Shaped by Expectation - Part 2



I began the Purposeful Prose blog with a series that explained how many obstacles that writers can run into can be solved within the planning phase. While many rhetors have methods of composition that are comfortable for them, I wanted to use "Planning in Writing" along with my own analysis, updates, and suggestions to introduce other methods that encourage a goal-focused plan and thought process.


While the methods outlined in that piece didn't focus as heavily on audience as opposed to tasks, they can be interpreted through the lens of the term, "audience," which I've discussed previously. I'm continuing with David Bartholomae's piece, "Inventing the University", and while I am in conflict with a few of his points, I do understand why they're being made and why topics like that are important. He does begin with a discussion of his views on audience and on "Planning in Writing."


For example, he states that the writer is in a position of privilege in that that they must imagine themselves within the "in-group" of experts on a subject when they are composing. His point is that, automatically, this specific act of writing is made to include and exclude. While there is writing that does exactly that, sometimes, it does so with intention. Mimicry in language can happen as well. Writing that includes and excludes with intention and writing that mimics can encourage growth in some aspects when making practical applications, but I don't think it's the most effective way.


I would agree with Bartholomae to that extent, but I would be cautious in conflating writing to include and exclude with writing to be in conversation. This isn't to assume that the conversation would be a back and forth, it would be an addition, an analysis, transformative even if the same or similar thoughts are held by others. Works that are in conversation with a discourse aren't often an assumption of authority or assumption of being above anyone. Rather, they indicate interest.


Recently, I was having a conversation with a close friend about implicit bias tests. I asked if my friend had noticed that, often, the implicit bias tests are often very biased themselves. They responded by saying that an adaptation of an implicit bias test would need to be addressed on an individual level, that prejudice isn't an issue that can be blanketed.


Neither my friend nor myself assumed authority on this subject, we were just in conversation about it. While academia is a different setting and the presentation can look formal, my point is that works can still be in conversation with each other in the same way that my friend and myself were in conversation.


In an academic setting, I could have produced a detailed article about implicit bias tests, specifically about what I feel that they're missing right now. In response, my friend could have written an article that responded to my point and his take on how this could be done. In both a personal and academic setting, I would have been the one to open the conversation. While writing apprehension can make a rhetor feel as though they don't have the authority to respond, it is [in my view] having a response to give that gives someone the authority to respond.


Bartholomae continues by discussing Flower and Hayes' "Planning in Writing", but his conflict with its conclusion was that "the references to invention and creativity seem to refer to something other than an act of writing--if writing is, finally, words on a page" (Bartholomae, 1985). While I understand "writing as product," I'm not sure that Flower and Hayes was using that lens. Bartholomae does follow up by acknowledging this, by stating that they argue that writing takes place in the mind. What's missing from his argument is that writing that takes place in the mind does not delineate what happens on the page. Stating that more aspects of writing should take place in the mind, should take place in the planning phase, or that more emphasis should be given to the possibilities that planning in accordance to the way a person thinks does not take away from what happens in the product.


What Bartholomae is stating does make sense, though, especially as he states that discourse on planning does not always account for the limits of language. More specifically, it does not always account for the limits of language in the mind of the writer as they are completing their task. This matters. The idea that writer are, themselves, written by the languages available to them is interesting and he draws from that.


Does limited language combined with having similar works come before it make a new work less creative, less transformative, less dependent on discovery and invention?


Having command of the language with which to identify oneself and one's environment is important. Continued development is also important. Currently, we do not know the limits of language. We have a set of expectations with regard to language that change over time. The possibility for new terms and new methods by which to explain different rhetorical situations exists.


When language is limited, we adapt. Instead of accepting the limits to language, we accommodate to serve what is lacking. So, the limits change and the cycle continues. If this were not the case, the Oxford English Dictionary would not release updates every month and style guides would be stagnant.


Even if language is as limited as Bartholomae expresses, analysis is often transformative. Even if analysis can lead people to similar conclusions, the framing of that analysis will differ.


Student writers will often want to have unique transformative points and, for the sake of a grade, will mimic the language that a professor uses or a professor admires based on class content. While this way of thinking can and will often lead to pitfalls when the language is applied incorrectly, there are methods that can help with this. A student writer might mimic for several reasons.


One reason that isn't explored in enough depth is a facet of writing apprehension. A student rhetor might not feel that their method of expression is in line with the expectations of their instructor. They will try as hard as they can to not use their own "voice" or might not feel as though they have developed "voice" as a rhetor. This is, as my friend stated about implicit bias tests, something that should ideally be addressed on an individual basis and not an issue that can be blanketed.


If their are resources to do so, understanding the method by which a student expresses themselves on a subject through diverse mediums can help instructors to assist these students.


It's also important to understand that mimicry of language does not have to be a problem to solve. If a student sees a type of language demonstrated and also wants to be in command of the same language, mimicry can help a student develop and learn that language. Then, the student can adapt that language for their own use. The ideas expressed through mimicry can also be creative and transformative.


To use an example, there is existing discourse that states that people will often imitate the language of those they're speaking with. That doesn't necessarily mean that one speaker is taking over the other speaker's identity. It means that one speaker has assessed the communicative needs of the other speaker and adapts such that both can be equally understood.


Thank you so much to all of those who have given feedback to Purposeful Prose thus far. While it has not been definitively scheduled, the future does hold an interview with one of my wonderful writer colleagues. If anyone has suggestions for what they would like to see covered on this blog, feel free to contact me through any means suggested on this website. In addition, if you enjoy my content, you can become a Purposeful Prose member and further engage with my material and the other members on this site.


As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


Bartholomae, D. (1985). Inventing the university: In M. Rose (Ed.), when a writer can’t write: studies in writer’s block and other composing-process problems. New York: Gilford P.


Oxford English Dictionary. (2021, September). Updates to the OED. https://public.oed.com/updates/




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