Re: to read or not to read...

Cynthia Haynes (
Sun, 23 Mar 1997 23:03:04 -0600

On Sun, 23 Mar 1997, Dr. Deborah Martinson wrote:

> Cynthia,
> Perhaps we can look to Hamlet for even more discussion.
> Sometimes I want "more matter less art" as Gertrude says to Polonius--and
> something more than the self-evident--and lived experience underlying the
> heresy.

Deb...perhaps our view of matter and art, at least in terms of language,
are different. I hear Plato echoing your sentiments as he argues that
rhetoric (and writing) are mere imitations of reality (the oral matter of
speeches). I hear others who ascribe to his metaphysics say later that
rhetoric is purely style, ornament, overlay
(unnecessary?) that obscures 'truth.' There are, however,
counter-traditions that have 'problematized' that separation.
"Plato wanted a final and referential language transparent to truth, a
type of thinking that derived from reality itself as in itself it really
is" (Richard Lanham's _The Electronic Word_ 146-47). But, whose reality?
whose truth? The rhetoricity of language (ie its propensity toward
ambiguity, its slippage against norms of 'truth' and 'reality') has been
repressed in a big way since Plato. In addiiton to Lanham's excellent
discussion, Samuel Ijsseling chronicles this in _Rhetoric and Philosophy
in Conflict_, and Paul De Man makes this case in _Allegories of Reading_
(specifically in his chapter on Nietzsche). So...this may be where we
differ, I don't know. I am also unsure of what you mean by "something
more than the self-evident and lived experience underlying the heresy."
Could you talk more about that?

> Sometimes I want a real point underneath the "words, words, words."
> And quite possibly, many of us want the irony of "to thine own self be
> true" (Polonius to Laertes) played out less completely--we want presenters
> to have the same professionalism they call for, or teach, unlike poor
> Polonius who had good words but no right action.

Why do you assume there is no real point underneath words, words, words?
What if the point is part and parcel of the words? What if the point is
enacted in the style itself? Let me give an example. Derrida is often a
good foil for this :) In her translator's preface to Derrida's _Of
Grammatology_, Gayatri Spivak says that what drives Derrida to writing
'sous rature' (what she calls 'under erasure') is the predicament we often
face when (certain) words may be inaccurate but necessary. That is, when
Derrida questions Being (and that goes for all 'to be' forms), and when he
questions the chain of signification that has been familiar to us since
Plato, he will write the words, cross them out, and then print (or say)
both word and in, "...the sign IS that ill-named
THING...which escapes the instituting question of philosophy" (imagine an
X over the words IS and THING). Thus, Spivak explains that "in examining
familiar things we come to such unfamiliar conclusions that our very
language is twisted and bent even as it guides us. Writing 'under
erasure' is the mark of this contortion" (xiv). Derrida is often accused
of mere 'play' with language when in actuality there are very significant
reasons behind the way he writes.

This example also speaks to your statement about wanting presenters to
have the same professionalism they call for, or teach. So, I guess I would
ask why having the same professionalism as we call for, or teach, is
mutually exclusive of writing/presenting in language that enacts what we
are professing? Maybe our notions of professionalism differ, too?

> I personally want to "live to tell the story" as Hamlet asks of Horatio.
> This means being able to follow the proceedings. On a few I pray "the rest
> is silence."

I agree. In my graduate studies, I learned how to listen to papers, and
often there were papers I was unable to follow. In most of those
situations, I was asked to explain the nature of my inability to
follow. In the process of critiquing papers we had to read
aloud in the class, part of what our professor was teaching us involved
HOW to listen and stay with a paper, and HOW to discern weak links in the
chain of argument, weak sentence construction, etc. What it taught us was
an appreciation for writing that is written to be read aloud, and for
writing in that manner ourselves. But, we all have different levels of
ability to follow the proceedings...that much is clear. And I'm not
suggesting that there are superior or inferior ways of following along as
we listen. Listening takes work when the thinking in a paper is tightly
written, full of abstract language, and multiple points to be made in the
precious little time we are allotted. I have often sacrificed what I
considered a better way of saying something because I was told to be more
clear. Thus, rather than use 'problematize' I used 'to question
something' or 'to make problematic rather than as a given.' Now, in the
interest of efficiency and time, using the word problematize is better. I
suspect many words have been coined as a result of such considerations.
But I see nothing about that word that would invoke a feeling of NOT
living to tell the story :) So, I suspect we have probably focused on
this one word when others would benefit from being problematized more :)

> Over the years I have done much better selecting sessions. I try for a
> mix: "big names" I respect; roundtables which by their very nature include
> discussion; "little names" I respect; topics about which I know little but
> think I should; sessions which address the very nature of my writing and
> teaching life; sessions working on theoretical dilemmas such as you just
> posed--the field as a "body" which moves us, but sometimes seems removed
> from the "spirit" of our endeavors--or the politics of language as it
> collides with the politics of identity and difference--or the ghosts of
> the past demanding present action. Since I think writing is highly
> charged, almost erotic in its intensity, I also want some "there there."
> (Unlike Phoenix itself.)

I see a similar split between body/spirit that you assume between
form/ my argument about that above would apply here, too.

> We all know how difficult this all is. One of the best things about
> presenting at CCCC's is enacting our students' dilemmas in terms of
> audience and writer. Last April I wrote a proposal and almost a year later
> tried to find what it was I had wanted to do--only to find that I presently
> had an interest in the second part of my proposal only, and it kept
> insisting I write IT, no matter how much I tried to distance myself from
> the rather narrow imperative. I finally just went with the narrow focus,
> liked it and knew I wanted "it said;" but I couldn't articulate the point
> of it all until awakening at 4 a.m. the morning before the presentation. My
> muse she kicked in late!
> In all of this, "the readiness is all."
> Debby

In terms of enacting our students dilemmas regarding audience and
writer...since you and Stephen both mention this, let me close here and
shift now to responding to his post. I've already gone on too long here :)
Thanks for your reply, Deb.


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