Archive for First Year Composition

Hegemony, Quintilian to Dowd, in 470 Words

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 2

My dissertation defense is in a mere ten days. I’m already dreaming the strange dreams.

Onward nonetheless. Or perhaps not so much onward as “parallel to.”

“Good writing can be hegemonic and boring. Good writing is behaving.” This is from Kate Zambreno, in a post on Frances Farmer is My Sister, a very interesting blog, which you can find here, but also quoted in an article on The New Inquiry, called “The Semiautobiographers,” which you can find here.

I’d like to think my dissertation says this, but it doesn’t, at least explicitly. It doesn’t quite go this far. I hope, though, that my dissertation at least leans toward, in its structure and format, in its writing style, order and arrangement as well as in content, dismantling the idea that “good writing” is the ideologically acceptable, dissertation/academic/appropriate-contribution-to-the-field/accountable voice, implicitly masculine, pretending coherence, quantifiability, objectivity–think Second Wave Feminism and Quintilian’s dichotomy between order as masculine and strong and moral, and eloquence/persuasion as feminine and weak–“the good man speaking well.”

(And surely the labyrinthine sentence above begins to undo something, somewhere?)

The good man speaking well. Which is of course what/who we are asking our first year composition students to write/become, particularly in those narrative assignments that ask them to describe an event that changed their lives, something they learned, or . . . or . . . or . . . because let’s face it, folks, when we ask them to write about something memorable that happened to them, they know, and we know, that the hegemon has already ridden in and decided what is memorable and what is not, and what happens to the kid who can’t identify, tell, organize, quantify, describe, narrate and even honor what We (capital W) have decided counts as memorable.

Was I going somewhere with this? Do I have to be?

Emily Cooke, in that same article, “The Semiautobiographers,” identifies the blog post as “the ideal literary forum for a self-consciously messy performance. Never edited by an alien hand, totally under the control of the writer, the blog post refuses to be anything but what it wants to be. It will not subject itself to ‘some highly toned  artificial neat form,’ to quote Zambreno.”

Love this line, but I’d change “self” to “subject.” And that would really get things moving. Instead of self-conscious, subject-conscious. Subject-position conscious. Conscious of how you are written by your culture, your ethnicity, all of the communities to which you belong. Although now I think I’m talking about something else entirely that Cooke was getting at. Both, I think. Self- and subject-conscious. Conscious of your writing process, your choices, as well as the multiplicity of positions from which you write.

Something from the NY Times the Sunday after Election Day, from Maureen Dowd: “Listen closely and hear the death rattle of the white male patriarchy.”

Go ahead. Revise yourself.