I Will Not Know

Close to five this afternoon, I was waiting for a ride home from D., and I
had a few minutes to pass in my office. I’d already booted down the laptop
and stowed it in my backpack. I didn’t have the gusto to continue readings (for
next week already) from the two seminars I had today, and I was feeling somewhat
blaze after a full day on campus overflowing with six hours of intense
discussion. So I straightened up one of my office shelves and got to
leafing through a few odd journals casually handed off to me by a colleague last
year. There were five or six yellowed issues of Composition Studies
and JAC; I fixed on JAC 8 (1988), specifically David Foster’s
"What Are We Talking About
When We Talk About Composition?"
, which ends

As informed readers and deliberately inclusive thinkers, we
must be the measure of our discipline. Science cannot claim ascendancy in any
area of human knowledge, particularly in that complex blend of
knowledge-streams we call composition. We must be wary of those who,
uncomfortable with the ambiguities of discourse and complacent with the
quantitative, empirical perspective, would have us assume that perspective
alone. As informed readers, we must juggle and juxtapose the claims of
different modes of inquiry, recognizing what each contributes and what each
lacks. To ref use this invitation to an intellectual pluralism, to settle in
its place for a single perspective, is to invite the punishment we all hated
in grade school: having to write the same sentence one hundred times. In this
case, it would be “I will not know. I will not know. I will not know…"

Stimulating find, I thought, and then I started to wonder
whether what we are talking about when we talk about composition in 2006 is so
radically remade from what we were talking about when we talked about
composition in 1988. And then my ride was waiting.


  1. What’s interesting to me about that passage is that, in some ways, we could now use it to support work like Moretti’s. In some ways, Cindy Johanek’s Composing Research makes the same argument in reverse…


  2. I have yet to read Johanek’s book (what I know of it comes from what we’ve talked about), but I think you’re right about the excerpt supporting Moretti’s project, especially with the notions of intellectual pluralism and different modes of inquiry. Plus I get a kick out of being reminded how torturous it was during all of those recesses I spent inside writing columns of “I I I I I I…will will will will will will…not not not not not not….”

  3. The D. I’m referring to drives the Element, shuttles me home after she gets through with all-day teaching so I can avoid walking in the rain and snow.

    Good chance we’ll get back to THE D sometime in the summer and, of course, stop by.

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