Writing as (Post)process

What follows is not a cohesive write-up on the use of process and post-process theory in Laurie Gries’s “Writing, Visual Rhetoric, War” course, but a smattering of associations and ideas as they came up during the reading of the syllabus and course calendar. At the end, I will attempt to summarize where the course stands between the Scylla and Charybdis of two contending approaches to writing.

The emphasis on asking “good questions” in the “Writing, Visual Rhetoric, War” course description signals (at least to me) an affinity with post-process theory. Gries writes that “rather than making us vulnerable or revealing our ignorance, [good questions] trigger active engagement with ideas and issues and concepts.” Similarly, Gary Olson argues that an “answer […] is only interesting insofar as it is a new question, not in that it allows someone to assert a solution and thereby close off the inquiry.” This makes me think of Chekhov’s famous dictum that “The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them,” an advice that might be useful in any writing classroom: good questions are generative, they live off the page, and keep the text from become insular.

The focus on visual rhetoric in general and interpreting the images of war since 9/11 in particular, the images that are emotionally affecting, destabilizing, mystifying, and grotesque, could create a particularly productive space for the exploration of what Thomas Kent calls hermeneutic guessing. I imagine that students are encouraged to share their own interpretations of various images and, through comparison and collaborative work on assignments, experience a predictable but still very post-processy epiphany that there is no one “correct” way to interpret a text or an image.

The use of the classroom journal as a reflective and building tool towards writing a longer paper, some may argue, brings to mind the expressionist and process-oriented approach to writing we read about earlier in LAE 6947. Detailed rubrics for journal entries and blogs are provided, and students are advised to save all written work created for this class (notes, blogs, brainstorms) because it is “all meaningful.” I like the non-hierarchical approach implied by this. The collection and archiving of personal writing supports the process of innovation/creation in textual production, and saving everything makes sense since the students can repurpose their ideas (or even discredit/argue against their original interpretations) later in the course. Although this practice could be placed under “planning” stage of the writing process, this collection of written artifacts in a personal writing archive echoes some of the tenets of post-process theory as well (largely, because it ideally traces the shifting student perspective on a topic or issue throughout the course).

Finally, structuring the course around a series of freewriting exercises removes some of the pressures of composing an academic final paper. Instead of the paper, as I understand from the course schedule, students are invited to collaborate on a Pecha Kucha presentation at the end of the class. Pecha Kucha was originally invented by two architects living in Japan to help people gather and share ideas in an informal, relaxed setting. What is really interesting about the format is that it encourages creativity within a strict set of temporal limitations (only 20 seconds per slide, 20 slides total). The assignment would ideally help the students distill the ideas/impressions/research they’ve collected during the course into one cogent presentation. However, one would be hard-pressed to describe the creative process at work in such an assemblage (similarly to post-process theory, which claims that there isn’t one possible process to describe and teach writing). Hopefully, each group kept a working journal as they worked on this collaborative project, and was able to describe their own, unique process in shaping, forming, molding the idea for the final presentation.

So, there are elements of both process and post-process theory present in the course design. In terms for the former, specific suggestions for writing and assimilating materials are offered, often in numbered lists format, as well as journal entries and freewriting. At the same time, the emphasis on image encourages various hermeneutic explorations in reading and writing proposed by post-process theorists. Finally, the collaborative presentation at the end of the courses expands students’ conception of “writing” from alphabetical to image/associative, and allows them to experience their own individual creative processes.

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One Response to Writing as (Post)process

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful reply to my syllabus. I think I am overall a very process oriented teacher even though I do, as you state, try to avoid what Olson calls the rhetoric of assertion in my assignments and expectations. One of the things we talked about in our discussion with Sid when you were gone was whether we even need to try to imagine how post process gets played out in the classroom. While there are certainly some things we can do to move away from a codifiable way of teaching writing, the main push with post process is for researchers. Rather than always study writing in terms of a student author, we can study writing as a phenomenon out there in the world. Still I do think that post process theories does have ramifications for our teaching. Sid, for instance, showed us how he tries to complicate the rhetorical situation for his students. At any rate, nice response here.

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