Anders Johansen, Bergen University
The assigned subject for this talk is ‘the academic essay’. What I know about this is no more than what one prefers to keep to oneself. Although I have read such essays, I have never studied the genre. I suppose my own writing is at times essayistic, but I do not know exactly when, or how consistently, this is the case. If some of my publications are considered essays, it is probably because of my attitude to the work of writing and a certain practice that I have learned to follow. Whether I indulge in a little unpretentious pondering, or spend time on a scholarly article meant for a prestigious journal or a project that will have to be divided into several volumes, I approach the task with more or less the same attitude; it is this attitude that I will account for here.
Anders Johansen (2011) remarks
This text was originally written as a lecture to be presented at a conference on “The Essay as a Genre of Cultural Life”, held in Bergen, Norway, in April 1997. Since its publication in Rhetorica Scandinavica shortly afterwards, it has been reprinted several times. In 2003, it was included in a collection of essays on the practical and political situation of the writer (Samtalens tynne tråd. Skriveerfaringer). In 2009, a somewhat expanded version, which attempted to accommodate various criticisms and misreadings, was printed in a more specialised publication on the craft of non-fiction writing (Skriv! Håndverk i sakprosa). Complementing the original essay, this book also contains a series of notes on personal working habits, and a general treatment of the rhetorical view of knowledge production that was only alluded to at the outset.
Arguing for a close alliance between scholarly and stylistic ambition, such an essay really has to well written. Either it proves its point in practice, or it fails. Unfortunately, the literary qualities accounting for its original appeal and influence in a Scandinavian context, have not, or have only partly, survived translation. Working on the English version, the writer himself suffered the painful experience of lacking that idiomatic instinct and sense of style that is required in penetrative thinking.
About this article
- Part of: Scandinavian Studies in Rhetoric. Rhetorica Scandinavica 1997-2010, Kjeldsen & Grue (eds.), Retorikförlaget Publishers 2011.
- Article pp 198–217
- Original Norwegian: ”Om å tenke seg om skriftlig – og med stil”, Rhetorica Scandinavica 7 (1998).
About Anders Johansen
Anders Johansen is Professor at Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen.