I was a bit overwhelmed by the readings this week–I felt as though I couldn’t really see the topic “Developing Arguments” without seeing “Establishing Authority” in the foreground. There is clearly a relationship between them, but establishing authority seems like a first step in developing a strong argument.
I read Gaipa’s article first, which led me to ask, In what way can you, or are you allowed to, make a personal connection to your own literary criticism or academic writing? How can we give our students space to do so and to what extent is it even acceptable in our classes? Gaipa focuses on strategies to build Authority in students–I prefer the word ownership—while Elbow and Bartholomae complicate further by pointing out that students must acknowledge they are using “other people’s words.” I don’t think I agree with Gaipa’s assertion that “Students cannot win authority for their arguments if they do not somehow relate their ideas back to what others have done,” but is that what they’re doing with language regardless–appropriating and expanding?
I think it would be interesting, probably only to us, to have a conversation about how we would characterize a successful authoritative voice in our classes. I struggle with this in Poetry and Fiction, and am now wondering how I would articulate “authoritative voice” to my students. Gaipa is speaking about literary critics, but I think the concept is valid in any writing course (this idea somewhat ignores Elbow and Bartholomae’s distinction between the “writer and the academic,” though I’d love to discuss this too). Of course, I use other writers to help me figure it out–this week I’m running an entire class about sentences to kick off our fiction unit, using this well-known Hemingway quote from A Moveable Feast as an anchor: “If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” So, I can ask my students to try to emulate “true simple declarative” sentences in their fiction writing, which is, I think, one form of an authoritative voice. In fiction, though, an authoritative voice is informed by the context of the story or poem being written by it. I’m sure this authoritative voice would be characterized much differently in other courses.
Also, on a somewhat related note, I didn’t think the readings really addressed an important question–who are we asking students to consider their “audience” and how could/should this affect their writing? Bartholomae and Gaipa both mention “readers” and “audience” when discussing student papers but, in all honesty, do we use this as a crutch to get students to write? Who reads their papers other than their peers and their professors? I am constantly telling students to consider “what their readers will think” but, as I think about it, I wonder if their lack of readers (as I assume most of them will not try to publicize their work) makes this request seem useless and non-urgent to them.