Essays In Present Tense

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In general, use the present tense to describe actions and states of being that are still true in the present; use the past tense to describe actions or states of being that occurred exclusively in the past. Zach Brown '03, and Sharon Williams would like to thank the following readers for their assistance in the preparation of this handout: Meghan Barbour '00, John Farranto, '01, and Professors Eismeier, Grant, Hopkins, Jensen, J. Adorno is no naïve New Critic (were there naïve New Critics? The line between inside and outside is exactly the problem he is posing for himself; he sounds much like Derrida’s reading of the “parergon” in Kant’s Critique of Judgment.Adorno is posing the question of the inside and the outside, the question of the system and its limit, by insisting that the social—the outside, the world of production, the world of divisions of labor, the world of class, the world of history—only becomes apparent through the inside, through the work of art, as the work (here, the lyric poem) tries to pursue its own logic, its own totality, its own present tense.To indicate the continuous aspect, add a form of the verb "to be" and a present participle to your main verb. (The above is colloquial, applying 2 past particple forms to "buy".) "Wrote" and "reread" sound equally important in the first sentence.The perfect aspect is created with a form of the verb "to have" and a past participle. In the second, the past perfect form "had written" emphasizes the action "reread." Present Perfect refers to completed actions which endure to the present or whose effects are still relevant. (This could refer to any time in my past.) I have broken my leg.What a work “represents in social terms” is only legitimately apparent in its form, in the now of the work.If you do not understand the work, if you do not carefully read it, if you do not stay in its present tense, you do not possess what is historical, what is in the past tense. The historian inevitably writes on the drafts of the literary critic: “there is something weird going on with verb tenses in this paragraph.” The question of verb tense in critical writing is also a question of disciplinarity: what, exactly, is it that you are writing? How exactly do you move between “back then people thought Puritans were hypocrites” to “Jonson’s Zeal-of-the-Land-Busy acts like a hypocrite”? Undergraduates regularly have a lot of trouble with verb tenses in papers. But I think undergraduates are on to something—or at least, the same thing happens to me all the time.But I am especially fond of Adorno’s version, briefly put forth here in his short essay “On Lyric Poetry and Society”: Goethe’s statement in his Maxims and Reflections that what you do not understand you do not possess holds not only for the aesthetic attitude to works of art but for aesthetic theory as well; nothing that is not in the works, not part of their own form, can legitimate a determination of what their substance, that which has entered into their poetry, represents in social terms.To determine that, of course, requires both knowledge of the interior of the works of art and knowledge of the society outside.


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