expos-ing composition

The Rutgers writing program has offered up several interesting videos about their curriculum including a 35-minute documentary following five students in FYC and this 5-minute discussion of the course featuring Kurt Spellmeyer. Jeff Rice has commented on these videos (twice). And like Jeff, my interest/critique is not about Rutgers' program, but rather what it says more broadly about disciplinary approaches to composition.

Jeff makes a good observation in noting the emphasis on analysis and close reading as the focal points of the composition program. If one adds in Richard Miller's discussion of the "spirit of the new humanities" which guides the common readings for Rutgers FYC, I think one does end up with a rather quizzical (but no less common) approach to composition that combines a Bartholomae-stye focus on reading, a Berlin-style focus on ideology/social action, and a lingering Elbow-style expressivism where, as Rice puts it, "All the answers are unto me." 

In the video, Spellmeyer does a good job of laying out the pedagogical process of the Rutgers course that begins with the analysis of single text, but the first formal writing assignment includes two texts, then three texts for second assignment. The course materials articulate a clear common vision that is focused on the development of an original thesis, the situating of assigned texts in conversation with one another, and organization (on both the essay and paragraph level). 

I will say that I would aspire to have as clear a vision of the UB program as Spellmeyer and Miller have for Rutgers (though I know that our TAs would be very resistant to a common syllabus, and I'm not sure that's the best approach).

Like Jeff, my response to what I view as a mainstream model of composition is that it appears to give short shrift to invention. I suppose I keep coming back to Ulmer when I think of this division of the humanities into hermeneutics and heuristics. In this model it appears that hermeneutics will suffice for invention. That is, if you can't think of enough things to write then you haven't "analyzed" enough. Analysis would appear to be the sole mode of invention, typified almost exclusively by the close reading of passages. In the documentary, the students often cite a difficulty with reaching the required five-page length. That's not uncommon, of course, but I am wondering if the best solution is to apply further analysis.

On a larger scale, I am perplexed if the spirit of the new humanities is to be transmitted through close reading. In the end, is close reading all the the humanities can come up with?

Instead, I would be curious about a different kind of exposition: a putting outside or out of place; an exposure. What is the relation between a com-position and an ex-position. Perhaps exposition precedes composition. That is, exposure produces opportunities for the emergence of new relations. Unfortunately the hermeneutic-analytic mode, in my view, always seeks to territorialize such inventional processes before they can even get started. It immediately asks us if we can authorize our claims, provide evidence from the text, organize an argument around the thesis, etc. It is a purely rational mode. It brings writing back inside the territory of the classroom before it can be exposed.

In my experience writing is always intuitive. By intuitive I do not mean simply internal or imaginative but something more like a network sense. I have come to have confidence in my nascent belief that "there's a there there" in my writing, if you get my drift, even if I can't articulate it. Writing then becomes a way of my trying to figure out what it is that I am responding to intuitively. 

Over time FYC has evolved to provide mechanistic short cuts to that process, but in doing so it tends to dead end quickly because it dramatically foreshortens the inventive elements of writing. 

In my take, the new humanities begins with exposing oneself to the inventional potential of the network.

 

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