Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Responding to Texts: Facilitating
Revision in the Writing Workshop
C. H. Knoblauch and Lil Brannon

C. H. Knoblauch is Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Lil Brannon is Professor of English and Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They have published extensively on rhetorical theory, composition theory, literacy studies, and pedagogy, including two books together, Rhetorical Traditions and the Teaching of Writing and Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy. The selection that follows is from Rhetorical Traditions (Boynton/Cook, 1984).

There is a stock comic situation in which two people go through the motions of communicating but finally fail because each assumes that an idiosyncratic perspective is shared by the other when in fact it is not. A classic instance is the abortive conversation between Walter Shandy and Uncle Toby running through Sterne's marvelously madcap Tristram Shandy. Toby is preoccupied with his hobby-horse: he constructs models of famous battles as a means of making order out of the experiences that matter to him (the tentacles of modern rhetoric have a long reach). He employs a language, rich in military allusions and similes, that reflects his priorities, and he hears the remarks of others largely in terms of his own military interests. Walter, meanwhile, has a hobby-horse of his own, a fascination with the austere intellectual world of ancient logic, where presumably dispassionate rational analysis can get at the truth of things and inject coherence into human affairs. Since neither of these peculiar characters is prepared to take into account the viewpoint of the other, talk between them is hilariously oblique and unproductive. Walter's reference to a “train of ideas, ” for example, suggests to Uncle Toby a “train of artillery”: on another occasion, mention of the “bridge” of Tristram's nose is misunderstood as a reference to the Marquis d'Hôpital's drawbridge; and elsewhere, Walter's elegant dissertation on the logical value of auxiliary verbs suggests nothing more to Toby and Corporal Trim than the auxiliary troops at the siege of Limerick. Each time these individuals attempt to

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