unravelling at night what she had woven during the day, as a clever ploy to “buy time” and stave off hungry suitors - Odyssey

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PAINNYC: The Tyranny of the Thesis Statement

I had decided to title this post, The Tyranny of the Thesis Statement. Then I Googled it and noted that someone else has already written that essay. Good for that guy! I am glad that I am not the only one who thinks thesis statements are horrible things that we ought to do away with forever, like every other shibboleth of old-timey writing instruction (I’m looking at you, five-paragraph essay!).
I cannot tell you how much I loathe thesis statements and everything they stand for. In my own work, I refuse to write thesis statements or anything that resembles them. I sincerely believe that no piece of decent prose contains anything that might be mistaken for a thesis statement. Thesis statements and good writing are utterly incompatible.
Furthermore, I most certainly will never – no matter how emphatic the department grading rubric – advise my students to write thesis statements. Why? Because I choose to treat student writers like the intelligent people they are. And – to the degree that it is possible – I choose to teach writing in a manner that takes into consideration the way that good writing is actually produced. No writer ever claimed s/he came up with a rad thesis statement and then went on to build an awesome essay around it, just like her 8thgrade English teacher told her to do. I do not believe that such a scenario has ever occurred since the invention of the written word.
So why are students obsessed with thesis statements?
In my classes, most students have been told all their lives that they have to write thesis statements to write well. Most of them also had to pass some stupid writing test to graduate from high school. This is why they are traumatized. Even though I never mention thesis statements in class, students still ask me about them. They ask if they can “clear” their thesis statements with me before writing, as if I am an air traffic controller of the written word. In workshops, they advise each other to write better thesis statements and to include them in the first paragraph of every essay. Because that is where thesis statements live. Since I never utter the word, I marvel at how well the students police each other. They are haunted by the ghost of thesis statements past.
Here’s the thing about thesis statements that confuses me the most: what the fuck are they? A thesis is a sentence you’re supposed to put in your essay that states, unequivocally and without doubt, what your point is? Is that a practice we really want to encourage young people to engage in? Why would anyone who really cares about writing or thinking want to do that?  What about inquiry or exploration or – god forbid – figuring out what you are saying after you write something? What about the reality that writing is a messy, brutal business that no formula or series of rules could possibly prepare you for?

That brings me to the real reason I do not care for thesis statements. I despise them not only because they turn writing into a formula or a container for content, like a cement mixer of the mind. I also detest thesis statements because I strongly oppose the idea that we should aspire to know things for certain as either a consequence or a precondition of writing. It’s better to teach students – and to remind ourselves – to admire ambivalence and contradiction and to think of writing as a way to cultivate those things, not abolish them. That is what very good writing – a rare and beautiful thing – should be: a reflection of a commitment to knowing nothing at all and to writing forever into that void.


On 2013-12-08, at 4:33 PM, He wrote:


The gov't absolutely slashed the national archives budget. They are not taking in new archives; they don't have the staff to even deal with what they have. They are putting serious cash into this recent propaganda institution. Same as with what they did with the other one. Of course, it's a political discussion, and it's much harder to control history when historians have ready access to full archives of interesting canadians. 

And I obviously agree that academe is far from perfect in a curatorial role, but I rather engage with concrete solutions, and while it may not be ideal, it's better than being run by the Heritage minister.. I'm sorry, girl, but I find theoretical discussions, which provide critiques don't propose any solutions, rather taxing on my patience of late.

On Sun, Dec 8, 2013 at 4:38 PM, She wrote: 

do I tax your patience? 

On 2013-12-08, at 4:43 PM, He wrote:

I am absolutely elated to be out of academy, and perhaps some day I can re-engage with ideas for idea's sake, but I am so far from there right now. 

On Sun, Dec 8, 2013 at 4:47 PM, She wrote:

if you’re not emotionally available, and you can’t stand listening to my thoughts... all that is left is sex

On 2013-12-08, at 4:52 PM, He wrote:

so let's just take a break then.

I'll always be happy to run into you, and won't shy away from sending you interesting tidbits, and I hope you would do the same. It's wonderful that you have the opportunity to be able to critically engage with these important issues, but school by the end nearly killed my intellectual curiosity, and at its most theoretical, it triggers all sorts of bad memories. 

On Sun, Dec 8, 2013 at 5:06 PM, She wrote:

I read that as you don't see any role for me in your life, as a confidant, lover, peer or otherwise? That there is no need or room, for me? When you use the word 'break', do you mean that at some point you'd like to return to our friendship, however qualified?

On Sun, Dec 8, 2013 at 5:20 PM, He wrote:

we've already established I'm completely incapable in providing you with any semblance of emotional support, you are triggering right now all sorts of latent resentment for certain aspects of the academic project (one day, I'll be able to re-engage, but right now, it's really getting a rise out of me), and I just don't think we should continue a sexual relationship with these serious impediments to the formation of a healthy relationship, built on mutual trust and respect, no matter how much I appreciate our sex. You should be with someone who doesn't have such visceral reactions to the above. 

Part of it is clearly a rather stubborn, albeit latent, refusal on my part to devote myself to another person right now (and it pains and guilts me to act like this in the face of your boundless amounts of generosity and kindness in my regard, but I find myself absolutely unable to reciprocate it). However, I also must think that if this felt more right, I'd be less of an unqualified jerk. Something is not right, even if I can't put my finger on it. I don't want to treat you, or anyone, like this. I want to be able to give myself to someone as unselfishly as you have been able to with me. I envy your ability to do so, all the more, in the face of the challenges you have faced in the past.  

Ideally, I'd love nothing more for us to be civil with one another moving forward, to not shy away from each other when we run into each other, and to be able to send each other stuff, or even debate ideas (I'm brimming with interest in debating remedies to problems!!!), if the impulse arises. I'm sorry I can't offer you what you deserve. 

On 2013-12-08, at 5:34 PM She wrote: 

I am glad clarity has arrived for you.

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