Representation, Ideology, and the Form of the Essay
Keywords:Writing Pedagogy, Writing Theory, Ideology, Montaigne, Althusser, Subjectivity
This essay examines the beginnings of first-year writing programs in the academy and the early history of the essay to reveal how and why a particularly limiting range of allowable subjectivities entered into the writing classroom through the essay’s form. Most college first-year writing courses privilege a thesis-driven form of the essay that is much closer to Bacon’s (1592/1966) collection of essays, in contrast to those written by Montaigne (1575/1965), who is often referred to as the “Father of the Essay.” Reasons for this practice include the writing curriculum’s seeming alliance with classical rhetoric’s definition of both essay and student writer. The concept of ideology as conceived by Althusser (1968/1971) proves useful for understanding the essay’s implications in subjectivity formation. Although all essay forms are informed by ideology, the act of privileging thesis-driven forms in schooling practices can also privilege the practice of requiring students to take on subjectivities allowed only within those forms. Expanding the writing forms assigned within first-year writing programs can offer writers more open, contradictory possibilities for expressing authority, resistance, critical inquiry, creativity, and difference.
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