My first realization that there _was_ such a thing as writing theory
and writing instruction came from trying to figure out how to generate
less dreadful writing about literature from students. The very first
Inkshed conference had as its theme "The Troubled Connection" between
composition and literature teaching. I've been thinking and reading
about this for a long time, and I have one firm conclusion: they
ain't no easy answer.
In the last few years, though, I think studies of professional and
workplace writing, and genre theory, have illuminated some important
issues, for me at least. One of them is raised by the question at the
heart of Will's post:
> In my proposal I noted that, unlike creative writing courses, where
> students read examples of fine poetry or prose fiction as models to
> be emulated, literature courses ask students to spend most of their
> time studying forms they will never be asked to write.
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.
Another way to say this is 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.
So. Will asks:
> Anyway, here's my question: why, to date, has so little
> been written about the rhetoric of literary essays? I'm
> aware of Fahnestock and Secor's provocative piece, "The
> Rhetoric of Literary Criticism," but there seems little
> substantive (pedagogical) work in this area.
Actually, I think there's a tidal wave about of stuff about the
_student_ essay on literature, all of it pedagogically grounded; I
don't know of much on the published literary essay, though, and I'm
not so sure about why. Partly because if we looked hard at it we'd
see that there's not much connection between what gets published and
what students have to do to demonstrate understanding; partly because
people who are seriously interested in rhetoric are mostly people who
are reacting against the literary essay (both kinds).
> I'll be looking, for example, at the relationship between first-year
> critical essays & their professional counterparts, & considering
> what students might learn by via a rhetorical analysis of
> professional models & methods & institutional contexts.
My guess would be that what they might learn would be revolutionary.
*I was reminded yesterday, moving files, that I first heard Aviva's
implicit/explicit instruction distinction at Inkshed 4, by the way.
Seems like Will's question is right up Inkshed's alley.
Russell A. Hunt __|~_)_ __)_|~_ Aquinas Chair
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