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So, I explained in my last post that the relationship between a student and professor was one of love vs. hate.  Ha! How timely.  I have now switched to the “hate” side. (Hate is too strong of a word, really, but since that is the binary I was using to compare, I’ll just have to go with it.)

Do any of you know what “explication” is? It’s a form of literary writing that is completely useless unless you are studying literature or theology. It’s just reading a text super-close and examining that text from every possible angle of the story without using any outside influences to mar your judgment of what is being said.  Personally, I think it’s a terrible way to read anything.  If you are going to make a claim of what an author appears to be saying, you have to study the author’s life and beliefs, the time-period from when the text was written, even the basic geography of the location to get a clearer picture.  Yes, it’s a lot more work, but I feel its far more accurate because its too easy to put your own slant on words that may not have originally meant what you claim them to.  Despite my negative feelings toward explication, I still have know how to do it, as my professors require it.

Well, I met with one of my professors to discuss an explication paper he assigned.  I showed him what I wrote and told him I was confused and didn’t know if I was doing it right.  He went through it with me, praised it, and basically said I was too worried and wasn’t doing nearly as bad as I thought.

I got the paper back on the last day of class.  I got a C plus.

Now, I believe that my purpose in college is not to get good grades, but to learn.  Granted, accomplishing both would be nice, but my priority lies with the former.  If I had been writing D and low C explication papers previously, getting a high C would have made my day.  But I wasn’t.  That “C” was the lowest grade I’d gotten on an explication paper. In fact, every time this same teacher gave me any kind of explication back, whether it was in the form of papers or tests, my grade would get lower.  Obviously I was doing something wrong.

I went to discuss the paper’s result with him, but, as its finals week, he wasn’t in his office.  So I sent him an e-mail instead. I told him that he’d given me a “C”, which I was fine with.  That I wasn’t trying to fight the grade, but I had noticed that I kept doing worse and was at a loss as to why. 

He replied that explication was more than just summarizing and that he didn’t “give” me a “C”, but that that was the grade the paper earned.

Ouch.  Well, I did apologize in a return e-mail.  I didn’t want him to think I was accusing him of giving me an undeserved grade.  I know that I don’t explicate well.  But I’m still upset.  If he thought I summarized too much in my paper then why didn’t he say so when I was in his office seeking help?

Well, the moral of this story is to never send important messages through the e-mail.  Its too easy to misinterpret people’s words.  I will never do that again!

But its still disturbing to see a man who I formerly respected, slip down more than a few notches in my estimation.  I’m not blaming him for my bad paper; its my paper.  But if the paper wasn’t “good”, he shouldn’t have told me that it was! 

Well, at least school’s done for the year.  I don’t need to worry about it anymore.


3 Responses

  1. Sorry you went through that experience. There’s nothing wrong with grading harshly, but you should never reassure a student she’s doing fine and then give her a low grade.

    Grades should be reflections of student work and demonstrated learning.

    I don’t think it’s out of line to just tell him that he did praise your paper and reassure you and that was misleading and he shouldn’t do that for a paper he’s planning to give a C+ on.

    In terms of explication, you don’t really seem to buy into it, but you what I always tried to get my students to recognize (maybe your professor didn’t do this) is that what the author intends is not the only thing important in a text—that is only part of the story. What is written is written. So if you write a story in 1998 with characters named Monica and Bill, you may not intend for people to think of Monica Lewinksy and Bill Clinton and to bring in all the connotations of that relationship, but people will.

    Of course, really good writers are deliberate in their craft and are able to have their intent and content match up better than other writers do.

  2. Ubuntu: Thanks for your kind words. I love your bill/monica example. That is actually exactly what scares me about new criticism or explication. Would it be ethical to place that connotation into a story? That puts a lot on the author. Especially if you’re reading old literature or stories from other countries. We always read through the glasses of our own culture. If someone who considered spanking your kids to be child abuse read a book that dealt with spanking, he or she may interpet that to mean the author is advocating child abuse, therefore turning the author into a criminal! That is stretching the story, but if you are only examining the text, you probably could back it up quite logically with sections of the book. Hollywood likes to do this when they turn books into movies. They’ll take a classic story that was written in a religious context and interpet that to be a broad form of “faith”….faith in self and humanity, not just God. Having faith in those things is great, but is it fair to use that author’s story to make such a point? New Historicism makes me feel much more comfortable. I like knowing what context I am reading things in. I may have thought Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” was a wonderful adventure story had I not known the context Spenser wrote it in was an allegory to express extreme hatred for Catholics. I understood it a lot better knowing the truth.

    I agree, really good writers need to be deliberate. Its scary how much can be “open to interpretation” these days!

  3. Well, there has to be a bit of balance. Authors need to recognize that anything you write can be interpreted in multiple (and still legitimate) ways and may be read even outside of the author’s unique cultural and geographic contexts.

    But readers also need to recognize what is really in the text and what they are bringing to the text. What they bring to the text isn’t invalid. Still, it has to be put into perspective, as it is not what the author put in the text.

    As a former English major and former English teacher, I find that the fun of studying literature—approaching and reading texts in different ways. Reading for enjoyment. Reading to figure out what the author’s worldview is like. Reading to see how a text’s reception is changed by its audience.

    Well, in any case, I’m sorry your professor misled you, and I hope you are able to put something about that in your course eval.

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