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CASLL-L  April 2004

CASLL-L April 2004

Subject:

help with Inkshed 21 presentation?

From:

Russ Hunt <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CASLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 29 Apr 2004 14:24:29 -0300

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (241 lines)

At Inkshed 21 next week (next week?!) a Saturday morning session
will entail three of us inviting conference participants to
think together about what's going on when writers move from one
world of discourse to another.  We're inviting every participant
in the conference to inkshed for a few minutes -- in advance of
the session -- narrating some instance when that happened.

We're also hereby inviting all the unfortunate Inkshedders who
won't be able to be in Kamloops to participate, as well. If
you'll send us an inkshed, we'll include it in the session.

Like any inkshed, it doesn't have to be polished and edited, or
lengthy: it'll be read for what it says. It should give us all
some information about an incident where such a transition
occurred. It might center on you, a student, a colleague, or
anybody: all we're interested in is that offer give us enough
that we can contemplate it as an instance of the sort of
transition we want to think about.

Here are four such narratives we've come up with, just to get
you started.  Have a look, and please take fifteen minutes or a
half an hour and send us yours.  Send it to [log in to unmask]

We'll report, in the Inkshed Newsletter, on the patterns we
find. We're calling them "Interplanetary Voyages," in an arch
allusion to _Worlds Apart_.

Here are the first four narratives.

=====================
Interplanetary Voyage (I)

In 1969 some friends and I (mostly the friends) started an
independent magazine.  Moved by the rise of the "alternative
press" (we were reading The Village Voice, the East Village
Other, the Georgia Strait, This Magazine is About Schools,
etc.), and prompted by the utter lack of decent journalism in
New Brunswick, we arrogantly thought we could offer the Atlantic
Provinces an interesting alternative.    My contribution was
primarily theoretical.  My qualifications were that I was a
newly minted Ph.D. in English, had just finished 25-odd years of
school, with all its attendant term papers and other writing
tasks, had just completed writing a 250-page dissertation, and
was an inveterate reader of The New Yorker -- with particular
attention to what was then beginning to be called the New
Journalism, writers like Richard Harris and John McPhee being
central.

My first piece of writing for the magazine -- and for real
publication -- was a report on a trip we'd made the summer
before to the Miramichi Folk Song Festival. I thought, being new
to the Maritimes, there had been an interesting contrast between
the conscious nostalgic traditionalism of the festival's attempt
to preserve the ancient tradition of Miramichi song and the
rural poverty and exploitive "industrialism" of the area. When I
look back on it, 35 years later, I can see the imprint of all
that New Yorker reading, and I can see the pretensions to
cuteness that I thought appropriate to a "journalistic" article.
But most of all I see the last sentence.  When we'd come back
from what was then Chatham, New Brunswick, we'd driven across
the bridge there which spans the mouth of the Miramichi. I'd
looked down and seen what I concluded the article with,
describing it as the "long streamers of pollution" coming
downstream from the pulp mill.

Well, I now know what I saw wasn't pollution. It was windrows
caused by the westerly gale sweeping across the current of the
river.  No one has ever brought that error to my attention.  No
one else on the staff at the time questioned it.  As far as I am
aware, no one's ever noticed the error.  But I notice it, with
acute, physical embarrassment, every time I look back at it.  I
notice it with a kind of embarrassment I never felt at an error
in a term paper or dissertation, or any other writing I'd ever
done. It's a different context. A different world.

=====================
Interplanetary Voyage (II)

Meaghan showed me the book she had just written.  In my
kindergarten classroom I provide blank paper folded and stapled
as a small book of no more than 8 or 10 pages.  The children
enjoy writing, illustrating and then sharing their work with the
class.

When Meaghan opened her book to read there were strings of
letters. I am used to phonetic representations of words.  It
happens in the early stages of writing. Often a  text produced
by 5 year olds is a collection of sounds they hear as they say
the words they want to write. Often the letters are not even
grouped into words because this is also a new concept for them.
The text appears as strings of letters but if one were to
reproduce the sounds of the letters suddenly the text begins to
have meaning - DND (the end).  However, when I tried to sound
out what Meaghan wrote there was no meaning. There was no
sound/symbol correspondence.

Meaghan saw me struggling to make sense of what she had written.
 She listened for a couple of minutes and then said,”Oh!” and
took up her pencil.  In short order there were letters marching
along in a string, but this time they made sense when I read
them aloud.

=====================
Interplanetary Voyage (III)

In my fourth year as an undergraduate, I took a class in
cognitive neuroscience. One of the assignments involved
selecting a research article on an assigned topic and presenting
it to the class. The article I selected had a pretty obvious
flaw that made me skeptical of the conclusions. After my
presentation, the professor mentioned that he had reviewed that
particular paper and had similar misgivings about their data,
and did I want to see the review? I wasn't sure what he meant,
but I went to his lab after class. He handed me a file folder
and invited me to sit down and look it over. Inside the folder
was an early version of the article I had presented, but in
manuscript format, covered with my professor's illegible
scrawls, looking like some poor student's less-than-adequate
term paper. In the folder there was also a letter from the
editor of the journal, addressed to the authors of the article,
telling them that their paper needed extensive revisions before
it could be published in the journal. At the end of the letter
were reviews of the paper written by three "experts," including
the review my professor wrote. In it, he articulated the major
flaw that I had described that day in my presentation, and he
gently suggested that the article might not be suitable for
publication. There were two other reviews as well. I can't
remember what they said but from what I know now, they must have
been pretty positive about the article or it wouldn't have
ultimately been published. And that was it -- there was nothing
else in the folder but a photocopy of the published article,
looking very official and important.

It wasn't that nobody told me that journal articles were
evaluated by "experts"; I just never thought explicitly about
what that meant. But if I could go back and sample the contents
of my subconscious before I opened that file folder, I would
probably find a group of old wizard-like figures in lab coats
seated around a big mahogany table passing judgment on nervous
researchers waiting outside the door. Reading the reviews made
me realize what "peer-reviewed" really means. This is not
intended to be a cynical story, though. Realizing there are no
wizards waiting to evaluate you makes putting your own mortal
opinion on record a little less intimidating, and a lot more
important.

=====================
Interplanetary Voyage (IV)

In our first year course one of the things the students do is
reflect on their learning -- essentially, this is a substitute
for a term paper or final examination.  As part of her last
reflection this year, Katie wrote the paragraphs below.  To
follow them you need to know that "Bork" is Robert Bork, and
that we'd spent some time first term talking about a piece of
his opposing affirmative action, and specifically on the way in
which Bork's rhetoric was designed to forestall objections.
"Danielle" is another student -- Katie was apparently exchanging
learning reflections with her. During her work on the sociology
portion of the course, she had been asked to read and recommend
articles for consideration by the rest of the class.

============
And then it happened. I saw Bork. His name sat there on the page
staring up at me blankly, waiting. I quickly gathered my
thoughts and then dove in. The name Bork would have meant
nothing to me were it not for the work we did with him first
term, so I attribute this thought-gathering and mental
preparation to that. And frankly, it was needed. He was making
similar arguments as the author of the first article I had
found, so were it not for my past knowledge of him, I probably
wouldn’t have given more than two seconds’ thought to why he was
saying what he was saying. But, I had and I did. And I noticed
that Bork was contradicting himself left and right. He was
waffling all over the place, couldn’t make up his mind. I
thought I had him cornered. I thought I had him beat. “Looks
like we’re about to witness the ruination of Bork” I told
myself. But you (do I say “Russ” here, or “you”? I’m having such
confusion about my audience. It’s throwing me off. I'm settling
on "you", because you're the only one I'm sure is going to read
this -- except you, Danielle.) weren’t going to let me get away
that easily. You had to burst my bubble by pointing out that
contradiction in Bork’s arguments meant contradiction in
opposing arguments -- including my own. This wasn’t the reply I
was looking for. But it was an eye-opener. Freakin’ Bork beat me
again.

You said it wasn’t necessary for us to point out that we’ve
gotten better at writing over the course of the year. So, I
won’t say so. But, I think there’s a part of my writing that has
changed that might not necessarily be categorized as “better”,
so might be overlooked, but which I definitely consider a good
thing. I used to write quite a bit differently than I spoke.
Reading an essay I had written, I could probably be convinced
that it had been written by someone else. There was nothing even
almost unique about my writing. Reading over the Lourdes report,
and most of the work I’ve done so far for this (these)
class(es), I realized that I could hear myself. I never used to
be able to hear myself in writing; it was so dry and formal. For
some reason, I equated the written word with formality. This
class knocked that equation out of my head, and I think that
that's a very good thing.

And then, of course, there is the tedious re-wording we found
ourselves doing in the Lourdes group. That devil was a spawn of
English-class. Once we’d decided to write our introduction in
words that all sides would agree on, we had to figure out how
the heck to do that.

     -“The Virgin Mary appeared to…”
     -“Or did she?”
     -“How about ‘apparently…?”
     -“No! That implies that it was apparent!”
     -“Bernadette claims…”
     -“Nope. It feels like you’re saying she was lying.”

And on and on and on. Since when do words matter so much? . . .
This year made me realize that there’s more to learning language
than knowing the definitions of words, and grammar rules, and
whatnot. There are subtleties to language, and the subtleties
are where the good stuff is. I’m still learning stuff about
English, a language I’ve been speaking my whole life -- good
luck every other language I want to learn.

=================

There are ours: we'd love to take yours to Kamloops with us.

-- Amelia, Anne, and Russ Hunt
St. Thomas University
http://www.StThomasU.ca/~hunt/

                -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
  To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
  [log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
         write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]

For the list archives and information about the organization,
    its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to
              http://www.stu.ca/inkshed/
                 -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

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