The Literary Essay in the English and Spanish Traditions
Writing strategies and expectations vary among cultures. Spanish writers, for instance, may find out that their thoughtful attempts at emphasizing an idea are seen by English readers as unnecessary repetitions, or that a general reflection, intended to highlight the argument’s complexity, is read instead as a digression. Conversely, English writers may discover that their concise expression can sound naïve to Spanish ears, or that witticisms can be taken as a sign of levity. Spanish readers may even ask themselves if it is worthwhile to read a whole essay if its author has already revealed all the results at the beginning. And why do sentences in English need to be so short and paragraphs so long? And when did the passive voice become a sin? This class will encourage students to ask these and similar questions, and to use them as incentives to become more aware of academic-writing conventions. After analyzing two essays by French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, who is considered the father of the genre, we will read a series of representative texts in the English and Spanish traditions, and we will pay special attention to the central role the essay acquired in the definition of a Spanish-American cultural identity. This comparative historical overview will help us see that writing requirements are not universally valid principles. Instead, we will take into account the historical and social conditions in which they took shape, and we will treat them as strategies that we can choose to use in order to convey and test our ideas in specific contexts. The course satisfies the first half of UC Berkeley’s Reading and Composition requirement. It is a reading- and writing-intensive course in which students will use their comparative interpretations of the texts as the basis for their writing exercises. They will have the opportunity to develop their critical-thinking and composition skills as they gain practice in the different stages of the academic writing process. Starting with in-class writing exercises, drafts, and revisions, they will gradually work towards the completion of a final paper.