Self-Review Essay

Introduction

Prior to my talking ENGL 1102 at Georgia Tech, making a thesis statement seemed to represent a checkpoint that had to be fulfilled before continuing any further. I often placed a massive priority on drafting a thesis before I proceeded with the rest of a project and, as a result, considered my argument to be set in stone once I had created it. I also perceived revision to be a hindrance. I had a strong dislike for revisiting my work after I had deemed it complete as I felt like I was being made to do the same thing multiple times. Over the course of this semester, I have learned that my previous creative process and approach to drafting arguments did not lend themselves well to the creation of particularly strong or poignant thesis statements. This change in my perception comes largely as the result of the the emphasis placed in my ENGL 1102 section on the significance of revision and iteration. I have learned to perceive the revision process less as a source of frustration and more as a vehicle for progress through which an argument may mutate and evolve over time. While my creative process still has much room to improve, my newfound appreciation for iteration has allowed me to produce more nuanced thesis statements and, by extension, more convincing and coherent projects.

Artifact 1: Coming to Terms Essay & Video

While I still begin every project by formulating a fundamental argument, I now recognize that the best thesis statements are mutable and evolve over several iterations as the rest of the project comes together through revision. Take, for example an early version of my thesis statement from the essay portion of Artifact 1, in which I attempt to introduce the character Beelzebub from the poem Paradise Lost as well as the role he serves in the overall plot: “He [Beelzebub] looks at his fellow angels with concerned deliberation and slowly takes his stand, prepared to make his case for cruel revenge against the Almighty Despot he has come to so detest” (Artifact 1: draft 1). At the time, I believed this thesis statement to be effective as it provided a strong transition into my first body paragraph, the topic of which involved analyzing an argument made by Beelzebub in book two of Paradise Lost. While this sentence adequately establishes the focal topic of my essay, it failed to let the audience know how I wanted to do so and why they should care. In other words, the sentence lacks the all important “so what?” factor that can carry readers into the rest of my work. After consulting my professor, Dr. Patricia Taylor, it became very clear that I would need to add something else to my thesis statement to make it a directed argument rather than a simple transition sentence. Although I understood that a change had to be made, I felt unsure about how to go about doing so; however, at this point there were only a few days left to complete the project, and I had to proceed with the remainder of my essay if I hoped to complete it in time. I decided to temporarily leave my thesis statement and continued my work on the body paragraphs that I had already began to write. 

To my surprise, I found that suspending my concern over creating a thesis statement and actually developing the rest of my project helped me understand what my introductory paragraph lacked. The most glaring issue concerning my introductory paragraph involved its failure to introduce ideas that contributed to the larger conversation about Paradise Lost. This failure made for an essay that began with what I would best describe as a fizzle. On the other hand, my body paragraphs were packed with exiting and detailed analysis that were supported by strong concrete details from the poem. Much of my essay focused on Beelzebub’s manipulation by Satan, the antagonist of Paradise Lost, who used Beelzebub’s commanding presence in the demonic council to give his power the facade of innocuousness. At this point, I recognized that Satan’s manipulation had to be central to my introductory paragraph. Having identified the argument that I wanted to make, I returned to my thesis statement and began making changes. I decided to retain my original thesis statement, but included this new idea as a corollary sentence that proceeded and enhanced it. My thesis now read as follows: “He looks at his fellow angels with concerned deliberation and slowly takes his stand, prepared to make his case for cruel revenge against the almighty Despot he has come to so detest. In doing so, he actively promotes Satan’s preconceived agenda and allows for Satan’s reign over the demons to remain inconspicuous”  (Artifact 1: final draft). The Prezi to the right displays my original thesis statement next its final version. Whereas my original thesis lacked poignance and failed to introduce readers to a new idea, this thesis provides a compelling reason to continue reading my essay. Not only does it now inform readers about how I intend to make my argument in the latter portions of my essay, but It also implicitly acknowledges my audience by linking the subject of my essay (Beelzebub’s speech) to the overarching plot and thematic progression of Paradise Lost.

Artifact 1: Arguments

Artifact 2: Common Place Book Remix

With Artifact 1, I managed to successfully create a thesis statement that articulated a specific and directed argument. The same can be said about my thesis statement for Artifact 2; however, as I came to understand by the time I submitted my second project, my learning experience and evolution as a writer had not yet run its course. While my thesis statement itself arose through several iterations and took form with the rest of my project, I failed to put the same emphasis on the iterative revision of the rest of my project. I will discuss at length the shortfalls of my project that arose as the result of this failure, but first I would like to describe the process through which I arrived at my thesis statement and explain why I believe it to make an effective argument.

Artifact 2 was an unconventional project which required us to create an artist’s book that visually traced a central idea or thematic element of Paradise Lost. We also wrote short and long artist statements that attempted to explain the argument inherent in our artwork. I decided to discuss the metaphysical transformation underwent by Adam and Eve following their disobedience against God, and compared this transformation to Gregor Samsa’s mutation into an insect in Franz Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis. After identifying the idea I intended to develop in my project, I began work on my artist’s book and long essay. As the rest of my project developed, my thesis statement evolved and grew to encompass the argument I hoped to make. I went through several revisions of my thesis statement and arrived at the following: The speed of this change [in character] as well as the existential conflict it later wreaks on the pair [Adam & Eve], mirrors the grotesque physical and metaphysical transformation of Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis. My project is designed to visually delve into the relationship between the fall of mankind in Paradise Lost and the mutation of Gregor in The Metamorphosis” (Artifact 2, Final Draft). I establish the focal point of my essay in the first sentence by drawing a direct connection between Paradise Lost and The Metamorphosis and then expand upon this connection in the second sentence by describing how my project intends to make its argument visually within my artist’s book. Words such as “grotesque”, “existential”, and “mutation” set the tone of my essay while deepening the thematic connection I am attempting to draw. Although my thesis as it stands contains a potent and interesting idea that should appeal to my intended audience, the rest of my essay overlooks a major error that I did not perceive prior to my final submission of the project. After receiving comments back from Dr. Taylor about my essay, it became very evident that while my revision process had improved, I had not successfully applied it to the entirety of my essay.

I had expected to receive largely positive comments from Dr. Taylor, as I felt quite proud of the work that I had submitted. Rather, I received comments that were fairly critical of my essay as a whole, and I found the feedback to be quite disappointing at the time. I have included a screenshot of Dr. Taylor’s comments to the right of this paragraph. As I read through these comments and scrutinized my project, I came to realize that this criticism was well warranted considering the errors inherent in the structure of my writing. In my long artist’s statement, I mistakenly introduce an ancillary argument on its last page without building support for the argument or developing its relationship to my thesis statement. Instead of enhancing the progression of my essay, this ancillary idea reads like an afterthought that dilutes the overall potency of my previous paragraphs. As a direct result, my long artist’s statement (and by extension my artist’s book) feels “bifurcated” or divided in a manner that detracts from the overall coherence of my project. I found the feedback I received regarding my final submission to be rather enlightening, as it demonstrated a flaw in my creative process that I had not yet recognized. I learned through experience that the body of an essay must undergo the same iterative rigor as its thesis statement in order to produce a coherent essay with a consistent message. This idea may seem relatively straightforward, but it did not become apparent to me until the latter half of this semester.

Artifact 2: Argument

Artifact 2: Professor Feedback

Artifact 3: Group Research Project

Artifact 3 represented a departure from the previous two projects, as it involved a research process and collaboration among five group members. This change allowed me to apply the adjustments I had made in my creative process, as well as what I had learned about drafting arguments, to a different medium. It also allowed my to become more acquainted to working within a group. Previously, all of our projects were individual efforts that incorporated virtually no peer collaboration. My experience with group projects in high school had been touch and go, so I felt somewhat nervous to learn that the last project of the semester would be a collaborative effort. My experience with this particular group project at Georgia Tech, however, was vastly better than my previous experiences. Our project involved the investigation of the critical and academic discussion surrounding C.S. Lewis’s writing, and we were tasked with analyzing the manner in which Lewis’s Space Trilogy appropriates Milton’s Paradise Lost. After our first meeting and brainstorming session, most of my concerns were quelled, as my group members seemed committed to creating a strong presentation. As a matter of fact, some of my group members contributed more than their fair share of the work. As the deadline for our project approached, my group managed to efficiently delegate various responsibilities, and we assembled a detailed powerpoint presentation that conveyed a coherent range of ideas; however, our group was lacking the presentation’s most crucial piece - an effective argument. 

In many ways, my group’s back and fourth struggle to create a strong argument mirrored my own struggle to do so in Artifact 1. We began by putting our general argument on paper, and after finding ourselves at a loss for what to include in our thesis, simply agreed to continue with the remainder of the project. Four days before my group had to deliver our presentation, we had yet to create our final argument. We simply had a skeletal thesis statement that was obscure and just barely addressed our prompt: “As an orthodox Christian, Lewis extends Milton’s (justification of God) establishment of the Fall, but counters his characterization of Satan as a relatable, human-like character” (Artifact 3: Outline). Not only does this thesis seem disjointed and vague, but it also uses the word “extends” without indicating what it means for artwork to extend upon preexisting works. While the sentence does establish the means by which we intend to make our argument, it also includes information, such as Lewis’ orthodoxy, that is not vital to our central argument. After several iterations of our thesis statement we sill felt that we had not arrived an argument of sufficient merit. Just two days before submission, it took the brainpower of all five group members approximately 45 minutes to turn what was once a spineless thesis statement into what we used in our final presentation. We were so proud of what we had created that we even decided to dedicate a separate slide for our argument and chose to format its the text in bold. I have included the powerpoint slide that contains our argument to the right. After presenting our powerpoint to our class, we received written feedback from both Dr. Taylor and our classmates. Much of the comments spoke to the effectiveness of our argument, citing its clarity and complexity. One particular comment described our thesis as “specific, with a great so-what factor”.  While challenging, Artifact 3 demonstrated that the same iterative process I had come to appreciate over the course of the semester could be applied to projects in which I was not the sole variable. By the completion of Artifact 3, I had learned how to better approach revision within the context of a group project, and understood what it took to create a strong argument that addressed the whole scope of a group presentation.

Artifact 3: Argument

Artifact 3: Professor & Peer Feedback

All three of this semester’s projects have been difficult endeavors, with each bringing a unique set of creative obstacles and challenges; however, I believe that I have learned much about how to improve my creative process and produce more articulate thesis statements. What I have learned does not simply apply to the scope of this ENGL 1102 class, but the evolution that my creative process has undergone is one that I can carry with me as I continue my college education. In overcoming many of the creative obstacles I faced this semester, I have learned firsthand the importance of iteration in creating something meaningful. I no longer perceive revision to be a hindrance, nor do I consider my initial thesis to be immutable after creating it. While my creative process still has much room to improve, it has been greatly benefitted by my newfound appreciation for revision and iteration.