writing as a productive art

(qtd. Bruno Latour The Pastuerization of France) “Standing by what is written on a sheet of paper alone is a risky trade. However, this trade is no more miraculous than that of the painter, the seaman, the tightrope walker, or the banker. [Knowledge] does not exist…despite all claims to the contrary, craft holds the key to knowledge” (Bogost 110).

Reading the end of Kelly Pender’s Techne, particularly “Why Techne? Why Now?” unexpectedly caused me to return to Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, a book that a small group of students and faculty read in the summer of 2012 as part of a reading series. While the work explores object oriented ontology as a call to philosophy /philosophers to reconstruct their craft as practice as theory, his chapter entitled “Carpentry” allows some connections to be established to Pender’s emphasis on teaching writing as writing through techne (more specifically poesis).

Pender writes

“Historically, we have valued techne because it focuses our attention to external goals; or to put it more precisely, we have valued techne because it allows us to align writing with particulalr external goals” (142).

As poesis, or a bringing forth, techne allows students to write as writing to achieve an external goal.  And while she is careful not to easily dismiss using techne to achieve external goals (something like problem solving), she explains that such an emphasis on goals of writing have caused us to overlook the thingness of writing, “the ability of writing to engage us in a process of bringing forth that is more aimed at doing something than knowing something” (143). This stresses the teaching of writing as a means of textual interpretation over a means of textual production – we aren’t using techne to make (techne as theory vs. techne as methodology).

This called to mind Ian Bogost. In “Carpentry”, he writes

“Like mechanics, philosophers ought to get their hands dirty. Not just dirty with logic or mathematics…but dirty with grease and panko bread crumbs and formaldehyde. I give the name carpentry to this practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92).

This signifies a shift from knowing about to doing with/from. He lays out the frame of carpentry:

“‘carpentry’ borrows from two sources. First, it extends the ordinary sense of woodcraft to any material whatsoever—to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s hands, like a cabinetmaker. Second, it folds into this act of construction Graham Harman’s philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things”…to refer to how things fashion one another and the world at large. Blending these two notions, carpentry entails making things that explain how things make the world” (93).

I can envision reactions to this approach as dismissive, a sort of hyperbolic aside of giving students in freshman writing courses a hammer with their writing handbook, but what might it make available? We already use metaphors and theories of process and construction to talk about writing to draw attention to the act of putting things together and taking things apart. What might writing that incorporates making (beyond focus on alphanumeric texts or “creative” projects to accompany alphanumeric texts that aren’t viewed as texts on their own) do?

Bogost works to destabilize writing as the sun in our academic universe, and hile I’m not making such a move, I do find scraps of carpentry, as tied to techne, of interest to discover what writing might be/do.

I’m left wondering

  • What would a methodology of techne in teaching writing look like?
  • How can teaching writing as writing allow for the entanglement of writing and making?
  • What composite definition of techne (from chapter one) would this approach make use of?
  • Does this something, or a way to make some things, fit in the writing classroom – techne as method?
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