Personal Writing –> Personal Essay?

Thanks to all those on WPA-L who are thinking through the use of personal writing in the classroom.  I know I’m going to want to comment on the following (and thanks, Tennyson, for the reference to Harriet’s essay):

Harriet Malinowitz, “Business, Pleasure, and the Personal Essay,” published in College English, v65 n3 p305-22 Jan 2003.  Malinowitz says, “The first thing I’d like to say about the personal essay is that I absolutely believe it doesn’t have to be-certainly should not be-self-indulgent or derivative of an Oprah– show confession, as some reflexively presume. Nor is it even necessarily about oneself. Its essence is subjectivity, not autobiography. Theresa Werner in Encyclopedia of the Essay contends that unlike the ‘autobiographical essayist,’ the personal essayist ‘does not place himself firmly center stage’ (655). That is, the personal essay’s nature derives from the crafted presence of a narrating persona with a distinct point of view-‘the sine qua non of the personal essayist,’ according to Joseph Epstein (21)not from specific information about the author. George Core, in ‘Stretching the Limits of the Essay,’ says that though the personal essayist may often be ‘in the middle of things,’ he or she isn’t necessarily the focal point of analysis: ‘[T]he world of the essayist is often simply a small part of the world outside that is being contemplated’” (218).

I’m just getting this note down before I do some work/play for my Life Writing class.  I want to comment on the shift from personal writing to the personal essay, and I want to link this shift to my somewhat offhand linking the move toward objectivity (and away from subjectivity), the move toward hard (subjectivity is easy) (and phallic connotations intended) with Bourdieu’s notion of the struggle for distinction (rarity) as a social class marker.  I’m probably going to address these themes as a consequence of one of my very good friends telling me she appreciated my post but didn’t quite buy the social class argument.  If I can, I might even get in a lick at Breaking Bad and the difference between be-ing and becoming (as always, working from Bourdieu’s thinking on social class differences.  I’m just getting these notes down so that I’ll remember the general drift of what I’d like to write–but I would be delighted if someone would add a comment & perhaps write it for me :). 

One Reply to “Personal Writing –> Personal Essay?”

  1. A friend of mine sent me this comment–A colleague of mine at a former institution (he — maybe significant — like you found writing and teaching writing some of the most pleasurable activities in his life) called writing and teaching writing "dancing." I love that description because it suggests that work is the least of it — yet it's not all fun and games. The most of it: creating, experimenting, choreographing, collaborating, sharing, performing.

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