New to the revelries of blog CCCarnivals…
Reading Geoffrey Sirc’s review essay, “Resisting Entropy”, in the latest volume of CCC 63.3 and the resultant hum of activity in the composition community has me thinking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s not that dominant forms/ideas/pedagogies in Composition (English Studies, etc. – its title is long) are inherently bad/useless/limiting, but Composition’s long reign has resulted in instances of lost self-consciousness. Pieces like Sirc’s cause Composition and us, its subjects, to see, for better and worse, what we masquerade as/in. In this piece, he exposes.
When my professor passed on “Resisting Entropy” the day before my copy of the journal came in the mail, I expected no less than thoughtful sacrilege, and while Sirc is unapologetic, he’s not crass. He challenges and picks apart and illuminates what captivated his attention. While I am new to this academic sphere of scholarly journal review, is this not what a review is meant to do? Similair to his deconstruction and illumination of composition in English Composition as a Happening, he is not proposing a new writing pedagogy, he’s asking us to re-examine/design/frame/visit/mix as seen fit to the nth degree. What works/doesn’t work for him may work/not work for us; what is significant is our intearction/interactivity with composition, which requires a fair amount of introspection first (and forever after). Is this not how we approach texts? especially ones within our field – take this, don’t like that, adapt this, what would I do with this – and the dialogues we have with each other?
Some parts of his review work for me, others challenge me, others yet don’t call to me, but perhaps will in future work. For now:
Regarding the teaching of writing, he remarks Screw teachability (513). Let us not continue to fawn over Composition, as if teaching writing is possible in the first place. What to do in this space of the writing classroom instead? I don’t have/need an answer to this, as if it was answerable in the first place.
Quoting Byron Hawk from A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity,
Rather than promising our students some instrumental value in taking our curriculum, which may or may not actually turn out to have that value for them, it may be better to seduce them into studying rhetoric even if they do not know why it is seductive. It may be better to let them follow that desire to create whatever composition or constellation that they desire, let them determine what use-value the curriculum may ultimately have for them in their particular contexts (513).
Favoring the fantastic possibilities of form and content (513) over composition as a bland, sanitized pedagogy, teaching clear, correct, citation-based essay form to students (511) that promises guaranteed efficacy leading to power or authority or jobs or whatever we use to sell our transactional approach (513). Favoring composition that captivates students as they create kairotically effective texts (515) in their experimentations. As in, students are capable of such composition without having to follow sets of “teachable” maxims.
And, quoting Hawk again, Art comes to stand for natural genius at the expense of techne, and method comes to stand for a rigid formalism at the expense of heuristics (512). I am unfamiliar with the historical perspectives Hawk is responding to – Richard Young’s misinterpretation of Coleridge and the theory of vitalism (511) – but not the effect, as Sirc summarizes,
Our most egregious crime is the insistence on dumbing down the complicate process of composition to a scrupulously teachable method, reducing the roles of chance and the imagination in the production of textual knowledge. Especially, it’s the fetishization of invention: we have to show students exactly how to generate, we have to deny that it might just be inspired or accidental (even though that’s how it works) (512).
I think this is an instance of exposing Composition’s old garb in favor of a compelling new present (518). Like fashion/trends, some of it is finding new methods, but much can come from reinvigorating old ones (518). This isn’t the first suggestion for invention in how we see the field. There’s room for many approaches and re-approaches and re-views as to what composition is wearing.