On Sirc, Reaching for the Serial and the Pithy

For today's Expository Writing class we read Sirc's 2010 essay "Serial Composition," which asks why writing instruction has remained tied to the same form for the past 150 years. Sirc imagines whether writing instruction could have followed architecture, painting, sculpture, and music--the other compository arts--and embraced minimalist methods. The move offered by Sirc reminds me of Ulmer's move toward "Haiku Logic" in Internet Invention.

Inspired by Sirc's essay, and its reach for the pithy, I gave my students the following prompt:

In five sentences (serially arranged, rather than sequentially) tell us about how a place (or building) generated an epiphany, thought, question, or change.

Please refrain from using conjunctions. You many use no more than 2 commas.

I don't assign assignments that I have not tried myself, so here goes:

A machine beeps in the background, administering medicine to my one-year old daughter.

A nurse carries a tray with vacuum packed sandwiches and generic potato chips.

Outside, wafts of cheap pizza carry me toward the concession stand.

Her crying never sounded so real, so reassuring, so necessary.

We merge onto Alligator Alley for another long ride home.

The students reflected that this kind of writing ends up producing something more like poetry (and, hey, I'm a pretty bad poet). This, I believe, is one of Sirc's points--to ask why writing instruction has remained committed to utility, to the "properly subordinated, proportioned, and progressive sequence," instead of imagining and developing how to write otherwise.

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