Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning across Languages and Cultures

By Vivian Zamel; Ruth Spack | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
A Common Ground:
The Essay in the Academy

Kurt Spellmeyer

. . . the objectivity of dialectical cognition needs not less subjectivity, but more. -- T. W. Adorno ( Negative Dialectics)

In his essay Of the Education of Children," Montaigne recalls an encounter with two scholars who, on the road to Orleans, were followed closely by a third traveler, La Rochefoucauld:

One of my men inquired of the first of these teachers who was the gentleman that came behind him. He, not having seen the retinue that was following him, and thinking that my man was talking about his companion, replied comically: "He is not a gentleman; he is a grammarian, and I am a logician." (125)

If the essay as a distinct genre begins with Montaigne, it also begins as an assault upon the scholasticism he alludes to in this passage. Through his account of the two self-absorbed pedants, Montaigne makes light of the conception of knowledge that distinguishes so exactly between the grammarian and the logician, and he introduces, as an alternative to such distinctions, the example of La Rochefoucauld, the "gentleman," by which he does not mean a member of the ruling class, but instead the questioner whose pursuit of understanding has carried him beyond the limitations of the customary.

____________________
College English, 1989

-105-

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