What even IS a discursive?

For HSC students, the discursive mode is probably best defined by what it’s not. If you keep a journal or diary, you don’t even need to read this post – you’re already writing discursively. The discursive mode is the widest, the catch-all, the marker of a humane and intelligent person. You’re not trying to sell someone on something, and it’s (probably) not a total fiction. It doesn’t rely on characters and description, the way a narrative does, and it shouldn’t use that weird contorted voice that NSW English students use for essays which sounds like their knickers are two sizes too small (you know the kind: The composer’s demonstration of empathy with the narrator’s struggles, symbolized by the cheese grater motif in Act III, adds intertextuality to which the responder responds with ambiguity.)

Just remember, it doesn’t have to have an argument but it does need a POINT. You cannot just crap on indefinitely.

It can include:

  • Anecdotes (personal or from others or history)
  • Facts and statistics
  • Gossip (flagged as such otherwise you’ll sound nuts)
  • Descriptions
  • Rhetorical questions (or genuine questions)
  • Things that you know about a topic
  • Things that you wonder about it
  • Issues and problems connected to the topic
  • Elements of the language of the topic (e.g. where does the main term come from)

Here’s an example.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

Use this statement as a stimulus for a piece of persuasive, discursive, or imaginative writing that expresses your perspective on one of the texts or characters with which you have engaged in Module A, B, or C.

Here’s how I would begin – let’s say I’d chosen to do the character of Prufrock from the T.S. Eliot poems.

What’s my perspective on this text-or-character? Basically, Prufrock’s funny. I’m sick to death of hearing that T.S. Eliot was all about alienation and the misery of urban loneliness. He had a (briefly) great career and a generally pretty OK life which he managed to wreck by marrying nutjob women. He was a great self-publicist and he managed to laugh at the whole Modernist thing. That’s what Prufrock is – a gentle parody of the whole nail-chewing existential crisis of the Modernists, cleverly done through their own poetry.

BUT it’s not that I feel like T.S. Eliot has reached out of the temporal ether and taken my hand. NONE of the texts that I was forced to vivisect at school did that – certainly not after we’d vivisected them and drawn out the ‘techniques’ like live, quivering nerve fibres.

So that’s what I’d say in my discursive:

  1. I’ve had plenty of moments in reading when I felt like I’d agreed with the author and they with me.
  2. I read ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and thought it was quite funny. And I’m fairly sure that Eliot meant it to be funny.
  3. Is that shared perspective on J. Alfred unique to me and T.S. Eliot? No. Neither of us are that special – although he had uniquely terrible hair.

That’s it.

Here are a few different ways of beginning this masterpiece of discursiveness, using the things I listed above.

Anecdotes (personal or from others or history):

I read ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’ under extreme duress. It ended up being a competition with my friend Nadia to see who could get the most obscure meaning out of it. It was like that meme ‘The curtains are blue’ – the one that makes fun of English teachers.

Facts and statistics

T.S. Eliot wrote ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in 1910. It took him five years. He was 28 when it was published and had never before recorded an example of laughing at himself that he hadn’t managed to turn a profit from.

Gossip (flagged as such otherwise you’ll sound nuts)

I’m told, on good authority, that most English teachers actually don’t read literature in their spare time. 87% of putative English teachers who responded to my survey said that they read Jodi Picoult at the beach, and NOT T.S. Eliot.


The end of ‘The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock’ always makes me imagine a beach, golden-sanded and wide, with curlicues out on the horizon which might be waves and might be mermaids. There’s a sound of singing in the breeze, and the welcome sight of a man with a centre-part and a lot of brylcream, drowning.

Rhetorical questions (or genuine questions)

Has anyone ever enjoyed poetry that they were forced to read?

Things that you know about a topic
Here is what I know about T.S. Eliot: he was THE poet of urban misery, a nut-job magnet, and when he worked as a publisher for Faber & Faber, he rejected George Orwell’s 1984.

Things that you wonder about it

Here is what I wonder about T.S. Eliot: should we remember him as the man who made us suffer ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and the turgidly confusing ‘The Hollow Men’, or the man who rejected George Orwell’s 1984?

Issues and problems connected to the topic
I wanted to engage with the texts I read for this year – I really did. Really. But every time I stuck my hand out, hoping they would take mine, I got king-hit in the face with the sheer weight of their ‘techniques’. I couldn’t stand it. Rejected, every time. It was like the world of literature saw me and swiped left, en mass.

Elements of the language of the topic (e.g. where does the main term come from)

The term character comes from the Greek. Among other things, it can refer to a letter etched into a surface, like the wax tablets used to make notes. Basically, it was the Classical World’s etch-a-sketch. You wrote it and then wiped it out. Unfortunately, I can’t wipe out the memory of being forced to teach T.S. Eliot.

Hope that clears up the discursive problem and consoles those who thought they were alone in hating T.S. Eliot.

p.s. This post was a discursive, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: