Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Local Examples and Master Narratives: Stanley Fish and the Public Appeal of Current-Traditionalism

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Local Examples and Master Narratives: Stanley Fish and the Public Appeal of Current-Traditionalism

Article excerpt

Scholars who believe the field of composition is making-or needs to make- a public turn are troubled by our scarcity of prominent public intellectuals (Butler 59). Elsewhere, where the local turn crosses the archival turn, David Gold argues that archival research into diverse geographies of writing pedagogy necessitates a revision of the "totalizing narratives" of previous composition histories. Gold declares "our 'dominant' narratives," including the narrative that current-traditional pedagogy was a ubiquitous and homogeneous force, "dominant no more" (19). But although compositionists have long challenged current-traditionalism's methods and are now interrogating its actual historical dominance, it would be a mistake to minimize its powerful influence on public discussions about composition.1 For regardless of the extent to which current-traditionalism did or does directly guide classroom practice, it continues to frame public attitudes toward writing pedagogy, and thus-to the extent that the public assesses practice and influences policy-continues to influence composition. In fact, if we shift our attention from dominance, it would be a mistake to minimize its powerful influence on public discussions about composition.1 For regardless of the extent to which currenttraditionalism did or does directly guide classroom practice, it continues to frame public attitudes toward writing pedagogy, and thus-to the extent that the public assesses practice and influences policy-continues to influence composition. In fact, if we shiftour attention from archives to attitudes, members of the public often assert local practices and individual experiences as support for dominant narratives and totalizing perspectives, in particular the perspective of current-traditionalism. Therefore, compositionists who heed the call for more public intellectuals may well find their arguments unsuccessful, even self-defeating, if they do not anticipate the rhetorical appeals and the framing effects of popular current-traditionalism.

Meanwhile, current-traditional composition already has its prominent public intellectual: Stanley Fish. Whether discussing writing instruction or his other current topic, the definition and limits of academic freedom, Fish asserts a "very strong distinction . . . between academic work which is contemplative and exploratory, and political action" ("State"). This distinction, as I argue, works hand in glove with belletristic current-traditionalism. As for Fish's influence, his recent mass-market books, Save the World on Your Own Time and How to Write a Sentence, condemn the current state of literacy and of writing instruction. Both were best sellers. Twenty-three of the blog posts in Fish's New York Times "Think Again" blog (2006-13) address composition or issues in the humanities to which composition and rhetoric are directly relevant, with a potential audience of twenty-nine million readers ("Media Kit").2 Clear, engaging, and disputatious, Fish is the ideal blogger-some of his posts provoke more than six hundred responses-and the ideal public agitator. While Sophia McClennen criticizes Fish's "neoliberal mantras" (McClennen 463), reader Dick Bradley denounces him as "a devoted liberal and socialist" (Fish, "More," comment 19). "'Stanley Fish,'" writes Stanley Fish on the topic of Stanley Fish, "is a placeholder for ideas you don't want to be associated with" ("When"). And indeed, not everyone is pleased to have Fish representing composition. In response to Fish's blog entry "What Should Colleges Teach?," Straight Face writes:

[Y]ou presume to know what you are talking about when you discuss the teaching of writing when you obviously don't. Why does everyone think they know what should happen in a composition course whether they are physicists or once-upon-a-time theoreticians or Miltonians who write for the New York Times? (comment 126)

But given his public prominence, Stanley Fish does "represent" composition, in a couple of senses. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.