INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE (at Temple
Delphi- A Focal Point for IH 51 Texts
Subject Study Aids:
Aeschylus' Libation Bearers
Oedipus and the Sphinx Lecture
J's Illustrated Pericles' Funeral Oration
J's Illustrated Pericles and America
J's Illustrated Pericles and Philadelphia
J's Illustrated Aeschylus' Oresteia
J's Curse of the House of Atreus Outline
Background Lecture on Greek Philosophy
J's Apology Study Questions
J's Illustrated Plato's Apology
and the Apology Lecture
Dr. J's Plutarch's Pericles
Sundiata Study Guide
Epic Qualities of the Sundiata
and Humanism Lecture
FOUNDATIONS OF CLASSICAL GREECE
(needs some pruning):
in Classical Culture:
The Legend of the House of Atreus: Greek Tragedy in Greece
Religious Foundations of Greek Culture
The Intersection of Myth and History
The Ancient Greek Cultural Nexus- Art, Archaeology, Literature and Topography
From 1996-2001 I taught in the
Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual
Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through
Learning to write a
critical essay is like:
Learning to drive
Remember learning to drive?
Remember going down that checklist before you started the engine? Checking your mirrors,
fastening your seatbelt, adjusting the seat and steering wheel, checking the gas and oil
gauges, looking in your blind spot before pulling into traffic, putting your directional
on... Inexperienced drivers are also often too timid to pull into the stream of
traffic, even when it is safe to do so. And how is it now that you are an experienced
driver? Do you actually go through that same checklist? Do you wait until there isn't a
car in sight before you make that left? Yes, the rules are still important, but after a
while they become second nature. If you *don't* check the gas, you could get stranded. And
if you *don't* check your blind spot, you could get killed. But we are all more
comfortable driving with an old-hand, someone we know will give us a safe and profitable
ride without needing to resort to the rule book every five seconds. Young drivers lack the
finesse, know-how and confidence they will gain as they gain experience. You don't jump on
the expressway before you are comfortable driving at a high speed, do you? And you don't
choose a curvy, hilly road until you are comfortable driving down streets without such
challenges, do you?
Writing works the same way. You
have your permit as a beginning writer. Follow the rules until you are comfortable.
As a beginner, your handbooks are essential references and provide necessary information.
Checklists of what to do and what not to do keep you on task. Sticking to a format you are
comfortable with is a better choice than trying to take on too much. The more you write,
the better you will get. Confidence is a big part of this game, as well as technical
skill. So take it slowly. If you don't know the most basic rules (how to avoid writing
sentence fragments or run-on sentences), you are in big trouble, just as if you didn't
know what a STOP sign meant. Even when you do master these basic mechanics, as a beginning
writer, you may feel that your writing is too stiff, your essays technically correct yet
otherwise boring. But if you are too sloppy, you crash. Just like in driving. Find the
middle road. Have patience. Learn why the rules exist before you try to stretch them!
Before you leap into the stream of
traffic (= that great discussion that you cant wait to get to), alert your reader
about the direction your paper is going to take!
Putting your blinker on (= writing
good transitions between paragraphs) allows other drivers to see your intentions. Let your
reader know your intentions too.
Following these simple rules will
allow you to write essays that will transport your reader to the destination of your
choosing. Have a safe trip.
Writing a critical essay is like
Any baker will tell you that creating a successful
confectionery demands his paying attention to a great many details, all of which can be
compared to writing a successful critical essay:
baker's recipe = writer's
This is the overall blueprint which represents not only the desired end result of
your efforts, but the exact way in which you will achieve that end. It includes the names
and amounts of ingredients, directions on how to prepare, combine, and cook ingredients,
and any other details necessary to the project. A writer's outline should offer an overall
view of the project, carefully setting forth not only the arguments of the essay, but how
those arguments will be argued.
good ingredients = supporting
The baker's ingredients might include eggs, flour, milk, and
sugar. The writer's ingredients might be details of plot and supporting quotations from
the text. In neither case is it acceptable to plop down the ingredients and call it a
finished product! You wouldn't call a bag of groceries a cake; don't call a collection of
details an essay!
Take your raw material and make something of it!
Both bakers and writers must
determine exactly how much room to devote to particular ingredients. In both cases, an
ingredient might be essential, but too much of that one thing could ruin the cake. You can
easily err in the other direction, too. Careful!
order of presentation of
A good recipe will tell the baker to keep dry
ingredients separate from liquid, or in what order to add certain ingredients in the
cooking process. A good writer will understand that it is not just the argument itself
that can persuade, but the overall presentation that can augment or diminish the
persuasiveness of the presentation. All writers should consider in what order to present
his arguments - which to save for last, which to start off with. It can make a world of
difference in the end.
how to mix the ingredients
A lot depends on the right method of mixing the
ingredients together: sometimes the recipe calls for a gentle folding-in of ingredients,
and sometimes you really have to mash stuff together using a blender! The same goes for
writing an essay - determine the best and most persuasive way to present every argument.
Is this a good place to paraphrase the text, or does this observation need a direct
textual citation as support? Don't belabor a minor point, and don't leave a major point in
chunks. Everything should be blended into the body of the essay appropriately, according
to its nature.
After a cake is prepared according to the recipe,
it needs to go in the oven, where everything comes together. The "baking time"
of an essay can correspond to the time the writer devotes to crystallizing the ideas he
has set forth in the course of the essay. If you don't bake it long enough, then you risk
ending up with mush. If you keep it in too long, your reader will get indigestion. Spend
just enough time at the end of your essay pulling together the threads of your
argument...and then let it cool!
Every cook has his own secret
ingredient that makes his concoction uniquely his own. Writers work that way, too, except
with writers it is more a question of style than anything else.
an appetizing end result
A nice presentation caps a baker's
effort. Make your essay look like it is worth reading (neat, proofed), just like any good
cake looks like it is worth eating.
Reading a critical essay is like...
roller-coaster ride blindfolded
Make your ideas flow smoothly
you are taking your blindfolded reader on a roller coaster ride of your design
nothing too jarring, but not a straightaway stretch for the whole length of the
ride, either. Good anticipatory progression toward your best argument, with all the
excitement of that last climb and downward swoop. You are the architect - design a good
going on a long car ride
Remember the driving analogy? Well, now imagine
you are the passenger in that car. As a passenger, wouldn't you get more out of a car ride
to an unfamiliar place if you were prepped before hand on interesting landmarks you might
pass along the way, and the route you were going to take on your way there? Otherwise,
might it just be a boring, untutored waste of time during which your attention wandered
away from the main point?
Your paper's introduction should act as such a map
of the journey you are about to take your reader on. Your reader will then be able to
enjoy the different legs of the trip, marvel at the landmarks you might pass, and
otherwise get a good overview of the journey right from the beginning. Each paragraph
should begin with a spot-check of interesting landmarks you are about to pass. When you
get to the end of the trip you will feel fulfilled and confident that as a reader you have
gotten everything out of the trip you could have remember it is not the
destination (thesis proven) that reflects the writer's skill, style and spirit, but the
journey the reader takes to get there.
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send comments to: Janice Siegel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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