Let me start by stating right from the get-go that I wasn’t so much frightened or intimidated by the form or content of Quentin Pierce’s fuck you essay as I was moved by its explicit indictment of an educational system that has failed, and continues to fail, its author ("Thank you very much//I lose again" [173; emphasis mine]). Consequently, I was both baffled and disappointed by Bartholomae’s assessment that, in addition to expressing an idea about existentialism, the fuck you essay was simply "a dramatic and skillful way of saying ‘Fuck you-I’m not the loser, you are’" (173). It’s as if Bartholomae, still smarting from the personal indictment some eighteen years after the fact, persists in focusing on his self-perceived guilt for having "failed the ‘basic writers’ of [his] Freshman English class," and Quentin in particular (173). While that’s perhaps an admirable sentiment to harbor, Bartholomae nonetheless fails to acknowledge Quentin’s larger indictment and its implication of an individual who is acutely and painfully aware of the long shot odds on his academic success.
That said, I agree with the student in our class (sorry, ol’ boy, your name escapes me) who suggested that Bartholomae should’ve made a positive demonstration of Quentin’s paper in class. He could have praised its merits—because it certainly has some—and perhaps discussed how one might rewrite a less-explicit version of Quentin’s essay without compromising the power of its content. (Personally, I would’ve stuck with the merits, including the power and function of its explicit language and perhaps even reading some Ginsberg as proof of a kind of a literary legitimacy.) Or, to answer concerns of potential copycatting by other class members, he could’ve used this essay as a prompt for an exercise challenging students to use explicit language in a meaningful way. Regardless, he should’ve have done something to validate and encourage Quentin’s efforts. By doing nothing Bartholomae merely lent credence to Quentin’s assertion that he has, once again, lost.
Bartholomae, David. “The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum.” Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 2001.