Re: Reassessing our practices

Bob King (kingbx@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 09:33:01 -0500

On Wed, 14 Feb 1996, Steve Krause wrote:

> The problem
> (I think) is two fold: First, it's unclear to me what you mean by
> "essay." For example, you say:

Even looking back over Beth's posts, it seems to me what is being pulled
out of "the essay" for scrutiny is it's monologism, the fact of it's
solitary production. It seems to me she is arguing that *that's* the
piece of the essay-as-practice which might could be "shook up." In my
own posts, the very first one I entered in this list layed out two
options for "reassessing practice" -- 1) interrogation of one's own
investments in particular practices, what I referred to as "thinking
without the things you can't think without" and 2) simply changing
practices, by which I meant having writing be a dialogical event rather
than a monological event. I then indicated that I was "voting" for
changing practices. That was my starting point, and I haven't veered
from that general outline. My talking about "power" was to further the
discussion, which as I've said seems to be a particularly difficult
thing to do in this group, for me at least. You don't seem to want to
interrogate why *that* is, and when you think of changing practices around
the essay you *write* in any case as if the monological form of the essay
doesn't matter, somehow. Read back over Beth's posts though. I think
you'll find that she is arguing about monologism. Honestly, it's hard to
not think that what I have "hit upon" and she has "touched on" is one of
those ideas which rhetoricians, shaped by disciplinary parameters just
like everyone else, "can't think without." Again Steve, the idea being
discussed here is monologism, the solitary production of texts.
That's what's being "shook up." Neither Beth nor I are talking about the
differences between a benevolent instructor's essay assignment and a
power-monger's essay assignment; both of us, again IMO, are talking about
the power in the monological form itself, and I've in addition tried
to explain how it's possible that the essay form may be "powerful" and
"not powerful" at the same time. I don't know what else I can do.
I'm raising the issue thatBut maybe this needs triangulation of some sort

> I think there are at least 3 different definitions of essay here-- the
> things students do in classes (which re-inscribe a power relationship
> between teachers and students that most of us think is unhealthy); the
> things academics do to get brownie points (which seem to bare _very_
> little resemblence to the sorts of things that students do); and as a tool
> for "individual expression" or at least the illusion of that.

This just seems plain wrong in a number of ways. First, monologue *is* a
unifying factor across all these "types" of essays. Again, don't
take my word for it though. Go back and see for yourself that Beth
has been trying to point out the same thing, to much the same (i.e.,
nil) effect. Second, please explain to me how you can see a power
relationship between students and teachers inscribed in essay practice
as "unhealthy" but steadfastly cannot see the same basic "power thing"
involved in relation to faculty making "brownie points" with each other
and with university administrations via the production of monological
essays? Yes, Steve there are shades of differences between
different kinds of essays. I grant that. But there are also
features which all essays have in common, and you don't seem to want
to grant that.

> You're not (IMO) addressing the issue here. It's not
> an issue of whether or not it's a "power" relationship-- anyone who has
> taught writing before knows that-- it's an issue of how does one deal
> with this power.

Well, if you don't acknowledge certain aspects of power (i.e., how it
operates on formal as well as social as well as propositional levels --
see my previous post on the "polysemia" of practices) then you won't, as
a matter of course, "deal with it." So we're still at point one, which
yes is the source of my frustration.

> >
> > Basically I've been arguing all along that practices should be shook up and
> > shook up good, but nobody seems to hear that, and I can only suggest that
> > is is because I am not adhering to your formal conventions.
> Now, _where_ have you argued this? You have said again and again that
> this is an issue of power, a relationship that we all accepted long ago,

As above, I've been arguing what I see as the same basic outline all
along, from my first post. You've evidently accepted a certain framing of
how power operates, I'm asking you to "reassess" your framing, and it
seems to be difficult to do.

> but I don't recall any posts on your part about _how_ to shake things
> up? Beth, who you seem jealous of in some fashion, is getting more
> responses (I guess...) because she has suggested a way of shaking things
> up-- have on-line writing in different forms "count" as "essays" in the
> teaching of writing. So where's your idea along these lines?

I'm with her. For the first time, this semester, I've completly ditched
the essay. Students write only on a class listserv, socially,
polyvocally, not monologically. But I think it's again a mistake to say
this somehow "counts" as an essay. To do so would mean to me that you
yourself would have to do some definitional work about what is it you
mean by "the essay." I see myself as ditching the essay, leaving it
behind. I'm not trying to recoup it in any way. I can't think of a good
reason to recoup it. I don't think it will be brought back by "popular
demand" either, but that remains to be seen, I suppose. No evidence of
it yet!

Bob King