Absurdly Long Post About how Writing and Writing Technologies Intertwine that May Have Gone Off-Topic In Some Moments

In our last class, we discussed the repercussions print culture had on the way we think about the world and how it shapes our cultural practices and values. This resulted in the question: are we better off with print culture than we were without it? As I think of an answer for this, I can’t ignore negative implications of print culture. For one, its imperialistic tendencies. As we read last week in the Glutenberg Galaxy, once an oral culture is introduced to writing system that reduces sound to visual form, the human psyche is transformed:“Oral cultures indeed produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken possession of the psyche” (14). This reaffirms our notions of technology as stated in the initial definition: “Technology is never static and changes throughout time and space.” We can infer from this definition that as we take up new technologies, we also lose a cultural something. It is never easy to weigh the lose or the gain. But I’m trying now to imagine a world without books and without being able to use writing. Within my own cultural context, this seems narrow way of experiencing life. Without books, I’d imagine the beliefs of my elders and my community would be my beliefs. If not, I would be exiled with little chance of finding a new life and community.

This brings me to the here and now: whether or not print or digital technology has influenced my opinions about written text (and I’m sure it has) I value the ability to listen to others and their experience—to learn and to realize my limited perspective of the world is not the only one out there. I believe this particular worldview has created a hesitancy in me to judge good from bad or to see situations in black and white. I have and always have, despite my Catholic upbringing, a hard time thinking of prescriptive rules for what is right and what is wrong. Print culture may have very well influenced me to take the time to understand a situation’s context and to reserve judgement. The simple task of sitting down, being subjected to a voice not my own as I read (versus a single representation of a community voice) provided me with practice of this. If I think about what writing means to me as a cultural practice and how it shapes my values, it is hard to for me to not to consider what it means to be ethical.

As our readings have suggested, perhaps this desire to know another wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for written texts. As we move into a world more dependent on computer/phone technology for communication, I’m sure this will change. The internet offers more chances for interruption and direct communication without careful and thoughtful analysis. For example, you can read a news story and reply by typing out a response, giving yourself little time to process. There is a certain attitude of privilege I see coming from my students and even myself that comes from being able to instantly satisfy desires (food, entertainment, communication, etc.). It is no wonder there are so many craft/practice-focused communities emerging in retaliation ( yoga, “slow cooking,” sewing). I suppose this is why I was directed to studying Ravelry, a social networking group for knitters, as a subject of interest last semester. It is hard for me right now to consider how this may influence my classroom practices other than noting to my students that academic writing can’t, and never will, be instantly satisfying. Our ENG101 standard assignment sequence represents that. But in a fast-food world, how can we as instructors continue to claim the writing we teach is something of value?

For myself, I have little problem answering this question. Everything in my personal experience has verified that knowledge from written text has the possibility to help one shape their own circumstantial hardships and find a better position to live a life. Even if I were to ignore or not acknowledge this experience, if I were asked to take back this knowledge and go back to an alternative world without written language, I would refuse! I’m paraphrasing a Lynda Barry quote here, but if you have a box in front of you and have the choice to know or not know what is inside, of course you are going to choose knowledge of what is inside. When I teach communication through writing, especially in ENG101 classes, the focus becomes on analysis, or understanding what is inside the box and figuring out what the hell to do with it once you understand it. I hope my students can transfer these skills to their own life and understand written communication is a means to position one into power; written communication can allow for one to better express her/his ideas and lead to the type of change s/he desires—whether this change be political, personal, or professional.

My hope is that in teaching writing and asking students to closely look at text and examine their own choices, we are encouraging people to act responsibly, thoughtfully, and to remain accountable for their actions. Now I’m going to be lame and end with one of my favorite comp/rhet quotes. I hope you will forgive me for my lack of imagination when it comes to a conclusion:

“…accountability signifies recognizing that none of us lives autonomous lives, despite the grand narrative of U.S. individualism. Accountability means that we are indeed members of the same village, and if for no other reason than that (and there are other reasons), all people necessarily have a stake in each other’s quality of life.”
-Krista Ratcliffe 

The Killer

The following is one of my favorite pieces from the book Technicians of the Sacred (If I could only own one book in the world it would be this one). Our conversation about what was lost when we moved to print culture reminded me of it. Notice how the poem itself commands the “ear” with the repetition of “listen.” This was under the section “visions and spells.”The Killer

(Academic) Writing Is…

When I was an undergraduate, “writing” and “academic writing” were like black and white to me. Keep in mind at that point I was majoring in creative writing, and all the aches and pains of high school and my dull but rushed ENG102 class came to mind when I thought of academic writing.

At this point, the writing that was valuable to me was writing that I could share with others that would care about it and respond to it. Good writing was writing that had some sense of movement—being moved to action, to emotion, to write more, etc. In my limited experience as a reader, this was never the case with academic writing.

Now when I reflect on the differences between writing and academic writing, or what sets academic writing apart, I’ve come to the conclusion it is essentially no different from any other kind of writing. Just like with all writing, the audience and conventions of the genre are what make us create a specific title for it.

When I think about the difference between genres of writing, I’m reminded of a quote by Michael Palmer in his essay “On Sustaining of Culture in Dark Times.” Palmer writes of poetry:

“Perhaps our ‘notes’ and ‘keys’ seem a little too aberrant, too ‘off,’ too “blue” for most occasions. It’s equally possible that our modes of thought would appear too given to errancy and vagabondage, too committed to non-reason, to be entirely trustworthy in most contexts, and there may well be some justification for that assumption. I trust, at the very least, that I’m not entirely trustworthy.”

What stands out to me with Palmer’s quote, and perhaps helped me see why and how other writing differs does differ from academic writing, is the idea that in other writing, one does not expect the author to be ethical or to make a credible relationship with a reader you may not personally know. This type of relationship doesn’t seem as likely to occur in a journal (I’m imagining Sylvia Plath’s angry rants of journal entries), in an autobiography (I’m imagining creative nonfiction writers’ strong feelings about how writing is always an attempt to capture the moment without ever being successful), or, in the case of Palmer’s quote, a books of poems (I’m imagining “Dream Songs” by John Berryman).

When I mention academic writing to students, I am sure to explain it as a specific genre: “Not all ‘good’ writing is academic writing, but that’s the type of writing we are doing in this class in order to help you become successful college writers.” From what I’ve learned of academic writing—especially as a graduate student—often times providing information and ideas is valued over creativity or challenging the genre through redesign. The purpose and argument (argument here in a broad sense) of this writing is under conventional pressure to be stated clearly or at least as clearly as possible. Based on my own experience reading and writing, I’ve discovered academic writing values reason, coherency, ethical communication, and expanding a conversation. But there is also more to it; from our workshop class last semester, I grew more conscious of the stylistic choices we make as academic writers such as using compound complex sentences or word choice issues related to the language of the discipline. Through acknowledging style within an academic genre, I’ve found myself much more at “home” while writing in it than I have in the past–that along with being inspired by other writers who have mixed genres of academic writing with creative writing: Richard Miller’s “The Nervous System,” or Catherine Taylor’s Apart are examples that come to mind.