[journal entry] on Erika Lindemann’s “The Composing Process” (Part One of A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers)

September 30, 2007

Whew. After struggling with James Berlin on ideology and rhetoric, I felt downright relaxed with Erika Lindemann’s section on the writing process. Not that she didn’t teach me a lot in this chapter, but it was the kind of learning that sparks connections with the past and questions for the future — whereas with Berlin, I had to make understanding take priority over connections.

The general categories Lindemann presents were not new to me, though many of the subpoints were. And like the Fulkerson and Berlin’s articles, it was very helpful to be introduced to the names of the main scholars working in these areas and to see how their work can be seen within other scholars’ schema.

What was especially interesting to me was Roman Jakobson’s diagram as a way to describe exactly what writing is — what ALL writing is (10ff). I’d knew of the more simple “communication triangle” – we talked about it a couple times during writing center staff meetings at Yakima Valley Community College – but I never really saw any use in it. In hindsight, though, that’s probably because we never employed it in our consultations with students, and so it remained too abstract. But I like the way the Jakobson diagram tries to more accurately describe all that goes on in writing (though I know, as Lindemann points out, it doesn’t account for everything) and how Lindemann points out how helpful the diagram could be for students — and teachers.

(1) The diagram can help students dig into a rhetorical situation, to try to tackle not just “How do I say it correctly?” or “What do I mean to say?” but “How can I best consider/invoke my audience? How can I best keep the context, the shared assumptions, between me and my writing in mind?” etc. (2) The diagram can help students see in one picture just how/why writing is so difficult. In other words, whether they are good at writing or not, students can see all that’s going on “underneath” in good writing. This point really helps to explain what’s going on when student papers are, as Wayne Booth describes them, “unbalanced,” when they do not equally consider each element of Jakobson’s diagram (not that each element must be equally weighted, but each element must be given equal consideration). This second point also helps with a phenomenon I encountered A LOT at the YVCC Writing Center: students craving to know “the” way to approach an assignment. So I’m curious to figure out a specific way to use this diagram to teach students the inherent undecidedness or openness of all writing, even specific writing assignments.

(3) Lindemann’s third point is that this diagram is great for showing how equal each element is: nothing is given priority: not “the code” (cf. Fulkerson’s “formalism”), not content (cf. Fulkerson’s expressivism and/or mimeticism). All elements of writing are important. This seems like another reason to doubt Fulkerson’s proposal that we ought never to assign students a paper that requires attention to more than one of the four philosophies he delineates.

Lindemann also lays out four ways in which this diagram helps teachers (to create better assignments, make better comments/evaluations, to correct misunderstandings coming from the teacher (as addressor) to student (as addressee), and to help us describe for students the four “modes of discourse.” These modes, Lindemann explains, can help us show students – by example – how the elements get combined for a certain purpose: narration, description, exposition and argumentation. I can see how using examples (in this case, the “modes of discourse”) could help students see the diagram in action, so to speak. But I don’t see why Lindemann (or is it more Jakobson?) would want to imply that these four modes are the only modes out there. I know these four are “traditional,” but they’re just a starting point, I would think.

I’d say these three chapters, overall, bring out two things: One is a reminder of just how difficult writing is for students, just how much is going on when writers write. Whether they are strong or weak writers, a lot is going on. And two is that Lindemann provides some specific help and insights for teaching. I especially like the Jakobson diagram the discussion on what all is going on in prewriting and writing.

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