Sunday, 01 May 2005

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How to Open an Academic Essay, Part II: the State of the Field [Editor's Note: Devoted readers may've noticed that this post consists of what had been the conclusion of the previous post. This is not an error. What happened in the interim is that A. Cephalous decided he would treat Dawes with the respect he deserves instead of appending an analysis of his introduction to the ass-end of some overwrought satire.] Among graduate students and the professoriate they slavishly imitate, the most popular introduction involves introducing the reader to the State of the Field. James Dawes enraptures prospective readers of "Fictional Feeling: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and the American Gothic" by blandly informing them that An interest in the deep structure of aesthetic pleasure and in the emotions that shake us when reading has in recent years come increasingly to the fore in literary and cultural studies. The readers who survive the first smack into an equally uncompelling second sentence in which they learn how This coalescing interest has gathered strength with the waning of reader-response criticism in the nineties, which had long been criticized for its tendency to privilege meaning over feeling and interpreting over imagining in its account of the reading experience, and with the concurrent and important rise of sensibility studies in Americanist research, which legitimized readerly emotion as a category of analysis but tended to do so primarily insofar as it could illuminate urgent political or cultural anxieties or needs. I should stress that I'm not talking about the content of Dawes' argument, which I found interesting. I chose Dawes' article because its presentation numbs readers. The interest it never generates disinclines those readers who would otherwise find his argument compelling from continuing to read his article. Shouldn't someone whose work concerns heightened states of "readerly emotion" recognize the soporific states his work produces?

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