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Being Perfect

JHarmon's picture

As I think about what writing “like an academic” means, I can't help but think of formality and perfection. Tied up in dense theory or personal story, the author's we read about somehow articulate their ideas in a way that I feel I never could. Their ideas are described so well that describing them any other way could never do them justice.Yes, these works have been edited, pared down, and abstracted to fit the goals of our assertions. However, in this process of editing, paring, and abstracting, how much of our voice are we deleting and muting? How much of ourselves do we take out of our own equation?

Here, I'm thinking about Marion's zine and the way she kept it unedited. While it is messy and filled with typos, it reminds me of the journey of learning that Dewey alluded to in the beginning of the semester. It reminds me that this journey is just as important as the final product. Through Marion showing us an earlier work of what she hopes to accomplish, we understand her “unperfected” thoughts. Thus, we better understand her personal journey of knowledge, and from there we somehow relate and empathize with that journey and struggle. However, as Williams pointed out, academic writing often contains so many personal ideas that are hidden in abstraction and edited to “perfection”. Maybe we hope to relate to more people by making ideas more vague. Maybe we hope we'll sound more credible if we riddle our sentences with SAT vocabulary instead of just saying things like “big as shit.” While I can see why this could be true, I'm concerned that the “perfection” we aim for in academic writing is why it fails to carry out its intentions.  


Marian Dalke's picture

Thanks for your curiosity & bravery

Hello all!
I just wanted to write to thank each of the students in the in class/outclassed course for participating in the conversation we held last Thursday, Dec. 1. I really enjoyed being able to come and speak with you about the ways we personally wrestle with our class statuses and how we try to make sense of this very absurd system of "classifying" people. One aspect that I did not get to address during the class was the topic of class in context of a capitalist system. In response, much your feedback to my zine has revolved around the question of "how could a wealthy person ever feel bad/guilty about having wealth?" My answer is that I feel this way due to my opposition to a capitalist system that is based in (and provokes) many social ills - competition, exploitation, persecution, and unequal wealth distribution. If you remember a quote from Ty in my zine, "people are wealthy BECAUSE other people are poor." People are poor, in part, because of the concentrated wealth that I have benefitted from. My disdain for my wealth is connected to my political desire to be anti-capitalist and to work for another economic system that does not involve colonialism and unjust resource extraction; for a economy that does not simultaneously create poverty and the many social traumas poverty brings. As you can see, this commitment is tied up into so many other causes and issues that I am devoted to. I'm open and interested to continue working through this with each of you. Please feel free to get in touch with me with further thoughts, questions, & ideas.

in peace & solidarity,
marian dalke

Michaela's picture

I have felt similarly--I

I have felt similarly--I often sit down to begin my reading for my Growth and Structure of Cities class, or to write an essay, and feel like there are very specific points at which I am supposed to insert myself and my own voice, and others where I am supposed to keep quiet and let the facts speak for themselves--but how does that work? Don't I have to give light and interpretation to these facts? I get so concerned when I sit down to write a paper for that class--I have to prove that I have deep thoughts about the space that I am studying, and that I am able to draw conclusions based on data, but there are some things that I'm not allowed to assume, or even guess at?

Here is where I see the flaw in academic writing--no one comes up with thoughts that could be neatly organized into a paper titled with multiple colons, like Power Among Women:The Sociological Study of the Effectiveness of Title IX and the Failed Equal Rights Act: The Legacy of Gloria Steinem. (Okay, so I made this up and it's ridiculous. Sorry.) Feeling as though in order to speak intelligently and make our voices heard, we have to write things that take this form, or even write them down at all, is dismissive of other forms of expression. For instance, I often feel like I make my best comments in class discussion, and when it comes time to write a paper, I'm a little run dry on ideas.
I don't know how we could work to change this, though. I like Marian's zine, because it did show the less-polished side of thoughtful, provocative writing--but that could never be submitted for a grade in a college course. Can we encourage more students to take on projects like these? Or is it asking too much, given the high amount of academic writing each Bryn Mawr student (or college student in general) is assigned?