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.


Expository Writing, Postpedagogy, Summer 2013

This summer I find myself teaching another section of Expository Writing, an upper-division writing course and graduation requirement. For the past few years I have taught the course in a fairly eccentric way, one that matches up with my proclivities for postpedagogy. Students choose a topic in which they have a personal investment and read and write about that topic for the entirety of the course.

This semester, spurred a bit by boredom and a bit by fresh research interests, I decided to add in a wrinkle. In addition to their topics, students would write in-class on some assign readings. These readings all deal with the history of the essay, and on whether it is a viable form for digital writing. We read a short piece (perhaps a list of which will follow) and craft responses. We started with Christy Walpole's "The Essayification of Everything." That essay led me to Montaigne's "On the Education of Children," and my students first in-class writing prompt: to craft a post that uses Montaigne as a relay for thinking through the idea of "On Writing."

I appreciated Walpole's characterization of Montaigne (who she contrasts with Bacon) because of her emphasis on how his trepidatious style can be used as an ethic for life--an ethic that shares much with my interest in Levinas and his ethical prioritization of the other. So I approached his essay on education with enthusiasm.

While the name "Montaigne" resonated on the back of my memory, I couldn't remember reading anything of his. I was happily surprised to find my favorite quote from Cicero near the start of his essay:

The authority of those who teach, is very often an impediment to
those who desire to learn.

Postpedagogy in a nutshell. I also appreciated Montaigne's analogy between learning and eating--that the brain of the student resembles her stomach. Both must be given time to digest. Both should avoid regurgitation.