THE SHORTER YOU MAKE IT, THE LONGER IT GETS (IS THE VERY SHORT ESSAY SHORT BECAUSE IT’S SHORT OR IS IT SHORT BECAUSE IT’S SHORTER THAN A LONG ONE?)
Coventry University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Conference name: 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2013
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Many academics seek the Holy Grail - the student essay which is mercifully short but which magically compresses everything we look for in a long essay into a chunk of short and pithy text. But it’s not that simple, unless you're happy with much less content. It takes a skilled writer and an active, perhaps complicit reader to give the short essay rewarding content, and therein lies another problem – should the short essay be evaluated as a pared-down long essay, or as a short essay in its own right? And what if the short essay breaks grammatical rules in an effort to cram its content in? Is this resourcefulness or contrariness?
This paper discusses examples of my work with very short essays written by UK university visual arts students. The theoretical framework is that of provisional meaning, laced with Koestler's bisociation, the current fashion for flash- and micro-fiction, the constraints of social media texts, and literary short story tenets of suggestion, subversion and formal perfection. My research also uses content and formal perfection as drivers – my students had to argue a reasonable discussion topic in a 128-word essay, immaculately fitted into a square.
Many of the essays were daring and innovative, ranging from wistful narrative to polemic to verbal isotypes to ambiguous exchanges to proto-philosophical musings to manifestos, and interviews showed that many writers enjoyed the novelty and the challenge, the chance to be ‘creative’ and to use devices like inconsistency, visual placement and rhetoric. But there are two caveats here: firstly, one must not let the innovation be sealed into the project’s membrane, and, secondly, these essays take a long time to read and evaluate as one explores gaps and pauses, trying to disentangle the accidental from the disingenuous. Beware: that Holy Grail was a chimera of course – but at least it made us stop and think.
Keywords: Constraint, compression, release, application.