I somewhat miraculously made it through this entire day without the benefit of my brain. I’m not quite sure what happened to it, but there you have it. It was rather an unfortunate day to be without my brain because we were discussing database renewals this morning, I was trying to prep for a class this afternoon (with no apparent progress), and I participated in the first meeting of a reading group on campus sponsored by the Writing Across the Curriculum program.
That’s right. After inviting myself into this reading group, which will be meeting throughout the term to discuss books themed around “writing from sources,” I found myself sitting in a room full of teaching faculty, book in hand, and no capacity for rational thought. So sad.
But the faculty had a lively discussion about whether or not the book at hand (Rewriting by Joseph Harris) was useful or not. Personally, I appreciate Harris’ attitude toward writing. He places emphasis on being generous to other writers and coming to terms with their projects and approaches rather than on critiquing their work to shreds. The way he talks about entering the scholarly conversation has rekindled my interest in writing, and I’m not the only one to feel re-inspired by the book. Two separate professors in the room talked of suddenly feeling ready and able to go back to projects they’d shelved for years.
At the same time, the book is not perfect. I was never quite sure if it had actually been written for students or teachers (and the number of times Harris comes back to clarify this point lead me to believe that he wasn’t clear either). Several of the faculty members present were also annoyed by his lack of attention to the actual teaching of writing. Many complained that while the book helped them to think about teaching about intellectual thinking, it didn’t help them to think about “teaching writing.” I must confess that I was unclear about the distinction some were making between teaching about writing and teaching writing, but please remember that I was listening to all of this without the benefit of my brain.
One particularly interesting point in the conversation centered around citation, of all things. An art professor pointed out that in ceramics, students can “rewrite” past work by using a specific glaze, shape, or firing technique to comment on or invoke past moments in the history of ceramics. But unlike other disciplines, ceramics does not require students to “cite” these influences. So on the one hand, detailed and specific information about ceramics history isn’t required to be apparent, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important. This professor says her heart bleeds every time a freshman “dunks” a pot into the celedon glaze without knowing or appreciating the history of the glaze, how it was meant to imitate jade, the position that jade had in the culture at the time, etc., etc., etc.
If my brain were present, I would observe something or other about how this relates to the importance of making use of prior knowledge when creating new works. I’d also comment on how it matters that people be able to understand when and why you make use of the past in this way. But alas, I can’t wrap my head around the phrasing at the moment. All I know is that I had a grand old time sitting there listening to these professors. (And it doubled as a perfect occasion to meet a few of my faculty, including two that I’ve only barely met before, in a social setting.)