Friday, July 6, 2007

Seasonal Visitors

Early in The Function of Theory in Composition Studies, Sánchez discusses the differences between applying theory and writing theory. He refers to Hairston's "The Winds of Change," as a moment that inaugurates "an enduring method for 'doing' composition theory: take a term or concept from a more respected or respectable field such as philosophy and use it to illuminate some aspect of composition studies" (12). The way of theorizing about writing, according to Sánchez: appropriate and apply, appropriate and apply. There follows a soft critique: methods in scare quotes (i.e., "predominant 'methods'") and, within a few pages, a discussion of those who "have reasserted the importance of empirically oriented theorizing" (13). Sánchez echoes Linda Flower with his interest in ways "that composition theory might generate new theories rather than retrofit existing ones" (14). I haven't finished reading The Function of..., but I'm wondering at the end of the first chapter whether the retrofit and the new can coexist, whether they are hybrid and integral.

This feeds into another impression. In his chapter on "The Philosophers" (The Making of...), North draws on a metaphor of the marina to describe the group's turn-style make-up:

Given their backgrounds, the best first option of most of these movers (i.e., Practitioners), is the Scholars' community; and since Philosophical inquiry, in an area still so new, is so wide open--requiring the least retraining, demanding access to no special materials, and offering the chance of relatively quick publication--many have given it a try. A few, frustrated by what they perceive as the limitations of Philosophical work, are drawn on to try other modes of inquiry. Most presumably return to whatever they did before, finding themselves uninterested in or not suited for the effort involved in sustained Philosophical inquiry. The resulting demographic pattern is rather like that of a marina: a small core of full-time residents; a larger group of longer-term types, who may stay as long as two or three years, or move in and out with some regularity; and lots of one-time seasonal visitors who nevertheless--by sheet weight of numbers--leave their mark on the community. And so, even though we can say that the community has developed a stronger sense of its own identity--especially, like the Historians, in terms of a more potent critical self-consciousness--there are in fact enormous individual differences in the extent to which such a claim can be true. (92)

A long quotation, I know. I have italicized the line about the "resulting demographic pattern," in part because I have been thinking about patterns and disciplinarity, and I think that Sánchez is building toward a discussion of pattern generation (a theory of writing as pattern generation) in his push away from hermeneutics, away from writing as representation, and away from the appropriate/apply method of theorizing. But I want to add an asterisk, a qualifier, to this anticipatory sense of where Sánchez is taking me. Keeping with North's marina metaphor, might it be that professionalization and graduate training contribute to the appropriate-apply method of theorizing writing? Even the multi-year residents at the Complandia marina moved there at some point, new to the neighborhood with their things not far behind. Among those things, square boxes packed with "Derrida, Foucault, Cixous, Wittgenstein, Irigaray, and so on" (13).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at July 6, 2007 11:15 AM to Reading Notes