In this post, I want to look at a particular undercurrent in all four of the readings this reading: fear. While these four scholars are not themselves writing from a place of fear, each of their texts engages with fear and anxiety around reading and writing, or the teaching thereof. It, unfortunately, does not surprise me that when dealing with the theme, “Reading like a writer,” we find ourselves discussing fear. In a recent course at the Graduate Center, my classmates and I were assigned weekly short creative papers in lieu of a final academic seminar paper. During much of the discussion and response to these papers, and in our final portfolio workshop, the question of whether one was allowed to identify as a writer recurred, mostly as a trepidation and hesitation. What gives one the authority?
It seems that each of the readings this week address the idea of authority, presumption, and, as part of this trifecta, fear. Most explicit in this address is Gaipa’s article, from which the QC writing handbook takes its handout on using sources. Indeed, Gaipa articulates point blank his intention to instill in his students “the scholar’s anxiety” (421). He wants to push his students to discover openings in the critical field by first inundating them with criticism, enough to induce the “fear that the field may be [over] saturated” (421). While I think it’s worth discussing the merits of this kind of fight-or-flight approach to writing, the solution he provides runs through all of the articles as well: structure. His response to the fear is to provide eight ways to go about making space in the conversation. In response to fear, he provides tools and formulas, a direct way to confront the daunting task.
Similarly, Bean and Bunn’s articles offer structure in response to fear. Bean’s article is written as a reply not only to students not reading, but more specifically to the implied sense that students do not read as we academics may wish them to read because they’ve not been taught. They feel they do not understand and thus fear the text because they have not been given the tools to decipher it. His response—strategies! (Or strategies for teaching strategy/method.) Bunn’s article also writes to the implicit fear of being overwhelmed by reading. Again, the suggestion he makes to student readers is to look at the architecture and technique—to identify the structure. If one thinks of writing like building (as Virginia Woolf did), one can look for the blueprint as one reads. Then, as a student moves into individual writing, the blueprint can be stolen and adapted to one’s site. Here again, structure clears the chaos of blinding anxiety.
Finally, turning briefly to Devitt, the anxiety here is in the body of the instructor. What if in teaching writing, particularly different genres of writing, one unwittingly teaches or imparts the ideology of that genre? Again, structure to the rescue! Devitt unpacks this dilemma by reminding the reader that genre is a rhetorical process created and employed by people to achieve particular aims (348). If we can then pull back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz for our students, we can demonstrate that these ideologies and values implicit in the rules of a genre are neither unchangeable nor mandatory doctrine.
In reflecting on this for teaching, I had a lot of very specific ideas because I am heading into a reading annotation and research assignment. But to conclude for us as cohort, I want to take into my teaching the idea that structure and teaching the structure of writing can perhaps free students up by releasing them from fear and allowing them to find their own space in the conversation or the ideas that they want to express.