Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts

Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts

Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts

Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts


"Like all writers, intellectuals need to say something new and say it well. But unlike many other writers, what intellectuals have to say is bound up with the books we are reading... and the ideas of the people we are talking with."

What are the moves that an academic writer makes? How does writing as an intellectual change the way we work from sources? In Rewriting, a textbook for the undergraduate classroom, Joseph Harris draws the college writing student away from static ideas of thesis, support, and structure, and toward a more mature and dynamic understanding. Harris wants college writers to think of intellectual writing as an adaptive and social activity, and he offers them a clear set of strategies-a set of moves-for participating in it.


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A text is made up of multiple writings, drawn from many cul
tures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody,

—Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”

My aim in this book is to help you make interesting use of the texts you read in the essays you write. How do you respond to the work of others in a way that is both generous and assertive? How do you make their words and thoughts part of what you want to say? In the academy you will often be asked to situate your thoughts about a text or an issue in relation to what others have written about it. Indeed, I’d argue that this interplay of ideas defines academic writing—that whatever else they may do, intellectuals almost always write in response to the work of others.


As Jonathan Culler writes: “Liter
ary works are not to be considered
autonomous entities, ‘organic
wholes,’ but as intertextual con
structs: sequences which have
meaning in relation to other texts
which they take up, cite, parody,
refute, or generally transform.” The
Pursuit of Signs
(Ithaca, NY: Cornel
University Press, 1981), 38.

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