Saturday, October 29, 2005

on using diffucult texts in teaching writing

Craig Dworkin quotes Lyn Hejinian…she’s my hero...and what he says makes sense, “the difficulties of the avant-garde are…especially well suited to the classroom. Self conscious linguistic disruptions can focus attention on rhetorical and compositional choices in a way that makes all reading a close reading” (604). And then he uses Cage and his analogy of mushrooms and ideas which ‘come to you as things hidden’ as Cage says, like the mushrooms that remain hidden until discovered.

Instead of Teaching we need to think about how to open the classroom to a space for discovery, for opening to contexts and ideas outside of the strict system of classification and structure. I love the idea of using Hejinian or Stein or any other ‘difficult’ work as a way to look at construction of texts, to think about rhetoric and form. When you do a close reading of a difficult text, just like close reading any text, you get into it and see things that you otherwise wouldn’t. Susan Howe, for example, has some poems that look like words and lines of words thrown randomly on top of each other on the page. When students first see this some of them think it’s pure nonsense writing, and then eventually someone will start to ‘read’ the text and find out the content is part of an actual historical narrative, fairly conventional ‘information’ presented in a new and different way. Something like this can really open into an interesting discussion of conventions of form and rhetoric and how and why those might be challenged.

Related to this might be using hip hop or other types of texts in the classroom. I am thinking of creating an assignment in which, after reading about hip hop and some ways it is ‘functioning’ in contemporary culture, students will choose a song, and deconstruct the lyrics in terms of how it is (potentially) functioning as socially conscious (or some other type of specific criteria for analysis). The writing assignment would ask students to write an argument for their analysis that shows how the song is doing what they say it is doing.

Whether using Gertrude Stein or Queen Latifah the point is to open thinking to different types of texts and involve students in discovering how to go about producing writing and thinking about writing in ways that open up more conservative traditional notions of how texts are developed and structured.

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