Friday, May 15, 2009


Contractility is a virtue as modesty is a virtue. Snail spotted this morning on the sidewalk on Parker St.

I posted grades last night, so summer has officially begun. I have a research fellowship for this summer, which as you may imagine has me over the moon. I have big plans, people.

Of course, no semester ends but I ponder what went well and what didn't. In retrospect, I think my recent course, "Poetry and Science," may have asked students to digest too many ideas. In the review session, a student asked me how a chapter from Daston and Galison's Objectivity related to the rest of the course. I was a bit taken aback; the connections seemed clear to me, this was a student who tended to be on top of things, and in any case, isn't every word that Lorraine Daston writes applicable to everyone's daily life in myriad ways? It was a reminder that not everyone lives in grad-student-land, and that a bit more intellectual hand-holding (to use a dreadful metaphor) might not have gone amiss.

I also think I should have spent more time on writing practices--by which I mean writing affects. I'm never sure how much of this to do. It's essential to observe to college freshmen that we tend to take writing personally and treat it as part of ourselves, and that in order to improve or receive criticism productively, it's necessary to distinguish between self and writing. I do this every semester. I also often talk a bit about the affects of reading (what in an analytical essay produces pleasure for a reader, and why?). I usually talk about why "inspiration" is really code for "I want a mythical creature to write it for me," i.e. fantasy.

But I don't do any of these things in a sustained way. Should the affects of reading and writing be a distinguishable thread in my composition courses? Should I promulgate rules a bit more? "Have a professional attitude toward writing," I might counsel. "No drama."

I recoil in horror at teaching that smacks of moralism. I always hated it when writing teachers required one to outline, for instance. (I still think this is a bad practice, in fact; it supposes that students will be writing something so simple that they can envision its structure without doing any writing.) I am not sure that I want to instill any techniques of the self.

Yet it seems productive to try and think systematically and rigorously about the affects of reading and writing. I wonder if there is a way to do this in a classroom context that isn't implicitly prescriptive.

(Meanwhile, the Chronicle reports that a Trinity College professor is teaching an entire course on diagramming sentences to great effect. I love it. Maybe I should do that.)

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