make relationships. She felt that she was in a world that she didn’t belong in, therefore, she had to be someone she wasn’t. This altered the way she grew up. She even says in her interview with goodreads, “I don’t think I grew up very effectively”. Borderline personality disorder is hard enough when trying to balance your relationships. Kaysen didn’t need the added stress.
    Kaysen was interviewed by goodreads, and they talked about her book, Cambridge.
    Goodreads: How closely is it based on your own experiences?

    Kaysen: Almost completely. The reason I decided it should be called a novel is that I don’t trust my memory, and I didn’t want to be going crazy because I couldn’t remember things accurately. Also, since I have this notion that I’m going to write more of it, I wanted the freedom to fuss around with reality in order to make the story more interesting.
    Kaysen talks about how being in the “nut house” really changed her life
    Although she may talk horribly of the place, during the interview with goodreads she actually gave it credit for her work. “it gave her tolerance for being weird”
    “Even if it was a rather luxurious, high-class nut house, it was a nut house: There were bars on the windows, and I couldn’t go out. And so I think it was a very important formative experience, and I think it made me able to be a writer. Or perhaps I could have become a writer without it, but I think it was helpful. I was able to use it to help myself.”
    Two of the reviews that I read, both included that Cambridge, and Girl Interrupted should be called a novel vs a memoir. The interview with goodreads Kaysen says, “The reason I decided to call it a novel is that I don’t trust my memory, and I didn’t want to be going crazy because I couldn’t remember things accurately.”


  7. In his adolescence, Abani wrote his first book titled Masters of the Board; as a result of its publishing, he was imprisoned. The book was thought to be related to a coup intended to overthrow the current Nigerian government. As well as memoirs and novels, Abani has written many poems, almost all of which allude to some nonfictional event that transpired during his lifetime. His poetry and books are all based in fact. His poem Blue depicts a group of African slaves on a boat traveling the ocean to sell them to new owners. In the first stanza, the image of the slaves huddled together on the boat in order to make room for hope implies that they are still, to an extent, optimistic: “Africans in the hold fold themselves/ to make room for hope.”
    The first line of the second stanza refers to the Igbos as “cargo,” which shows the way the African people were viewed by the majority; objects, not people. The newly loaded cargo “[computes] the swim back to land.” The poem goes on to describe the experience of a female slave who was sold six separate times, “once for a gun, then cloth, then iron/ manilas, her pride was masticated like husks/ of chewing sticks, spat from morning-rank mouths.” This woman attempts to escape, breaking free from the metal handcuffs; “the musket shot dropping her/ over the side.”
    Abani, much like his book The Face: Cartography of the Void, uses heavy imagery that, believe it or not, come from real life experiences. The horrors of the mistreatment of and prejudice towards the African people are often talking points in his poems and books. Rhetorically, Abani sticks to metonymy rather than metaphor, since the use of metaphorical devices would be too overstated; his style will usually prefer understatement to overstatement. It is this understatement that makes his work so emotional and intense; rather than describing every emotion felt during the experience, he leaves it to the audience to feel that emotion.
    Abani was, and still is, a very influential contemporary writer. Through intense imagery yet subtle metonymy, he is able to create vivid vignettes of experiences that he has experienced throughout his life.

  8. Chris Abani TED Talk

    In a TED talk given in 2008, Chris Abani discusses the idea of humanity and how it is portrayed in society. He talks about the stories he writes, which are about people and transformation. Along with that, he remarks that people are “never more beautiful than when [they’re] most ugly”, being it the time that shows oneself what they are capable of doing. He writes his stories with that in mind. A story would be much more powerful about a broken man than one with his life together. The pathos is stronger in the former. He speaks of humanity as a mirror. It is impossible to be human without other people. Humanity is something that is intertwined. He mentions Ubuntu, a Southern African philosophy that translates to “humanity toward others”. It is the belief of the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. The nature of humanity is central to Abani’s later essay The Face: Cartography of the Void, as identity is a main theme. Our identity stems from our humanity, and the most basic form of identity that we possess is the identity of being human. We all share humanity so we all share this identity or part of our face. He shares stories of his mother, obviously an important figure in shaping Abani as he grew up. Most notably, he shares the story of how his English mother would venture into rural Nigeria to work with underprivileged women and teach them about birth control. Abani must accompany as he speaks the language of the women and acts as the translator. Later on, in a London airport, a woman gives nearly all of her possessions to his mother because it is clear she is struggling. He remarks that a simple act of kindness from a stranger will unstitch you. It is these acts that define humanity. He talks of his time in prison on death row along with his cellmate, a fourteen year old boy, who teaches the other inmates how to read. Despite this, he is killed in an extremely horrific way. Abani closes his speech by relating to a tradition in Nigeria where people will build up statues to gods, but when their time has come, they knock the statues down and forget about the god. He explains that we are building gods in our own lives but not knocking them down. To knock them down is to reclaim humanity. Abani’s speech contains many points that would become apparent is his later essays, especially his points about humanity.

  9. Further Reading
    Michael Moore
    Michael Moore is interviewed by Canadian news journal, The Guardian, about his documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” Michael Moore is asked about the overwhelming “success” the film produced and his expectations of the film. Moore discusses the development process of the film, the hours he put in, the way he filmed and chose footage. Moore also answers questions on his self-esteem and how often he appears in his own films, addressing critics’ questions of self-confidence and being an “ego maniac”. Moore also discusses with the interviewer his view of American’s feelings on America, stating that the majority of Americans are displeased or don’t like America. He gives himself a sort of “savior” title and answers questions as if he is doing the American people a favor by bashing America and America’s culture and ways. Moore discusses a previous book he published bashing the American white male and George Bush and his refusal to change his book title or its contents after the attack on 9/11. The book is racistly titled “Stupid White Men starring George W Bush”. Moore also randomly throws out statistics and to what he believes are facts; which I have researched and disproved or discredited most of them. Moore discusses his plan to dismantle the NRA and his opinions on guns and gun laws. The interviewer ends the interview with some challenges to Moore questioning that documentaries can be as manipulative as fiction, can’t it? If you want to make it that way, you can make the facts fit.” Moore defends himself with a metaphor of his ability to twist the story and give new, concerning facts. Moore ends the interview stating future plans to continue documentary filmmaking and plans to not return to TV producing. Interviewer is Andrew Collins.
    Moore discusses how he created his documentary and how he believes he made his documentary so convincing and interesting and successful. Moore creates his documentaries not for political purposes although the majority of his films concern politics or government issues. Moore wants to create a film that can give the audience both tears but laughter, which Andrew Collins points out in his interview of Moore. Moore’s goal is to give a lot of emotion to his films with striking visuals and shocking or tragic events that he believes need attention. After watching Bowling for Columbine a few characteristics of his film stood out. There was no clear point to the film in the beginning and pieces together random facts or footage about a particular subject. I personally don’t like this style of his, I previously had no knowledge of the shooting at Columbine and no idea why it was titled that or the point of the documentary until it was almost over. If I had been personally watching this film, I would’ve turned it off after 10-15 minutes. I also believe his statement of facts was wrong, there was no mention of outside facts or reasoning to all the “tragedies” that he lists during the “What a Wonderful World” montage. He paints America as a violent, horrible place to live with no mention of the soldiers that risk and lose their lives to save his racist, liberal, ungrateful (excuse my language, I’m passionate about this issue) ass.
    Is presenting biased facts without outside knowledge wrong? Doesn’t that contradict the point of a journalist or documentary film maker, who’s job is to present facts on an issue or topic?

  10. According to their website, TED is a nonprofit that works to spread ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. I think the key word there is powerful. My question is how do these speakers go about creating such influential speeches on modern issues? I think Ken Robinson does an excellent job delivering this kind of speech in his talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? He seems to be concerned about a central topic throughout many of his speeches and interviews. Robinson questions the education system as a whole and gets the audience to think about education from a new perspective.
    The way in which Robinson speaks really interests me because it’s very similar to an essay. He starts off a talk with, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” The language here is compelling and formal, it feels like something we might find in an essay. Another element of rhetoric that I was particularly interested in with Robinson is the use of humor. Throughout the speech he gets the audience laughing, which is I think a lot different than we’ve seen in a lot of essays. He illustrates some stories that cause the audience to laugh, for example,
    “She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will, in a minute.” (Robinson, 2006)
    Moreover, then these excerpts, the infliction of sarcasm in tone is a huge part of what makes the audience respond. It’s more of a conversation than we really see in essays. It’s a successful rhetoric because Robinson is able to control the attitude and argument, the audience does not have to reach their own conclusions like they would in an essay. The tone of the speaker is what tells us how to think about his work. This relates with another new media essay we listened to, specifically a radio essay, Santa Land by David Sedaris. These pieces differ in that Robinson gives a visual speech to a live audience and Sedaris exclusively uses his voice. This was my favorites piece because it called for obvious entertainment with the exaggerated humor in his tone. He mocked other people when they said to him, “I’m gonna have you fired!” That was really gripping because it was making fun of something and the audience automatically takes his silly tone lightly. However, in both Robinson and Sedaris’s approach they approach arguments that are quite serious and call the audience to think and question the known. Robinson confronts, “And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.” He certainly makes the audience laugh and enjoy themselves, but his story questions education as we know it. In Sedaris’s essay, at the end he says in a more subdued tone, “It’s not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents’ idea of a world they cannot make work for them.” Making us reconsider not only the holidays, but expectation, parenting and even tradition as we know them.
    My consideration in these new media essays, is what do they do for an argument that an essay cannot? And is there something that limits them? To summarize, in my opinion the most prominent aspect of new media essays that we don’t see in written essays, is the ability to manipulate the audience’s attitude and perception.

  11. This essay was about a fight between two malicious opponents due to inquiries about facts, beliefs, history, and whether the facts were accurate or not. From the beginning of the essay, D’Agatha suggested that there was trouble. He wrote an essay about a young man who had committed suicide. At the time, Jim Fingal was an intern at where D’Agatha worked and he was assigned to check the facts about this piece of writing. Fingal discovered that D’Agatha had made up a few details that were not necessarily true. The main assumption that D’Agatha made was each year, a certain number of teenagers in Nevada kill themselves. He also makes false accusations about the Stratosphere Casino. D’Agatha defends himself by saying “…This is an essay, so journalistic rules don’t belong here.” I agree with Fingal because when writing a book, the author should keep his facts straight and not make false claims. The author should not write about something he assumes because this becomes a controversial issue. Fingal states “…I applaud anyone’s search for The Truth, The Artistic Truth, or any other kind of Truth that you can finagle this argument to be about, but when you change the factual qualities of a thing to suit your own artistic interests, you’re creating something that never existed.” Just like Fingal says; the author should not put false information in his argument when he is not 100 percent sure. One could counter that not every book has to have precise facts in it. D’Agatha was trying to say that it was the quality of his argument that mattered over the facts and truths.
    This book was interesting to me. It was a gradual change from a typical book to a heated argument about certain facts. In the end of the book, the reader gets a sense of the relationship between truth and accuracy.

  12. Eco-Criticism in Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk

    Literary Theory can be a daunting way to analyze works of literature, however, an understanding of such theory is imperative to uncover the deeper meaning behind certain works. In Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, the reader must have an understanding of eco-criticism in order to grasp some of the more intricate points of nature and humanity within Dillard’s project,

    Literary theory is the lens through which we can interpret meaning in any given work. A reader can look for subsets of theory including disability studies, race theory, gender-queer theory, Marxist theory, colonial theory, and eco-critical theory. For understand Teaching a Stone to Talk, the most important theory is of course the relation of the speaker to the natural world.

    Eco-criticism as a sub genre of theory includes a keen awareness and understanding of the built and natural environment in any story. The reader must first identify in a text what is nature, and especially the relationship the speaker has with the natural world. After that has been accomplished, a reader must decide where we fit into the narrative on both the individual level and humanity as a whole.

    The eco-critical lens is especially important in the survey and cannon of pastoral literature. Nature has always served as a meditative space for personal contemplation in the real world and in literature. Thus, outer nature in the real world impacts both interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. To borrow a phrase from Annie Dillard herself, humans “witness” nature.

    Further connections in eco-criticism to Annie Dillard include how Dillard makes sense of her environment by transmitting all of its facets to the reader. The result is that the reader gets many moments of lush, overwhelming description of the natural world. Dillard is interested in the interrelation of her personal experience and the world around her, but also to the connection between humanity as a whole and nature.


    For my further reading, I looked into an article from the New York Times from March 2016. The article discusses Dillard’s work and her writing style, from her prose which borders on poetry to her philosophy and allusion to random, odd facts. The New York Time’s praises her as a “consciousness- an abstract, all-encompassing energy field that inhibits a given piece of writing the way sunlight clings to a rock; delicately but with absolute force, always leaving a shadow behind.” To provide examples of her playful writing and her poetic prose the piece presents three essay’s of Dillard’s which were previously unpublished: Recalling Niels Bohr, Lonesome, with Snails, and Utah.

    In these three short essay’s, as well as all of her essays, Dillard uses that blend of prose and poetics to bring out the strange buried within the familiar. However, these three essays are supposedly one of her first attempts at her own, unique style to “articulate all the intricately nested subtleties of the human mind in contact with the ever-changing world.” It is the rhythm her language establishes which facilitates her writing in fostering a sense of the surreal in her narratives and locates the extraordinary within the mundane. She gets creative in her blend of styles to dive into “all the tiny gaps of our ordinary experience.”

    One prominent question I have after reading this article is why does she continuously use obscure facts within her essays. Facts, as the Times puts it, “harvested from the darkest corners of the library.” How do these facts contribute to her writing, in what ways do they assist her in exploring the metaphysical world?Furthermore, do these facts work in tandem with her poetic prose or do they work against the mood she is attempting to cultivate?

  14. Further Reading: Dillard
    In an interview conducted with the Washington Post on her writing, it is apparent that her nearly freely-associative writing style, almost impulsive, is not just in her writing style, but it is also in her personality. Although it may be quick, or witty, there was a kind of disorganization and hint of untraditional/conventional writing, leaving the audience to wonder where Dillard was going on this extraneous note.

    It seems as though Dillard is either too quick or too witty to stay dedicated to one subject at a time, especially as seen in her interview, where she went from one moment talking about her book, to then reminiscing over ping pong. Her style reminds me of that of a good comedian, as she has a quick quip every few thoughts except she feels the dire need to verbalize it. This writing style would definitely be unconventional, but it is also a kind of catnip that writers and audiences cannot help but entertain and delve in to, fueling this cycle.

    One could attempt to analyze her structure, but as seen in this phone interview, it seems as though that structure simply comes naturally for her, that it is not something that is
    In my most recent blog post, I claimed Dillard, in her Teaching a Stone to Talk, used this tactic on purpose, that Dillard was setting the scene for her topic, then “zoomed out” of it, and picked a seemingly unrelated topic, but then connected the two in the end. This phone interview however, although it may have been because it was too short, just sounded like Dillard left out the linking of the extraneous facts, and seemed a bit haphazardly put together.

  15. After reading Annie Dillard for over a year, I’ve realized that certain themes and motifs recur throughout her essays and books. One theme or motif that I find particularly intriguing is her interpretation and philosophy of seeing. For Dillard, seeing is an art.
    In her essay, “Mirages,” she explains that our field of vision is actually an optical illusion. She argues that what we see is the result of our brain’s simplification. In other words, perception itself is an activity. It is the act of familiarizing some foreign object into a shape or color that the brain can easily make sense of. This is further explained in Dillard’s essay, “Total Eclipse.”
    While observing the eclipse, Dillard comments, “it is a bit of a trick to keep your knowledge from blinding you.” Interestingly, Dillard asserts that knowledge- facts, terms, and concepts- can actually hinder us from seeing, and thus, appreciating something fully. This is backed by her essay, “Lenses,” in which she says, “seeing through a lens is an acquired activity.” Here, Dillard categorizes seeing as something learned. Seeing’s learned properties is thus reinforced over time. After so many years of formal education, how many of us can actually see a tree for what it is instead of a projection of our own thoughts, ideas, and material knowledge?
    If seeing through a lens is a learned activity, how do we remove the lens? Better yet, is it even to remove a lens and see something as it is, when our actual eyes are lenses themselves? As a nature writer, I believe Dillard is more interested in seeing things naturally, or restoring our vision to its natural state. In Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” she offers a solution.
    At tinker Creek, Dillard looks at a tree and actually becomes the tree. Losing self-consciousness she says, “I lose myself in a tree. I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber. I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches” (Dillard, 82). In her essay, “Life On the Rocks: The Galapagos,” she says she wants to be a “perfect witness” of the area and return as a “palo alto tree.”
    Why does Dillard prescribe actually becoming the object that the observer is observing? By becoming the object, the observer closes the physical and mental distance caused by knowledge and judgment. Essentially, to know how something is, how it feels, or what it does, we actually have to become it.
    Is this why Dillard asked her class in her moth essay, “which of you want to give your lives and be writers?” In a class full of people who are interested in writing, she warns them that the only way to know what being a writer entails is to actually become it. Here, Dillard’s proposition links back to Emerson’s essay on “Experience.”
    In a blog post or writing project, the topic of seeing and experiencing can be further explored. Is experience necessary for proper perception, or can we perceive things properly without actually experiencing them?

  16. Further Reading: Kaysen
    New York Times Article: A Designated Crazy

    My further reading assignment was Susanna Kaysen. Recently we read her book “Girl, Interrupted.” The book sparked my interest because of a few unique qualities that Kaysen incorporated as a writer. I decided that I wanted to get a better understanding of who Susanna Kaysen is as a person, before I began my further reading. I quickly learned from reading her book, that she was admitted to the McLean Psychiatric Hospital to treat her borderline personality disorder, and her suicide attempt. She attempted suicide at a young age by taking 50 asprin. I also learned from glancing at her other novels, that she had a little fling with her high school English teacher… Interesting. She had a lot of boyfriends as a matter of fact.

    After reading her book, I decided that take to the internet to find my further reading. One particular article in the New York Times caught my attention. The article “A Designated Crazy” tried to uncover the truth about Kaysen as an author, and answer a readers question of: is she still crazy? In the article, it focuses in depth on “Girl, Interrupted” and also gives readers and better understanding of Kaysen on a more personal basis. The article doesn’t successful tell readers if Kaysen was still crazy, but the inclusion of an interview with her allowed readers to take their best guess.

    One thing that stuck out to me in learning more about Kaysen, was the fact that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This leaves an individual always feeling uncertain about most life issue like long term goals, or sexual orientation. This explains why she had so many boyfriends. This can also tell us a lot about her writing. Since she is psychologically uncertain on a few levels, her writing seems to show that. One example of this can be observed in reading “Girl, Interrupted.” In this book, her writing appears to not be very linear. Her chapters seem to jump around. One other thing that seems to stand out about Kaysen was the fact that she is not afraid to talk about things that are not normally spoken of. The entire book of “Girl, Interrupted” is her autobiography of her life inside of a psychiatric hospital. Mental health in itself is not something normally talked about, let alone personal accounts of people’s behaviors and issues.

    Another example of this is found in her other book: “The Camera My Mother Gave Me.” Just like her other book, in this one she speaks of her issues at a younger age, and she also seemed to write a lot of accounts of her vagina. Who as an author talks about their vagina in a book? She seems to have a very informal structure and content in her writings.

  17. Annie Dillard is notorious for her writing on nature. From Teaching a Stone to Talk to Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek Dillard exploits naturalistic elements using vivid imagery and abundance of rhetorical elements. Yet upon reading these two pieces I sought a vast similarity in the way Dillard used similes when describing animals. This was evident in “Living Like Weasels” where Dillard uses simile to describe the strength of the weasel clinging to a man’s hand. “The man could in no way pry the tiny weasel off, and he had to walk half a mile to water, the weasel dangling from his palm, and soak him off like a stubborn label,” (65). Dillard’s incorporation of both imagery and simile combine to give the reader a vivid description of the animal to fully comprehend the situation. Dillard uses this prose in Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek describing waking up to seeing what her Cat has done to her saying “And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.” Dillard again sets up the scene using both vivid and sensory imagery to convey the setting to the reader. Once the animal is introduced a simile is used to describe the significance of the animal’s action to the story. In this case her cat walking over her body with so much blood on its paws that it appears Dillard had been painted with roses. Dillard does this a lot when describing the Weasel, writing, “Weasel! I had never seen one wild before. He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.” (67). Dillard uses the simile to describe the weasel to accommodate her fascination with the creature. Giving a vivid image of the small, brown, fierce weasel the way she initially saw it with all the emotions she experienced as well. Reading Dillard I always questioned what Dillard implied by all of her reference to animals. Did Dillard envy the animals for their wild and mischievous lives? Is Dillard implying that we all live like animals? Free of constraint, wild and not subject to the standards of society.

  18. Further Reading: Girl, Interrupted by: Susanna Kaysen
    For my further reading I indulged in Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted a novel describing Kaysen’s 18-month stay in Mclean Psychiatric Hospital due to her borderline personality disorder. Initially reading the novel I was dismayed by the saddening detail of Kaysen’s stay in the hospital and the personal method to which she used to describe her demise leading to her admission into the hospital. Very quickly does the reader learn of Kaysen’s attempted suicide where Kaysen took 50 aspirin trying to fulfill her idea of a premature death. I was further fascinated by the explanations and insight Kaysen gave into her decisions and daily emotions which encompassed her disorder. Kaysen offered explanations that many dare to relate due to the hesitance and displeasure most experience when talking about suicide. Kaysen allows the reader to enter the mind of someone with this type of disorder giving specific examples and symptoms that victims of this disorder experience. Kaysen initially relates this disorder to the broader idea of disconnection or being out of touch with reality when falling into a parallel universe. “And it’s easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well,” (5). Kaysen further enters the world of suicide talking about the challenges faced with even contemplating the idea. Thinking about putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger only then allows the perpetrator to realize the failure to which they’ve succeeded too. Kaysen says, “The world defeats you. You put the gun back in the drawer. You’ll have to find another way,” (17). Although discomforting, this is the reality that people with disorders similar to Kaysen must live with when debating finalizing their premature death. Kaysen exploits added sorrow to this disorder stating “A successful suicide demands good organization and a cool head, both of which are usually incompatible with the suicidal state of mind, ” (36). If not depressing enough as it is Kaysen uncovers the matter that people dealing with this disorder do not possess the mental state necessary to achieve a successful suicide, a double negative by all means. Interested in finding out more about Kaysen’s struggle I sought out an interview constructed by the Boston Globe on Kaysen titled, Susanna Kaysen: The chronicler of ‘Cambridge’, that divulged further detail into Kaysen’s state of mind. What I found at first seemed disturbing, but soon this feeling changed to a sense of a misconception obtained by the audience of the novel. In the interview Kaysen remarks that following the publication of her novel everyone felt like they knew Kaysen on this personal level and in spite of this felt as if Kaysen owed them more. “Everybody felt that they knew me and that I owed them more intimacy, that I had given them so much that they could demand everything,” Kaysen says in the interview. But for Kaysen the misconception laid within the motive behind the creation of the novel. ‘This book is an artifact, I made it, I’m a writer. It’s not a transcription from reality,” Kaysen continues, “But my heart is cold. You have to have a somewhat cold heart to be a writer. So I felt there had been some kind of a misunderstanding.” I connected this statement to ideas Kaysen had written about in Girl, Interrupted as Kaysen displayed this commoratio rhetoric, repeating the same idea several times. For it was the intent to relate a sob story of Kaysen’s emotions to the audience yet rather a reflection of Kaysen’s cold heart. Kaysen repeatedly conveys this idea in her novel with a series of quotes illustrating her remorse. Constant questioning of her sanity with any action associated in her life. “I was the only person who had trouble with the rules. Everyone else accepted them. was this a mark of my madness,” (132)? “Was I crazy or right,” (132)? The issue becoming so ingrained in her mind to where she even questioned if she was suffering at all, “Pull yourself together! I told myself. Stop indulging yourself, there’s nothing wrong with you,” (157). Kaysen was suffering immensely, and she couldn’t find the help she needed to escape this agony. The commoratio I connected between her interview and the novel repeated the idea again of Kaysen’s unknown battle to the outside world. She says in the novel, “Part of the point was that nobody knew about my suffering,” (153). In Kaysen’s memoir The Camera my Mother Gave Me Kaysen again relates her suffering in a more extreme way by relaying her suffering with an extreme pain in her Vagina in the same spot where a cyst was removed 20 years earlier. This personal inquiry that Kaysen possesses is the same to which she possessed in Girl, Interrupted when outlining her battle with her disorder. With all of this presented I still question why? I must only entice that Kaysen knew the discrepancy she was revealing when publishing a novel so rich with personal details of her life. Although I feel as if I already possess the answer to this question in that Kaysen needed to record her battle in an attempt to sooth the coldness of her heart, why would she reveal prose knowing the ensuing reaction would hurt her so much? As I said before, possibly an attempt to warm her soul, or perhaps a condition of her disorder after all.

    Susanna Kaysen: The chronicler of ‘Cambridge’

  19. Lauret Savoy’s Trace is a personal geological map that layers intimate stories together into a unique discussion on history, race, memory, and the American landscape. In Savoy’s interview from April 2016 with terrain.org the interviewer says to Savoy, “When you are speaking, you speak in layers” to which she answers with “I am?” The interviewer explains himself when he says “Well I hear it in layers. You are speaking of the personal, the larger scheme of what’s happening outside. It’s like a personal geology.” Savoy documents her personal history with descriptions of places she has been and the stories she recalls from these places. She describes places like the San Gabriel mountains, the rivers of rural Oklahoma, and the Point Sublime trail. Her move from the west to east coast was a difficult transition, one which she speaks about with the following, “I’ve long felt estranged from time and place, uncertain where home lies” (2). Moving from one childhood home from another was already difficult, but moving to Washington D.C., and being exposed to the racial issues in the city, was even more difficult. Savoy recounts this tough transition when she tells the story of the day she spent playing on the playground of her school in D.C., the day race became a relevant issue in her life. The day a classmate walked up to her and asked “You’re colored, aren’t you?” Savoy discusses this moment in her interview, recalling that the one the boy used was not a tone of respect or kindness, not a tone of golden light and deep blue skies. It was derisive, causing her to run to her parents with questions.
    Savoy’s layering of stories is a unique characteristic of her writing, something she wasn’t even aware she did. Her stories overlap and refer back to each other, each landscape another piece of her personal geological map, mapping out her life. Each landmark refers back to a certain event, which is connected to various feelings, emotions, and memories. That 7th grade recess yard in Washington D.C. will always be associated with that initial feelings of confusion as Savoy was exposed to her first instance of racism. Each state line and monument she crosses as her family moves from west to east is a puzzle piece in her childhood migration from one home to another. The layering of Savoy’s personal history in Trace is a strong rhetorical strategy that is essential to her mission.

  20. Further Reading: Lauret Savoy
    The research I have done led me to an interview between Lauret Savoy and Jourdan Keith. Jourdan Keith is a writer for a website called terrain.org. This website is a “Journal of the Built + Natural Environments” and is a nonprofit magazine published online since 1998 that searches for the “interface — the integration — among the built and natural environments that might be called the soul of place.” In this interview, Savoy is asked about the moments in her life that “shaped her personal and professional path”. This path is something she calls “human erosion”, as she also talks about her family and the country’s history as a way a person discovers themselves.
    Savoy answers questions related to her readers and what she expects them to get out of her readings. Hoping that her readers ask questions about themselves and how they got to where they are in life. Stating that the “past becomes the present in who we are and what we think and do”. Keith then asks Savoy about the “beauty of her language” and her theory that “the beauty fo golden light and deep blue sky made me”. Explaining that she thought the sun colored her using the metaphor allowing the reader to immerse themselves into that situation. Establishing a feeling that “colored” was just a beautiful term for the sun making her. Until she discovered that it was a term for race, leading her to crumble in pain as a mere child.
    Lauret Savoy has a way of writing that allows readers to not only feel what she feels, but also dig deep into what makes them who they are. Her lyrical language and concise scenes of history bring forth a passion and a struggle. The struggle of finding oneself and the process a person goes through to do it. Metaphors and immersion have a role like no other in her writing. Her descriptions of landscapes and stories of her path are not only realistic. They allow the reader to jump in and figure out themselves as well. The words Savoy incorporates into her writing give this idea of finding yourself a realistic feel. For example, words like “commodified”, “mined”, words that most writers would not put near their writing. Yet, these words immerse the reader into the passage and provide great insight into what truly matters to Savoy.
    Savoy uses a lot of imagery in the shape of historical landscapes, people and sights she seen. All related to topics of race and someone finding who they are as a person. Why does she do this? Is there a history of her not going to see these beautiful landscapes? Was she not able to figure out truly what happened to them? Also, even as a kid was she really too naïve to figure out the issue of race? Specifically, do to her time in the MLK era.


  21. Trace, by Lauret savoy, follows Savoy across different landscapes as she reflects upon race, American history, and her identity. She discusses her experiences in writing the book in her interview with Eryn Loeb of Vela Magazine. In the interview, after being asked about how an inquiry led to the creation of the book, savoy noted that, “[she] grew up in a family with very little spoken memory. Growing up within an atmosphere of silence just left [her] wondering: Who [is] [she], where did [she] come from, who are [her] ancestors? [she] believed even at a young age that [she] needed to have some sense of answers to those questions to really have a future,” (Loeb). This struggle with self identity can be found as early as the prologue of the book, when she says “I’ve long felt estranged from time and place, uncertain of where home lies,” (savoy, 2). Trace is a personal journey for Savoy, that “began as essays, as attempts to try to find something concrete, something understandable that [she] could make a story of [her] life around” (Loeb). She went on to say that the “The American landscape was in some ways the template, but also the trigger, to each of the searches,” (Loeb). Savoy’s exploration of landscape can be found in every piece featured in Trace. Savoy has always been fascinated with the landscape, and how it connects to our history. She eventually chose “geology, or earth science, as [her] major, because [she] thought that having a scientific understanding of how the Earth is put together—what its history is, what the structure and materials are—would allow [her] to bring in all of the other pieces,” (Loeb). Savoy’s use of landscape is one of the defining characteristics of her writing.
    Works cited

    Loeb, Eryn, and Eryn Loeb’s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Poets & Writers, Bookforum, The Awl, The Toast and The Millions, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn and dreams about Maine. Follow her on Twitter @erynloeb. “Rock and a Hard Place: An Interview with Lauret Savoy.” Vela, velamag.com/rock-and-a-hard-place-an-interview-with-lauret-savoy/.
    Savoy, Lauret. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Counterpoint, 2016.

  22. King Corn was a very interesting documentary that took a unique approach on the style of documentation. Other documentaries use aggressive over the top words and phrases. They rapidity throw facts in your face that can honestly be hard to understand. King corn doesn’t do that and instead takes a calmer approach. They lay out the facts for you and then they let you decide what you want to believe.

    King Corn puts itself out there in a very different way. It uses irony to get points across. For example, the fact that farmers can’t eat the corn that they grow. It’s a shocking fact but it’s ironic that because of this agricultural system farmers now need to go buy food instead of eating what they grow. Another thing that was ironic was the fact that the men who grew the corn together both had relatives and ancestors from that area. These make the documentary very captivating.

    This documentary even impacted the filmmakers. They tried to not eat corn for a whole month but found it to be nearly impossible. They think more about what they consume. An interesting thing to look at is how they wanted to include the environmental dangers of growing corn, but they couldn’t fit it into the final product. Is fits in to the ironic side as well. They fertilizer and chemicals that they sprayed on the corn would end up being washed away by rain.
    Overall this was an amazing documentary that gave the viewer the facts and allowed them to decide what they wanted to believe.

  23. “Ode To Every Thing” is another video essay written by John Bresland, narrated by Eula Biss. At just over five minutes in length, the video starts with the narrator listing random simple objects. After listing the objects, the essay goes on to mention that books made for infants (like the author’s son) have no plot; they merely list things. Then the video delves into the topic of “things.” Since the author’s child was born, his family has accumulated a number of things, all of which the author likes. Digressing a bit, the author discusses the appearance of the baby’s mouth when it is open. The child’s mouth is like a portal to nothingness, which forces the author to revisit the idea of the child’s “things.” It isn’t the baby who needs all of the objects, Bresland realizes; it is the parents who do. One day, the parents and the baby will all be gone. But the objects will outlast them all. The author finishes by concluding that “things” keep humans grounded to this earth, preventing them from slipping back to whatever portal they all came from (like the portal that is the baby’s mouth).

    In “Mangoes,” Bresland briefly touches on the topic of his baby boy’s things: “…the crap my wife and I have accumulated since the baby arrived,” he laments. “…all this injection molded plastic took over the house.” “Ode To Every Thing” struck me as an expansion of Bresland’s ideas mentioned in “Mangoes.” But although “Ode To Every Thing” keeps to the topic of things mentioned in “Mangoes,” there are some stark differences between the two pieces. For example, the tones of the pieces are different. The author’s mentioning of things in “Mangoes” seems tied up in frustration, while the tone of “Ode To Every Thing” is much more neutral. In “Ode To Every Thing,” the author is no longer expressing his ideas out of frustration, or anger, or happiness, or sadness, or any emotion. All of the statements are made so matter-of-factly, as if maybe, now, the author has come to consider all of the baby’s things with a philosophy that is more reflective than burdensome. Additionally, the video components of the two essays are different. “Mangoes” portrays many different scenes and many different videos of the author’s son. “Ode To Every Thing,” however, spends a great deal of camera time focused on objects instead of showing complete scenes, leading the viewer to focus more attention on the words the narrator is speaking rather than a the series of minimally changing images presented on screen.

    Since “Ode To Every Thing” is an extension of some of Bresland’s ideas from “Mangoes,” I was curious to see if he might consider creating other video essays that stem from topics discussed in “Mangoes.” What would this essay be about? What would the video look like?

  24. D’ Agata Further Reading

    Research: My further reading was of an interview a blogger conducted with D’Agata about his book The Making of the American Essay. The book he discusses is the third book in a trilogy he wrote. D’Agata also talks about Lifespan of A Fact and the impact it left on readers. He also discusses his background in his graduate studies, incorporating other works in his essays, the dialogue that exists in an essay, collaborative projects, the definition of nonfiction.
    This interview wraps up a lot of the questions we talk about in class (what is an essay? what is Nonfiction? How the author builds trust…etc).

    Connections/Question: D’Agata starts with saying how he started his first book of the trilogy when he was a grad student. He talks about how the poetry and nonfiction programs were completely separate. He says how the poetry has been around for a couple of centuries and when engaged in that conversation “you become a part of something” …which he says is inspiring to writers. He said studying nonfiction at his graduate school “felt like we were winging it in ways that landed on the wrong side of bullshit”, so he wanted to create the same feeling he got when engaging in poetry with his nonfictional work. However, this raises my first question: He wants to create this feeling of becoming a part of something, but if what he is writing is false, then is he trying to create this feeling with false information? When the reader finds out some of the info was false, like at the end of Lifespan of a Fact, then they become confused and the author becomes untrustworthy—leaving the reader questioning everything they read.

    Another key point in the discussion I will lead tomorrow will be that in this interview, D’Agata says essaying is not necessarily a singular act. He says that “an essay is the evolution of a mind on the page as it works through an idea. But there’s no reason why the performance of that thinking couldn’t be shared by two minds as they simultaneously knock that idea around.” This sparks my interest because earlier in this interview he talks about incorporating other authors works into an essay. This ties in Shields work “Reality Hunger” and Lifespan again because the main text in the beginning is from the poem “What Happens There”.

    One of my key points will also be how in this interview he says that he plays a character in his Lifespan of a fact book. He is saying that the character is not really him—which is a different approach then how we looked at it in class.

    Here is a link to the interview: http://www.essaydaily.org/2016/04/the-uncertainty-at-heart-of-things.html

  25. While doing further research on The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata, I came across an interview with D’Agata that discusses his most recent work, The Making of an American Essay. Before writing The Lifespan of a Fact, D’Agata had published two other essays in an anthology, with The Making of an American Essay being the third and final work in the collection. In addition to discussing his newest work, D’Agata also talks about his beliefs in what essay writing should be, what the genre of “nonfiction” really is, and his ideas on fabricating facts and lying in essay writing. When asked by the interviewer, Susan Steinberg, what essay writing means to himself, D’Agata responds that to him, essay writing is an art form. He says later on in his response, that “the essay celebrates what makes us human because it celebrates thinking. It doesn’t celebrate polemics or fact-checking or whatever else our high school teachers turned it into. It celebrates the art of consideration.” To D’Agata, making an essay artistic, and as he says throughout the interview, making it a “literary experience” is what is most important in essay writing, not trying to make a point or be factually accurate.
    When asked by Steinberg about his thoughts on facts in essays and the misconception of essay writers being “truth-tellers,” D’Agata explains that to him, facts are on the same level as images in an essay. He says that the facts should only “resonate” with the essay and the story being told, rather than be what the essay is centered around. To me, this says that D’Agata cares more about pleasing the reader and giving them a great story to read, rather than feed them information about a certain topic. When he is asked about what a “lie” in an essay is to him, he responds saying that a lie is something that reads as incorrect in an essay, and says that it is a matter of verifiability vs. veracity, or truthfulness. To verify something is to fact-check it, and make sure that the information presented in the essay is correct and not fabricated. To him, an essay should have veracity, which means that it reads as if it is accurate, however, the facts themselves are not important and do not need to be correct because the fabricated information just plays into the idea of the essay being a “literary experience.”

    Works Cited:
    Literature, Electric. “John D’Agata Redefines the Essay – Electric Literature.” Electric Literature,
    Electric Literature, 14 July 2016,

  26. John D’Agata created another article- “We might as well call it a Lyric Essay” that consistently goes along with the book in reference to D’Agata’s attitude towards how an essay should overall be a form of artistic writing. He refers to “creative nonfiction” as being the label for a lyric essay, exploring the fact that he just enjoyed the term initially merely for how it sounded. As D’Agata describes his experience as a student enrolled in a nonfiction writing program, he compares how he focused mostly on he didn’t feel comfortable writing, nor did he believe this genre was a good fit for him. His “literary home” was amongst future endeavors, but as he explored other locations such as the university’s neighboring poetry program, he began to lose hope he wouldn’t have a place to call home. What I noticed was that there was a pattern throughout this online articles, interviews, etc. D’Agata views essays as art forms but he slowly began opening up to the idea that “as essayists” there’s a variety of essays that have been written in our genre. In contrast to the book, The Lifespan of a Fact, it proved to be controversial amongst readers on the subject of factual information rather then the “sacred social service” D’Agata
    Furthermore, having this diversity between the types of essays one can write, it opens up new beginnings as a writer to find their “algorithm” in their writing style. I think this article helps open up to new things readers can look at, self-evaluate themselves, and ask questions such as what are they looking for when reading an essay? How does this reflect into what writing pieces that individual writes? Do they have a pattern piece after piece when creating these essays, or do they branch out and include details that might not be enjoyable for other readers?


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