A few weeks ago, I had a great consultation with one of my ID1 students: she had come with a really interesting first draft in which she unpacked how much of a badass feminist icon the antagonist of a graphic novel series was. She came into the session concerned about her balance between plot and analysis (and, like most first years, it was evident that too much space was given to plot). Through reading some paragraphs out loud and discussing what she cared about most in her essay, we were able to reallocate more space to her important analysis and create a revision timeline. I was happy with her enthusiasm for her essay and the reorganization plan we built. But in the last minutes of our session, she casually mentioned that she had a difficult time understanding verb tenses, as time is indicated separately from the verb in her first language. Yes, I had noticed that the verb tenses were inconsistent and awkward; however, those scattered errors did not prevent me from understanding and appreciating her original analysis. I had simply viewed those little mistakes as first draft typos that would be quickly corrected before the final draft.
How much does grammar matter? In this case, I had breezed over the occasional misuse of various tenses—they had not at any point caused me to stumble over or reread passages. As an ID1 intern, at what point should I provide guidance/strategies/resources for grammar improvement? If the ideas are still clearly communicated, would stepping in suggest that certain writers/voices should be privileged over others? As long as the paper communicates effectively, is there much value in putting value on “proper grammar”?
Also, mini-tangent on the literary present: last week, I went to a really interesting English department talk about the different forms of the present tense (literary present included). One of the points in favor of the literary present is that it gives the reader a sense of proximity to the work as it unfolds—the literary present is conveyed as intuitive. Yet to push against this notion of intuitiveness, I think of one of my ESL students. The use of the literary present was not intuitive to her at all: in recounting past events, the past tense was the more logical option (still not entirely logical, however, as time and verb were not inherently connected from her perspective). To what extent is the claimed intuitiveness of the literary present linguistically exclusive and not universal across cultures?