Denver 2001
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The conference for college composition and communication - The 4c's 2001 in Denver



From individualism to community - from narcissm to knowledge. Critics on the criticism of composition.


Description of session:

A critic and analyze of the ongoing discussion and critic of composition, who mainly focuses on the individual rights but forgets the inevitable relation to community.



The ongoing discussions on compositions mainly focus on the individual and how the student is able to express her and his reflections on the world. But studying these compositions papers we chiefly find that these papers are not expressions from the individual itself. The student is as a student always a member of a community, which she not self has chosen, and therefore she cannot express herself as a total free individual. If she is clever enough she knows it, and she knows how to react, when she is given the tasks to tell about "her" opinion: as in any other class or any other field she also in composition writes about what she thinks the teacher wants from her.

We have to see that the idea, which we want to teach our students to express "themselves" as an illusion. The community concerns of power, and the students and their professors often fail to see this. The professor only let the student pass if she tells about "her opinion" in the way that the professor sees it. It will therefore be misleading the student asking them to find "themselves" – it’s hardly possible to say what we mean about "individuality", because the single human being will always be at part of a greater community, especially as speaking human being herself through the language. Language must here – though it has the capability to modernize itself – be seen as a conservative unit, which connects the student to the past and into the community.

Therefore we have to perceive writing as writing into something. In my talk I shall focus on this way of understanding writing: the writer is not establishing herself by writing about "her opinion" and the "I" is not being established merely be mentioning itself in the text. In the contrary: the language and society is talking through the person. The conclusion we can draw by dwell on this point of view is that the topic in the composition class not should be the individual opinion. When the narcissistic subject is in focus, we just shall present the students for illusions. On the contrary, we have to focus on how texts produce and talks through the individual person. Only in this way, seeing ourselves being established through language and through society, we have the opportunity to understand what we write, and therefore we can understand our possibilities.