Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition

Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition

Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition

Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition

Synopsis

In a focused and compelling discussion, Anis Bawarshi looks to genre theory for what it can contribute to a refined understanding of invention. In describing what he calls "the genre function," he explores what is at stake for the study and teaching of writing to imagine invention as a way that writers locate themselves, via genres, within various positions and activities. He argues, in fact, that invention is a process in which writers are acted upon by genres as much as they act themselves. Such an approach naturally requires the composition scholar to re-place invention from the writer to the sites of action, the genres, in which the writer participates. This move calls for a thoroughly rhetorical view of invention, roughly in the tradition of Richard Young, Janice Lauer, and those who have followed them. Bawarshi is also keenly interested in the writing classroom. Instead of mastering notions of "good" writing, Bawarshi feels that students gain more from learning how to adapt socially and rhetorically as they move from one "genred" site of action to the next. He explores the major genres of the classroom (the syllabus, the writing prompt) as a way to introduce such an approach. He argues strongly and concretely for making the rhetorical art of adaptation central to first-year writing instruction, empowering students to navigate disciplinary and professional boundaries that await them beyond the writing classroom. A provocative and persuasive book, Genre and the Invention of the Writer will be of interest not only to genre theorists, but also to the writing teacher, the WPA, and those involved with WID/WAC programs

Excerpt

The preface harbors a lie.
GAYATRI SPIVAK, Preface to Of Grammatology

A preface precedes a book that likely has been written prior to it, thus making it a discursive move doomed to fail from the start. That is in part the lie it harbors. But as Spivak reminds us, this lie a preface harbors is more than an accepted, amusing fiction readers live with; the presence of a preface also upsets a book’s desire to stand alone, self-made, an object that is its own explanation. It fractures that desired autonomy by reminding us that a writer and text are never alone; they are deferred, always preceded and surrounded by and always building on and adding to other writers and texts. In her own translator’s preface to Derrida’s preface to Of Grammatology, Spivak writes that “the text has no stable identity, no stable origin, no stable end. Each act of reading the ‘text’ is a preface to the next” (1976, x). A preface is thus an act of repetition that unhinges and defers the thing it repeats at the same time as it inaugurates and promotes it.

I read this relationship between a book and its preface as somewhat analogous to the project this book attempts to undertake. In examining the dynamic relationship between writers and the texts they produce, I am interested in how writers both preface a text and are prefaced by other texts, namely genres, in relation to which they write. As such, the act of writing becomes a complex site for the enactment of prefaces, in which writers and texts preface each other, constantly inaugurating and deferring their own beginnings. In this book, I identify genres as such sites of interaction in which, to paraphrase Louis Althusser (1984), writers act as they are acted upon. In its examination of this process of articulation, I hope the book can contribute something of importance and of use to the study and teaching of invention and writing in composition studies.

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