Hesse, “Who Owns Writing?”

Hesse, Doug.
"Who Owns Writing?" CCC 57.2 (2005): 335-357.

Hesse’s address offers a meditation on the domain of writing and who
ultimately is suited to act as steward over the domain. The idea of
indicated in the talk’s title, Hesse clarifies early on, is not so
much of intellectual property as of "the conditions under which
writing is taught" (337). With an emphasis on practitioners, the
address articulates the role of compositionists as those who, because they are
knowledgeable about "the whole of" writing, are responsible for writing
and writers (355).

Early in the address, Hesse refers to an essay generator and an
automated essay-grading system. The computer-generated essay on aphasia
scores high in the grading system, suggesting (with a chuckle from everyone in
the audience) how absurd machine scoring is. He uses this scenario to
bring up problems with school writing that will be graded with algorithms.

Hesse presents five spheres of writing: academic, vocational,
civic, personal, and belletristic (349). Academic and
vocational writing match with what he calls "obliged discourse", and he
acknowledges that the profession must continue to live up to the expectation on
students to perform obliged writing. The other three spheres are what he
calls "self-sponsored discourse." Hesse is most concerned with the
civic sphere
as it has shifted from mass media to "self-sponsored" niches,
thus moving the civic nearer to the personal and belletristic. He mentions
Wikipedia as yet another example of an expansion in the domain of writing that
compositionists should take into account, rather than continuing "to teach as if
the civic sphere were still institutionally sponsored, as if there were
extractable principles, guidelines, and rules" (353).

Key terms: "conflicted terms" (336), ownership society (337), digital grader
(338), Turing test (341), objectivity (341), National Commission on Writing for
America’s Families (343), national press (343), Lakoff’s conceptual frames
(345), college catalog (346), obliged discourse (349), self-sponsored discourse
(349), wikipedia (352),

"Our work ought to feel more important than it has in quite some time.
And yet, even with all this attention–in fact, even because of it–the stars
threaten to fall on our familiar worlds" (336).

"To ask who owns writing is to ask most obviously about property rights, the
buying, selling, and leasing of textual acreages. But I’m rather asking who owns
the conditions under which writing is taught?" (337).

"What I will do is suggest that those who teach writing must affirm
that we, in fact, own it. The question is what we should aspire to
own–and how" (338).

"I cut out the graph because I wasn’t sure if the site would know what to do"
(340). ^Brief though this is, the removal of the image is interesting in that it
points to the difference between symbolic and iconic processing.

"In the machine dream, writing would become a sort of dull game, an
interaction with software to produce a score" (341).

"I’m wondering if the word ‘writing’ may frame our work in ways that aren’t
always desirable. The term seems neutral enough, but it may well carry the sense
of inscribing words on paper; that is, it may focus attention on the physical
act of graphemic production, separate from thinking, with all the focus on
correctness" (345).

"Our borders aren’t fixed" (346). ^In fact, they aren’t even our
borders? Or borders at all?

"For various reasons, I think that as a profession we must continue to own up
to the demands of obliged writing on our students. But we must also attend to
self-sponsored writing, not only as target discourses but also as increasingly
important forms of action in the world" (350).

"Make no mistake. We in 4Cs refract and frame no less than others. But we
have something else–or if we don’t have it, we have no particular right to be
in this place, on this March morning. We have the lens of research and
reflective practice, polished carefully and long, intentionally scratched at
times, even melted. Ours is the knowledge of what writing is and what it
can be, the whole of it, in every sphere" (355).