Writing Styles

Just the other day, I heard from my colleague and friend Mona Livholts, a scholar currently working at Mid-Sweden University, that she had secured a publisher in Routledge for a new anthology of essays, entitled Emergent Writing Methodologies in Feminist Studies. The book will be part of Routledge's new series, Routledge Advances in Feminist and Intersectionality Studies. I was delighted because it means that the essay I wrote, excerpted from What Hannah Would Say, my yet-to-be published book, will now see the light of day. Mona has been working tirelessly on this project, which is an outgrowth of the other equally tireless work she has been doing for some years, since establishing the R.A.W. network. R.A.W. stands for Reflexive Academic Writing, and the network surrounding it consists of a group of interdisciplinary scholars who are trying to break new ground by developing innovative approaches to writing academic work. Among the approaches explored are narrative, biography, memoir, autobiography and other modes of life writing that blend these genres.

Most academic writing conforms to more traditional ways of presenting an argument in an organized essay supported by various modes of documentation, often structured in an extended version of what J. Douglas Macready has called "the tired model of the Five Paragraph Essay." In an excellent blog post, Macready offers another model, based on Scott Crider's The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay. No doubt Crider's work, and Macready's wonderful summary of it, will be valuable for those wishing to polish their academic writing, while still working in its more traditional modes. But, in my assessment--and those of the authors appearing in Livholts's forthcoming collection--questions of 'style' and the nature of 'professionalism' in academic writing are the subjects of much contemporary debate.

My own essay in the collection,

"Writing Rahel Varnhagen: Biographical and Autobiographical Explorations of Self-Invention," explores how,

in life-writing, such as memoir and biography, a writer aims for textual vitality by building a space for reflection into the story.

Creating a dynamic tension in her subject through an investigation of the self that enables empathy, the life writer engages readers’ attention, encouraging them to see the ‘other’ as she might see herself. In the essay, I use both word and photographic images to map the journey of self-discovery reflected in Hannah Arendt’s writing Rahel Varnhagen, an unusual biography of the nineteenth century woman Arendt once called her “best friend.”

What might biographical writing have taught Arendt about her own identity? Through a close reading of Rahel Varnhagen-- paying attention to the narrative’s language as well as its structure, to what was said and not said--my essay responds by noticing how Hannah Arendt slipped into the story she was telling about Rahel. “In between the lines of Rahel’s story existed a doppelganger tale where Hannah’s life shadowed Rahel’s.”
In the essay I develop and apply a writing methodology I call “occupying Hannah”, slipping into Hannah’s story. Writing Rahel Varhagen, Arendt crafted “a cautionary tale about the consequences of one woman’s complicity with society’s exacting price for her earning respectability.” Taking up this theme, I then track the transformation of my own sexual identity.

“By occupying Rahel’s story, Hannah found a way into and out of her own life’s haunted ‘shadows’ to confront her own longing to escape who she was. And as I slipped into Hannah’s I saw myself inside that kaleidoscope, fragmented, rearranged.” If, as Crider points out, rhetoric is "persuasion aimed at the truth," (p. 4) then the rhetorical structure of my writing aims at the truth and is a form of academic writing that, like much of Arendt's own writing, breaks the mold of what is ordinarily defined as academic writing. As do the other essays in Livholts's anthology.