Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fulkerson, "Four Philosophies of Composition"

Fulkerson, Richard. "Four Philosophies of Composition." Composition in Four Keys: Inquiring into the Field. Barbara Gleason, Louise Wetherbee Phelps, and Mark Wiley, eds. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1996. 551-555.

In this brief piece, originally published in CCC 30 (1979), Fulkerson adapts a philosophical framework from M.H. Abrams's The Mirror and the Lamp (1953). Abrams devised a four-term analytical scheme applied to "artistic transactions" (551), consisting of pragmatic, mimetic, expressive, and objective perspectives. Fulkerson revises these terms, replacing the pragmatic and objective with rhetorical and formalist designations, in an effort to apply them to composition studies. The mid-section of the essay accounts briefly for each of the positions and names key figures associated with each:

  • formalist: bases judgments on form (grammar, syntax, and spelling); focus on the sentence and universal norms; Out front: E.D. Hirsch (552).
  • expressionist: committed to writing as self-discovery; grounded in the Dartmouth Conference; emph. "psychic equilibrium" (553); Out front: Macrorie, Donald Stewart.
  • mimetic: good writing relies on good (clear, logical, rational) thinking; formal logic and rooting out assumptions in discourse; concerned with insufficient knowledge to write; heuristic systems; enact the "real" (553); Out front: Beardsley and Kytle.
  • rhetorical: reflected in CCC; good writing is adapted for the "desired effect on the desired audience" (553); classical roots; Out front: Corbett, Richard Larson.

Fulkerson goes on to explain the challenge in classifying Elbow, an "Aristotle in modern dress," who, though invested in "free writing, collaborative criticism, and audience adaptation," still presses for students to consider audience. Because his teaching methods are interested in audience and because they jibe with his evaluative emphases, Elbow fits with the rhetorical philosophy. Fulkerson explains his concern with the pedagogy of "mindlessness" that confuses the motivating philosophy of the course with the evaluative emphases. "Value-mode confusion" is Fulkerson's underlying concern in presenting the four philosophies, which he hopes will "reduce such mindlessness in the future" (555). Consider that he reiterated a set of related concerns in CCC 56.4 (2005) with "Summary and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century." Also, this piece was reprinted in the Composition in Four Keys section on "Alternative Maps," along with Berlin's "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories," and excerpts from North's Making of Knowledge.

Key terms: value-mode confusion (in the "bald" assignment) (554), modal confusion (555).

"Since the elements in an artistic transaction are the same as those in any communication, it seemed that Abrams's four theories might also be relevant to composition" (551).

"My thesis is that this four-part perspective helps give us a coherent view of what goes on in composition classes. All four philosophies exist in practice" (551).

"My research has convinced me that in many cases composition teachers either fail to have a consistent value theory or fail to let that philosophy shape pedagogy" (554).

"There is nothing wrong with an expressive philosophy, but there is something seriously wrong with classroom methodology which implies one variety of value judgment when another will actually be employed. That is model confusion, mindlessness" (555).

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