What is expository writing? This is a question that never crossed my mind prior to taking this course and if it were given to me I never would have had an answer or at least a solid one. This course has given me the knowledge to now give what I feel to be a pretty efficient definition.
Exposition I feel is a process. It is a process that requires a lot of digging and researching. Some serious in depth analyzing needs to take place. Exposition allows you to uncover things that could not be seen with the naked eye. You go deep into the history and into the background of what is being analyzed. I feel the difference between persuasion and exposition is that persuasion is trying to convince someone of something. You are trying to change their way of thinking and make them see things the way you see it. Exposition I feel is similar in the sense that you are trying to make someone see things the way you see it but you have the facts to back it up. What is being revealed is actually the truth that can be proved so that one is more likely to accept the information being given.
Expository writing allows you to awaken and personify what is being discussed. For example, throughout this course
I had to practically dissect a jar of cream. In the mist of me dissecting or analyzing this jar I began to give it an identity or better yet its identity became visible to me. Once it received an identity I able to better understand it therefore able to unveil its true meaning. That is another aspect that I feel really is the essence of expository writing. Expository writing really is unveiling what others can not see. It is so exciting to uncover the unknown.
This round object is four inches in diameter and weighs a scant two to three ounces. By its size, the object seems constructed to fit into the palm of a hand. It is circular with a few dings and dents along the edges. It is made of brass and has a dirty brownish patina, almost the color of burnt sienna. Although round, the object has a flat top and bottom, and is very thin, slim. The top is a disc or plate resting on a bottom disc or plate. At what could be considered the top edge of the object is a cylindrical chamber that connects the bottom piece to the top piece. A small round pin slips into the chamber creating a hinge connecting the top plate to the bottom plate. This hinge allows the top disc to separate from the bottom disc and still stay connected at the topmost edge. Upon lifting the top disc from the bottom disc a tiny thin lip rims each plate. The lip or edge of the top disc is slightly larger than the bottom plate which allows it to nestle over the bottom plate when closed. The lip jutting from the edge of the bottom plate is interrupted at the bottom most edge (the point furthest away from the connective hinge) by a small rectangular notch. This notch allows for access to open or separate the two discs.
While the two bronze discs are connected and almost identical in size, the top disc is slightly larger and is imprinted with raised decorative pattern. This decorative pattern denotes that this disc is the top piece or lid of the object, and indicates that the object is likely made for a woman. The decorative pattern is a series of repeating teardrop paisley shapes that follows interior circumference of the lid. The pattern is inset from the edge of the lid by just a few millimeters. The interior edge of the teardrop pattern rests along two thin parallel lines that complete the edge of the decorative border. Another decorative detail stamps the center of the lid. A circle created by two thin lines identical to the interior border of the teardrop pattern sits in the very middle of the lid. This circle is framed by a delicate, curlicue decoration resembling a shield or crest. The emptiness of the center circle seems like it might be holding a place for a monogram or further decoration.
The interior of the top lid has the same repeating pattern, but it is stamped into the metal rather than raised in relief as it is on the top. This suggests that the pattern was stamped from the bottom and then protrudes from the top of the lid. The interior of the bottom disc has no such decoration, and is in fact very rough and scratched. This rough texture indicates that something was once attached by some form of adhesive to the bottom plate.
The object has to have some purpose. It is not just two attached lids that open and close. The decoration on the inside and outside of the top lid indicates that the object is meant to be open and gazed at. The shield-like crest on the front is another clue to the use of the object. The shield is delicately decorated, and the void in the center circle could possibly be for a monogram. But the shield emblem alludes to a framed object, like a mirror. Since there is no decoration on the bottom lid, it is likely that what ever the object contained rested there. The scratched surface of the bottom lid indicates that something was attached by an adhesive. The delicate decoration, the slim, lightweight dimensions are all clues that this object belonged to a woman and was likely carried in her purse.
The object is a compact that was unearthed somewhere on the west side of Atlanta near what is now the Bankhead MARTA station. The object is tarnished and pretty banged up, most likely from age and being at some point lost or discarded. The mirror and the woman’s image it once held are both long gone. The brass material and the delicate decoration indicate that it was at one time a rather fancy fashion accessory.
This small brass compact pocket mirror uncovered on the west side of Atlanta holds much untold history in its slim form. Who owned it? What woman, for it was surely a woman, gazed into the long lost mirror that snugged inside the decorative lid and discreetly dabbed pressed powder on her cheeks? The compact itself dates back to the late 1800s, just post civil war. Was it a carpetbagger that brought the brass accessory down from the north? Perhaps more likely it belonged to a genteel woman from the surrounding farm land that ringed Atlanta at the turn of the century, since a northern interloper would have more likely to settled closer to the city limits. Or, even more likely, the fashion piece was just unwittingly misplaced, lost as so many items eventually are, during a move to another home or just walking down the street. Whether a precious heirloom or just a casual fancy, the compact was found once again when the city of Atlanta prepared to expand its MARTA public transportation system. The piece which some lady thought lost forever was now back on the radar, not just a pocket mirror now, but as an artifact telling a story of an Atlanta long past.
The brass compact, though, has a history that extends much further than just the Atlanta, GA. Why did the woman have a make-up compact in the first place? Why do we look in the mirror? What is the significance of the brass material and its design? I started thinking about the inherent duality of the mirror itself. The intricately designed brass, a thing of beauty used for the purpose of beautification. The origins of brass metallurgy date back to ancient times. Romans crafted brass into decorative armor and also into jewelry like brooches and bangles. Some of the very first uses for it were for currency, and the earliest Roman coins were made of brass. Later on the Romans employed it more and more for battle pieces, emblazoning helmets, shields, and chest plates, and then for death masks and burial markings after the ultimate battle was fought. So even the first craftsmen of the metal recognized its duality, its value for both beauty and destruction.
The forgotten pocket mirror heralds the Greek myth of Narcissus. The handsome young hunter was cursed to fall in love with his own reflection. He gazed at himself in a river, refusing to eat or sleep. His despair of unrequited love with his own image led him to commit suicide. Again, the cutting tale of what the Romantic poets would call the sublime. Beauty and danger, life and death are both present in the same vessel. Or more succinctly, immortality captured in a moment's reflection. The same is true of this humble brass compact unearthed here in Atlanta.
The compact held more than just a mirror, though. The pressed powder make up cake that lined the bottom of the compact also represents the sublime essence of beauty mingled with death. People have been using make up for thousands of years, and some of the concoctions used were more deadly than beautifying. While early forms of cosmetics ranged from the grotesque like crocodile dung, boys' urine, and blood, to the more exotic and beautiful like crushed gemstones, beeswax, and henna, many beauty products contained lead as well as other toxic materials. Egyptian women applied a combination of metals, including lead, to their skin for color definition. This practice of lead treated make up was common throughout history to achieve a coveted pale complexion. Queen Elizabeth I popularized the use of white lead paint to create a youthful appearance. Queen Victoria eventually declared make up vulgar and only for actors after the use of leaded make up paints resulted in facial paralysis and some deaths. The practice never totally went out of fashion, obviously, as we spend millions of dollars on make up here in the US alone. At the turn of the twentieth century, though, the powder in the brass compact very likely contained some degree of lead or other toxic metals. The use of lead in cosmetics was not fully banned here in this country until 2007.
During the mid 1800s, near the time when this little brass compact was likely made, lead was used for purposes other than lightening skin tones. Lead minie balls were the ammunition most common here in the south during the bloody civil war. I was struck by the contrast of such a beautiful fashion accessory existing at the time of such violence and strife, and how the compact—the material of which it was composed and the material which it contained—embodied the sublime nature of life and death, beauty and horror.
All of these inferences may seem a little too gigantic for such a small finite pocket mirror. Walter Benjamin's article "The Collector" from The Arcades Project addresses just how these collectible objects like compacts become so much more than the physical space they inhabit.
The truth of making things present is to represent them in our space (not to represent ourselves in their space...the method of receiving the things into our space. We don't displace our being into theirs; they step into our lives.
The compact has stepped into a Georgia State Classroom in 2015 Atlanta. I have held it in my hand and changed its reality just as it has changed mine. I may never know the actual history of this compact. Who owned it? Was it a gift from mother to daughter, husband to wife? How did it come to be lost? But I can look at it and imagine. I can write about it, photograph it, describe it.
Through the stylistic analysis of objects, we encounter the past at first hand; we have direct sensory experience of surviving historical events, not necessarily important events, but authentic events nonetheless. This affective mode of apprehension through the senses allows us to put ourselves, figuratively speaking, inside the skins of individuals who commissioned, made, used , or enjoyed these objects, to see with their eyes and touch with their hands, to identify with them empathetically, is clearly a different way of engaging the past than abstractly through the written word.-- Style as Evidence, Jules David Prown
Strange that such an object represent so many dimensions of reality.
Initially, I thought exposition was simply the beginning of writing. I thought we'd just be taught how to write and that be all. We did, in a way, learn "how" to write. It was not so much as the methodical process but the exploration process. Through research, analyzing, and discussing, we honed in on the expository aspect. When writing, it is often hard to develop an idea that follows a prompt. We are sometime limited by the parameters set by scholars. However, this course did not limit our scholastic minds. There was room to explore different angles of writing and to develop our ideas in a way that best suits use as students.
This class came highly recommended by another professor of mine. I was quite apprehensive due to my lackluster skills in the abstract nature of writing. I am more factual when it comes to literature. I see "A". "A" existence. "A" has a purpose. The purpose is "XYZ," No more. No less. That is how I have always approached things in life. Often times, I do not fancy the existence of overzealous writing. The first few weeks, I know that I said "WTF" at least three times a day in class. I just did not understand where Dr. Wharton was trying to take us. After taking a step back and speaking with her, everything became so much clearer. Her purpose was not to just bombard us with a ton of work but to weave our way through multimodality to achieve our expository goals. Once I grasped where she was trying to take the course, the course became more bearable. Granted, I struggled with some things but it was not without cause.
Exposition encompasses much more than its mere definition. It is a practice that, if approached correctly, reaps writing gains like no other. I am appreciative for the new insight to exposition that I have acquired while in this course.
What is exposition? I think even as English majors it is difficult for many of us to produce a precise definition for any category of writing. I think that different forms of writing blend together. For example, some people may say that expository writing is any writing that does not convey an argument. Truly, though, informative writing can serve as a rhetorical argument simply by the way the way the words are organized on the page.
This class opened up my eyes to the vastness of the category called expository writing. At another college, I took a course called Expository Writing 101. There, we practiced writing narratives, explanatory, and exploratory essays. I began to realize then that I thrive in this writing environment. My satisfaction in writing comes from telling people the facts, potential reasons, and then let them draw conclusions for themselves.
I think that is what expository writing is - stating the facts, providing evidence for these facts, and offering possible reasons/explanations. Unlike most forms of academic writing, expository writing allows us to state what we know while offering multiple explanations, instead of only one right answer. I personally hate that in most of my papers I feel "forced" to take a drastic position on a topic I could go either way with.
Throughout this course, I felt as though I could allow the audience to participate in my investigative process through my writing. Sometimes it was almost as if I was talking out my thoughts through my writing. That is what I appreciate about this form of writing - I am able to take my audience exactly through what I am thinking. While writing, we are able to discover so much... It is a learning process. I think that is where expressive discourse has such a place in life and academia.
As mentioned earlier in the post, although expository writing does not typically strive to produce an argument, and argument can be made "unspoken." I will give an example. In my object analysis, I did not come right out and say what I thought the reader should conclude about my doll head. I am sure I did, however, influence the reader's viewpoint in the way I presented the evidence and explained the evidence. I believe expository is linked to persuasion, but in a more indirect way than other forms of writing.
Through our object studies we are able to see the connection between material study and exposition as a rhetorical activity. In our class, we not only found out about our objects, but also composed writing to share findings and explanations to influence the way others think about these objects. As we have discussed in class discussions, objects have stories that do not always align with cultural interpretations. Through our writing, we held the power to try to clear up some misconceptions by offering a new story for our objects.
My main point is that expository writing allows us to inform without having all of the right answers. Through this type of writing we are essentially able to learn together, writer and reader. I think there is something so real about such a personal form of writing, where the rules don't always have to be followed. Importantly, expository writing can make a loud statement with an unspoken argument.
Reading Neal Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Businessrevealed a new perspective about learning and research. Postman disparages multi modal learning models, lamenting the loss of real discourse due to the advent of technology. Postman contends that the telegraph heralded the "now...this" mentality. Information available instantly limits the value of discourse and communication. I wonder what Postman would think about this class? Certainly Postman could not have foreseen the impact of what he quaintly calls micro-computers on the education system, but he did fear that the incursion of television into the education system was turning the classroom into commercialized show business. One of the extravagances that he discusses in his book is the government funded PBS series "The Voyage of the Mimi." This bloated-budget attempt at televising education left a bad taste in Postman's mouth. In his view, learning about the migration patterns and songs of the humpback whale was a waste of brain power. After all what of any value at all could be learned by tracking nautical patterns and singing whales on a boat? American students were missing out on the heavy-hitting typographic discourse that promoted genuine critical thinking skills, the kind of discourse thought of and taught by crotchety old white men. What Postman failed to imagine was what could be learned by following, recording, describing, and sharing the patterns of animals like the whales. We have discovered more about our world, about our planet. We have learned that we have an impact on others beyond the tip of our nose,or beyond our block, or our little town.http://
New ways of learning exist today than in the mid eighties when Postman was writing. People have more access to many different kinds of education. The multi modal exposition that we are experimenting with in this class is a prime example. The medium in which our work lives has totally changed. Postman's nostalgia for print is just that and nothing more. Yes there are few things better than the crisp smell of a new book, but life is bigger than the black and white words on a page. By daring to live and learn in the digital age we see how our actions can affect the world. News now sources immediately from events through tweets and smart phone video. Individuals create our own discourse rather than having it spooned to us. I think Postman's privilege shielded him from the possibilities of multi modal discourse, and I can relate to his fear of change. As a teen during the time Postman was writing Amusing Ourselves to Death I understand facing the digital age with trepidation. But learning is about discovering new things without an attachment to the outcome. We have no way of knowing what we will learn by listening to the songs of humpback whales and trying to figure out what they mean. By listening to them, though, we might learn more about ourselves and our value to the world.
John Maguire's argues in his article that effective student writers, and writers in general, write about objects rather than ideas. I see his point. Communication occurs when the audience connects to a tangible experience. If I can't illicit recognition from my readers then my writing hasn't been too effective. Maguire's suggestion that writers start with describing objects intrigues me, especially given the nature of this expository writing class and the Prown readings. The definition of exposition as a description of an idea or theory falls short without the medium. I think of an actor whose facial expressions and body language convey a message beyond the dialog. My words have to convey this meaning, have to evoke a reaction, a recognition. The most effective communication tool that I have to accomplish this goal is through narrative discourse. Neal Postman suggests in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death that the natural form of American communication is in story telling, and I agree. Sometimes when I am totally stuck about how to relate to my audience I think of a story, an event, and I start there. My audience doesn't always know where I am taking them, but when I get to the end of the story I can actually feel the recognition and understanding.
I think Maguire suggests a similar approach to teach and executing quality writing. He is basically saying start with what you know. Ideas or vague concepts can't just be conjured out of thin air. A writer must have a starting point or foundation solid enough to support a theory. For instance in Prown's description of the teapot, he begins with actually describing the physical characteristics of the vessel-- dimensions, shapes, materials, mass-- before he suggests the idea that teapots are surrogates for breasts. Prown's approach is powerful and provocative. I doubt I ever would have made that almost intangible connection on my own, but after reading and seeing the teapot through Prown's words I have a new perception.
Maguire makes another valid point about the importance of teaching students how to describe objects. Start with the basics. to become a strong writer and communicator of ideas I have to first hone my craft. If I can't tie my shoelaces then I very likely can't walk very far much less run a marathon. Just like Maguire says, "all abstract ideas derive from objects. You can approach them in that concrete way and teach students to do the same." In order to convey complicated theories and ideas I must first proficiently describe the commonplace objects. How can I persuade someone or effect someone's mind if I lack the most basic descriptive writing skills? Or, if I hit the mother load and become a successful novelist, I definitely need to be painting vivid pictures with my words. No one would buy the movie rights to my books otherwise. Closing in on a decade after Twilight Stephanie Meyer still rides the wave of phenomenal success just because she was able to describe a dream of a sparkly man standing in a meadow. And we all know what Edward looks like, for reals.
Amusing Ourselves to Death Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/Amusing-Ourselves-Death-Discourse-Business/dp/014303653X
a type of writing that is used to explain, describe, give information, or to inform.
It is organized around one topic and developed according to a pattern or combination of patterns. You cannot assume that the reader or listener has prior knowledge or prior understanding of the topic that is being discussed. Since clarity requires strong organization, one of the most important mechanisms to improve skills in exposition is to improve the organization of the text.
At the start of our course, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All my prior English classes consisted of reading and writing multiple page papers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in this course, we would be doing more than just those two. There was almost a sense of freedom in having the ability to incorporate different forms of writing to express what I wanted to say. Instead of just telling through words; I was able to describe my topic using pictures, videos, and sounds; the whole multimodal process.
It wasn’t until we got towards the end of our project when I able to notice a pattern and process with expository writing. There was a reason why our project was divided into multiple parts; each component curcial for the next step.
One of the most important parts of expository writing is to describe our subject in as much detail as we can. These may include characteristics and features, which provides information on how something looks, feels, tastes, smells, makes one feel, or sounds. The difference between creative writing (for example) and expository writing is that creative writing focuses on entertaining the audience, while expository writing aims to inform. This was a significant process in our object analysis and description, where we laid our focus on how our objects looked visually, and felt. Another important step of expository writing is the sequence, which is listing items or events in numerical or chronological order, which we did this through our timeline.
What I learned during this course was the importance of multimodality. Expository writing is sort of a slow gradual process of informing an audience. Like a 5 paragraph essay, it requires an introduction (our description of our artifacts), some type of a visual (including pictures or videos into our Twitter essays), a timeline, and a reflection. We use muultimodality on a daily basis, whether we notice it or not; so I think it’s important to notice how we use exposition in our daily lives.
Expository writing is the process of unraveling an image through words. Whether that image is of a teapot, a campus, or the ramifications of communism on the global economy, expository writing begins with a simple premise and ends with a more complicated perspective of the subject at hand. It peers behind the clock face and details the inner-workings of the world around us.
When I first signed up for this class, to be completely honest, I was not super excited to be taking it. That is not to say that I was dreading the course by any means, but as a rhetoric and composition major, my primary focus so far had been on persuasive writing. The idea of writing pieces that were not focused on an argument seemed...trivial? I'm can't say exactly what I felt at the time--nor was it anything particularly drastic--I simply didn't think this class would be wildly enlightening. My initial perceptions could not have been more wrong.
Even just from the twitter essay project we started the semester with, I was already growing a deeper understanding for what expository writing entailed. The process of experimenting with our personal definitions of what objects are helped to open my eyes to an entire art of writing I had had little real practice or exposure to. The process of working with our artifacts to create an entire object analysis using Prounian analysis took the seeds of that understanding and gave me a true appreciation for what expository writing is.
In a sense, there are similarities between persuasive writing and expository writing. I suppose it could be argued that expository writing is a practice in persuasion of one's opinions. But expository writing does not hinge upon whether the audience is convinced by what is being said. In fact, expository writing is unique in that it seems to be much more personal in its execution. These are observations based out of personal experience rather than arguments based out of research. If a piece of expository writing does not resonate with a reader, that does not mean the piece cannot still succeed in its goals. It is invested in the process of discovery, of coming to understanding rather than applying its products in a broader lens. Expository writing lives in itself rather than the reader, and that is not something I even truly understood until the end of this semester. In a sense, this post itself is a microcosm of the practice itself: a slow unraveling in the pursuit of some unknown truths.
This question of value that we have been discussing throughout the semester in regard to objects and how they relate to the human influences around them is one that I have decided has no singular conclusion. In a former blog post, I used Graham Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between possession accumulation and stress to attempt to highlight the problems that can arise by attaching too much value to something like an inanimate object in conjunction with having a focus on accumulation of objects as possessions. While I do think that there is good value in forming sentimental bonds and emotional attachments to objects, I also believe that assigning too much value can have a detrimental effect on happiness. For example, I have a friend who loves expensive shoes. They have more shoes than I could possibly imagine being able to wear in one year unless there were multiple midday swaps. However, this habit of accumulation has actually substantially increased the levels of stress in this person's life because if there is a stretch of time where no new shoes have been bought, they become very anxious and I will find them pouring through Pintrest and Etsy in search of the perfect pair of shoes to calm the mounting storm of anxiety. Recently, with our discussions of material culture in mind, I tried to (very delicately) ask my friend why expensive shoes are such a huge part of their life and if they think that their need to accumulate them alleviates or adds to their stress levels. They very candidly told me that it definitely adds stress. However, they made the point that they have become known amongst our friends, co-workers, and peers as the person with the "kick ass" sense of style and they start to feel like they are stagnating if they do not continue to accumulate possessions that reflect this perception of them. This then led to a discussion on what the relevance is between self-esteem and material possessions. The result of that conversation was that we both agreed that everyone has at least some facet of the tendency to attach value to objects and that this perceived value affects their social psychology.
(These shoes made by Versace will run you about $2,000. Would owning these bring you pleasure or stress from the cost? Even if you can afford it, what do $2,000 shoes do for you? Photo courtesy of Versace.)
I guess where I'm going with all this is that there is a definite, perceptible relationship between the value that we assign objects and the value that we assign to ourselves - whether we decide to acknowledge it at varying levels or not. So, when we buy a new car, gadget, or doorknob I believe there is a part of the psyche that assigns greater value to ourselves with that new acquisition. Disregarding any moral or ethical cultural judgment that could be discerned from that notion, this idea of "value" that has been discussed throughout the semester is something that can be studied and measured through the analysis of spending habits, stress levels, and the impact of things like media and advertisement on the consumer culture. Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between stress and the need to accumulate possessions is only one of many sources that can be referenced. Kinneavy, Kilmer, Prown, and Roberts all argue aspects of why objects and material things have such an impact on our culture and psychology.
Our emotions plays a huge role in what we desire. So, are what we desire natural? or are they influenced by an outside source? I believe that our preferences are influenced by both. We desire certain things based on what we like or dislike. With this basic knowledge, advertisers like to target their audience through emotional stimulation, thus increasing or decreasing our desires.
“One reason why advertisers often use humor, sex and other emotionally evocative stimuli in their advertisements is because of the assumption that the company will benefit from its association with those stimuli,”
There has been other factors studied that takes into consideration of why we desire certain things. For one, people desire what is forbidden. Two; especially if that desire is denied to us.
"Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power - a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start in again after a disappointment."
The two claims with these factors is that a) our desire is greater when the object is real and attainable; b) our desire is greater when the object is imaginary and unattainable. So, do we desire the one we have, or do we desire the one we imagine having, more?
Imaginary or unttainable desires leaves a person feeling as if they have an "unfinished business."
The desire is incomplete, or has not yet arrived; leaving the person desiring for it more. I think this is because it leaves us with a sense of hope that we might attain it sooner or later.
Something that is attainable needs no attention since it is likely to be perceived as being granted already. On the other hand, incomplete experiences, which are a kind of unfinished business, are more desirable because, among other aspects, they require more effort to be invested in them, which can cause them to be perceived as more worthy. In conclusion, we are influenced by our natural instincts, which are also influenced by outside sources, such as advertisements, that takes a dab at controlling how we think or feel. Do we really need or want these desires? Perhaps not always, but humans, I believe, are easier at adapting to changes, which allows for us to constantly crave new things or to reject them.