Readymade Composition

Sirc, Geoffrey. “Box-Logic.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. 2004. 111-146.

“True connection with one’s composition is when the work has a strong life in the writer, when it’s part of an on-going project, which means it continues growing, appearing in variant versions. Thus, no draft is ever finished, especially in the arbitrary scope of an academic semester.” (120).

“The refusal to allow text as open-ended, unscrewed-down box, instead rushing to impose on it the mild boredom of order, is a concern I have with much computers and writing scholarship today” (120).

“Arrangement of material and notational jottings is a desperately important compositional skill” (123).

“There’s something increasingly untenable about the integrated coherence of college essayist prose, in which the easy falseness of a unified resolution gets prized over the richer, more difficult, de facto text the world presents itself as. … Ceasura—the stylistic device most absent in our curricula” (123).

“With the essay displaced, our new classroom genre might best be called a diary journal repository laboratory, picture gallery, museum, sanctuary, observatory, key … inviting us to see things in a light in which we do not know them, but which turns out to be almost that one in which we have always hoped one day to see them bathed” (146).

While Sirc is not as direct in his pointed discussion of theory and practice here as he is in “Resisting Entropy,” this piece does communicate very clearly his seething disenchantment with what he perceives to be status quo composition pedagogy.

He nailed it. That was one of my initial reactions after a first-read (I have some other, more nuanced reactions, too, like what kind of disservice might we be doing to students with an avant-garde approach to composition, but first …) . When Sirc describes curricular projects as “middle-brow,” what I presume him to mean standard analytical college essays, I quietly wonder how many In today’s society essays I wrote as an undergrad, or, more to the point, in composition courses or other courses with a strong composition component.

Sirc uses the controlling metaphor of composition classroom as museum and bemoans the lackluster exhibits, and uninspired docents, he perceives as steering too many pedagogies. Instead of (or perhaps in addition to–I’m not quite sure) the family-friendly, crowd safe exhibit (the self-contained, unified, nearly tautological college essay), Sirc craves and seeks to inject a healthy dose of the avant-garde into his classroom practice. He does this from a theoretical framework inspired by an artists aesthetic, Marcel Duchamp in the case of this text.  Collage, Sirc argues, ceasura and association are dreadfully underutilized (barrenly absent, he seems to argue) techniques sadly neglected by compositionists.

I’m not sure if Sirc is ever explicit about speaking directly to FYC instructors, but it seems that readership is his primary audience here. And if it is, I wonder if part of what he is saying when he calls for more imaginative, experimental approaches to theory and practice is that FYC can act like a sort of survey course, instead of a course specializing in teaching students to write in one or two very specific modes (analytical/argumentative essay prose). I guess I’m thinking here of a PSYC 101 class. How might we think about an introductory psychology class that only focused on behaviorism and a handful of theorists like Skinner, Pavlov, or Watson. What would students be missing in a class like that? I suppose I take that away from this Sirc reading: What have I, and what are my students missing out on when my perspective of composition is limited to analytical expository or argumentative essay writing?


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