Faigley (1992): Fragments of Rationality

Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition (Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy and Culture) Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition by Lester Faigley

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
In Faigley’s 1992 book, he addresses the lack of attention to postmodern theory in composition studies, with particular attention to composition studies’ “belief in the writer as an autonomous self” (15). While composition studies has developed as a discipline concurrently with the development of postmodernity, postmodern theory (as of 1992) had little influence on the development of composition theory, with the exception of process theory.

Faigley begins his book with one of the most accessible and coherent descriptions of postmodern theory I’ve read (which I greatly appreciated). While postmodernism is hard to define because of the proliferation of conflicting theories, Faigley outlines “three metadiscourses: (1) aesthetic discussions of postmodernism; (2) philosophical discussions of postmodern theory; and (3) sociohistorical assertions that Western nations, if not indeed all the world, have entered an era of postmodernity” (6).

Faigley argues “that many of the fault lines in composition studies are disagreements over the subjectivities that teachers of writing want students to occupy” (17) and uses postmodern theory throughout the book to critique the concept of “authentic” writing with a coherent, authentic writer. While Faigley tackles a number of other issues in the book, I think this is the strongest contribution of the book. By looking at scholarship and textbooks in composition, Faigley shows the rather consistent value by teachers of “an identifiable ‘true’ self . . . [that:] can be expressed in discourse” in student writing (122). In textbooks, Faigley argues, students are not given strategies that can be used in all writing, or in specific writing assignments: “Instead, they are supplied with confidence in their own rationality, a confidence made visible by translating rationality into a set of prescribed behaviors” (155). Thus, many textbooks attempt to maintain “the author as a rational, knowing subject” (162).

Faigley then moves into discussing networked writing, arguing that composition studies needs the theorize more about classrooms in postmodern and networked contexts. His last two chapters largely take up ethics, discussing students and student writing in the context of postmodernism, especially in regards to Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality and Lyotard’s concepts of situated, rhetorical ethics.

I appreciate Faigley’s book for its clear discussion of postmodernism, his own ambivalence about postmodernism, and his grounded discussion of student writing and classroom activities. One of my favorite reads in composition theory.

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2 Responses to Faigley (1992): Fragments of Rationality

  1. Alex says:

    Hey Michael:

    I’m not sure if you have come across this article or not, but its, France, Alan. “Dialectics of Self: Structure and Agency as the Subject of English”. College English, Vol.63, No.2 (Nov., 2000), pp.145-165.

    It makes very similar arguments regarding postmodernism and composition studies.

    If you haven’t read it, I think you would find it very interesting….

    I appreciated your take on Faigley’s book!

  2. Michael says:

    No, I don’t think I’ve read that. I’ll have to look it up. Thanks!

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