Re: Reassessing our practices

Steve Krause (skrause@BGNET.BGSU.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 17:00:11 -0500

On Tue, 13 Feb 1996, Bob King wrote:

> Do you think that other _forms_, such as particular genres
> of TV show such as the sitcom or the network news, or a particular genre of
> video game, hold *any* real "power" in virtue of their form (for me
> "power" here defined as the ability to define reality in specific and
> particular ways according to particular interests and values)? Are
> forms, for you, completely innocent or blank, waiting to be filled in?

Of course not, and as I said in my previous post, it's difficult to
seperate form and content entirely. But what I'm trying to do here is to
disagree with what I thought your original point was-- that the essay form
is one that has a lot of power in academia and the real world at large.
I've been pretty consistant in saying this, I think.

> My perception is that any medium or genre -- including listserv
> discussion -- has it's particular ways of defining reality. It is still
> extraordinary to me that this is a discussion largely about whether this
> is likely to be the case rather than in what ways or to what extent this is
> likely to be the case!
Well, I don't really think this is what this conversation has been about,
at least in my own reading of it. I think what we're pondering is why do
we teach "the essay" in the traditional sense, though we don't really see
how the essay is re-presented elsewhere. And of course, we've never
really agreed on what "the essay" is in the first place, which in part
probably accounts for the confusion. But I agree, I don't think there's
any question that the "reality" of texts is altered/effected/influenced
by the form. Though the idea that _any_ writing can "define reality"
makes me a little uncomfy...

> > not the _form_ we should be focusing on per se, but the
> > content.
> As others have suggested, why not consider form *and* content.
> The proposition that form hasn't *any* power seems to be indefensible.
> The proposition that content hasn't *any* power likewise seems
> indefensible. Therefore maybe we can talk about the ways form has
> power, and the ways content has power.

*Of course, and I think that part of my post just before what you deleted
basically acknowledges that. The problem (IMO) is that composition has
traditionally focused on form _at the expense_ of content. That's what
"EDNA" was about, or, in a more scarry/humorous/contemporary example, the
"Three Problems of X" syndrome as discussed by Jasper Neel. In the
traditional/typical comp class, the content is irrelevant-- it doesn't
really matter if you write a narrative about your Mom or your girlfriend
or your teacher or your favorite bank teller or your favorite pet or best
friend. All we're _really_ looking for in comp classes is if someone
says "Narrative," the student knows what that form is about.

Maybe I've overstated the case of
> form-as-power in some of my posts, and maybe that has resulted in some of
> you feeling the need to overstate the case of content-as-power. I guess
> the starting point for this particular thread for me was the notion of
> "reassessing practices" -- what teachers do, such as assign essays or
> listserv writing (for me a matter of form), not necessarily what they
> say (for me a matter of content).
Sure, but the point that Beth (I think) was originally trying to make is
that perhaps we ought to make some efforts at shaking up the form. I
don't really think that anyone would disagree with the idea that form and
content are related, Bob-- I just think that what the issue is to what
extent can this relationship be changed.

Steve Krause * Department of English * Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH * 43403 * (419) 372-8934 *
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