John Proctor Essays

John Proctor Essays-72
The human narrative is embedded in the systematic procedure. That the form, while contemporary, is not without antecedents.

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In the third paragraph, she finds it “difficult to remember the order in which things happened.” In the seventh paragraph she recounts telling her husband she was pregnant and him asking, “Is it mine?

” And in the last paragraph she arrives home from the procedure to find him watching the NBA playoffs and telling her how brave she is.

And the process itself of reading a bunch of unrelated essays and attempting to delineate precepts that they all follow is itself an example of the tightrope walk between narrative thought and systematic application, as each of these essays does tell a story, most of them intensely personal, and my attempt here is to figure out some analogous connections between their systematic methods of telling those narratives. That the force that drives the essay is at least as much concept as plot.

The list essay could be called a non-fiction concept story.

Each of these is reactive, starting with the men’s names (“Aaron takes me only to art films.” “Bob takes me only to movies that he thinks have a redeeming social conscience.” “Sam likes movies that are entertaining.”) and portraying herself only in her semi-romantic relationships to them.

Then, in the fourth and final section, she tells of going to the movies alone, putting her feet up, and singing along to musicals with happy endings, where “the men and women always like each other.” It is through the systematic, quantified analysis of the men she goes to the movies with that she finds her own place in the narrative. The real and the unreal in a precarious balance…But at least the final rule of usage is simple, self-contained, one you can commit to memory: Certain independent clauses exist only in the subjunctive mood, lacing optimism with resignation, hope with heartache.” “Community College” also uses this teacher’s perspective to frame his narrative in time and space, logging his students’ actions strictly from their interactions with him as their writing teacher. The title of one, “I Met a Man Who Has Seen the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and This Is What He Told Me,” is nearly as long as any of the nine sections.The panoramic view allows essayists to think of their subjects on a macro level.This juxtaposition gives these private events an epic scope.“The Grimm Brothers” injects social, literary, and historical critique into a skeletal summary of the brothers’ lives, attempting to draw conclusions as to how they wrote the fairy tales that have become part of Western culture’s collective unconscious..In Jonathan Lethem’s “13, 1997, 21” he tells the story of watching Star Wars twenty-one times at the age of thirteen when it came out in the summer of 1977, and even the form serves the content – it’s told in twenty-one short, concentric sections. That they can be panoramic in scope or ultra zoomed in, sometimes both at the same time.In eleven of the 15 essays I read, the concept was even stated in the title: “Community College” “Table of Figures” “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” “A Few Things I Know About Softball” “I Met a Man Who Has Seen the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and This Is What He Told Me” “Going to the Movies” “My ‘80s” “In the Fifties” “The Search for Marvin Gardens” “The Grimm Brothers: A List Essay” “Virtually Romance: A Discourse on Love in the Information Age” And in the other three the concept was subtly, almost secretly implicit: “A Few Things About That Day” [about an abortion] “What Comes Out” [about an abortion clinic] “(names have been changed)” [about an 11-year-old girl with HIV, presumably from her stepfather or uncle) The importance of this is that not just the action, but the structure itself of each essay revolves around the concept.And “revolve” is a good word for it, as very few of the list essays I’ve read follow a linear narrative, and even the ones that generally do, like “A Few Things I Know About Softball,” “Community College,” and “The Grimm Brothers: A List Essay,” break up the narrative with systematic stylistic devices.So many of the essays I read seem to be working themselves out either implicitly or explicitly in the process of listing and arranging all the individual parts.In “Going to the Movies,” Toth, in three brief numbered sections, tells of three different men she goes to the movies with, how they watch movies, and how she watches movies with them.Both are short, unassuming, and quietly heartbreaking, and neither says what is implied.Wilkie even starts the essay by telling the reader, “We do not talk about What Comes Out,” then clinically and unsparingly takes the reader through the process the health care workers go through in removing and disposing of it.


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