Raising our voice: The essay and architecture/the essay as architext

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret Himley


writing, essay

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Traditionally in scholarship, the essay genre has been considered to be a hybrid of the epistolary and the confession. This hybridization produced an understanding of the genre as having "expressivistic" roots; that is, the essay is a literary vehicle to announce one's emotions, opinions, or subjective thoughts. The essay's expressive characteristics, however, have been overstated by many American scholars studying the genre. Scholars's overreliance upon the characteristics of expressivism has led to a misunderstanding of the essay and has limited its potential for use as an intellectual tool to conduct inquiry into the world in which we live.

By focusing on American essays written after 1965, we can start discovering the complex processes at work when one writes in a hybrid genre. The essay constructs a particular place in literature, whereby the reader and writer are connected to everyday life experiences and events/ideas/objects that exist in popular culture. Architecture, as it has been practiced in America since Robert Venturi's and Aldo Rossi's critical works in 1966, shares connections with the essay as both attempt to capture fragments of the quotidian and the vernacular in order to communicate a sense of who we are as a culture in a particular moment in time.

As essaying and architecture develop as practical arts in the late twentieth century, certain shared processes and characteristics emerge. These processes and characteristics are bound at some level to the changes in social relations that occur over the last 30 years in America; at other levels, the processes and characteristics seem to be germane to the activities of writing and designing. The dissertation examines what those processes and characteristics are, and how they come to bear upon the teaching of writing in the college classroom. To provide a demonstration of how the theoretical analysis works in practice, the dissertation includes a chapter concerning student essays produced under the processes and characteristics described.


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