Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Prototypical Reading: Volume, Desire, Anxiety

Article excerpt

We can see writing, and we know that much of the writing we see is not good enough. But we do not see reading. We see some writing about reading, to be sure, but we do not see reading.

Robert Scholes, "The Transition to College Reading"

Paradoxically, writing remains more invisible than reading, both because of how it is embedded in mundane, workaday concerns and because of how it is surrounded by privacy, secrecy, and suspicion.

Deborah Brandt, "Remembering Writing, Remembering Reading"

I think I may have caught myself plagiarizing.

In my 2006 article, "Young Scholars Affecting Composition: A Challenge to Disciplinary Citation Practices," I argued that the field of composition studies needed to rethink its (our) practice of referring to the students whose work makes our work possible anonymously or by first name only. Composition studies' long history of representing student writing as an instantiation of particular pedagogical practices foregrounds the wisdom of our pedagogical planning rather than students' writing. The new (at the time) journal Young Scholars in Writing posed a challenge to these practices largely because here was student writing detached from pedagogical apparatuses; to cite this work, we would have no choice but to use authors' full names.

Seven years later, embarking on a new project motivated by an increasing interest in students' responses to reading that challenges what I take to be their culturally conditioned commonplace understandings of how the world works, I read a number of articles by Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori, arguably the most important contemporary composition scholar writing about reading. It was the third or fourth article I read that day. Published in Marguerite Helmers's 2003 collection, Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms, "Reading Matters for Writing" demonstrates the value of both requiring students to read "difficult" reading and asking them to critically reflect on their difficulties with the reading. And as I read the following passage, I felt what I can only describe as familiarity, comfort as a result of that familiarity, and an immediate sense of mild alarm. Salvatori writes,

In the next section, I will focus on the writing that Genevieve Evert, an undergraduate writer, produced as she read and engaged difficult texts. Before I proceed, however, I want to call attention to the problematics that inevitably attend to the kind of scholarly piece I am trying to compose. It's a hybrid genre. It bears traces of the language, rhetorical moves, and strategies of several sub-genres: the philosophical investigation, the theoretical essay, the classroom experience piece, the reflexive meditation. It is a genre that inevitably calls attention to the inherent, intractable difficulty of its trying to foster scholarship about student texts, texts that our discipline, institutions, and culture at large, frame as non-scholarly. Consider, for example, our discipline's convention (a convention that from now on I will no longer follow) of referring to the students whose work we study and write about by first name only. . . . And consider the fact that our discipline is only now systematically addressing the very serious issue of how to quote, in scholarly publications, student writing that is not in the public domain. (201)

It was that line, "Consider . . . our discipline's convention . . . of referring to the students whose work we study and write about by first name only" that stopped me, that prompted me to write in the margins, "Did I plagiarize?"

And I thought of the hypothetical situation that never fails to come up when talking about plagiarism with students: what if, they inevitably ask, two people just happen to have the same idea at the same time? How can we be sure that nobody else has written this already?

It's always been a hypothetical situation, and apart from wondering how other teachers of writing address the question, I hadn't given it much thought until I found myself in the position of being one of those people who, it seems, just happened to have the same idea around the same time as Mariolina Salvatori. …

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