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CASLL-L  July 1998

CASLL-L July 1998

Subject:

Re: writing about literature

From:

Will Garrett-Petts <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CASLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 16 Jul 1998 16:40:02 -0700

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (114 lines)

I just read Russ' thoughtful & thought-provoking
posting, & I think he frames precisely the dilemma
of teaching writing as a component of an undergrad
lit. class: the rhetorical situation (if I can use
that term) of the first-year lit. essay is viewed by
many as "inauthentic," as occuring only in a classroom
context.  I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying that
the student lit. essay doesn't "exist in a social context";
I would agree that many find the context kind of artificial.

I think the prospect of "inkshedding" as an anodyne to
that artificial context--as a way of forming a temporary
writing community--has helped me in my own teaching.  Also,
the contruction of online (virtual) communities via
listservs has helped make the writing my own lit students
do a little less teacher-directed.

I also remain hopeful that, by asking students to engage
in some rhetorical analysis of professional critical writing,
they can, with guidance, position their own responses
with greater confidence.  Without that guided analysis, published
criticism remains a kind of foreign language, something that
others write, something to be quoted but seldom emulated.

Critical collections & cribs (like Coles Notes) tend to
provide students with a hearsay version of literary criticism.
The students hear about the importance of literary scholarship, and
they read the results of such scholarship, but they are
seldom invited to participate in hands-on research?

I guess that's why a casebook approach appeals to me for the
forthcoming text:  by including examples of both professional
& student writing on one work (Crane's "Yellow Sky"), I'm
hoping to create some semblance of dialogue--one that the
students can enter & exit.


> The way I've said this for some years is just the reverse of that:
> students in literature courses are asked to write a form they have
> never, ever read, and never will read.  If Aviva's* right about how
> we learn new genres, it's no surprise students don't learn this one,
> because they have no opportunity to read examples of it in social
> context.  Examples of it don't _occur_ in social context.

Russ goes further & says
>
> that "the essay on literature" doesn't
> even exist in the academic journal. The rhetoric (the register, the
> generic conventions, the patterns of given & new) of the articles
> and essays which appear in (say) _Critical Inquiry_,
> _Eighteenth-Century Studies_, _English Studies in Canada_, or
> _Canadian Literature_ is radically various, and radically different
> from anything that normally appears in student essays on literature.
>
> Or is asked to appear.  The class essay is a genre unto itself, and
> the only people who ever read them in enough volume to internalize
> their conventions are English teachers.
>

I agree with most of this, but I still think that there are
elements & examples of critical writing--especially in literary
reviews & critical notes--that are both close in form to the class
essay & accessible as models.

Russ, you reference
> a tidal wave about of stuff about the
> _student_ essay on literature, all of it pedagogically grounded.

I was, of course talking about the published literary essay--but
I'd welcome references for any good, rhetorically-based discussions on the
student paper as well.

Most of the work I've seen focuses on "reading," not writing; and
I found it interesting that two of the reviewers for the press
asked for greater emphasis on the range of critical approaches
available (deconstructivist, feminist, postmodern, etc.).  Terry
Eagleton once wrote that English studies lacks any method--&
although his _Introduction to Literary Theory_ is a highly
polemical take, he nonetheless highlights a familiar complaint
among students:  literature courses & resource texts seldom
provide a bridge from reading to writing (apart from a few
formulaic comments on thesis statements, finding topics, etc.).

I'm struck by the tendency to substitute discussion of
literary theory for methodology; and I'm disturbed how
easily some of my 3rd & 4th-year students adopt a deconstructive
stance for one essay, a feminist stance for the next...--as
if the theories & their attendant methodologies were
eminently interchangeable.  A recent _College English_
essay on literary theory (a well-written essay) showed
off 5 or 6 critical "takes" on a work--as if critical
response were some kind exercise in role playing.

Anyway, this posting has probably gone on too long.


I wonder, though, if others have ideas on how present the writing
of student lit. papers in a more legitimate social context?


Thanks for the feedback.  Will

                       < < W.F. Garrett-Petts > >

 English & Modern Languages  ._______
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