Fulkerson, “Four Philosophies of Composition”

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
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
and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century."
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
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).