notes from what I read today (Bruffee)

“If thought is internalized public and social talk, then writing of all kinds is internalized social talk made public and social again. If thought is internalized conversation, then writing is internalized conversation re-externalized” (422). This seems to make sense to me, but I also have a fishy suspicion about this claim. I think perhaps it is the close link between thought and writing and speech and writing, similar to the unproblemized link between speech and writing that I’ve seen in other essays. My concern might be that this view might promote a “presence” of the author in the writer that isn’t questioned. hmmm… But then again, if writing is a form of conversation (and isn’t it?), then perhaps this does make sense…

“our task must involve engaging students in conversation among themselves at as many points in both the writing and reading process as possible, and that we should contrive to ensure that students’ conversation about what they read and write is similar in as many ways as possible to the way we would like them eventually to read and write. The way they talk with each other determines the way they will think and the way they will write” (422).

Bruffee proposes that the most important writing that students should do in first-year composition is “normal discourse,” or writing for a community of peers, such as one would in a job or in an academic discipline (424). I think it’s important to be able to write to peers, but I also have to wonder about the ability to write to those with more power, especially in a hierarchical society where most of our students (women, minorities, queer folk) will always be writing to people who have more power (even if the context has been “depoliticized”).

Richard Rorty’s concept of “abnormal discourse” seems pretty interesting – that an outsider to a community comes in and doesn’t know the conventions, so can’t speak or write “normal discourse” and is instead read as “either ‘kooky’ (if he loses his point) or ‘revolutionary’ (if he gains it)” because it doesn’t sound rational to those in the discourse community (429, quoting Rorty).

Sometime over the last year I read a critique of Bruffee’s social constructionism, but I can’t remember where it was…

Bruffee, Kenneth A. “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind.'” Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2003. 415-436.

I also re-read these two Berlin articles today:

Berlin, James A. “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories.“ Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2003. 255-270.

—. “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class.“ The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 4th ed. Ed. Edward P.J. Corbet, Nancy Meyers, and Gary Tate. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 9-25.

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2 Responses to notes from what I read today (Bruffee)

  1. Gregory Z says:

    The Rorty name stuck out to me as I read your post. When I flipped through the Said essay “The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals,” I found what Said had written about Rorty. While this is only a sentence, I think it is worth consideration when looking at Rorty’s work as a whole. So here are Said’s text:

    …I reject the ultrapostmodern position (like that taken by Richard Rorty while shadowboxing with some vague thing he refers to contemptuously as “the academic Left”), which holds, when confronting ethnic cleansing or genocide as was ocurring in Iraq under the sanctions-regime or any of the evils of torture, censorship, famine, and ignorance (most of them constructed by humans, not by acts of God), that human rights are cultural or grammatical things, and when they are violated, they do not really have the status accorded them by crude foundationalists, such as myself, for whom they are as real anything we can encounter.

    I’m not sure what that means in terms of what you have quoted, but I always think it is useful to know the kind of work a scholar is doing in multiple areas. That gives me a sense of who they are as a person; when dealing with composition and students, it is critical for me to know that the writer has moral and ethical approaches I am okay with if I am going to support, praise, or otherwise give props and application to their ideas.

  2. Dennis says:

    As an aside, Sharyn Clough over in the Phil Dept. loves Rorty, and I think she credits him as an inspiration. I like his point about “abnormal discourse” that you make.

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