Discussion Board 1 & 2
Essay 1
Essay 2
Discussion Board 3 & 4
Essay 3
Midterm Portfolio
Discussion Board 5 & 6
Discussion Board 7 & 8
Essay 4
Discussion Board 9 & 10
Essay 5
Final Portfolio
Print Version


Read "The Pain Scale" by Eula Biss

Discussion Board 7 & 8
A first reading of Eula Biss’ “The Pain Scale” might suggest that it is very different in both form and content from Susan Griffin’s “Our Secret.” Where Griffin’s prose is meditative and digressive, Biss’ is pithy and precise. Where Griffin relies on a variety of sentence structures, Biss tends toward short, simple sentences. Where Griffin draws from a literary, essayistic aesthetic, Biss builds her essay around the fixed points of a scale.

A second reading might reveal similarities as well as differences. Like Griffin, Biss is interested in a different kind of reading and writing than what we might characterize as “typical,” especially in an academic context. Like Griffin, Biss structures her piece as “a kind of collage or collection of stories, sketches, anecdotes, fragments.” Like Griffin, Biss “takes a different attitude toward examples—and toward the kind of thinking one might bring to bear in gathering them and thinking them through” (298). If the two essays each demonstrate a “different” kind of writing, it’s worth thinking about what we can learn from those differences. Please keep these “lessons” in mind as you think about and write your discussion board post.

1. Clearly, “The Pain Scale” is about pain. But it is also—and perhaps mainly—about other things. In other words, the nominal subject (pain) is what the essay appears to be about—but it’s not necessarily what Biss is most interested in thinking about. Please write at least five sentences in the following format: “The Pain Scale” seems to be about __________ but it could also (really) be about ____________. (Note: Each blank should require more than one word.)*

In the second part of your post, respond to one of the following passages

a) Write a healthy paragraph in which you describe the structure of “The Pain Scale” and think about the relationship between Biss’ organizational principles and content. In other words, what do you notice about how the essay is structured? What kinds of examples or evidence does she turn to in order to think about the questions she’s asking? How does the structure of the essay help Biss to communicate her meaning?

b) Write a healthy paragraph in which you think about how you might name Biss’ project—what “The Pain Scale” is really about—in a way that accounts for the different “aboutness” statements you made above. In other words, what connections does Biss make, or can you make, between the different things that “The Pain Scale” is about? In the absence of a thesis statement, how do you know what the essay is about? If “The Pain Scale” is structured differently from more conventional essays (it does not make an overarching claim and then spend the rest of the essay supporting that claim), how does one make sense of it?

*Adapted from David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen’s Writing Analytically. 4th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.