I trust this is already clear--but probably it isn't. I have no problem with
evaluating writing, do it all the time myself. But I think that, if we
authentic writing is situated, then we should evaluate writing in situ. I do
not believe any one set of criteria is appropriate for evaluating all writing
(tho I think that is what traditional writing teachers are done, essentially
imposed their own aesthetic and other standards in the guise of a general
educated reader). The only "universal" criterion I can imagine for evaluting
writing is this: "Does it work (i.e., achieve whatever it is supposed to)
its particular readers and in its rhetorical situation?" The actual criteria
vary amazingly (a) if I'm writing in my journal, basically for myself, with
purpose of increasing my understanding, (b) if I am writing poetry I intend to
publish, (c) if I am writing an internal memo, (d) if I am writing for
publication, (e) if I am writing a letter to the editor, etc. Even within
formal academic writing, I believe situational differences are strong enough
that we generalize at our peril.
I do suspect some students, especially immigrant and "non-traditional"
are not immediately ready to focus on these complexities, that they are still
trying to figure out what we might loosely call "academic writing in general"
(to distinguish it from the variety of non-academic discourses). But that
takes us to the level of pedagogical decision (and my concern here is about
students who graduate before they make it to the complexities).
P.S., As for my style (or lack thereof), I recently wrote,
From time to time, especially when I have had extended opportunities to
revise, I am praised for my “good sentences.” Reviewing my textbook, Richard
Marius even granted the accolade “graceful.” Tossing modesty to the wind, I
conclude that I sometimes produce “style”--yet I almost never think about
when I write.
Though I have no desire to produce admirable sentences, I do strongly desire
to influence readers. When I write I think very little about style and a
deal about readers, especially about directing and easing their understanding
(and sparing, insofar as possible, the exercise of their shortterm memories).
I often see a contradiction between complexities I wish to communicate and
readers’ desire for ease and clarity. My struggle, always, is to fulfill
desire without oversimplifying my subject. I believe I can, with craft, write
long sentences, using enough clauses and phrases to convey complexity, without
contradicting easy reading. Thus I am heartened by Hemingway’s invisibly long
sentences. What I learned from transformational grammarians about syntax,
ambiguity, and shortterm memory, plus what I learned from Frances Christensen
about free modifiers, led me to ways of revising that sometimes produce “good
sentences.” It is probably significant that these stylish sentences come
because I am concerned not with sentences, but with readers.
Duane Roen, Stuart Brown, and Theresa Enos, eds.
_Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline_
At 01:16 PM 5/18/99 -0400, you wrote:
>Response to discussion two months ago re rhetoric in a democratic
>culture: issues in composition in Canadian universities--Rick, Russ,
>Russ made the distinction between Writing and writing, and said that
>the best way to "defang"Rick's posting would be to compliment him on
>his style. Yes. And I agree that that is indeed the way most student
>academic writing is approached--by evaluating it.
> In addition, some writers themselves avoid conflict and dialogue by
>over-writing, writing in such a way as to call attention primarily to
>their own style. Another "trick" is to make their writing so dense and
>obscure that it is incomprehensible.
>Your discussion reminded me of the following:
>"Why do we write? I submit that beyond all rewards, either described...or
>imagined...(an) answer to the question is: we write because we want
>to change things. We write because we have this arrogant but
>absolutely essential conviction that our curious little marks and
>squiggles, read by others, can make a difference. The 'difference'
>may be a new perception of beauty, a new insight into
>self-understanding , a new experience of joy, or a decision to join
>the revolution. My own rebbe, Elie Wiesel, provides the text for
>this conviction, and I have it hung on the wall above my desk.
>"Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of
>deeds.'" --Robert McAfee Brown
>Supervisor, Writing Centre
>University of New Brunswick, Saint John
>P.O. Box 5050
>Saint John, NB
>Fax: (506) 648-5528
>Phone: (506) 648-5502
>Email: [log in to unmask]