Revision Matters - Part 1



It's not uncommon to consider specific writers to be masters of their craft. Many of them might agree that they have achieved mastery. That said, the idea that mastery in writing and composition implies a limit as to what writers can achieve is not new, but it is [in my view] one of the most productive modes of thought.


For the purposes of this post, I read Nancy C. DeJoy's "I Was a Process-Model Baby." She does not denounce the process theory in itself, but she did take issue with the method by which it was taught to her.


The first question she asked was, "a process of what?" Most of the time, she states, this is about a process of meeting the expectation of an instructor, ascribing the correct type of logic in a way that is effective to the instructor, and appealing to that instructor's logic. Unfortunately, if an instructor has preconceived notions or even harmful ideas about who the writer is, it might take a great deal of what DeJoy describes as "invention work."


Very simply, invention work is what goes into the creation of an idea or set of ideas. The kind of invention work that a writer might have to do for an instructor could verge on the disingenuous depending on the expectations of the instructor and the writer's perception of the ideas that instructor holds. Dejoy states that an instructor could have unspoken reasons for requiring invention work like this to be done and that, in her experiences as a student, she constantly had these feelings.


In my personal experience, as I was also taught with what I think of as a "loose" but gradual process model approach, I have had to do similar things. When I was much younger, I won a prize for an essay that I had written that didn't reflect how I perceived the topic. The prompt was something like, "Why is x better than y?" with x and y being defined variables for which all students apparently chose x. The process model approach isn't the enemy. It becomes more difficult to use the process model or any model by which a student learns tools in writing and composition when meeting unspoken expectations becomes more important than the way these tools are applied.


Something that DeJoy also noticed in her studies was an absence of feminist discourse. Feminist discourse, in this case, would be a piece of a conversation about gender and the ways that it is used to inform conversations about different subjects. A famous example is Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own." As an aside, this essay has some excellent points about how many famous women authors originally attained fame in seeking to meet the expectations of male peers. However, this piece does have its contradictions. Click here if you would like a more comprehensive discussion on this subject.


Feminist discourse among other conversations on rhetorical strategies have formed the basis of the development of the process model as we understand it today. According to DeJoy, "critical discourse can exist in relation to the dominant process-model paradigm--theoretically, pedagogically, and in practice--if we do more than merely include discussions about feminist discourse and feminist rhetorical strategies as we construct that relationship. Particularly, some feminist discourses that were ignored as process-model paradigms came to dominate composition pedagogies can now do for process-model approaches what classical rhetoric did for product-centered paradigms if revision rather than inclusion informs our purposes" (DeJoy 1999). Often, to teach feminist discourse, an instructor might choose to make feminism in rhetorical studies separate. While inclusion of feminist discourse can help, DeJoy is stating that it shouldn't be treated as though it is a type of separate reality. Since gender in language has, in large part, informed how composition has been taught, she poses a revision to process model instruction that blends in those ideas as opposed to including them as though they are separate.


In order to illustrate major differences between inclusion and revision and the effect that inclusion has had in pedagogy, DeJoy cites bell hooks. "[I]t has been easier for white people to practice inclusion rather than change the larger framework; ... it is easier to change the focus from Christopher Columbus, the important white man who discovered America, to Sitting Bull or Harriet Tubman, than it is to cease telling a distorted version of U.S. history which upholds white supremacy. Really teaching history in a new way would require abandoning old myths informed by white supremacy like the notion that Columbus discovered America. It would mean talking about imperialism, colonization, about the African who came here before Columbus." Beyond almost othering disciplines through the practice of inclusion, essential disciplines such as history and the sciences have been heavily censored to favor language that dismisses, erases, and inhibits. That language happens to be, as bell hooks states, informed by white supremacy. So, rather than changing that language to something more objective, the trend has largely been inclusion even now.


Revision has been attempted by instructors since this article was published, but I believe it still needs some work.


The essential question, then, is "What does DeJoy propose we do to accomplish this?" First, instead of mastery of disciplines, it's important to aim for analysis. Next, instead of persuasion, aim for participation.


As soon as a person claims mastery, they implicitly acknowledge that they have reached the limit of what there is to know. When the language changes from mastery to analysis, that makes discourse more communicative. Learning to analyze is kind of like re-learning how to read. A good exercise to start with, when learning about analysis, is to read a text line by line, sentence by sentence, and imagine someone saying it to you. What do those words mean? What is the objective of that sentence? What is it trying to achieve? Then, add another sentence and consider how meanings change as you progress.


To show the importance of revision in pedagogy that is still centered on possibly implicitly harmful language, it is important to learn how to analyze what is already being taught and find meaning. I think that something that has been left out of this article is that if people do not understand the need for revision, it won't be taken seriously by those who have fallen into a specific routine. Unfortunately, that is a trap that many skilled authors who advocate for revision leave out. Here, I am only covering the first step, the practice of analysis.


The following excerpt is from an introduction to a biography.


"A rough, provincial people were the citizens of Haworth - hostile to strangers and taciturn and 'close' to a fault. When they did divulge a few crusty words - a warning more likely than a greeting - their thick Yorkshire accent rendered them nearly incomprehensible to visitors. On Sundays they wore sturdy wooden clogs to church and when the Reverend Bronte's predecessor, one Mr. Redhead, displeased them, his congregation clattered and clumped out in the middle of the sermon. When this failed to drive Redhead away, on the following Sunday one member of the congregation rode into the church on an ass, the rider's head - adorned with a pile of old hats - facing the animal's rear. Of the Reverend Bronte they were more appreciative because, as one of them put it, 'he minds his own business, and ne'er troubles himself with ours" (Frank 1992).


This is from A Chainless Soul: The Life of Emily Bronte by Katherine Frank. In following the steps I've established for analysis, let's begin with the first line. Immediately, the scene is set in something like a small town where appearance and being seen with the right people matters more than the conversations had with those people. When paired with the second sentence, I continue my thought with the notion that the way someone is spoken to is indicative of their supposed "place" in society. I would go even further and notice the "roughness" of the language. What is the use of "hostile," "taciturn," "fault," and "crusty"? While a biography could consist of a simple account of someone's life, turning that account into an immersive story is another feat. My analysis, thus far, is that this is intended to show the kind of language, society, and factors that Emily Bronte was influenced by. By just analyzing these two lines, I can then look at how these factors might have played a role in her writing.


As a final exercise, I recommend continuing your analysis of this piece in any way you see fit. Then, I recommend including this poem, "The Old Stoic" by Emily Bronte. How would a setting such as the one described in A Chainless Soul lead to a poem such as this?


In my next post-process theory post, rather than continuing to another article, I will be examining the other part of this one as I've only given a small piece of the solutions that she poses. This article will explore questions that can further aid in teaching analytical skills and how to "revise."


Thank you so much to everyone who has given me feedback on my posts thus far. This one was much less interactive than previous posts, but these will return. As always, I would love to discuss anything that you've taken from this post, from the associated exercise, and some of the texts that I have included. To do this, feel free to use the "chat" function on this website, fill out the contact form, or you can become a Purposeful Prose member. Members can "like," comment directly on my posts, and make use of my forum.


As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


DeJoy, N. C. (1999). I was a process-model baby. Post-process theory: Beyond the writing process paradigm, 163-178.


Frank, K. (1992). A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Bronte. Ballantine Books.


Mambrol, N. (2020, October 11). Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Literary Theory and Criticism. https://literariness.org/2020/10/11/analysis-of-virginia-woolfs-a-room-of-ones-own/


Poets.org - Academy of American Poets. (n.d.). The Old Stoic. Academy of American Poets.

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