Self-Development and College Writing (2004, SIU Press)
proposes a psychoanalytic stance on the "transitional space" of the
composition class. Tingle’s argument leans heavily on Robert Kegan’s five orders
of consciousness–a quasi-Piagetian theory of stage-based psychological
development. Phase one accounts for ages 2-6 (which, taken literally,
suggests pre-birth through the first twenty-four months of life are
non-conscious…discuss). Tingle explains that some of the
discord felt between teachers and students can be attributed to our varied developmental
positions. College-level writing students, in Tingle’s framework, match up with the third order of
consciousness (16), which is often defined by institutional forces and tends to
celebrate subjectivity (as in adolescence). The fourth order in this model
accords with "’a qualitatively more complex system of organizing experience’"
(16); it is a more sophisticated order of self-truth that "somehow break[s] the
identifications of the self with its social roles" (17). Tingle writes
that the modern university is designed to support students’ movement from the third
to the fourth order of consciousness, but because such moves involve
destabilization and "narcissistic wounding," the writing class might function to
enable and support. Furthermore, writing teachers are often positioned at
the fourth order of consciousness (if not the fifth, which he correlates with
postmodernism (20)). Teachers, therefore, must attend to their own
stage-orientation when defining viable writing projects and articulating
developmentally-appropriate expectations. It can prove disastrous, in other
words, when fourth-order teachers presuppose their third-order students to be more
psychologically advanced. Among the consequences: shame, embarrassment and humiliation (89).
In his discussion of selfobjects (citing Heinz Kohut)–"a person, place, thing or
activity that is conducive to a person’s sense of psychological stability or
centeredness, no matter how momentary or provisional" (8), Tingle seems to be
arguing for a more permissive relationship to language than is commonly
available, a relationship supportive of students’ affective attachments to
selfobjects. Explicitly questioning selfobjects can be
unsettling, and this unsettling happens across the university curriculum.
It should be undertaken with considerable caution, according to Tingle.
After he frames the psychoanalytical theories to support his project, Tingle
works through a series of specific applications in chapters 2-4: an
anxiety-producing unit on biodiversity through which students struggle with
scientific discourse (c. 2), a critique of Donna Qualley (self-reflexivity) and
David Bartholomae (transitioning into the academy) on the grounds of becoming
what you are not (there are psychological implications, T. explains, and he
doesn’t accept that entering the academy requires one to conform, to parade
false selves (c. 3)), and a lesson he learned about allowing for affective
attachment and subjective responses from students in a writing assignment he
devised around Stoicism–specifically Epictetus’ The Enchiridion (c. 4).
So far, I’ve tried only to describe what Tingle does in this project rather
than my response to it. We’re reading it for a course in methodology, and,
depending on the degree of generality, I can imagine saying that Tingle is doing
several ambitious and complicated things at once. In simplified terms, one
question, I would say, stems from his interest in the breakdown between teachers
and students (why do they write lousy summaries? (c.2), why do teachers feel
personally slighted when students bash selections for reading? (c. 3), and why
would a student revert to the safe domain of personal anecdotes and highly
subjective/personal claims following more a more daring critique of assigned
reading? (c.4)). Each of these anchors a chapter in this short book, and I
would say that Tingle does reasonably well to develop thoughtful and instructive
ways of responding to each question making use of psychoanalytic theory.
The book closes with clear emphasis on allowing and encouraging the use of "I."
My struggle in all of this, however, is that I’m skeptical of the orders of
consciousness. They’re just too clinical, too diagnostic, too teleological
and too classificatory to hold up when we broaden the lens on development to a
more varied group of students or when we open onto the blended developmental
domains enveloping the institution. What if, for instance, students of the
fifth order are mixed in with students of the third order? What happens
when those teetering between orders 3 and 4 interact with others who are
clinging–the result of recovering from destabilization–to order three?
Or when a batch of essays comes in, some from consciousness 3.0 and some from
I don’t want to go too far with negative responses, but I do want to leave a
few crumbs on the trail suited to later retracing. I wondered about
micro-development and developmental error (what constitutes a full shift from
3.0 to 4.0? is the shift ever complete? are we constantly waxing between
orders of consciousness? or is the most agile consciousness symptomatic of 5.0–pomo?).
I also thought about Tingle’s use of embodiment and the new media notion
of enframing (bc I’m looking at Hansen right now too). And I thought the
project tipped cynical on technologies (8, 149) and also on the developmental
aspects of recreational facilities (152).
A few terms: extrospection (63), transitional space (4), extreme transition (48),
academic irrelevance (149)
To end, here are two passages that I found interesting for different reasons.
Again because I’m simultaneously reading into Hansen, the idea of tour-able
objects sparked a few ideas. Digital images, enframing and the body’s
indeterminacy (as the nexus where all information is contending, I guess?) all
twist the real/imaginary distinction set up here, in Tingle’s summary of Sartre:
In The Psychology of the Imagination, Sartre argues that we are able
to take a tour of a real object. I see this tree as a real tree and am
aware that I am situated relative to it so that I can see only one side of the
tree; to see the real thing, I must tour it and walk around the tree. As I
walk around the tree, I see it as a series of profiles. Moreover, relative
to the real thing, as we tour it, Sartre says, we may experience surprise.
We may be surprised for example that one side of the tree has been struck by
lightning or another side covered with moss. The real object Sartre
contrasts with the imaginary object, a "tree," say, constructed in imagination.
One cannot, he says, be surprised by an imaginary object; further he argued one
can learn nothing from an image, because our knowledge of it is there all at
once and put there by our imagination (8-14). (71)
And this, a passage of student writing cited by Tingle reminded me of Sirc’s
bread-only comp. Stuffed birds…heh. Reading Freire with the
children of bankers. Oy.
I know you [the teacher] think Freire is hot stuff and has something to say
or otherwise you probably wouldn’t have assigned it. I, however, think
what he has to say sucks. Everything he says and most of what you said in
class too suggest to me that all of the education I had in high school was a
waste of my time. I have been stuffed like a little birdie. Well, I
wonder what Mr. Cranston, my favorite teacher would have to say. He was a
good guy and not a bird stuffer. As far as I am concerned, Freire is
insulting Mr. Cranston. Don’t get me wrong. I am not going to say
any of this (mostly because I am not conscious of any of it). I am going
to try to write your damn essay and I will "respond" to Freire but I am going to
do it my way. Oh, and by the way, my father is a BANKER. (87)