Revolution Lullabye

February 17, 2016

Bacon, Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style

Bacon, Nora. “Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 290-303.

In this book review, Bacon reviews two recent popular style manuals: Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing and Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Bacon points out the strengths and flaws of both books, ultimately arguing that although both Sword and Pinker bring important interdisciplinary perspectives to teaching style, neither of them (but particularly Pinker) draw on or engage thoroughly enough in the research and theories of composition studies. Bacon calls for more public scholarship by compositionists on writing and style, pointing out that in its absence, other scholars and fields have taken our place.

Bacon uses Patrick Hartwell’s taxonomy of grammars from his 1985 article to construct a parallel taxonomy of style: style 1 (individual style), style 2 (house style), style 3 (usage), style 4 (plain style), style 5 (elaborated style.) She uses this taxonomy to analyze the arguments and advice promoted in both Sword’s and Pinker’s books.

Sword’s book is written to academics about academic prose, and one of Sword’s central arguments is that academics don’t need to write in a boring, stiff style. Sword conducted an empirical study of academic writing in 10 disciplines, and she uses her analysis of the data (over 1000 journal articles) to suggest specific strategies academic writers can use to write better, more reader-friendly and engaging prose.

Pinker’s book is written from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and a linguist, and Bacon points out the main flaw that she sees in it: Pinker’s arguments are detached from composition studies and seem to assume that a person who understands grammar will be a better writer. Bacon disagrees and argues that the relationship between knowing linguistics and sentence structure and being able to write with a clear, dynamic style is complicated. Describing language is different than using it.

 

Quotable Quotes

“Moving too hastily from linguistics to writing, Pinker makes the mistake that generations of back-to-basics school reformers have made, imagining that the way to improve writers’ sentences is to teach them grammar. Composition scholars know that the relationship between an understanding of grammar and an ability to write healthy sentences is not so simple” (300).

“Gaining metalinguistic knowledge is one thing; learning to write well is another. Confusing the two leads to misguided instruction” (301).

“In classrooms and books, we talk about the rules of usage, the virtues of plain style, and the pleasures of the elaborated style in the hope that the discussion will help writers achieve more effective individual styles” (292).

February 9, 2016

Robillard, Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety

Robillard, Amy E. “Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 197-215.

Robillard introduces a new way to conceptualize plagiarism: that writers plagiarize not from a lack of ethics nor a lack of knowledge of citation conventions but rather a lack of reading, that is, a lack of thorough reading in the conversations about the subject matter the writer is writing about. Robillard uses this concept (which forefronts the connection between reading and plagiarism) her own experience, and Philip Eubanks’ work on metaphor and writing to explore the terms and prototypes of writer, to write, reader, to read. Robillard argues that our common conception (our prototype) of reader and to read privileges volume of reading, which causes us as teachers and scholars to think about reading in terms of how much we (or our students) are doing instead of what and how we are reading. Robillard suggests that our reading processes, including how we find and collect our sources with which we write, is social and affective, and she wonders if conversations surrounding ownership of writing and plagiarism can extend to ownership of sources and plagiarism of those sources.

Quotable Quotes

“What I want to consider instead are the effects of telling a different kind of narrative of lack. What happens when we conceptualize my transgression not in terms of a lack of ethics or a lack of knowledge of how to cite, but a lack of thoroughness, a failure to read enough? What happens when we shift our frame for understanding plagiarism as a transgression against writing to a transgression against reading?” (200)

“I believe that conceptualizing my experience this way draws attention not just to a disciplinary ambivalence toward reading but also to a lack of disciplinary attention to the how of finding what we read.” (200)

“I want to call our disciplinary attention to a different tension, one between the prototypes of reader and to read, for the ways it affects our disciplinary conceptualizations of and conversations about reading and the relationship between reading and writing.” (200)

“Can a source be stolen in the same way that an idea or a particular passage can be stolen? Do we, in any sense, own the sources whose ideas we build upon when we theorize reading and writing?” (212)

“Reading brings pleasure; indeed, ask undergraduate English majors why they signed up for the major in the first place, and you’ll probably hear something about their love for reading. But that love usually involves identification and affective attachment that many critics would dismiss as sentimental and immature” (209).

Notable Notes

Historical divide between composition and literature led to composition’s focus on writing (lack of attention on reading and its relationship to writing, conceptualization of reading), Tate-Lindemann debate about the place of literature in composition

Reading as assemblage – how to we find, curate, collect, design our reading? (212-213)

Prototype of reader and to read = a reader reads literary (fiction) texts for pleasure, solitary act, it’s simpler to identify as a reader than to identify as a writer (206-207), we seek help for our writing but we don’t seek help for our writing (208)

Prototype of writer and to write = writer is a writer of literary texts, writing means inscribing words on a piece of paper and can be common, non-literary texts (emails, notes) (203-204)

Visibility and invisibility of reading and writing (200)

Differences between someone who cannot read and those who cannot write – deficiency narratives, the connection between thinking and writing (204)

Philip Eubanks Metaphor and Writing

Students who don’t read = lack a desire, dedication, effort, laziness (208-209)

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