Here is the essay “Time and Distance Overcome” by Eula Biss. If you are one who doesn’t like to read online, you can download the essay below:
In what has become a classic essay in the genre of nonfiction, “Time and Distance Overcome” is stunning in its transformation; it starts out as a somewhat mundane list of facts about telephone poles, and then becomes something else entirely. For me, the essay is a reminder that research can be an avenue into discovery, full of surprises. Biss presents this essay and discovery just as she found it; she started researching one thing, which lead her to something else.
Another lesson I take from this essay is how an emotional effect can be created through nothing more than concrete fact. In this essay, the “I” is almost entirely de-centered (until the very end) with no real editorializing. Biss does not preach, though her meaning is clear. She merely places the facts before us, and allows us to come to our own reaction, much in the way a painting or photograph might.
I also want to draw your attention to the conclusion. She uses an image, and without needing to spell it out for us, the ending provides a symbol of hope, even amidst the darkness of the history she portrays. One thing to consider in your own work is how you might leave reader with a lasting image, a concrete symbol to represent the emotion you want to leave them with.
I do not want to say more, as I want you to experience the essay on your own terms. In your response below, post your general reaction to the essay: you might consider addressing how effective the transformation/shift is; whether or not you feel the order is important (Could these fragmented pieces be placed in any order to be effective?). Finally, provide some possible research topics of your own you’d like to pursue.
I look forward to reading your responses.