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Fragments of Rationality

Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition

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  • Book Info
    Fragments of Rationality
    Book Description:

    In an insightful assessment of the study and teaching of writing against the larger theoretical, political, and technological upheavals of the past thirty years,Fragments of Rationalityquestions why composition studies has been less affected by postmodern theory than other humanities and social science disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7156-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    IN AN INTERVIEW with Don DeLillo that was first published inRolling Stonein 1988, the interviewer, Anthony DeCurtis asked: “There’s something of an apocalyptic feel about your books, an intimation that our world is moving toward greater randomness and dissolution, or maybe even cataclysm. Do you see this process as irreversible?” DeLillo answered: “This is the shape my books take because this is the reality I see. This reality has become part of all our lives over the past twenty-five years. I don’t know how we can deny it.” DeLillo’s date for the beginning of our current era of...

  2. 1 In the Turbulence of Theory
    (pp. 25-47)

    IN MAY 1968 I remember watching images of the student revolution in the streets of Paris on the CBSEvening Newswith friends who were active in protesting the Vietnam War. Although we had seen American demonstrations reach violent intensity at Berkeley and Columbia, we realized that the barricades across the streets in the Latin Quarter represented a much more serious challenge to the established order. Some of us had been to Europe the year before, we had talked with students there, and we thought the causes of student unrest were similar to our own. It was obvious we were...

  3. 2 The Changing Political Landscape of Composition Studies
    (pp. 48-79)

    A FREQUENT SUBJECT of hallway talk at the Conference on College Composition and Communication is the extent the convention has come to resemble the Modern Language Association convention with groups of scholars in many different rooms holding conversations that are mutually uninteresting and verge on being mutually unintelligible. In the introduction I suggested that the MTV-like speed in which scholarship in composition studies is produced, consumed, and discarded may in itself be a phenomenon of postmodernity. It is also a sign of its disciplinary success.

    Composition studies now contains the many divisions characteristic of other mature disciplines. In some departments...

  4. 3 The Linguistic Agent as Subject
    (pp. 80-110)

    MAXINE HAIRSTON’S 1982 proclamation of a “paradigm shift” claimed that the two allied disciplines motivating the new process paradigm were cognitive psychology and linguistics. By the end of the 1980s, one of these forces, linguistics, apparently had vanished. A noncontroversial aspect of Stephen North’s controversial survey of writing research.The Making of Knowledge in Composition, is the omission of linguistics as an important disciplinary subfield. North does not even includelanguageorlinguisticsin the index. Another classification of writing theorists and researchers presented by Patricia Bizzell at the 1987 meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC)...

  5. 4 Ideologies of the Self in Writing Evaluation
    (pp. 111-131)

    ALONG WITH CHALLENGING the authority and naturalness of representation, postmodern theory has taken as its other main targets the unity of human consciousness and the primacy of human reason. Postmodern theory questions the existence of a rational, coherent self and the ability of the self to have privileged insight into its own processes. Postmodern theory denies that the self has universal and transcendent qualities but instead renders our knowledge of self as always contingent and always partial. Critiques of the subject and reason in postmodern theory are often aimed at the “Cartesian subject,” or the “transcendental subject,” or the “bourgeois...

  6. 5 Coherent Contradictions: The Conflicting Rhetoric of Writing Textbooks
    (pp. 132-162)

    IN 1976 RICHARD Ohmann publishedEnglish in America, a political analysis of English studies that stands out from its time like one of the sandstone monoliths that tower over Monument Valley. Ohmann devotes a good chunk of the book to the teaching of writing. In one chapter Ohmann surveys fourteen rhetoric textbooks intended for first-year English, a course he refers to as “English 101,” finding that these textbooks teach writing in ways that reproduce the status quo. He says the books “divorce writing from society, need, and conflict” and “break |writing| down into a series of routines” (160). The closest...

  7. 6 The Achieved Utopia of the Networked Classroom
    (pp. 163-199)

    DON DELILLO’S 1985 novel,White Noise, begins with a line of shining station wagons arriving at a college campus for the start of fall semester, depositing their contents of bicycles, stereos, radios, personal computers, cartons of records and tapes, refrigerators, hair dryers, sports equipment, and shopping bags full of junk food. The narrator of the novel, Jack Gladney, notes the satisfaction in the faces of the parents at “seeing images of themselves in every direction”–the women “crisp and alert, in diet trim, knowing people’s names,” the men “accomplished in parenthood, something about them suggesting massive insurance coverage” (3). But...

  8. 7 Student Writers at the End of History?
    (pp. 200-224)

    IN THE PREVIOUS chapter I described how new electronic technologies have brought about new modes of writing and new modes of classroom interaction. These technologies have destabilized traditional hierarchies between teacher and students and among students themselves, and they have dislocated traditional subjectivities of classroom writers, inviting them to take on multiple identities. The dispersed subjectivities in classroom discussions using networked computers may be related to larger changes involved in the increasing use of electronically mediated language in our culture.

    Computerized written communication is but one form of an array of electronic communication technologies that include television, radio, film, telephones,...

  9. 8 The Ethical Subject
    (pp. 225-240)

    I HAVE ARGUED throughout this book that many of the conflicts within composition studies concern larger cultural conflicts over the question of the subject. While only recently the question of the subject has been foregrounded within composition studies, it nevertheless underlies longstanding debates within the discipline. I describe in chapter 2 how the privileging of “truth-telling” and writing about the self in the early stages of the process movement in the 1960s and early 1970s occurred against a backdrop of numerous calls for social groups and individuals to look within themselves for their own identities. Nor is it coincidental that...