Thomas Newkirk

Thomas Newkirk

On the Back of the book…

The book is a “performance of self” in which students take on various roles offered to them by available models.  They are not “revealing” or “expressing” a self-they are creating one.  And in doing so, they are writing out of established literary and cultural traditions.

Cultural models often conflict with the performance preferred by the literary culture of English Departments.

Students pull ideas from sentimental and motivational writing that is not wanted in the academic setting.

Writing teachers are in a dilemma; they have been trained to dismiss these  popular discourses as naïve and unreflective- while students find them as powerful and meaningful.

Quotes from the book…

My point of departure in this book is that all forms of “self-expression,” all our ways of “being personnel” are forms of performance, in Erving Goffman’s terms, “a presentation of self.”  (3)

All types of self-expression are a presentation of who we are.

The key feature of these presentations is their selectivity; every act of self-presentation involves the withholding of information that might undermine the idealized impression the performer wants to convey. (3)

Every act of self-presentation involves an idealized version of who we are

…we selectively reveal ourselves in order to match an idealized sense of who we should be. (4)

Rather the sense we have of being a “self” is rooted in a sense of competence primarily, but not exclusively, in social interaction. (5)

They stop being performance because they define who we are.

The point of these performances define how we write and what we write about and they are intrinsic to the papers created by each student.

It (book) reflects my own sense of frustration with the formalist tradition for evaluating writing , which presumed to isolate “qualities” of good writing as if they existed irrespective of content and blind to the cultural and ideological biases that inevitably come into play. (6)

Aristotle tie in…

Goffman’s performative theory has obvious analogues in rhetorical theory, particularly the concept of ethos.  According to Quintilian the rhetorician must “possess, and be regarded as possessing, genuine wisdom and excellence of character”(Corbett 1971, emphasis added).  Aristotle, though ambivalent about nonrational appeals, observed that the ethical appeal is exerted when the speech impresses the audience that the speaker is a person of sound sense, high moral character, and benevolence (Corbett 1971, 93). (5)

Yet we are to take culture seriously, if we are to learn about culture from our students, it follows that we need a space big enough for a diversity of forms of self representation. (107)

 Need to allow a wider diversity of writing forms because there are so many individual performances of self in each piece of writing.  Writers cannot modify individual performance.

How, after all, could we rationalize our preferences if they do not represent “good writing” in any fundamental sense?  No wonder cultures “normalize” values, make them appear self-evident, disguise their constructedness.  No wonder they attach moral value to literary preferences. (107)

Easier to normalize values instead of accepting performance of self because that would allow too much specific writing and not enough normalized value.

Lester Faigley Tie in…

Lester Faigley questions the extent of the ”freedom” offered to students in classes that stress personal writing;

            The freedom students are given in some classes to choose and adapt autobiographical    assignments hides the fact that these same students will be judged by the teachers’   unstated assumptions about subjectivity and that every act of writing they perform      occurs within complex relations of power. (11 in Newkirk  [Faigley 128])

Faigley reminds us that the invitation to write about a significant life event is hardly the open and innocent invitation that it appears to be-for we as teachers have criteria, often unstated, for the kind of subjectivity that we will take seriously. (11)

Even if we avoid grading, even if we confine ourselves to the role of supportive coach or editor, we can’t escape our own patterns of gratification. (11)

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