Traffic in Genres,
In Classrooms and Out
[as published in Genre and the New Rhetoric, ed. Peter Medway and Aviva Freedman. 212-230. London: Taylor & Francis, 1994.]
Experimenter: Can you say, "The kitty in the water is sad"?Whether Kate's struggle was really, as I thought at the time, against the recalcitrant limits of her own grammatical competence, or whether it was something quite different, we can only guess. The workings of people's minds are difficult of access, even to their owners -- much less to those who must construct long inferential chains based on tiny fragments of behavior like Kate's stumbling over expressing the relationships between the spilling, the oranges, the puppy, and sadness.
Kate: [patiently explaining] I already did.
Experimenter: Ohh . . . I guess you already did. That's right. [pause] What's the puppy doing?
Kate: Well, he's reaching those orange.
Experimenter: He's reaching those orange. And what happens to the oranges?
Kate: They fell down there.
Experimenter: And is the puppy happy?
Experimenter: [incredulity] He's happy!?!
Kate: But he's sad there.
Experimenter: Can you say, "The puppy who spilled the oranges is sad"?
Kate: I already did.
Experimenter: No, you didn't.
Kate: The puppy, mmm, mmm, the puppy is, mmm, is fall that and, uh, the, uh, the oranges is fell down and and the basket there spilled all the oranges . . . [pause 5.5 seconds]
Experimenter: [Under his breath] I'll be darned.
One thing that seemed most difficult to account for in trying to describe the limits of Kate's competence was her ability, on her own, to generate and handle precisely the same kinds of complex relationships she was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to replicate when offered them by her father.
Kate: You ate my ice cream. You was all sad. I can't find my own ice cream what is sad . . .I found this exercise engaging and resonant in a way that the Slobin and Welsh presentation of essentially the same kinds of exploration had not been. In part this was a result of the fact that I actually felt in a real situation the resistance to the relative clause -- I knew I hadn't been cooking the data; I hadn't been subconsciously trying to keep Kate from imitating relative clauses because of my own covert hypothesis about principles of language development.
Experimenter: What kind of ice cream was it?
Kate: It was green.
Experimenter: It was green?!
Experimenter: Yuck. Can you say, "It was terrible ice cream"?
Kate: It was terrible ice cream. And I can't eat it, uh, it's green.
Experimenter: Can you say, "I can't eat the ice cream that was green"?
Kate: I can't eat the ice cream at, it was green. It . . . was green. The guy says, green, it's green . . .
Experimenter: Can you say, "Some white ice cream and some green ice cream was here"?
Kate: The white ice cream and and, uh, green ice cream is here. -- There's no ice cream here.
Experimenter: There's no ice cream here now, is there? Can you say "There was ice cream here yesterday"?
Kate: There was ice cream here yesterday.
Experimenter: Can you say, "The ice cream that was here yesterday is gone"?
Kate: It's gone. The ice cream was here all yesterday was gone.
Experimenter: Those are hard sentences, aren't they?
Kate: But you ate my ice cream, it was gone.
Another reason for the resonance of this first encounter with what seemed the psychological actuality of a grammatical structure was that about that same time I was becoming aware of sentence combining as a strategy for teaching writing. Within a couple of years I was going to be engaged in working through an experimental composition class based on Daiker, Kerek and Morenberg's The Writer's Options, and discover what seemed to me a detailed parallel to what I thought of as Kate's "relative-clause blindness": virtually none of my freshmen students seemed to have as part of their written language repertoire the grammatical construction known as the nominative absolute. Although they seemed to understand the construction ("Flags flying, the boat sailed out of the harbor"), they often seemed utterly incapable of producing such a structure, even when given the "kernel sentence" components of such a sentence, and a model to work from.
One thing about the nominative absolute that I found particularly interesting was the reflection that it is a very highly literate grammatical device. Not only does one almost never hear such a construction in speaking, it seems very unlikely that it could ever have come to exist without the advent of written language, which allows the kind of flexibility of processing and suspension of closure needed to understand -- and, perhaps even more, to create -- such a structure.
At the time, it seemed perfectly obvious to me what was happening in both cases. I was exploring the treacherous, shifting and fertile ground right along the edge of someone's knowledge, getting as close as I ever had to the process of learning itself. My explanation of Kate's -- and my freshmen's -- language situation would have been something like this: the learner is in a position where the specific grammatical construction (relative clause for Kate, nominative absolute for my freshmen) can be interpreted with the strong support of its immediate context, but the structure isn't clearly enough situated in the learner's mind to be generalized to a new context and used. What seemed a clear analogy was my memory of the way a word might have been part of my reading (or even listening) vocabulary long before I found myself in sure enough control of its meaning to use it in one of my own sentences.
The neat parallel between the three instances -- the learning of a specific word, of a specific oral grammatical structure, and of a particularly literate grammatical structure -- reinforced my growing conviction that language learning was not a process that changed much through the years. That is, although the specific aspects of language which were being learned might change out of recognition, the mental machinery at work seemed to be essentially the same from the cradle to the grave.
More recently, I've begun to wonder how it was that Kate did, sometime in the next few years, learn how to create a relative clause -- more specifically, perhaps, how she learned to create relative clauses that serve her intention to say something. One thing of which I'm certain is that that afternoon's game was as close as anyone ever got to teaching her what a relative clause is (at least before high school, by which time they'd been a part of her oral and written repertoire for at least a decade).
What I learned from that study -- and from the work of even closer observers of early language development like Michael Halliday (Learning How to Mean), Harste, Burke and Woodward (Language Stories and Literacy Lessons), Judith Newman (The Craft of Children's Writing), Kenneth Kaye (The Mental and Social Lives of Babies), and many others -- was that language development was a "normal process." That is, it's something people do, not something that's done to them -- but, on the other hand, it isn't a developmental pattern like the growth of a flower. It happens, it was clear, because people need it to happen. Both the children who were developing and the adults who were participating with them in that development needed it to happen. And, it seemed to me, much of what I was learning illuminated the processes of learning I was watching as my undergraduate students struggled with the unfamiliar language of academic discourse -- both as they learned to read texts as though they mattered, and as they learned to write as though someone cared what they had to say.
And yet I was left with a hole in my understanding. Just as when I'd
been a teenager trying to learn how radio worked, I had both ends but not
the middle. On the one hand, I'd known how to solder a connection, what
a capacitor looked like and how to read the markings on a resistor; and
on the other I'd known about moving electrons, electrical potential, and
Ohm's law. But they weren't connected for me, and in fact even though I
spent a year in electrical engineering as an undergraduate they never really
did connect for me. Now, a decade later, I was terrified that my understanding
of how language development looked in Kenneth Kaye's neonates and Jerry
Harste's preschoolers was never going to connect to what I knew, as a scholar
of literature and an investigator of literary reading, about linguistics
and the structure of language, the nature of metaphor and the music of
It was my rediscovery of Mikhail Bakhtin, while on sabbatical leave in Australia and Germany in 1988-89, that enabled me to begin making the connection I'd been afraid might never be made.
The Bakhtin I discovered, by the way, was not the one I had been familiar with -- the one who is primarily known as a theorist of literature and the author of (or at least the major figure in the group which authored) the studies of the novel and Dostoevsky. What I found was the one who is a theorist of the ways in which language and languaging are social. He is the author of Marxism and the Philosophy of Language and (especially) of the essays collected in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. This Bakhtin told me that it is the utterance, not the phoneme, the word, the sentence or the text, that is the basic unit of analysis for understanding language (oral or written). He defined the utterance for me as any instance of language in use, bounded by a change of speakers -- one utterance ends, another is a response to it, and still another is a response in turn. He showed me that the utterance is always created and formed and shaped as a response to a previous utterance or utterances, and that it is always created and formed and shaped in anticipation of a responding utterance. Language, he said, is an unending dialogic web of cross-connected utterances and responses, each piece of writing or speaking, each utterance, depending on its occasion and context for its very existence, for its comprehensibility. "As an utterance," he says, "(or part of an utterance) no one sentence, even if it has only one word, can ever be repeated: it is always a new utterance (even if it is a quotation)" (Speech Genres 108).
Bakhtin's views began to give me a tool for understanding how someone might learn a behaviour like the relative clause or the nominative absolute -- or the academic paper. I began to see that Kate's inability to construct a relative clause at the age of two and a half, and her effortless and unselfconscious mastery of it at the age of five, didn't have to do with the biological maturing of an organism, but with socialization. Her relations with her family required that she learn relative clauses, not because we wanted her to, but because as she entered more and more deeply into social relationships there were ideas which could only be expressed with relative clauses. There's a difference between "Kit is in the kitchen and has a cookie" and "Kit, who is in the kitchen, has a cookie" -- and it has to do with the social agreement that one part of that second sentence is focal (the cookie) and the other part is subsidiary. But just as my undergraduate students couldn't learn to construct a nominative absolute outside of a situation in which an interlocutor actually needed to have the distinction made, so Kate needed to intend to say the thing the relative clause conveys. And "intending" involved creating an utterance, as part of a dialogic chain.
Recent work (most important, that of Aviva Freedman) on the implicit learning of genres -- along with the radical insight made available to us by Michael Polanyi about the distinctions between tacit and focal awareness, and the productive distinction Stephen Krashen forged between what he calls "acquisition" and "learning" (I'm not crazy about the words, but I find the distinction extremely useful) has begun to illuminate this process. It has made it possible for me to begin to see what the mechanics of Kate's learning were -- and what the mechanics of my student's learning are as they internalize the habits of discourse which allow them to participate in communities they want to participate in. (Such communities, by the way, almost never have any use for the nominative absolute.)
Such a view of language has powerful implications for the concept of genre and for our ideas about how genres are learned (or, as Stephen Krashen would say, "acquired"). These are suggested most directly in Bakhtin's essay "The Problem of Speech Genres" -- perhaps especially in the very title, in the concept that the kinds of language, like the other elements of language which we have traditionally thought in terms of, should be brought down out of the realm of ideas ("language"; Saussure's langue) and put back into the realm of practice ("speech"; Saussure's parole) in order to be understood. It is almost equally important that, as with his other reversals of our traditional ways of understanding language, Bakhtin begins with speech rather than writing, with the obviously contingent and context-bound rather than the apparently clear and stable, and makes spoken, conversational language the norm in terms of which other kinds of language can be understood (it is almost as an aside that he notes that "everything we have said here also pertains to written and read speech, with the appropriate adjustments and additions" (1986): 69).
I'm thinking here, however, primarily as a practitioner, rather than a theoretician. For the past ten years at least my work as a teacher has been most centrally an attempt to break down the conceptual barriers separating speech from writing and listening from reading, and to bring to bear on written language the insights about learning and use that we are offered by researchers on spoken language -- particularly the branch of the sociolinguistics of language which studies the rules under which speakers exchange utterances, the patterns which arise out of those exchanges, and thus the ways in which speech genres arise in conversation. Bakhtin's parenthetical invocation of written language into his discussion of speech I take as an invitation to think about my teaching of written language, and the situations which support that teaching in my classrooms -- and, as well, about my and Douglas Vipond's research on the reading of literature (Hunt and Vipond, 1985, 1986, 1992; Vipond and Hunt, 1984, 1988; Vipond, Hunt, Jewett & Reither, 1990) -- as though the analogies between written and oral language were powerful and illuminating (for a quite different, but I think equally compelling argument that this is the case, see Deborah Brandt's Literacy as Involvement.
Accepting Bakhtin's invitation has forced me to abandon the idea that genres were external, fixed forms, which (like language itself, in that view) we learn by importing models and examples from outside, more or less consciously. That view suggested that we learn a new genre (the sonnet, for instance, or the term paper or the personal letter), by encountering a number of instances of the form, being told (or discovering) what its "rules" are, internalizing that abstract definition, and using it as an algorithm to generate new examples. Fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, grouped into an octave and a sestet, rhymed in an elaborate pattern. Or: state a thesis, acknowledge objections through a literature review, marshal evidence and arguments, conclude. Knowing that sort of thing, I once comfortably assumed, enabled me to understand Shakespeare's or Donne's sonnets, or read a research paper, and gave me the basic tools to write my own.
Bakhtin's proviso that what he says about speech applies as well to writing makes it at least defensible to argue that literacy learning, like oral language learning, is in large measure the "social invention" (in Karen Burke LeFevre's phrase) of speech genres. It also seems reasonable to think that, as in the development of oral language, authentic engagement in dialogue is the most powerful promoter of such learning. (By "authentic dialogue," here and elsewhere, I mean exchanges of language in which each party's intention is to infer the other party's intentions, as manifested in language, and respond to them: I mean to exclude situations in which the language is used as an example of language, or otherwise directly attended to in ways which ignore, or "bracket out," speakers' pragmatic intentions.)
Such a notion is consistent with what we can see in educational situations. Looking at typical classroom and institutional contexts for writing, it seems clear that there is in most situations in schools and universities virtually no opportunity for written language to serve as the medium for direct and authentic dialogue. I have dealt with this idea at more length elsewhere (Hunt, 1993).
There is an apparent inconsistency between that view of what happens in school and the statement that all language is dialogic. If all language is dialogic, how can "school language" be different? Consider, as I recently did, an essay on the topic "current efforts to create life by artificial means are/are not beneficial to human society." This essay was written on assignment by a student with no particular interest in the subject and with the sole aim of demonstrating the ability to invent or find, and marshal, arguments (the student, incidentally, is the same one who had such trouble with the relative clause at the age of two). It was read by a teacher with no particular interest in the subject, and with the avowed intention of assessing the mechanical fluency of the student's language and deciding whether she had successfully fulfilled the formal and stated requirements of the genre "persuasive essay." That teacher had no intention to "respond," in the Bakhtinian sense of an instrumental response (nor, indeed, is there any practical possibility that she could respond in that way).
The transaction constituted by that writing and that reading may, in some sense, be a dialogue, but, if so, it is a very peculiar and asymmetrical sort of dialogue. It is neither direct nor authentic. The discourse was neither created by the student nor understood by the teacher as an utterance; rather, it was bracketed, set aside, considered, evaluated. If it is a dialogue, it is one conducted around the actual text, one which brackets the text out as a sort of hypothetical instance. Anne Freadman, describing a similar phenomenon in French classes, has observed that in such classes any instance of language inevitably becomes "an example of French" (1988: 6).
It is not, I believe, by exchanging examples that we invent our genres; it is by engaging in dialogue, whether in writing or in speech.
As a practitioner, as I have said, my intention is to render permeable the barriers between spoken and written discourse. My central means of achieving this is to create situations in which written language can serve as a medium for authentic dialogue -- that is, can be created and understood as utterance.
In recent years I have adopted a method of teaching, called "collaborative investigation," which is being developed at my university. I will not describe it in detail here (for elaboration, see Reither, 1985, 1990; Reither and Vipond, 1989; Hunt, 1989, 1991, 1993; Parkhill, 1988; Hunt and Reither, in press), but I need to say that it employs a set of fundamental and related strategies which have the consequence of creating situations in which students use written language in dialogic ways and are put in the position of having to invent new genres of language for these new situations.
The central strategy is called "inkshedding" (the word is originally, apparently, from Carlyle, and is analogous to "bloodshed" rather than to "woodshed" or "watershed"). I owe the word to my colleague Jim Reither, who came up with it in the early stages of the development of the concept. Briefly, it entails informal or impromptu writing which is immediately read, used and responded to by others, and then often discarded. A typical inkshedding situation might occur as a response to a conference paper -- the audience might immediately write for a few minutes, then read a half-dozen other participants' writing, and then move to oral discussion based on the reading. The writing might then be thrown away. Or the participants might, as they were reading, have marked sections worth consideration by the whole group; those sections might then be transcribed, photocopied, and distributed to that group. There are many variants of this process, but all share at least one characteristic: they afford using written language in dialogic ways. What is immediately relevant is that over the near decade in which this strategy has been in use at St. Thomas and at various conferences (including the annual Inkshed conference, now in its tenth year), I have observed colleagues and students jointly inventing, and reinventing, a new written genre, the "inkshed," with a unique set of common characteristics and expectations. These characteristics have never, to my knowledge, been explicitly described, but include elements such as these: dispensing with formal openings and closings, general address (writing to the whole group), assumptions of a common frame of reference, informality of structure and diction, acceptance of abbreviations.
This strategy has been extended to include a wide range of forms of collaboration in writing, through the medium of writing. Collaborative writing is often considered to be restricted to joint authorship, but as the work of Karen Burke LeFevre (1987), Jim Reither and Doug Vipond (1989), and Anthony Pare (1992), among others, has shown, collaboration extends across the text to include its readers in collaborative (and dialogic) relations. "Writing," in Reither and Vipond's phrase, "is collaboration," just as, in Bakhtin's, language is dialogue.
In these particular cases, the collaborative dialogue occurs as part of the process of collaborative investigation. Let me make this process concrete by describing one example, as it occurred in an actual course. I do something like this in all my courses; it so happens that this one was an undergraduate seminar in Restoration and Eighteenth Century Literature, enrolling thirteen students, which makes it rather atypical, but I work toward essentially similar writing and learning situations in whatever I teach.
The course began with my handing everyone a long, written introduction to the course, and giving everyone time to read it silently. I also handed out, as I do at the beginning of most sessions, a document headed "In Class Today." In September of 1992, that document said, in part:
As you'll discover, one of my central beliefs as a teacher is that reading and writing are powerful tools, and ones we don't use as often as we might. One of the ways in which that belief is acted out in my teaching is that I write a lot, ask you to read it, and expect you to write a lot and expect others (including me, sometimes) to read it. But I don't expect that the writing is going to be used in the way most educational writing is used -- that is, as a basis for evaluating the writer (can she write? does she know what she's supposed to know?). I expect it's going to be used the way you'll use most of these handouts -- to see what I have to say, and respond to it in some meaningful way (by doing what it asks, or arguing that what it asks doesn't make sense, for example).That handout also asked everyone to write about the eighteenth century for ten or fifteen minutes. What the document said was this:
. . . the second part of the class will involve everyone writing about the literature of the eighteenth century, reading each other's writing, and generating responses and questions. This is a way of ascertaining the sorts of things we all know, and need to know, abut the period, about its literature, and about literary study, and generating some issues and concerns that we're going to be addressing over the first few weeks.During that class session, by reading each others' writing and responding in the margins, reading the responses and discussing them orally, the class generated a set of questions about the eighteenth century. At the end of class, we had divided them into questions which no one expected could be answered, questions which could only be answered after a good deal of study and learning, and questions which might be answered by a group of two or three students who spent some time in the library over the next week. I divided the class into groups, the groups picked a question of the third kind (they included questions on comedy in the period, on changes between this period and the seventeenth century, on what an ode was and on who were important playwrights at the time), and we were off. Next week, each group had completed a draft of a report and keyed it into the computer network through which we share most of our work. (This network was based in a small basement lab with five PCs networked together and connected to the slightly larger university lab.) Printed copies were distributed and in class we inkshedded about those, exchanged and read them, and generated further questions for each of the groups, who went back to the library to elaborate or revise their reports.
In the meantime, we began a running conversation on the electronic bulletin board set up on the computer network. Everyone was required to log on and read the board -- and contribute something -- at least once a week. The contributions varied from Merry Christmas messages and complaints about the heat in the computer lab to an extended, multi-voiced discussion of whether Moll Flanders should be regarded as primarily the author of her own fate or a victim of society. Everyone was also required to touch base with me regularly through the (more private) electronic mail system. Letters there varied from "nothing to report this week" to long exchanges about the reasons why some people find it harder to participate in oral discussions than in written ones (that one, in fact, later expanded into a bulletin board discussion).
Between that fall and the succeeding March, according to a rough count, the thirteen students in the course generated over 40,000 words on the bulletin board and over 30,000 words in electronic notes to me. How much they may have generated in notes to each other I have no way of knowing, but it is considerable. Even without that, the total works out to a bit over 5000 words per student.
Beyond that, of course, there was a great deal of in-class hand-written inkshedding, question generating, commenting on other people's reports, questioning them, and so forth, which I have no way of counting or tracking.
And perhaps most important there was all the electronic writing done in the more formal context of written reports to the rest of the class, and comments on those reports by their readers. Although the mechanics of this varied as the course (and our familiarity with the computer network) developed, the last cycle of reports, all of which had to do with some facet of the class's reading of various texts of Pope and Johnson, were handled this way. Questions and issues were discussed (in part through in- and out-of-class inksheddings) and then proposed individually, in files in a common directory on the network. Each person in the class was invited to read the questions posed by all the others and add comments and suggestions to the individual files. As the comments accumulated, the authors read them; in some cases these led to modifications of the questions, and in some the authors were offered strategies for finding answers; in most there was a good deal of comment suggesting that others were interested in the questions. Over the next week or so, as the authors began finding answers to their questions, they began putting drafts into the same file, immediately following the sets of questions and comments. As the drafts lengthened, others read them and added comments on, and questions and suggestions about, the drafts in the same files, following the drafts. As authors checked back on the responses to their work, they regularly edited and changed the drafts in response to their audience's questions. Comments on the bulletin board suggested that this was, from most of the students' point of view, the most successful way of managing this collaborative form of writing we had yet tried.
It is difficult in a few pages to give any flavour of the discussion in these files, and I didn't move fast enough to save the original drafts, so as I read through the files it isn't clear how the comments on first drafts affected subsequent modifications, but let me pull a few examples out of one such file. It's the one which began with this question, from Darice (all the names but mine have been changed):
My question has to do with Pope's repulsiveness both physically and personality wise as I feel his ability to write satiric literature may be connected (simply because I'm sure since he is described as looking like a toad that he knew that people found him repulsive and therefore promoted this repulsiveness in his personality, which ultimately led to an ingenious ability to compose satiric literature as a way to overcome the public's view of him). I may be way off, but I feel that this may be the case as Russ explained in class that Pope used to get very irate if someone had said his parents had been poor and also that not many people who knew Pope liked him. If I'm unable to get any information upon this connection between his physical and personality repulsive character which may have influenced his poetic ability, then I thought I might just pursue the reasons behind his physical deformity.Some of the comments on this question included the following:
Any suggestions? What do you think: a dead path or possibility? I realize this is not a question orientated specifically to historical background, but more a background on Pope (Russ is this o.k.)?
Darice: This sounds interesting. It's nice to get another side of things -- a background, or at least some kind of sense of this sort of thing. --GwenIn response to those questions, Darice produced an 850 word report on Pope's early life, drawn primarily from George Sherburn's and John Russo's books. Her report included passages like this (just to give you a sense of the tone):
There are arguments about some of these issues (different biographers have different views). One way to focus it would be to present some views of it, specifically ascribed to the authors; it's certain a question worth asking.
I didn't pick up on the fact that Pope wasn't a `very handsome' fella, or as you say "repulsive"! I think you might have to look at Biographies etc to see what his background was like and family life which might have influenced his personality, but, (not to discourage) I think it would be difficult to determine that someone's physical appearance affected their personality.
I just read something that described when Pope developed his disease and the pain it caused him. The book relates that as a young man Pope was first stricken with the disease and was convinced he was dying. He even went so far as to write letters of goodbye to his friends. Perhaps the constant expectance of death influenced his nasty attitudes and helped sharpen his satrical tongue.
I just read something else about him too: a description of him at fourteen: "He is small and pale, fragile, and already not quite straight in the back . . . , but he has a frighteningly sensitive face, large wondering eyes, and an enchanting voice which will earn him the name of `the little nightingale'".
I don't know if this is relevant to what you are doing, but I thought it might be nice to hear a pleasant description of the poor guy.
Pope was often described in quite attractive terms by his friends, often quite similar to what you found, Tamara. (Who is that, by the way?)
I took the quote from Bonamy Dobree's book Alexander Pope, published in 1952.
. . . Since they were Catholics at a time when England's religion was protestant, the Pope's were forced by antipapist legislation to move often, which prompted Mr. Pope to retire from his successful linen business. There is little known of Pope as a child, except that he experienced several traumatic experiences. Although Pope was not physically deformed as a child, his half sister, Mrs. Rackett informed Pope's biographer, Mr. Spence that when he was between the age of three and five "a wild cow that was driven by the place where he was filling a little cart with stones struck at him with her horns, tore off his hat which was tied under the chin, wounded him in the throat, beat him down, and trampled over him" (Russo, p.27). Further Pope studied under four priests, one of which was said to have whipped and ill-used him for writing a satire (isn't that ironic!).Most of the comments on the report were appreciative; a few raised further questions.
Darice,Some of the comments, like the one about the cow, were responded to in the version I now have (the first one is lost in the electrons, unfortunately, but suggested inadvertently that the cow trampled Pope because he was deformed).
I enjoyed this report very much; it was an interesting way to look at Pope and his work. However, I think you may have overlooked something of relative importance: what can explain his friends' kind attitudes towards him? Surely, he must have had some attractive qualities. For instance, his voice was quite enchanting--could that have affected his ability to create such rhythmic, lyrical verses? Perhaps not, but I do think his positive attributes should also be explored.
Darice, I have been fascinated with the physical descriptions of Pope since reading about him. This report is very helpful in giving me a more vivid picture. Have you read Johnson's "From the Lives of Poets", the section on Pope? I read it for this week and I must say, it is a very informative piece. Not only does it talk about his works, but about his personal life too. It said that he"never took tea without a strategem" - his mind was always on the go. It also said he thought quite highly of himself. My question is , "did his brilliantly sharp mind and maybe, his somewhat conceited air have something to do with his physical deformities - was his mind compensating for something else? Something to think about and you should read it if you have not already - its really interesting. Barb
Darice, Isn't the nature of a wild cow to attack, regardless of one's physical appearance! Or should I have interpreted it as a joke?
- But what a about his friends, I'm sure they didn't reject their sickly friend? Also it's sad that a man who so sparks our enjoyment and laughter, didn't himself. It is interesting that you seem to suggest without his illness, he wouldn't have produced such satire.
That there is change occurring, and that it involves learning new genres, seems to me incontrovertible. Near the end of term, in preparing for a conference presentation, I asked my students, if they had a chance, to look back over the writing they did for the course in the first few weeks, and at what they'd done more recently, and reflect on what differences they saw (with examples, if possible). Here's one example, chosen by Barb as typical of her writing in September:
Ultimately, the relationship between comedy and its audience cannot be measured because society is not homogenous in nature; there can be no absolute because there is no universal standard.About that sentence, Barb said:
I found my initial report to be very formal. I think we were trying to impress you, the professor, rather than our classmates because that is what we are used to doing. I think when we write essays we tend to try to aspire to academic heights and we try to sound as academic as possible. When we write for the benefit of our classmates, we know that they are at the same academic level, so we don't have to sound so professional. The writing in class is more friendly; more personal and less formal.Here's the sentence she chose from her more recent writing.
I think, too, I am more relaxed in my writing because there isn't the pressure of a paper that is worth 40% of the mark. With this type of class, I am able to relax and this changes my writing style, I believe.
From what I've read about the often diseased food at the time, I don't think I would have wanted to have eaten back then.I do not want to contend that that second sentence necessarily represents "better" writing than the first. I am not arguing that it has a more authentic voice, that it's more concrete and personal and therefore more effective, or that the student has found a superior register in which she should now attempt to produce her papers for her other literature courses. I believe the first, more formal and abstract, kind of writing is as necessary and as useful as the second, and, further, that the only criteria that could possibly be used to judge which is "better" writing are functions of the site in which the composing occurs. What I would argue, and what I think the student is arguing, is that the second kind of writing is "better" in a situation where what she is doing is writing to engage and inform the other students in the class. Now, the first piece was written, as well, in just such a situation -- but it is clear, I think, that she hadn't yet begun to make the sorts of adjustment to the situation that are apparent when you contrast the two. Most important in this context, I want to suggest that what she was doing there was inventing a genre. (Whether the first sentence is a "good" instance of its genre, or the second of its, is another, separate question. Which is evidence of language learning is yet another.)
I should reiterate that both the genres she has written here -- and, as well, the genre represented by the note to me explaining her writing -- are examples of what Bakhtin calls "relatively stable and normative forms of the utterance" (1986: 81). They are not new; but she has invented them in response to a dialogic demand, in a context which provided rich support for such invention.
I think, as well, there is similar invention going on in other situations in this class.
One place I find it most obvious is in the postings to the electronic bulletin board. It is widely noted among participants in email networks and bulletin boards that new forms of discourse are being invented to respond to the new social situation posed by informal written language which is almost as quickly interactive as face-to-face conversation, but which lacks the resources of voice tone, body language, shared environment, and so forth. New or newly elaborate devices have to be invented for such problems as referring to specific parts of someone else's utterance, for signalling irony, humour, anger, etc., for indicating or enacting addressivity (who one is responding to and to whom the posting is particularly addressed), for indicating closure on a topic or exchange. The genre (or genres) that are evolving in these situations are an extremely powerful example of the way in which parallel devices will develop quite separately from each other in response to the same social situation.
Here are the first three postings to the first strand I set up on the bulletin board (to start things off, I invited contributors to reflect on what had been going on during the first three or four weeks of the course).
From : DARICE PARKS------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 10/09/91 10:46
In reflecting on what I've learned about the 18thc, I find that through research and class discussions that I'm able to see the 18thc as a time which is connected with our present time. Before this class, the 18thc didn't have much meaning to my life, it was just a period in history that I was learning about in order to complete the neccessary requirements for my honors degree. I guess that I reached this realization in last class when Russ suggested that the 18thc could be seen as the blueprint for today's society, as it marked the beginnings of things that are typical in our present society, such as $$$, companies, jobs, etc. It is this connection with present time that the 18thc becomes meaningful to me.
From : TAMARA SCOTT------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 10/09/91 12:29
Today when I was walking to school I started thinking about some of the things I've learned about the eighteenth century so far. I was amazed at the amount of things I came up with. I have a much broader understanding of what life was like and how people lived. I still think of frilly shirts and white wigs when I think of the eighteenth century, but if I had to write another blurb on what I know about the eighteenth century I'd be able to say ALOT more. You know, the range in this class is amazing--I'm picking up bits of information that perhaps I wouldn't put in a traditional English essay, but nonetheless are useful to me as a person, rather than as a student.
From : KATHY FELLOWS------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 10/10/91 11:48
Over this past week, I have found myself learning more and more about the 18th century. By preparing and researching the reports I have learned a great deal, especially in my own group on 18th century Children's Literature. By doing this report I learned a vast amount of information on the subject. I also find that by picking a topic that is interesting to me, and then by going and researching it, that I learn alot more than if someone picked the topic for me (perhapas because it is a topic that I myself am interested in) Overall, this past week I must say that I have learned alot more about children's literature and about the 18th century in general, and I look forward to researching this week's report.
When I first read those, they seemed unremarkable to me. I noticed the formal and abstract language, of course: in the third, for instance, we find phrases like "learned a great deal," "a vast amount of information," "I myself," "I must say," "I look forward to." Whoever it is whose words Kathy's speech is overflowing with was without question an academic. But it did not become clear to me how much change was occurring until I went back and compared those early postings with, for example, some of the late-January argument about Moll Flanders that I've already referred to. It began this way:
From : KARL GAMBELL------------------------------------------------------------------
Date : 01/15/92 14:20
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
The responses to my report on causitry brought up what I thought might be an interesting question to discuss on the bulletin board (if for no other reason than to get some additional input for my revision). The question was originally brought up by Barb during a smokebreak, and consists simply of "Did you like the character of Moll?" Answers to this question, I would think, would have to address the question of Moll's actions versus Moll's circumstances. Would you agree that Moll does not act so much as she is acted upon? If you agree with the latter, then we like Moll. If you disagree, then you don't. Obviously, I liked Moll and thought she was a manufactured deviant, (for any Soc. people out there), she was forced by her society to be a thief and a whore and the blame is not hers. I'd be very interested to know what other people think about this for responses to this question determine reaction to the novel.....Ay wot?
From : JANE MACFARLANE------------------------------------------------------------------
Date : 01/16/92 15:15
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
Karl, that is an interesting question about Moll's character. I must agree that Moll is more acted upon by society than anything else. When you consider Maria's report on employment for women, you realize that there wasn't much else that Moll could do for a living. As well, I kind of admire her thieving abilities-if you're forced to be a thief for a living, you might as well be a good one!
Besides the growing concreteness and specificity, what I am struck with here is the new consciousness of this medium as a device for forging and maintaining social relationships as well as carrying on an intellectual discussion. The casual and efficient references to the positions of others ("The question was originally brought up by Barb"), to other documents in the class ("When you consider Maria's report on employment for women"), the in-jokes ("for any Soc. people out there"), all suggest a context and relation between writer and readers very different from what is implied in those early messages. And by three or four weeks and a couple of dozen messages later we find this sort of thing:
From: GRETA STEINBRETT------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 01/21/92 11:10
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
I wish I re-read Moll so I could get in on some of this juicy discussion, but here it goes anyway. Like many others in the class, I was appalled by Moll's abandoning of her children, but I was wondering if people reading this in the C18 would have felt the same way we do? I doubt it, but it would be difficult to determine. I liked what Maria said about Moll being conscious of her actions, but then why do we like her? I mean, in the passage Karl cited she admits her life was one of "whoredom, adultry, incest, lying, theft; and in a word everything but murder and treason". Of course we probablly like her simply because she is so colorful, and mabey even because she admits what she is. Hell, I don't know - but we don't think she's inherently evil or anything, do we?f Maria also suggested that mabey Defoe was trying to make us sympathize with Moll by portraying her as a mother figure, but if he did it sure didn't work. If I sympathize with her it's because of her childhood and circumstances, not because she's a mother...
From : KARL GAMBELL
Date : 01/21/92 12:03
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
In response to the question of what was Defoe's judgement of Moll, I'd tend to agree with Starr in saying that Defoe "seeks a verdict of guilty, but also a suspended sentence, and even, in some cases, a full pardon". I think that Moll is one of those cases where a pardon is in order due to the circumstances. Moll's causitry didn't convince me of this, Defoe's rhetoric did. Again I pose the question of how can one be judged by moral standards in a society that placed emphasis on personal gain (or greed), individual beauty (vanity), and social stature (class)? If we are a product of our society, (which I believe) then Moll was simply pursuing those ends that her society cherished as good things. How can we find fault with that?
From : TAMARA SCOTT------------------------------------------------------------------
Date : 01/22/92 14:12
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
O.K. Karl, Moll IS a product of society and yes, she is acting in ways dictated by that society. BUT, I still don't believe one can be justified simply in that way. Moll is not simply pursuing her own goals, she is affecting other people's lives too. I'm sure all those people she stole from would appreciate having their stuff back so they could pursue their goals! Perhaps that is the point where I must stop accepting Moll's behaviour and begin to hold her responsible. What further makes me judge Moll as an actor as well as acted upon is the attitudes she expresses. She says is sorry for the banker, yet her sentiment is overshadowed by her actions--she still takes advantage of him. She acknowledges that she is doing wrong, she knows she is deceiving people, she realizes that her actions bring pain to others, and still she continues to do these things. What justification does she offer?--her actions benefit herself and that's her main concern. This selfishness can also be related to Carrie's comment about how lacking in emotional baggage she is.
From : KARL GAMBELL------------------------------------------------------------------
Date : 01/23/92 14:26
Topic: Moll: actor or acted
Well, I guess we've pretty much beat this to pieces, ay? Not to say that it wasn't fun, but I guess I'm not going to be able to convince you that Moll was more acted than actor, and you convince me of the opposite. BUT, the questions of morality,(what's "right", what's "wrong"), which you raise and which are perfectly legitimate objections, could be equally applied to say Jesse James, Billy the kid, Blackbeard, Bluebeard, Bartles and James, and a whole bunch of other villans who we don't necessarily agree with, but nonetheless are fascinated by....
I could go on quoting from these discussions (remember, I have 40,000 words worth of them), but it seems to me more important to reflect on what they may mean from the point of view of an educational practitioner, and raise a couple of questions about what they mean from a more theoretical point of view.
There is an increasing consensus (at least among the educational writers and practitioners I have the most respect for) that the best sort of teaching is the kind that engages people in what Frank Smith (1983; see also Dixon & Stratta, 1984) calls "an enterprise" and then observes closely to see what they can do, what they actually do, what -- as Vygotsky (1962, 1986) insisted -- they can almost do, and can do with a little help from their friends; and then finds ways to promote learning that's specific to where each learner is and to where she needs to be. I think, in general, that's what's going on in classes conducted like the one I have described. And I think, as well, that a large part of what I see the students in courses like this learning can be described as new genres.
But it is not yet clear to me that in learning or inventing these new genres they are learning something that goes beyond the simple matter of knowing yet another isolated new genre (the bulletin board posting, the email letter, the question-response-question sequence involved in developing a research report, the various research reports, etc.). These might be interesting forms, and it might even be useful to know them at some point, but they are as subject to being rendered irrelevant or obsolete by circumstance as the "persuasive essay" or the essay exam question or the sonnet. I am not raising here the issue of the learning about the ostensible subject matter of the course -- in my case, the literature of the English Restoration and eighteenth century -- but rather wondering whether it is possible to find out whether learning these new written genres in this new context has consequences for their learning of further genres in the world beyond my classroom -- in learning the kinds of genres -- the kinds of literacies -- they'll be confronted with in some unimaginable future.
None of us had anywhere in our minds the notion that Kate might need the relative clause some day while she was busy learning it. Had we tried to put together a list of the grammatical forms she was going to need, we'd have failed miserably -- and not only because none of those talking with her were grammarians. What we DID do was provide the situation in which she could not only learn what she needed, but continue to be a language learner -- one who would continue to be able to acquire the conventions and forms needed to take a role in the new groups she became part of. It seems reasonable to me that we should be trying to do no less for our students.
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