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CASLL-L  July 1998

CASLL-L July 1998

Subject:

Re: Learning to write by writing lit crit essays

From:

"/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CASLL/Inkshed <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 21 Jul 1998 15:55:45 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (113 lines)

Russ Hunt wrote in response to Sandra Dueck:

I have a theory about that.  I
>think _we're_ people who came to those lit crit essays with an
>already pretty fully developed sense of what it's like for a piece of
>writing to have an engaged reader.  But most of my students aren't
>like that.  Writing is, for them, a test, not an opportunity to
>connect.  They don't acquire many skills from writing those lit crit
>essays, and they mostly learn to detest doing that kind of thing, and
>doing it to literature.  Yes, I know there are exceptions; the
>exceptions, in my view, are people who don't much need English
>classes.
>
>So while I certainly agree that the things Sandra says she learned
>from writing those essays are good things to learn, I'm still
>convinced that there's only a small subset of my students who are
>going to learn them that way -- and they're precisely the people that
>I need to worry about least.

I  guess i have to jump in here - as a kind of novice to the forum and  the
range of discussions here   I agree with Russ that Sandra makes some
important points, but my experience  is quite a different story -  i feel
many of us arrived  at the University as story tellers, poets, working
writers - and still get hamstrung by the lit-crit genre - because there is
more  occuring  there in terms of power and knowledge structures than the
'techne' of 'good writing"  - I do believe there are  "textual identities "
made and un-made in the daily practices of lit classes - despite a
student's love of literature - or their best intentions to become  teachers
of English and pass on that love of literature --

S point I find quite ironic is that "reading" is so undervalued  -- in lit
classes so much of the discipline is disguised as love of reading - but we
place all the emphasis on   verbal performance in seminars  ( genre
specific utterances could be taken up in  another discussion altogether)
and individually writing in the tacit privileged genres of the discipline.


 i arrived  at the university - as an adult "mature" student with a
creative writing diploma under  my belt, a fairly successful semester at a
wise and challenging community  college program, and upon my arrival at SFU
got slapped in the chops by  some fairly heavy  gatekeeping - one memorable
statement  by an  esteemed prof who told me  "that I would never be a
writer and I would never be a graduate student"because I couldn't
instinctively punctuate succeded in crippling me for years.  A lifelong
love of writing shriveled into fear and shame, and I  managed to finish my
english BA - and enjoyed some wonderful lit  courses along the way,  but
the  voice  rang true - i didn't know how to instively punctuate  -I did
not know how to instinctively  write lit crit essays either - and never
learned the meta -textual forms that Sandra speaks of  -- so my grades
careened from the spectacular to the borderline often in the same semester.
I exited the program with the belief that I could  never do graduate work
in English and sought out Social Sciences/Education - convincing myself
that I really wanted to look at the social lives attached  to texts - or
that and I wanted to understand my own educational experience as an adult
female learner -- but  truly - English grad studies  scared me to death
-and I  thought - I would never survive the writing demands  - because of
my obvious genetic grammatical disability.

i still don't punctuate instinctively - and never will  --  I am  near
completion of my dissertation -I still struggle with the  meta-textual
techniques of argument/ compare contrast, etc.  i am a new comer to the
genre theory discourse - but apparntly have been writing alongside it  for
years    (I  love to explore the link between bodies, institutions and
texts - so I value the contribution of Foucault, technologies of power /
Dorothy Smith textually mediation of identity / Ricouer texts as human
action / Atkinson - ethnography and writing stuff)

 And I  am un-learning some  myths about writing  (real writing) creative
writing , research and academic genres etc.  this year I had the  pleasure
of working in Janet Giltrow's Writing Centre - and I recognised in many of
the students,  the fear, the bewilderment, the seemingly arbitrary
evaluation of it all -- I admit that while I did have some wonderful
instructors in my undergrad years  -I am afraid that their positive voices
seemed very faint and therapeutic  compared to the "truth" and rigor of the
gate-keeper voices  -- the power of the technologies of  text/ the regimes
of truth of the English lit-crit genre are  deep, historically valid and
supported by the very sinews of the general university instituional
practices -- very few of us believe we can write,  are meant to be here
legitimately, can buck the imposter syndrome of valuing of our  writing
practices -- I disguised asI taught compostion  and writing coures to
teachers that even teachers are terrified to "write real writing"  - even
as they develop curriculum to teach students composition and creative
writing -

  Writing is, for them, a test, not an opportunity to
>connect.  They don't acquire many skills from writing those lit crit
>essays, and they mostly learn to detest doing that kind of thing, and
>doing it to literature.  Yes, I know there are exceptions; the
>exceptions, in my view, are people who don't much need English
>classes.
>

>And I would buy that absolutely, and argue further that trial and
>error and wanting to know is the best -- even, perhaps, the only --
>way to learn this kind of thing, and our job as teachers is to
>create situations in which it's possible for students to come to
>want to know this kind of thing.  I don't think we do it by having
>them write lit crit, and I don't think we do it by telling them
>about it, either.
>


I think talking about the power structures around post-secondary literacy
and writing practice regimes are important in every discipline  and I think
making some of these methodologies/technologies/ genres more explicit is
important - i recall taking many lit and poetry  classes - rarely being
exposed to "theory" or secondary sources and still having to replicate the
'sounds" of the  research genre -- i used to thank my "good ears" for the
success I did have -

Kathryn Alexander
FAculty of Education,
Simon Fraser University

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