Anatomy of an Article
Joseph Janangelo

Persistence and Ongoing Textual Performance

In order to refine their texts, most authors need to negotiate several streams of input. That input might involve advice, applause, criticism, or questions. In Jonathan’s case, valuable feedback came from two public performances, both of which gave him a taste of and for audience reactions. As Jonathan reported, “In April, 2009 I had two symposia. The first was the English symposium where I read my paper and had a lot of questions from the audience.” According to him, “There were about ten people in the small conference room, including Jane and my parents, and only myself and another person read a paper in that room. Other rooms had different categories of presentations and presenters.” Jonathan remembered that “My paper was still in its earliest form! Most of the questions dealt with the thesis. They were trying to figure out my point! (And I was, too!)” From that first public performance, Jonathan drew a lesson, “I learned I needed to make it understandable for the reader. If I was having a hard time with my paper, how did I expect them to understand it?” This led to a key insight: “I began to think a lot about my thesis. But ultimately I realized it was time to get working and finish my paper. My listening to the paper was over and it was time to finish.”

Regarding that input, I asked Jane if she and Jonathan had discussed the concept of audience and, if so, how? To that query Jane replied, “I think Jonathan and I may have talked about audience more in terms of his two oral presentations.” She remembered reminding him “that the audience at the departmental symposium would be mostly English Department faculty and that the audience at the campus-wide symposium would include folks from all over campus and in a variety of disciplines.” Jane also noted that “in terms of Jonathan’s paper, I think we talked about disciplinary issues and historical background—what could Jonathan expect his readers to know, what would we need to tell them?” She remembered that “this came up explicitly I think in terms of biographical information about [Rodham] Clinton, about Saul Alinsky, etc.”

Jane recalled the author’s two public performances of his texts. According to her, “Folks [at the departmental symposium] were enthusiastic about his project and asked lots of questions, but another student’s work was selected as the best paper in rhetoric, writing studies, and linguistics at the symposium.” Noting the author’s remarkable dedication to his subject and persistence with his project, she added that “Without missing a beat, though, Jonathan signed up to present his work at the campus-wide symposium for undergraduate research.” The second symposium, in mid-April 2009, was a campus-wide event. As Jonathan recalled, “It was open to anyone who registered. I did an oral presentation with a handout of four quotes from my paper so the audience could follow along.” [See “Paratexts” for PDF copies of these works.] When asked about the response to his work, Jonathan added that “There was only one question at the end of my presentation (and it was after I sat back down) and that was about how long Bill and Hillary had been married.” That lack of detailed or even direct response to his work left an effect: “I thought I hadn’t done a good job because no one asked me any legitimate questions about my paper, but I ended up winning second place in the humanities category and fifty dollars.” Jonathan remembered that the second symposium was larger than the first, noting that “There were eight presenters in my category—probably 50 overall at the event. I did have a handout.”

Both at the time and in retrospect, Jane applauded Jonathan’s ongoing perseverance and commitment. She was generous in her praise for this author: “Finally, I’d say that I was tremendously impressed at how Jonathan responded to the feedback he received from audiences outside the classroom and how he remained committed to his project despite set backs.”