Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the curse of pretty prose

My prose is very pretty. I know this because my teachers tell me all of the time: I have yet to get a paper back from either my 19th C British Novel or my Popular Fiction class that does not have exclamation marks and notes in the margins praising my sentences, my clever turns of phrase, my very literary summarizations. "Your prose is a delight to read," wrote my British Lit professor. "It is lovely, and flows beautifully." My favourite teacher just drew hearts in the margins of my last paper, like I do when I come across something especially beautiful. Even English Renaissance Man, AKA my current crush-object and the recipient of my unending praise and adoration, broke from his usual focus on argument to praise a particularly nice sentence, and left a note at the end of the paper that said, "You write very, very well."

Unfortunately, I am convinced that my pretty prose garners me higher grades than I deserve. I have the magical ability to take a very basic, shallow reading and dress it up in pages of lovely writing that obscures the fact that I haven't really done any critical analysis. My papers are heavy on description and very light on ideas -- they are fluffy, and if they were stiltedly written they would be C or B work. Every time I work with a new professor I secretly hope that he or she will see through all of this and tear my work to pieces as it deserves, but they never do. Is it just because all of the other work is less well-written, so that by the time they get to mine they are so thrilled to see something flowy and pretty that they forget to critique?

Perhaps I am giving myself and them too little credit. It's a possibility. But I don't think so, and this pretty much means that I will be completely unprepared for grad school if I get there.

1 comment:

Nora said...

I felt the same way throughout my undergraduate career and through most of grad school (I actually dropped out twice beofore finally getting my BA -- each time because I felt I was too far away from some imagined ideal to continue). And actually to this day (a whole two semseters in to teaching part time), whenever I get ready to teach a new class, I have the uncomfortable feeling that this will be the time I'm finally exposed as a fraud.

No idea how much this is justified (I could certainly be smarter, but am slowly starting to believe in my own overall competency), but I think it might just be one of those feelings that haunts diligent academics (and now, if you're anything like me, you're saying to yourself, "but I'm not diligent." But you are, I'm sure of it. Anyone so set on holding themselves to an abstract standard of excellence has to be). The danger, I think, is in letting the haunting feelings of inadequacy keep you from engaging fully with the class and your work. Remember education is a process, and that the goal is to finally reach your full potential, not to fully embody it at every step along the way.