Sentimental Fragments, Absence, and “Writing” Issues

Lisa West
Drake University

 

I taught “Sentimental Fragments” in Writing Seminar,  a course that serves both as a lower-level gateway to the major and as fulfillment of the general education writing-intensive requirement. Typically, students in the course range from first-year English or Writing majors to seniors who have avoided taking their writing requirement.  This section had students in Pharmacy, sciences, business, journalism – and a few English or Writing majors.  It was a varied group. This course must approach issues of concern to writers, but faculty are free to teach it with different emphasis.  I teach it as an academic writing course that focuses on establishing one’s voice within a larger critical conversation rather than as a creative writing course.  I  focus on peer workshops, revision, and one or two key issues in literary studies, such as the “death of the author” debate or questions about the role of readers in literary study. I was a bit concerned about teaching this text in a course that was not focused on sentimentalism or the 19th century, but I thought it would be a good way to introduce issues related to embodiment (or how writing does/does not engage the body) and reader-oriented rather than author-oriented interpretation.

We began the course with an Ann Dean essay on scribal and manuscript conventions in Benjamin Franklin’s early writings.  We read “Sentimental Fragments,” some Franklin short pieces, and the “Account” of Makandal previously used in Just Teach One for the first unit.  Their first paper applied ideas from the Dean essay either to one of the Just Teach One texts or to current use of social media by political figures.  More students wrote about current social media, but I think the “Sentimental Fragments” worked well in connection with their sense of social media, emojis, the desire to cause an emotional response in a reader, etc.  (I will note that they did not think of “Sentimental Fragments” as political – but they did think they could work in conjunction with more overly political writings in a periodical by shaping a reader’s emotional state, etc. And they did note that the fragments often were didactic on moral grounds, suggesting certain moral stances as being better than others.)