Writing is a unique way of thinking.
Janet Emig (1977)
This (therefore) will not have been a book.
Jacques Derrida (1983)
Writing is often described as communication; the text represents a tool of description, persuasion, argumentation, and or narration, among other things. To this end, writing is often taught as a rhetorical exercise, pitting the writer’s skills against the diaphanous vagaries often associated with the notion of writing. Writing classes are often disarming places for both students and teachers alike. When audience is privileged over self-awareness, and the construction of knowledge through the act of writing and rhetorical skills are emphasize to expend expensive content a disconnect between form and function created. This leads to disengaged failures on the part of learners. I have no intention of arguing and rhetorical form is not important. That will not be my point. In fact, strongly supported ground inappropriate use of discourse models. Rather, much in the language of Bauhaus architecture, I will argue that form follows from function, not the other way around.
My argument rests, in part, on the two quotes at the beginning of this entry. Emig (1977) and Derrida (1983), it seems to me, share an important characteristic when it comes to and understanding of how the act of writing functions for the writer him or herself. The creation text is not focused on transaction with an audience, rather, the act of creation is an effort at the construction of knowledge — of making meaning on the part of the author.
As an autonomous transaction, writing may be considered through the lens of the reader or that writer. When considered through the reader’s lens construction of meaning is derived through transactions with text (Rosenblatt, 1978, 1994). When the creation text is understood through the author’s lens quite a different picture emerges. The author to it has transactions with text in which meaning is constructed. However, the meaning constructed by the author is centered on the process of creation rather than on the transactions with creative thinking or creation.
Both Emig (1977) and Derrida (1983) help us to understand ways of looking at the author’s purpose in writing text. Derrida’s contribution is to privilege formation of text as an internal process of constructing meaning; of lending permanence, however fleeting, to the construction of textual ideas resulting in publication (at any potential level) of the text prior to authorial abandonment. In short, from the author’s point of view writing functions as a means of coming to know; it is an internally motivated project, allowing authors to construct personal meaning from otherwise disconnected tidbits of thought, nothing more. In this sense, writing is a transaction between the author and the author’s experience.
Emig (1977) suggests the interiority of the writing process itself. When she writes, “Writing is a unique way of thinking,” two words focus on her main point: unique and thinking. I want to explore these two terms, and how they contribute to an understanding of how writing informs the writer without regard to the reader or audience. On this view, audience is turned inward, rather than functioning as an external ideal — something to be satisfied through the absorption of text.
Derrida, J. (1983). Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Emig, J. (1977). Writing as a mode of learning. College Composition and Communication, May.
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1978). The reader, the text, and the poem: The transactional theory of the literary work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Rosenblatt, L. M. (1994). The transactional theory of reading and writing. In R. B. Ruddell, M. R. Ruddell & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International reading Association.