Authoring

Authoring: An Essay for the English Profession on Potentiality and Singularity

JANIS HASWELL
RICHARD HASWELL
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 279
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgq15
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Authoring
    Book Description:

    The postmodern conviction that meaning is indeterminate and self is an illusion, though fascinating and defensible in theory, leaves a number of scholarly and pedagogical questions unsatisfied. Authoring-the phenomenological act or felt sense of creating a text-is "a remarkably black box," say Haswell and Haswell, yet it should be one of the central preoccupations of scholars in English studies. Not only can the study of authoring accommodate the "social turn" since postmodernism, they argue, but it accommodates as well conceptions of, and the lived experience of, personal potentiality and singularity. Without abandoning the value of postmodern perspectives, Haswell and Haswell use their own perspective of authorial potentiality and singularity to reconsider staple English-studies concerns such as gender, evaluation, voice, character, literacy, feminism, self, interpretation, assessment, signature, and taste. The essay is unique as well in the way that its authors embrace often competing realms of English studies, drawing examples and arguments equally from literary and compositionist research. In the process, the Haswells have created a Big Idea book, and a critique of the field. Their point is clear: the singular person/mysterious black box/author merits deeper consideration than we have given it, and the book's crafted and woven explorations provide the intellectual tools to move beyond both political divisions and theoretical impasses.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-772-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: English Studies and Black Boxes
    (pp. 1-10)

    In information science, when input is known and output is known but the process that connects the two remains unknown, the situation is called a black box. This essay opens some black boxes safeguarded by the higher-education project called “English.”

    Education and black boxes, of course, are joined by symbiosis in every department and discipline. This is because it takes black boxes to learn about black boxes. Fixers routinely use computerized tools about which they care to know little in order to diagnose problems—is there radon in the basement?—about which they hope to learn more. Bruno Latour (1987)...

  5. 1 AUTHORING ACCEPTED
    (pp. 11-28)

    Writing in 1959, the poet Ginsberg was angry at the initial reaction of literary scholars to Beat literature, especially “Howl,” and both his intemperate dismissal of their kind of knowledge and their temporary dismissal of his kind of poetry can be chalked up to the passing historical moment. Still, Ginsberg’s charge that university scholars don’t know how poetry is made carries some lasting weight. How much do English teachers know about the inner workings of working authors? In the academy, the project called English largely consists of students taught to read creative literature by teachers who do not regularly write...

  6. Interchapter: POTENTIALITY AND ALICE SHELDON
    (pp. 29-31)

    It is customary to speak of young aspiring authors as having potential, and of old successful authors as having realized their potential. But for serious writers, potential is something they can’t imagine as first having and then using up. For them, as we will see in the next chapter, potentiality is as needful to ongoing authoring as perception, words, or readers. It is a personal condition that bridges the most disparate parts of their life—past, current, and future. No one can illustrate this fact better than the author Alice Bradley Sheldon.

    At three in the morning of May 19,...

  7. 2 POTENTIALITY AND THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH
    (pp. 32-46)

    Fiction writer Carol Shields notes that the adverb not yet is one of the “odd pieces of language” that lends coherence to people’s understanding of their own lives, or, as we will say in Chapter 10, to the kind of authoring known as lifestory. Our noun for not yet is potentiality. And our question concerning not yet and potentiality is why the notion plays such a conflicted part in the teaching of English courses.

    We start with a riddle. In the filing cabinet of every English teacher lies a manuscript on authoring. Each of ours, single-spaced, measures more than an...

  8. 3 POTENTIALITY AND GENDERSHIP
    (pp. 47-55)

    When she was 18 and in Jan’s first-year composition course, Victoria wrote an impromptu essay on the topic of “your search for truth.” After the course was over she let us use her piece for an experiment. We were interested in instructional response to student writing—in particular, response as it interacts with the reader’s perception of the sex of the writer. We had Victoria’s essay read by thirty-two English teachers and thirty-two peer students, who looked for good and bad qualities, recommended revision work, and surmised about the unnamed writer’s sex. It’s hard to say who was more shocked...

  9. 4 POTENTIALITY, GENDERSHIP, AND TEACHER RESPONSE
    (pp. 56-62)

    The threat to a healthy writing potentiality of student writers like Victoria and Kevin, however, does not stop with the production of gendership. Because they sit in a writing course, not only do they have to turn their gendership over to the interpretive vagaries of readers, but afterward they have to reshape it. This happens when teachers ask them, as composition teachers are wont to do nowadays, to revise their first drafts. We assume that in legitimate writing-course response, that is, in criticism devoted to the improvement of student writing rather than just to the evaluation of it, teachers will...

  10. 5 POTENTIALITY, GENDERSHIP, TEACHER RESPONSE, AND STUDENT VOICES
    (pp. 63-74)

    We say “voices” advisedly.

    Today among English teachers, the term “voice” has a hair trigger. This small word holds an arsenal of conflicting meanings, each defending critical and ideological positions in which people are often deeply invested. Stylists hear in voice the timbre of a literary persona successfully projected. Expressivists take voice as a sign that the student writer is speaking out of authentic experience. Developmentalists read voice as evidence that the young adult has matured to some point of selfautonomy. Critical pedagogues champion voice as a means to resist political oppression (“voicing dissent”). Early feminists found in voice a...

  11. 6 POTENTIALITY, READING, AND GEORGE YEATS
    (pp. 75-90)

    Speaking of voices!

    It is the evening of April 6, 1919, around ten o’clock, in the parlor of a house on the outskirts of Dundrum, then a hamlet separate from Dublin. William Butler Yeats and his young wife George, married for less than a year and a half, are engaged in intense talk. Their dialogue might as well be called authoring, because she is writing down both his questions and her answers. And their dialogue might as well be called publishing, because they would like to believe that her voice is not hers but the voice of spirits.

    “Is daimon...

  12. 7 POTENTIALITY, LIFE-COURSE, ACADEMIC COURSE, AND UNPREDICTABILITY
    (pp. 91-104)

    Friday September 27, 1822, on the heath or commons between Tilford and Farnham in Hampshire, England, in a small dale called the Bourne. Two men are on horseback, and the horses are stock still. It is not a heroic pose. One of the men certainly should have considered himself a hero. Rural born, self-educated, he had made himself England’s best-known independent journalist. But at the moment, within a few months of his sixtieth year alive, William Cobbett is reminiscing.

    He is in the middle of a surprising four-year journey. Who could have predicted it? Riding mainly alone through the lanes...

  13. Interchapter: SINGULARITY AND ALICE SHELDON
    (pp. 105-107)

    In the 1920s, as she is growing up, Alice Sheldon is known as a loner, one of a kind. She remains a oner all her life.

    At six years of age, on an African trek with her parents, she walks or is ported some 1,000 miles in search of the mountain gorilla. At nine she becomes an avid reader of Weird Tales and other pulp science fiction. At sixteen, in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, she has her first art exhibit and sale—a nude for which she served as her own model. At nineteen she meets a man...

  14. 8 SINGULARITY AND THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH
    (pp. 108-130)

    We have been exploring potentiality as a nurturable and sustainable capacity that feeds authoring in many ways, from motivation to creativity, from student five-finger exercises to widely read works of expert hands. For social philosopher Giorgio Agamben, potentiality is more than that. It is the very foundation of a free community and its evolving ethos. In The Coming Community (1993), he advocates a new social kinship of people, united in their willingness to make room for one another’s potentialities—potentialities that, as a consequence of the nature of human potentiality itself, singly would be distinct one from another. It would...

  15. 9 SINGULARITY AND NARRATIVE: CHARACTER, DIGNITY, RECENTERING
    (pp. 131-155)

    In Reading for the Plot (1984) Peter Brooks reflects on a change in the world’s inexhaustible appetite for stories, a shift not in the appetite but in the stories. In the past, we repeated master plots, overarching Narratives (with an uppercase N). Mythically, we told stories of origin; spiritually, we told stories of fall, redemption, reincarnation, salvation; teleologically, we told stories of purpose, of nature, of ultimate end. For the most part such Narratives disappeared after the Renaissance, Brooks observes. Since then, history has replaced theology as the authoritative narrative, and we now tend to speak of personal identity in...

  16. 10 SINGULAR AUTHORIAL OFFERINGS: Lifestories, Literacy Narratives, and the Shatterbelt
    (pp. 156-176)

    The dust cover for Melanie Thernstrom’s The Dead Girl centers on a three-quarter view of the victim’s face. Although the artist relied on a photograph of Roberta Lee, reproduced on page eight of the book, there is a striking difference between cover and photograph. Through cropping and especially through reshaping of the right eye, Lee’s Asian features are effaced. This westernization of the author’s Asian American friend may disturb readers for a number of reasons. Were the publicity experts at Simon and Schuster attentive to the history of United States’ journalism, in which murders of young Anglo girls seem to...

  17. 11 SINGULARITY, FEMINISM, AND THE POLITICS OF DIFFERENCE AND IDENTITY
    (pp. 177-193)

    In Chapters 3 to 6 we argue that when student writers are invited to exercise gendership as a rhetorical instrument and a means of expression and self-creation, they may discover, enact, and deepen their potentiality. True also of their singularity. For English professionals, to regard each student as singular is a moral necessity, since singular persons are what they actually face in the classroom and singular texts are what they and their students actually read and write. In this chapter we will measure our understanding of singularity and potentiality against the history of feminist discourse on gender during the last...

  18. 12 SINGULARITY, SELF-LOSS, AND RADICAL POSTMODERNISM
    (pp. 194-212)

    Loss of the sense of the singular self is threatened not only in established feminist theory but everywhere, including today’s English classroom. The fact is an excuse, perhaps, for the odd mélange of topics this chapter holds: the death-camp Muselmänner, the postmodernist concept of subject position, the language strategy of the demeaning epithet, post-traumatic stress disorder, a novel by William Faulkner, a short story by Eudora Welty, and a student taking a capstone English course whose brother had been killed in Vietnam thirty-four years earlier. From the mélange emerges, however, two contradictory images of the human self: as a guarded...

  19. 13 SINGULARITY AND DIAGNOSTICS: Disposements, Interpretations, and Lames
    (pp. 213-232)

    In the Introduction, we noted the tendency of the following chapters to draw toward the pragmatic and the daily in the lives of English teachers. Here toward the end, in this penultimate chapter, we accelerate that drift. We explore an act that lodges very materially in English departments: disposement. The term is not self-explanatory. The word “disposement” passed out of the language in the seventeenth century. We justify our use in that the act of disposement is little discussed in English studies and has no received name. Yet it serves as a crucial step in a dynamics, also little discussed,...

  20. Interchapter: AUTHORING AND ALICE SHELDON
    (pp. 233-235)

    Interviewed by Contemporary Authors in 1982, Alice Sheldon revealed something of her “so-called writing technique.”

    I mull over the story in my head, and in notes, until I have a complete visual-aural picture of everything; every scene, people, whether somebody hands another person something with their right or left hand, what people who aren’t even mentioned are doing—everything pictured and heard. I’d say, like a movie, but films today are all cut and fancied and are art themselves: maybe like a very dull and complete documentary. Then when I have it all pictured, I tell the story, just as...

  21. 14 AUTHORING NEGLECTED
    (pp. 236-259)

    Chapter 7 ends with an emblem of the kind of English instruction this book defends. Two people are imaged,

    a novice reader-writer and a mentor reader-writer. Between them stands a piece of text—unfinished draft or widely published masterpiece, it matters not. The text is now public, and has had or may have lasting importance to one or both of them. The two seem to be asking: What do we do with this piece next?

    We call this the “life-course emblem of teaching” because it allows in the potentiality and singularity of both the student and the mentor. Potentiality and...

  22. ENVOI: Hospitality and Alice Sheldon
    (pp. 260-262)

    We can’t take leave without noting, for our English colleagues and for their students, that socially and culturally the way authors manage both to safeguard their authorings and to relinquish them to the apparatuses of the world is through hospitality.

    We mean hospitality in the old sense, the welcome and befriending of strangers, the cultural and religious codes that used to be (and sometimes still are) exercised on the byroads and backstreets, providing travelers with rest, food, and lodging. Rules governing the traditional relations between guest and host included swapping of information, unspoken assumption of social equality, unspoken assumption of...

  23. REFERENCES
    (pp. 263-273)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 274-279)
  25. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 280-281)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)