CONSCIOUSNESS cannot spontaneously accept or reject new forms, as offered by creative genius; it is the new form, for however great a period of time it may remain a mere irritant—that moulds consciousness to the necessary amplitude for holding it.
— Mina Loy, “Aphorisms on Futurism” (1914)
Hacking the College Essay
Manifesto for Reading Whiteness
in Mina Loy’s “Songs to Joannes” & Beyond
By Meredith Foulke (Davidson College, Class of 2018)
This project began as a traditional college paper that I wrote for a Modern American Poetry class. It then turned into a summer research project where, rather than simply uploading a PDF to the web, I experimented with ways to put the essay online that would help readers engage with it more actively. As I thought about the web platform, I began to think about how the essay could be broken down into its component parts (close reading, critical conversation, writerly biography/ historical connections), and how each part could be treated differently.
I decided to write a manifesto to give my argument more urgency. When WordPress wouldn’t let me format my text the way I wanted to, I began to learn CSS in order to have more control over the text, making the page as dynamic as I wanted my ideas to be.
This project has changed the way I write and think about scholarly essays—not only do I see the layers of ideas that make up my argument, but I think that the way they are presented is equally important. Sometimes (often, even), just putting them into a Word document is not enough. One thing I’ve learned from Mina Loy’s work is the need to challenge convention, even and especially in forms as established and revered as the college essay.