Crowley: Composition In The University: Historical and Polemical Essays

Crowley, Sharon. Composition In The University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1998. Print.


composition history, disciplinarity, labor conditions, academia, rhetoric, English, FYW

Five or more citations:

Norman Foerster (16 works)

Robert Conners (8)

James Berlin (7)

John Dewey (6)

Janet Emig (5)

John Gerber (5)

One sentence summary:

An often cranky jeremiad delving into the emergence and stature of rhetoric and composition as the undervalued and sometimes scorned torchbearers of FIrst Year Writing.

Seminar reading response:

In Crowley’s book of essays, rhetoric has had a rough ride in the past few centuries. In “The Invention of Freshman English,” Crowley sees rhetoric as fundamentally at odds with the rise and projects of English as a field in an American context where “Freshman English renders the bourgeois subject docile” and “the study of literature renders him or her ‘sensitive, creative, imaginative and so on'” (77-78). In “The Bourgeois Subject and the Demise of Rhetorical Education,” Crowley’s history sees rhetorical studies elbowed out of higher education by the likes of aesthetics. In “Literature and Composition: Not separate but Certainly Unequal,” literary scholarship turned “inward” and rhetoric (as the study of how discourse operates in the wider world) was considered by the likes of James Morgan Hart as sophistic in the worst way (83). In “Around 1971: The Emergence of Process Pedagogy,” Crowley uses rhetoric as synonymous with composition, detailing the rise of process pedagogies as a turn away from a “current-traditional rhetoric” that became endemic to FYW (206).

As I work through Crowley’s polemics, I’m struck by how, unlike North’s text (and even Phelps’ text to a certain degree), Crowley explores the interconnectedness of rhetoric and composition, often conflating them entirely, and elsewhere distinguishing them in detail. In her history of the rise of Freshman English, for example, Crowley sees the turgid trappings of current-traditional compositional pedagogies as undesirable offshoots of FYWs near universal existence as a gen ed requirement. That kind of composition, Crowley argues in the final chapter, stands in stark contrast to the rhetorical models of ancients such as Quintilian. Crowley argues throughout, it seems, for the reabsorption of rhetoric as content within composition.

The significance of the tensions mentioned here reminds me of the big house of composition (and English more generally) that I live in, especially as analogous to North’s conceptualizing of the “house of lore.” While I’m convinced of and support much of what Crowley advocates in terms of the rheotrization of FYW, the tensions she details remain. While this post will not delve into the labor issues that Crowley details, such conditions surely continue to contribute to the aforementioned tensions. That is a discussion that moves well beyond rhet/comp and English departments, though. So my two-cents into the kitty this week revolves around the (in)tractability of FYW tensions.

1) A practical question: What kinds of strategies might a WPA take when attempting to realign, or even maintain, a FYW program within a “big tent” English Department that may feature non-rhet/comp lecturers, a heavy reliance on contingent labor, and GTA’s whose area of scholarly interest lie outside of rhet/comp scholarship teaching FYW?

2) A more theoretical question: Beyond historiography, how might one trace the contours of disciplinary influence in rhet/comp scholarship? In other words, how might I trace/surface the influence of literature, cultural studies, linguistics, or even the relative weight of rhetoric or composition studies themselves in a corpus of scholarship? How could data mining or other methodologies surface skeletal structures and influences of disciplinary overlap that might not be apparent now.

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