“From Identity Politics to Academic Masturbation”

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‘One of the primary creators of this unintelligible academic rhetoric, Judith Butler, is best known for her theory of gender performance central to her 1990 book “Gender Trouble.” Yet in recent years, one cannot be sure that even Butler understands her own writing . . . .’

‘How did we arrive at this moment where learning means parroting incoherent political rhetoric?’

Link: https://www.truthdig.com/articles/from-identity-politics-to-academic-masturbation/

Old-fashioned printing and book-binding

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This wonderful brief video on Facebook shows clearly how printing presses worked in the days of hand-set type, and how the pages were then turned into books.

A few key points are missing, however.

  1. Notice how the letters must be placed backwards in the press.
  2. Notice why the printing press was called a “press.”
  3. The small letters were traditionally stored in a lower-level rack, while the capitals were above—hence our terms “lower-case” and “upper-case” to describe them.
  4. The paper was printed on both sides, not just one as the video seems to show. Each page had to be positioned so that when the sheet was folded, as you see in the video, the pages were right-side up and in the correct order. Try that at home, and let me know how it goes!

NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing

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From the National Council of Teachers of English, November 2004.

  • Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help students become better writers.
  • People learn to write by writing.
  • Writing is a process.
  • Writing is a tool for thinking.
  • Writing grows out of many different purposes
  • Conventions of finished and edited texts are important to readers and therefore to writers.
  • Writing and reading are related.
  • Writing has a complex relationship to talk.
  • Literate practices are embedded in complicated social relationships.
  • Composing occurs in different modalities and technologies.
  • Assessment of writing involves complex, informed, human judgment.

Read the full document here: http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/writingbeliefs

Music washes away my worries: composing and editing

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Composing and editing are two distinct processes. Students staring at blank screens or blank sheets of paper are usually trying to compose and edit at the same time. It doesn’t work.

Composing is the messy, chaotic process of figuring out what you want to say. It’s like being sent to the attic to find something. You open the door and see piles and piles of mostly worthless junk that has accumulated for years. Somewhere in one of those heaps is the gold you are searching for. You find the gold only by picking through the piles, piece by piece. The equivalent for the writer is to write down all the bad, wrong, useless ideas until you finally arrive at the one you were searching for.

Editing is about finding the best possible way to express your ideas. Part of this involves spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But most of it involves finding the best possible words to express your meaning. Editing may also be called rewriting, and rewriting is 90% of the writer’s work. Most students spend 90% of their time composing and only 10% editing, which is why most writing by students is mediocre. Good editing creates good writing.

For example, imagine you are asked, “Is music important to you?” Most students will begin their response to this question by writing, “Music is important to me because . . . “ which is a terrible beginning. Students think that because the word “important” appears in the question it must appear in their response. But consider a similar case: you are asked, “Was he friendly?” and you answer, “He was friendly, but his dog was not.” This sentence features two weak verbs (or rather the same weak verb repeated twice) and fails to create any images in the reader’s mind. A better response would be, “He smiled warmly and shook my hand, but his dog barked fiercely and bit me on the ankle.” Now we have strong verbs (smiled, shook, barked, bit) and clear images. The lesson? Just as you need not use the word friendly if asked whether the man was friendly, so you need not use the word important if asked whether music is important to you. Instead, show the man being friendly, and show what music does to or for you. Then the reader will know how important it is.

After reconsideration the writer may arrive at this: “I like music because it helps me relax and forget my problems.” Now the writer knows what she wants to say; she has composed a reasonable sentence. What remains is to improve how she expresses her idea: to edit her sentence. With practice, experience, and effort, she may end up with something like this: “Music washes away my worries.” This sentence makes every word count. It creates a beautiful image, and a particularly appropriate one, because sounds wash over us—they flow, just as water flows. Washing also includes the idea of cleansing, a kind of purification. The sentence has music, too. Notice the rhythms: MUSic WASHes aWAY my WORRies. And the alliteration of w sounds in wash, away, and worries again produces a flowing sensation that fits the sentence’s meaning perfectly.

You will not achieve such happy results with every sentence you write, but you should strive for them nevertheless if you want to write words worth reading.

The Poet

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The poet has no talent.

Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Cannot play a musical instrument. Can’t juggle. Can’t paint.

The poet has only words.

And so the poet uses words to sing, to dance, to make music—and other sounds.

Juggles with words.

Paints with words.

Creates motion, odors, tastes, physical sensations of all sorts.

Unlocks our memories. Makes us aware of what we have previously sensed only dimly.

Makes us wonder . . . about so many things.

All of this with words alone.

For the poet, alas, has no talent.

Ugly word of the day: “societal”

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From DailyWritingTips.com:

 What’s the difference between social and societal? Not much, but enough that you may become the victim of social stigma if you ignore subtle societal signals.

Societal is the pedantic alternative to social. . . .

I couldn’t agree more, having read hundreds of teeth-grating essays filled with “societal” this and “societal” that. Please, please, please: just say “social”!

Ray Bradbury in the ‘Paris Review’

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Anyone interested in writing, anyone interested in science fiction, anyone interested in Ray Bradbury who just died at the age of 91, anyone interested in much of anything will find lots to think about in this wonderful interview with Bradbury from the late 1970s, rediscovered and printed in the Paris Review in 2010. Among other things, you will find out who Mr. Electrico and the Illustrated Man ‘really’ were. But my favourite bit is Bradbury’s surprisingly persuasive argument that Edgar Rice Burroughs was “probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world”. Enjoy.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury