Hesse, “Saving a Place for Essayistic Literacy”

Doug. "Saving a Place for Essayistic Literacy." Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st
Century Technologies
. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1999. 34-48.

Considering then-formidable digital avenues, such as home pages and listservs,
Hesse issues a preservationist argument for the essay. The provisional,
self-reflective, scrap-collecting models of essayism, though historically
abundant, have yielded to "essay" as an institutional staple–a commonplace for
"writing practices characterized by texts of a certain length, complexity, and
expected integrity" (34). Hesse proceeds along two stases, definition and
value (i.e., what is an essay or what is essayism? how valuable is it in light
of shifting writing practices online?).

Hesse points specifically to anti-essayistic traces in Bolter (Writing Space)
and Lanham (The Electronic Word). Bolter, Hesse contends, focuses his
study of hypertext too much on full-text hypertexts, like Jocye’s "Afternoon"
(40). "Bolter and Lanham imagined a reading and writing world of glosses,
in which readers interactively modified and constructed texts by direct
reference. In fact, the Web evolves by accretion, not substitution or critique"

"Within the academy the term ‘essay’ has evolved into a generic term for all
works of prose nonfiction short enough to be read in a single sitting. But
the genre’s history and the qualities of its defining texts make clear that
essays are a specific kind of nonfiction, one defined in opposition to more
formal and explicitly conventional genres–the scientific article or report, for
example, or the history, or the philosophical argument" (36).

"The rhetoric of the essay depends on consoling the reader that the world can
be made abundantly complex and strange and yet still be shown as yielding to
ordering, if not order" (37).

"Some of the very qualities associated with literacy online–specifically,
movement and exploration in a method more provisional and contextual than
methodical–have been true of the essay since its inception" (40).

"There is an important value to reading and writing extended, connected texts
whose authors manage the double pulls of complexity and order, producing works
that convey their status as products of a certain experiential and intellectual
nexus, not as objective truth" (47).

^Clearly written before the popularization of weblogs (41d).