I am having the hardest time keeping up with this discussion. I start thinking about it and
before I can clear my head someone else weighs in to pre-empt or render silly what I was going
to say. Sort of like trying to get the timing right as the rope comes round, so I can get in
and skip, too . . .
Let me do something simple, then: I want to back away from two dichotomous pairs of terms I've
introduced here: "real / unreal" and "authentic / inauthentic." And let me back away, too,
from the distinction between "academic" and "workplace." Not that I don't think all those
distinctions aren't real, or don't matter; they're just clearly not the ones I'm trying to
focus attention on, and they certainly don't map onto each other.
I'm interested in Anthony's suggestion that we think about what writing _does_. But when I
read the rest of that paragraph, it doesn't seem to me to capture what I want, either.
> what ends does it have? Are the ends appropriate/authentic to
> the context -- that is, do they serve something beyond the
> performance of the task, something with implications for the
> world that the writing grows out of and enters into (a world
> that includes the writer)? Will the writing have consequences,
> change anything, cause action of some sort?
It's pretty hard to imagine a disciplined way to distinguish between the writing that's
produced as an _example_ (thank you again, Anne Freadman) -- a way of demonstrating that the
writer can write, and can write in some form or demonstrating some knowledge -- and writing
that's produced to persuade or inform. Both serve something beyond the performance of the task,
both have implications for the world, both are, well, "real." What I want somehow to find a
way to talk about is writing that -- for the writer as she's writing it -- has what I think
Bakhtin might call "addressivity." In other words, maybe (and I'm resisting the word here
because in a way it's my hobbyhorse) it's "dialogic." (Patrick's anticipated this point, as he
so often does . . . ) That is, it's an utterance that's linked substantively to a previous
utterance (or utterances), and expects a substantive response. I think that defines out much
school writing, and includes much workplace writing (though clearly not all, in either case).
I'm now worried about the word "substantive" there. What I mean is that the utterances are
connected by _what they say_. Thus it would clearly be a _response_ to what I just said to
say, "Russ, you're obsessing about ideas that really aren't very important," or "Russ, you use
dashes and parentheses _way_ too much," it wouldn't, in my sense, be a substantive response of
the kind I'm looking for.
There are a whole bunch of other issues in this discussion I want to come back to, but let me
start by posing that as a question: does it make sense to say, as I think I'd like to, that
people learning to use written language need (and rarely get) occasions in which their language
is uttered in that sort of context -- where it's part of a dialogue, where substantive,
dialogic responses are the mechanism by which it links to the world? Where there is an
expectation that an actual reader interested in what's being said will be actually persuaded,
informed, amused, touched, etc. (or not?) To quote Patrick:
> Students [I'd say learners] need to be writing for the here
> and now, from their own needs, as defined by them. It is only
> then they will be able to judge for themselves if they are
> accomplishing what they set out to do, and what remains to be
That "judge for themselves" is important here, too.
St. Thomas University
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