Journal Writing

Writing Responsibly Communities in Conversation

 Loyola University Chicago

General Editor: Victoria Anderson

 

 

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III

Table of ConTenTs

I. Foundations of Argument

Excerpts from Rhetorica . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Aristotle

The Method of Scientific Investigation, 1863 . . . . . . . . . 12 Thomas Henry Huxley

The Choice Fetish: Blessings and Curses of a Market Idol . . . 15 Robert B. Reich

II. Process

Don’t You Think It’s Time to Start Thinking? . . . . . . . . . . 20 Northrop Frye

Shitty First Drafts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Anne Lamott

A Way of Writing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 William Stafford

How I Caused That Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Doris Kearns Goodwin

Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

Nancy Sommers

III. Education

Graduation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Maya Angelou

The Allegory of the Cave . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 Plato

Everything Has a Name . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Helen Keller

A Homemade Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Malcolm X

The Case Against College . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 Caroline Bird

Dead Men’s Path . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 Chinua Achebe

 

 

IV Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

IV. Language

Politics and the English Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 George Orwell

We Are Our Own Metaphor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103 Mary Catherine Bateson

Two Kinds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Amy Tan

Public and Private Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 Richard Rodriguez

V. Challenges

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Frederick Douglas

How it Feels to be Colored Me. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154 Zora Neale Hurston

Size 6: The Western Women’s Harem . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159 Fatema Mernissi

Excerpt from On Seeing England for the First Time . . . . . . 165 Jamaica Kincaid

Class in America—2006 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168 Gregory Mantsios

The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society . . . . . . . . . . . . 188 Jonathan Kozol

Ambivalent Communities: How Americans Understand Their Localities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197

Claude S. Fischer

VI. Resolutions

The Crito . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208 Plato

The Ethic of Compassion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223 The Dalai Lama

Letter from Birmingham Jail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229 Martin Luther King, Jr.

Second Inaugural Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248 Abraham Lincoln

The Declaration of Independence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251 Thomas Jefferson

 

 

Table of Contents V

Talking Back . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256 bell hooks

The New Community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 262 Amitai Etzioni

How Social Movements Matter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270 David S. Meyer

Called Home. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278 Barbara Kingsolver

 

 

 

I foundaTIons of argumenT

 

 

2

exCerpTs from rheTorICa

Aristotle

arIsToTle (384-322 bC) Aristotle, born in the city of Stageira in 384 B.C., was the last of the founding Greek fathers of Western philosophy. A student of Plato, Aristotle departed from his teacher in his theory of universals; where Plato believed that all concepts and properties exist as distinct forms, Aristotle believed that universals, like color, existed only in the things themselves, rather than as separate forms. One of Aristotle’s most important contributions to philosophy was his introduction of the formal study of logic, collected in the six-volume the Organon. In addition to his pure philosophical work, Aristotle wrote on a breadth of additional subjects. His work in the sciences, including astronomy, geology, botany, biology, and physics, was deeply influential in medieval thinking, while his philosophy was revered by the Scholastic theologians of the same period. In his own time, Aristotle was a prominent teacher, working first for the royal academy at Macedon, educating Alexander the Great and other future kings, and later establishing the Lyceum in Athens in 335 B.C. Aristotle wrote multiple foundational treatises, including Physica and Metaphysica, addressing the general principles and existence of things; Ethica Nicomachea and Politica, concerned with a practical discussion of human living; and Ars Poetica and Ars Rhetoric, on the arts of poetry and rhetoric.

Book I

1 Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make

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Aristotle | Excerpts from Rhetorica 3

use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art.

Now, the framers of the current treatises on rhetoric have constructed but a small portion of that art. The modes of persuasion are the only true constituents of the art: everything else is merely accessory. These writers, however, say nothing about enthymemes, which are the substance of rhetorical persuasion, but deal mainly with non-essentials. The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a personal appeal to the man who is judging the case. Consequently if the rules for trials which are now laid down some states-especially in well-governed states-were applied everywhere, such people would have nothing to say. All men, no doubt, think that the laws should prescribe such rules, but some, as in the court of Areopagus, give practical effect to their thoughts and forbid talk about non-essentials. This is sound law and custom. It is not right to pervert the judge by moving him to anger or envy or pity-one might as well warp a carpenter’s rule before using it. Again, a litigant has clearly nothing to do but to show that the alleged fact is so or is not so, that it has or has not happened. As to whether a thing is important or unimportant, just or unjust, the judge must surely refuse to take his instructions from the litigants: he must decide for himself all such points as the law- giver has not already defined for him.[…]

Rhetoric is useful (1) because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the decisions of judges are not what they ought to be, the defeat must be due to the speakers themselves, and they must be blamed accordingly. Moreover, (2) before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct. Here, then, we must use, as our modes of persuasion and argument, notions possessed by everybody, as we observed in the Topics when dealing with the way to handle a popular audience. Further, (3) we must be able to employ

Aristotle

 

 

4 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be employed, on opposite sides of a question, not in order that we may in practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make people believe what is wrong), but in order that we may see clearly what the facts are, and that, if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confute him. No other of the arts draws opposite conclusions: dialectic and rhetoric alone do this. Both these arts draw opposite conclusions impartially. Nevertheless, the underlying facts do not lend themselves equally well to the contrary views. No; things that are true and things that are better are, by their nature, practically always easier to prove and easier to believe in. Again, (4) it is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs. And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly. […]

2 Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This is not a function of any other art. Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter; for instance, medicine about what is healthy and unhealthy, geometry about the properties of magnitudes, arithmetic about numbers, and the same is true of the other arts and sciences. But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us; and that is why we say that, in its technical character, it is not concerned with any special or definite class of subjects.

Of the modes of persuasion some belong strictly to the art of rhetoric and some do not. By the latter I mean such things as are not supplied by the speaker but are there at the outset-witnesses, evidence given under torture, written contracts, and so on. By the former I mean such as we can ourselves construct by means of the principles of rhetoric. The one kind has merely to be used, the other has to be invented.

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of

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Aristotle

 

 

Aristotle | Excerpts from Rhetorica 5

the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses. Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts. This subject shall be treated in detail when we come to speak of the emotions. Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions-that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited. It thus appears that rhetoric is an offshoot of dialectic and also of ethical studies. Ethical studies may fairly be called political; and for this reason rhetoric masquerades as political science, and the professors of it as political experts-sometimes from want of education, sometimes from ostentation, sometimes owing to other human failings. As a matter of fact, it is a branch of dialectic and similar to it, as we said at the outset. Neither rhetoric nor dialectic is the scientific study of any one separate subject: both are faculties for providing arguments. This is perhaps a sufficient account of their scope and of how they are related to each other. […]

A statement is persuasive and credible either because it is directly self- evident or because it appears to be proved from other statements that are so. In either case it is persuasive because there is somebody whom

 

 

6 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

it persuades. But none of the arts theorize about individual cases. Medicine, for instance, does not theorize about what will help to cure Socrates or Callias, but only about what will help to cure any or all of a given class of patients: this alone is business: individual cases are so infinitely various that no systematic knowledge of them is possible. In the same way the theory of rhetoric is concerned not with what seems probable to a given individual like Socrates or Hippias, but with what seems probable to men of a given type; and this is true of dialectic also. Dialectic does not construct its syllogisms out of any haphazard materials, such as the fancies of crazy people, but out of materials that call for discussion; and rhetoric, too, draws upon the regular subjects of debate. The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning. The subjects of our deliberation are such as seem to present us with alternative possibilities: about things that could not have been, and cannot now or in the future be, other than they are, nobody who takes them to be of this nature wastes his time in deliberation. […]

3 Rhetoric falls into three divisions, determined by the three classes of listeners to speeches. For of the three elements in speech-making — speaker, subject, and person addressed—it is the last one, the hearer, that determines the speech’s end and object. The hearer must be either a judge, with a decision to make about things past or future, or an observer. A member of the assembly decides about future events, a juryman about past events: while those who merely decide on the orator’s skill are observers. From this it follows that there are three divisions of oratory—(1) political, (2) forensic, and (3) the ceremonial oratory of display.

Political speaking urges us either to do or not to do something: one of these two courses is always taken by private counsellors, as well as by men who address public assemblies. Forensic speaking either attacks or defends somebody: one or other of these two things must always be done by the parties in a case. The ceremonial oratory of display either praises or censures somebody. These three kinds of rhetoric refer to three different kinds of time. The political orator is concerned with the future: it is about things to be done hereafter that he advises, for or against. The party in a case at law is concerned with the past; one man accuses the other, and the other defends himself, with reference

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Aristotle | Excerpts from Rhetorica 7

to things already done. The ceremonial orator is, properly speaking, concerned with the present, since all men praise or blame in view of the state of things existing at the time, though they often find it useful also to recall the past and to make guesses at the future.

Rhetoric has three distinct ends in view, one for each of its three kinds. The political orator aims at establishing the expediency or the harmfulness of a proposed course of action; if he urges its acceptance, he does so on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm; and all other points, such as whether the proposal is just or unjust, honourable or dishonourable, he brings in as subsidiary and relative to this main consideration. Parties in a law-case aim at establishing the justice or injustice of some action, and they too bring in all other points as subsidiary and relative to this one. Those who praise or attack a man aim at proving him worthy of honour or the reverse, and they too treat all other considerations with reference to this one. […]

Book II

1 We have now considered the materials to be used in supporting or opposing a political measure, in pronouncing eulogies or censures, and for prosecution and defence in the law courts. We have considered the received opinions on which we may best base our arguments so as to convince our hearers-those opinions with which our enthymemes deal, and out of which they are built, in each of the three kinds of oratory, according to what may be called the special needs of each.

But since rhetoric exists to affect the giving of decisions-the hearers decide between one political speaker and another, and a legal verdict is a decision-the orator must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief; he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind. Particularly in political oratory, but also in lawsuits, it adds much to an orator’s influence that his own character should look right and that he should be thought to entertain the right feelings towards his hearers; and also that his hearers themselves should be in just the right frame of mind. That the orator’s own character should look right is particularly important in political speaking: that the audience should be in the right frame of mind, in lawsuits. When

 

 

8 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

people are feeling friendly and placable, they think one sort of thing; when they are feeling angry or hostile, they think either something totally different or the same thing with a different intensity: when they feel friendly to the man who comes before them for judgement, they regard him as having done little wrong, if any; when they feel hostile, they take the opposite view. Again, if they are eager for, and have good hopes of, a thing that will be pleasant if it happens, they think that it certainly will happen and be good for them: whereas if they are indifferent or annoyed, they do not think so.

There are three things which inspire confidence in the orator’s own character-the three, namely, that induce us to believe a thing apart from any proof of it: good sense, good moral character, and goodwill. False statements and bad advice are due to one or more of the following three causes. Men either form a false opinion through want of good sense; or they form a true opinion, but because of their moral badness do not say what they really think; or finally, they are both sensible and upright, but not well disposed to their hearers, and may fail in consequence to recommend what they know to be the best course. These are the only possible cases. It follows that any one who is thought to have all three of these good qualities will inspire trust in his audience. The way to make ourselves thought to be sensible and morally good must be gathered from the analysis of goodness already given: the way to establish your own goodness is the same as the way to establish that of others. Good will and friendliness of disposition will form part of our discussion of the emotions, to which we must now turn.

The Emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgements, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites. We must arrange what we have to say about each of them under three heads. Take, for instance, the emotion of anger: here we must discover (1) what the state of mind of angry people is, (2) who the people are with whom they usually get angry, and (3) on what grounds they get angry with them. It is not enough to know one or even two of these points; unless we know all three, we shall be unable to arouse anger in any one. The same is true of the other emotions. So just as earlier in this work we drew up a list of useful propositions for the orator, let us now proceed in the same way to analyse the subject before us. […]

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Aristotle | Excerpts from Rhetorica 9

Book III

1 In making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the style, or language, to be used; third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech. We have already specified the sources of persuasion. We have shown that these are three in number; what they are; and why there are only these three: for we have shown that persuasion must in every case be effected either (1) by working on the emotions of the judges themselves, (2) by giving them the right impression of the speakers’ character, or (3) by proving the truth of the statements made.

Enthymemes also have been described, and the sources from which they should be derived; there being both special and general lines of argument for enthymemes.

Our next subject will be the style of expression. For it is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought; much help is thus afforded towards producing the right impression of a speech. The first question to receive attention was naturally the one that comes first naturally-how persuasion can be produced from the facts themselves. The second is how to set these facts out in language. A third would be the proper method of delivery; this is a thing that affects the success of a speech greatly; but hitherto the subject has been neglected. Indeed, it was long before it found a way into the arts of tragic drama and epic recitation: at first poets acted their tragedies themselves. It is plain that delivery has just as much to do with oratory as with poetry. (In connexion with poetry, it has been studied by Glaucon of Teos among others.) It is, essentially, a matter of the right management of the voice to express the various emotions-of speaking loudly, softly, or between the two; of high, low, or intermediate pitch; of the various rhythms that suit various subjects. These are the three things-volume of sound, modulation of pitch, and rhythm-that a speaker bears in mind. It is those who do bear them in mind who usually win prizes in the dramatic contests; and just as in drama the actors now count for more than the poets, so it is in the contests of public life, owing to the defects of our political institutions. No systematic treatise upon the rules of delivery has yet been composed; indeed, even the study of language made no progress till late in the day. Besides, delivery is-very properly-not regarded as an elevated subject of inquiry. Still, the whole business of rhetoric being

 

 

10 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

concerned with appearances, we must pay attention to the subject of delivery, unworthy though it is, because we cannot do without it. The right thing in speaking really is that we should be satisfied not to annoy our hearers, without trying to delight them: we ought in fairness to fight our case with no help beyond the bare facts: nothing, therefore, should matter except the proof of those facts. Still, as has been already said, other things affect the result considerably, owing to the defects of our hearers. The arts of language cannot help having a small but real importance, whatever it is we have to expound to others: the way in which a thing is said does affect its intelligibility. Not, however, so much importance as people think. All such arts are fanciful and meant to charm the hearer. Nobody uses fine language when teaching geometry.

When the principles of delivery have been worked out, they will produce the same effect as on the stage. But only very slight attempts to deal with them have been made and by a few people, as by Thrasymachus in his ‘Appeals to Pity’. Dramatic ability is a natural gift, and can hardly be systematically taught. The principles of good diction can be so taught, and therefore we have men of ability in this direction too, who win prizes in their turn, as well as those speakers who excel in delivery-speeches of the written or literary kind owe more of their effect to their direction than to their thought.

It was naturally the poets who first set the movement going; for words represent things, and they had also the human voice at their disposal, which of all our organs can best represent other things. Thus the arts of recitation and acting were formed, and others as well. Now it was because poets seemed to win fame through their fine language when their thoughts were simple enough, that the language of oratorical prose at first took a poetical colour, e.g. that of Gorgias. Even now most uneducated people think that poetical language makes the finest discourses. That is not true: the language of prose is distinct from that of poetry. This is shown by the state of things to-day, when even the language of tragedy has altered its character. Just as iambics were adopted, instead of tetrameters, because they are the most prose- like of all metres, so tragedy has given up all those words, not used in ordinary talk, which decorated the early drama and are still used by the writers of hexameter poems. It is therefore ridiculous to imitate a poetical manner which the poets themselves have dropped; and it is now plain that we have not to treat in detail the whole question of style, but may confine ourselves to that part of it which concerns our

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Aristotle | Excerpts from Rhetorica 11

present subject, rhetoric. The other—the poetical—part of it has been discussed in the treatise on the Art of Poetry. […]

13 A speech has two parts. You must state your case, and you must prove it. You cannot either state your case and omit to prove it, or prove it without having first stated it; since any proof must be a proof of something, and the only use of a preliminary statement is the proof that follows it. Of these two parts the first part is called the Statement of the case, the second part the Argument, just as we distinguish between Enunciation and Demonstration. The current division is absurd. For ‘narration’ surely is part of a forensic speech only: how in a political speech or a speech of display can there be ‘narration’ in the technical sense? or a reply to a forensic opponent? or an epilogue in closely-reasoned speeches? Again, introduction, comparison of conflicting arguments, and recapitulation are only found in political speeches when there is a struggle between two policies. They may occur then; so may even accusation and defence, often enough; but they form no essential part of a political speech. Even forensic speeches do not always need epilogues; not, for instance, a short speech, nor one in which the facts are easy to remember, the effect of an epilogue being always a reduction in the apparent length. It follows, then, that the only necessary parts of a speech are the Statement and the Argument. These are the essential features of a speech; and it cannot in any case have more than Introduction, Statement, Argument, and Epilogue. ‘Refutation of the Opponent’ is part of the arguments: so is ‘Comparison’ of the opponent’s case with your own, for that process is a magnifying of your own case and therefore a part of the arguments, since one who does this proves something. The Introduction does nothing like this; nor does the Epilogue-it merely reminds us of what has been said already. If we make such distinctions we shall end, like Theodorus and his followers, by distinguishing ‘narration’ proper from ‘post-narration’ and ‘pre-narration’, and ‘refutation’ from ‘final refutation’. But we ought only to bring in a new name if it indicates a real species with distinct specific qualities; otherwise the practice is pointless and silly, like the way Licymnius invented names in his Art of Rhetoric-’Secundation’, ‘Divagation’, ‘Ramification’. […]

 

 

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The meThod of sCIenTIfIC InvesTIgaTIon, 1863

Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas henry huxley (1825-1895) Thomas Henry Huxley was born the seventh of eight children in the town of Ealing, Sussex. Huxley’s father, a mathematics teacher, lost his position when Huxley was a child, which put a significant financial strain on the family and cut short Huxley’s outside education. From that point, he taught himself, doing so with enough success to earn a scholarship as a medical apprentice while a teenager. At 21, Huxley received the opportunity to serve as assistant surgeon on the HMS Rattlesnake. During the voyage, he embarked on study of marine invertebrates, work which garnered the attention of some of Britain’s scientific elite. Huxley’s major fame arose in response to Charles Darwin’s assertion of evolutionary theory. In 1860, Huxley faced off against Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce in the “Oxford Debate,” in which Huxley’s staunch defense of evolution helped to popularize the idea and earn him the nickname “Darwin’s Bulldog.” As an educator, Huxley also helped to establish biology as a degreed academic discipline. His major writings include Evidence on Man’s Place in Nature (1863), the first work to consider the question of human evolution, and his 1893 lecture Evolution and Ethics.

The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact. There is no more difference, but there is just the same kind of difference, between the mental operations of a man of science and those of an ordinary person, as there is between the operations and methods of a baker or of a butcher weighing out his goods in common scales, and the operations of a chemist in performing a difficult and complex analysis by means of his balance and finely graduated weights.

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Thomas Henry Huxley | The Method of Scientific Investigation, 1863 13

It is not that the action of the scales in the one case, and the balance in the other, differ in the principles of their construction or manner of working; but the beam of one is set on an infinitely finer axis than the other, and of course turns by the addition of a much smaller weight.

You will understand this better, perhaps, if I give you some familiar example. You have all heard it repeated, I dare say, that men of science work by means of induction and deduction, and that by the help of these operations, they, in a sort of sense, wring from Nature certain other things, which are called natural laws, and causes, and that out of these, by some cunning skill of their own, they build up hypotheses and theories. And it is imagined by many, that the operations of the common mind can be by no means compared with these processes, and that they have to be acquired by a sort of special apprenticeship to the craft. To hear all these large words, you would think that the mind of a man of science must be constituted differently from that of his fellow men; but if you will not be frightened by terms, you will discover that you are quite wrong, and that all these terrible apparatus are being used by yourselves every day and every hour of your lives.

There is a well-known incident in one of Moliere’s plays, where the author makes the hero express unbounded delight on being told that he had been talking prose during the whole of his life [Le bourgeois gentilhomme]. In the same way, I trust, that you will take comfort, and be delighted with yourselves, on the discovery that you have been acting on the principles of inductive and deductive philosophy during the same period. Probably there is not one here who has not in the course of the day had occasion to set in motion a complex train of reasoning, of the very same kind, as that which a scientific man goes through in tracing the causes of natural phenomena. A very trivial circumstance will serve to exemplify this. Suppose you go into a fruiterer’s shop, wanting an apple,–you take up one, and, on biting it, you find it is sour; you look at it, and see that it is hard and green. You take up another one, and that too is hard, green, and sour. The shopman offers you a third; but, before biting it, you examine it, and find that it is hard and green, and you immediately say that you will not have it, as it must be sour, like those that you have already tried.

Nothing can be more simple than that, you think; but if you will take the trouble to analyse and trace out into its logical elements what has been done by the mind, you will be greatly surprised. In the first place you have performed the operation of induction. You have found that, in two experiences, hardness and greenness in apples went together with sourness. It was so in the first case, and it was confirmed by the second. True, it is a very small basis, but still

 

 

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it is enough to make an induction from; you generalise the facts, and you expect to find sourness in apples where you get hardness and greenness. You found upon that a general law that all hard and green apples are sour; and that, as far as it goes, is a perfect induction. Well, having got your natural law in this way, when you are offered another apple which you find is hard and green, you say, ‘All hard and green apples are sour; this apple is hard and green, therefore this apple is sour.’ That train of reasoning is what logicians call a syllogism, and has all its various parts and terms,–its major premiss, its minor premiss and its conclusion. And, by the help of further reasoning, which, if drawn out, would have to be exhibited in two or three other syllogisms, you arrive at your final determination, ‘I will not have that apple. ‘So that, you see, you have, in the first place, established a law by induction, and upon that you have founded a deduction, and reasoned out the special particular case. Well now, suppose, having got your conclusion of the law, that at some time afterwards, you are discussing the qualities of apples with a friend: you will say to him, ‘It is a very curious thing,–but I find that all hard and green apples are sour!’ Your friend says to you, ‘But how do you know that?’ You at once reply, ‘Oh, because I have tried them over and over again, and have always found them to be so.’ Well, if we were talking science instead of common sense, we should call that an experimental verification. And, if still opposed, you go further, and say, ‘I have heard from the people in Somersetshire and Devonshire, where a large number of apples are grown, that they have observed the same thing. It is also found to be the case in Normandy, and in North America. In short, I find it to be the universal experience of mankind wherever attention has been directed to the subject.’ Whereupon, your friend, unless he is a very unreasonable man, agrees with you, and is convinced that you are quite right in the conclusion you have drawn. He believes, although perhaps he does not know he believes it, that the more extensive verifications are,–that the more frequently experiments have been made, and the results of the same kind arrived at,–that the more varied the conditions under which the same results are attained, the more certain is the ultimate conclusion. He sees that the experiment has been tried under all sorts of conditions, as to time, place, and people, with the same result; and he says with you, therefore, that the law you have laid down must be a good one, and he must believe it.

 

 

15

The ChoICe feTIsh: blessIngs and Curses

of a markeT Idol Robert B. Reich

roberT b. reICh (1946-) Economist Robert B. Reich was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1946. After receiving a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1968, Reich won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he earned his M.A. He next obtained a J.D. from Yale Law School. Reich has served in two presidential administrations, first with the Federal Trade Commission under Jimmy Carter, and later as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy; he has also taught at Harvard and Brandeis University. Reich is a prolific writer, contributing to publications including The Atlantic and The New Republic, while his books include Locked in the Cabinet (1997), a recounting of his experience in the Clinton administration, and 2010’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.

Choices are supposed to be liberating. “Freedom of choice” is the economist’s favorite tonic, the libertarian’s ideal, the classic liberal’s alternative to revolution. But are we in danger of overdoing it? Can there be such a thing as too much choice?

My 401(k) plan offers me ten different funds, each one of them featuring several dozen permutations for allocating my savings among an array of equities, bonds, and derivatives. Yet regardless of my choice, the odds of beating a market index are very low. My HMO is competing with many others, each one providing a dizzying set of healthcare options. But basically, I’d be content with a good doctor.

A lot of choices we face today are little more than incremental gradations of quality, based on how much you’re willing or able to

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16 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

pay. Which is to say, the market works. Residential communities are beginning to resemble appliances or automobiles, with innumerable options and add-ons available depending on price: A pool is extra; throw in an extra facility—it’s more money. You want landscape maintenance? A security guard? There’s a bigger tab.

A young couple, new to town, asks me to which preschool they should send their four-year-old. I tell them that the quality of the attention their child will get—how caring, consistent, and stimulating—depends largely on how much they’re willing to shell out. Meanwhile, many early boomers like me are making agonizing choices about caring for aging parents—assisted living; cooperative with visiting nurse; independent with home health-care aide; nursing home. Again, quality depends on money. It’s agonizing when you can’t afford the very best, when that’s what they deserve.

Even the most intimate decisions are transmuting into commercial choices. Ivy League women are selling their eggs. I saw one advertisement for Ivy League sperm. Soon, there’ll be Ivy League uteruses where fetuses can thrive in a superenriched learning environment. At later stages of development, humans can now—with increasing ease— change their noses into almost any shape they wish, lift their faces, reshape their corneas, put hair into balding scalps, get new hips, and fortify their erections. In a few years, maybe you’ll be able to replace genes you don’t like, and then make a perfect clone of yourself. Even choices of marriage partner are getting down to business: One lawyer I know who specializes in prenuptial agreements tells me business is booming. The number of “personal coaches” has doubled each year since the early 1990s, according to Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, which has already trained thousands of them. There has also been an upsurge in online counselors, guides, and spiritual advisors.

Blame it partly on digital technology, which is multiplying choices. Henry Ford’s assembly line lowered the cost and democratized consumption of the automobile, but it did so by narrowing choice. “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants as long as it is black,” he famously offered; now, you can design your own car over the Internet. The first mass-produced shoes in America were called “straights” because, like those that people had worn for centuries, they didn’t distinguish between left and right feet; last Christmas, Nordstrom offered a choice of more than 20 million pairs of shoes tailored precisely to customer specifications. A neighbor of mine with a satellite dish atop her garage receives hundreds of

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Robert B. Reich | The Choice Fetish: Blessings and Curses of a Market Idol 17

television channels; it must take her days just to surf through them. At this writing, there are more than a billion web pages. The most sophisticated search engine plumbs no more than 50 percent of them. Anyone who attempts to surf this ocean risks drowning.

When just about everything can be turned into digits and then rearranged into an almost infinite variety, the consumer is king, or so it’s supposed. But the consumer actually becomes a day laborer, breathlessly toiling to make sense of it all. More time and energy is spent deciding on the best deal than enjoying the purchase itself. Tried choosing a new computer lately? You’ve got to know more than Bill Gates knew ten years ago to figure whether exactly what you need is a 400-megahertz Pentium III with MPEG-2 digital video full-screen playback, a 128-bit graphics accelerator, 32 megabytes of memory, and an external disk drive.

The glut of choice is also being propelled by a new prosperity that equates wealth with the ability to get exactly what you want, and by a deepening cynicism about uniform public services. “School choice” is all the rage—charter, magnet, private, schools specializing in music or science—to which upscale parents add private tutors, semesters abroad, and summer enrichment programs. Even if it is not privatized soon, Social Security has already fallen prey to widespread expectations that its contribution to the retirement income of today’s workers will shrink. Coupled with the gradual disappearance of pension plans, private savings—the “third leg” of retirement income—has to bear ever more weight. That’s why every big bank and securities dealer is eagerly jumping into the breach.

Public pools and parks are giving way to private health clubs that range from a simple treadmill to manicured golf courses and glass- enclosed tennis and squash courts, accompanied by small armies of personal trainers and attendants. Public roads and police departments are supplanted by gated residential communities with their own maintenance crews and security guards. The budgets of public libraries are being squeezed as the prosperous middle class buys its own books online.

Choices like these are sorting Americans by wealth, health, education, and age. “Public” institutions never completely leveled the field—after all, public schools were long racially segregated in the South by law, and economically segregated in the North by neighborhood—but the ideals of the public school, the public library, public police and fire departments, Social Security, and even the draft

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at least provided common reference points, and sometimes occasions to meet across the divides.

Even American politics is succumbing to the god of choice. We’re losing public deliberation about what’s good for all of us in favor of individual choices about what’s best for me. The “public good” or “public interest” has become a quaint phrase from the era of town meetings, political parties, and democratic clubs. It’s now all about opinion polls, e-voting, and ballot propositions.

Instead of liberating us, the new world of choice is making us more dependent on people who specialize in persuading us to choose this or that. A growing portion of the retirement savings we channel to Fidelity or Merrill Lynch or any other financial service goes to advertising and marketing pros who try to convince us there’s a significant difference between these giants. A considerable chunk of the health-care dollars we and our employers send to health insurers and HMOs finds its way to the ad agencies that tout them. Politics is now almost completely in the hands of political consultants, lobbyists, publicists, and spin doctors, all of whom are paid large sums to convince us to choose their candidate or their cause over a competing one, even when the differences between them are so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.

I relish my freedom of choice as much as anyone. But my freedom isn’t equivalent to the breadth or quantity of my choices. You and I need freedom to make the significant choices—such as what we stand for, to what and to whom we’re going to commit our lives, and what we want by way of a community and a society. Too many small choices only divert our attention from these bigger ones, robbing us of the time and energy we need to exercise true freedom. Yet the new technologies, combined with increasing middle-class prosperity and disdain for public institutions, are making fetishes out of tiny choices. Unless we choose what kinds of choices we want to be faced with— both as individuals and as a society—we will soon drown in a rising tide of inconsequential options.

Reprinted from Civilization (August/September 2000), by permission of the author

 

 

II proCess

 

 

20

don’T you ThInk IT’s TIme To sTarT ThInkIng?

Northrop Frye

norThrop frye (1912-1991) Northrop Frye, one of Canada’s most important literary critics and theorists, was born in Quebec and raised in New Brunswick. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, he went on to study theology and was ordained a minister of the United Church of Canada. Later, Frye earned his M.A. from Oxford, and returned to the University of Toronto, where he would teach for the remaining years of his academic career. Frye’s first and most significant book, Fearful Symmetry (1947), was an analysis of William Blake’s poetry and broke new ground in scholarship of the poet. Frye’s work pioneered the concept of a systematic theory of criticism, creating a scientific process out of the discipline of literary criticism. Frye also supported Canadian literature— in a period in which the field was viewed in a dim light—as part of a larger interest in understanding the Canadian imagination and identity.

A student often leaves high school today without any sense of language as a structure.

He may also have the idea that reading and writing are elementary skills that he mastered in childhood, never having grasped the fact that there are differences in levels of reading and writing as there are in mathematics between short division and integral calculus.

Yet, in spite of his limited verbal skills, he firmly believes that he can think, that he has ideas, and that if he is just given the opportunity to express them he will be all right. Of course, when you look at what he’s written you find it doesn’t make any sense. When you tell him this he is devastated.

Part of his confusion here stems from the fact that we use the word “think” in so many bad, punning ways. Remember James Thurber’s

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Northrop Frye | Don’t You Think It’s Time to Start Thinking? 21

Walter Mitty who was always dreaming great dreams of glory. When his wife asked him what he was doing he would say, “Has it ever occurred to you that I might be thinking?”

But, of course, he wasn’t thinking at all. Because we use it for everything our minds do, worrying, remembering, daydreaming, we imagine that thinking is something that can be achieved without any training. But again it’s a matter of practice. How well we can think depends on how much of it we have already done. Most students need to be taught, very carefully and patiently, that there is no such thing as an inarticulate idea waiting to have the right words wrapped around it.

They have to learn that ideas do not exist until they have been incorporated into words. Until that point you don’t know whether you are pregnant or just have gas on the stomach.

The operation of thinking is the practice of articulating ideas until they are in the right words. And we can’t think at random either. We can only add one more idea to the body of something we have already thought about. Most of us spend very little time doing this, and that is why there are so few people whom we regard as having any power to articulate at all. When such a person appears in public life, like Mr. Trudeau, we tend to regard him as possessing a gigantic intellect.

A society like ours doesn’t have very much interest in literacy. It is compulsory to read and write because society must have docile and obedient citizens. We are taught to read so that we can obey the traffic signs and to cipher so that we can make out our income tax, but development of verbal competency is very much left to the individual.

And when we look at our day-to-day existence we can see that there are strong currents at work against the development of powers of articulateness. Young adolescents today often betray a curious sense of shame about speaking articulately, of framing a sentence with a period at the end of it.

Part of the reason for this is the powerful anti-intellectual drive which is constantly present in our society. Articulate speech marks you out as an individual, and in some settings this can be rather dangerous because people are often suspicious and frightened of articulateness. So if you say as little as possible and use only stereotyped, ready-made phrases you can hide yourself in the mass.

Then there are various epidemics sweeping over society which use unintelligibility as a weapon to preserve the present power structure. By making things as unintelligible as possible, to as many people as possible, you can hold the present power structure together. Understanding and articulateness lead to its destruction. This is

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the kind of thing that George Orwell was talking about, not just in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but in all his work on language. The kernel of everything reactionary and tyrannical in society is the impoverishment of the means of verbal communication.

The vast majority of things that we hear today are prejudices and clichés, simply verbal formulas that have no thought behind them but are put up as pretense of thinking. It is not until we realize these things conceal meaning, rather than reveal it, that we can begin to develop our own powers of articulateness.

The teaching of humanities is, therefore, a militant job. Teachers are faced not simply with a mass of misconceptions and unexamined assumptions. They must engage in a fight to help the student confront and reject the verbal formulas and stock responses, to convert passive acceptance into active, constructive power. It is a fight against illiteracy and for the maturation of the mental process, for the development of skills which once acquired will never become obsolete.

“Don’t You Think It’s Time to Start Thinking?” by Northrop Frye from the Toronto Star, January 25, 1986. Copyright © 1986 by Northrop Frye.

 

 

23

shITTy fIrsT drafTs Anne Lamott

anne lamoTT (1954- ) Anne Lamott has lived in the San Francisco area for most of her life. Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was a writer whose death from a brain tumor helped inspire her first novel, Hard Laughter (1980). Lamott has subsequently written several novels and works of non-fiction, typically from an autobiographical perspective. Christianity and religion are frequent themes, serving, most obviously, as the focus in Traveling Mercies (1999). Her single motherhood has also taken center stage in such works as Operating Instructions (1993) and her most recent work Some Assembly Required (2012). In 1994’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she discusses the writing process and provides advice for those embarking upon it.

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve

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24 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do—you can either type or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning—sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go—but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

I used to write food reviews for California magazine before it folded. (My writing food reviews had nothing to do with the magazine folding, although every single review did cause a couple of canceled subscriptions. Some readers took umbrage at my comparing mounds of vegetable puree with various ex-presidents’ brains.) These reviews always took two days to write. First I’d go to a restaurant several times

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Anne Lamott | Shitty First Drafts 25

with a few opinionated, articulate friends in tow. I’d sit there writing down everything anyone said that was at all interesting or funny. Then on the following Monday I’d sit down at my desk with my notes, and try to write the review. Even after I’d been doing this for years, panic would set in. I’d try to write a lead, but instead I’d write a couple of dreadful sentences, XX them out, try again, XX everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest like an x-ray apron. It’s over, I’d think, calmly. I’m not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I’m ruined. I’m through. I’m toast. Maybe, I’d think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not. I’d get up and study my teeth in the mirror for a while. Then I’d stop, remember to breathe, make a few phone calls, hit the kitchen and chow down. Eventually I’d go back and sit down at my desk, and sigh for the next ten minutes. Finally I would pick up my one-inch picture frame, stare into it as if for the answer, and every time the answer would come: all I had to do was to write a really shitty first draft of, say, the opening paragraph. And no one was going to see it.

So I’d start writing without reining myself in. It was almost just typing, just making my fingers move. And the writing would be terrible. I’d write a lead paragraph that was a whole page, even though the entire review could only be three pages long, and then I’d start writing up descriptions of the food, one dish at a time, bird by bird, and the critics would be sitting on my shoulders, commenting like cartoon characters. They’d be pretending to snore, or rolling their eyes at my overwrought descriptions, no matter how hard I tried to tone those descriptions down, no matter how conscious I was of what a friend said to me gently in my early days of restaurant reviewing. “Annie,” she said, “it is just a piece of chicken. It is just a bit of cake.”

But because by then I had been writing for so long, I would eventually let myself trust the process—sort of, more or less. I’d write a first draft that was maybe twice as long as it should be, with a self- indulgent and boring beginning, stupefying descriptions of the meal, lots of quotes from my black-humored friends that made them sound more like the Manson girls than food lovers, and no ending to speak of. The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.

 

 

26 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

The next day, though, I’d sit down, go through it all with a colored pen, take out everything I possibly could, find a new lead somewhere on the second page, figure out a kicky place to end it, and then write a second draft. It always turned out fine, sometimes even funny and weird and helpful. I’d go over it one more time and mail it in.

Then, a month later, when it was time for another review, the whole process would start again, complete with the fears that people would find my first draft before I could rewrite it.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?” And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. And there are also the dogs; let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained.

Quieting those voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent. Left to its own devices, my mind spends much of its time having conversations with people who aren’t there. I walk along defending myself to people, or exchanging repartee with them, or rationalizing my behavior, or seducing them with gossip, or pretending I’m on their TV talk show or whatever. I speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.

I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago, and he looked at me very nicely. At first I thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.

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Anne Lamott | Shitty First Drafts 27

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want—won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a moment, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.

A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.

Reprinted from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995), by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

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28

a Way of WrITIng William Stafford

WIllIam sTafford (1914-1993) William Stafford was born in Kansas and earned both a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Kansas. After several years of work in public service, Stafford obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Though he was appointed the twentieth Poet Laureate of the United States in 1970, his career in poetry began relatively late in life, with first collection, Traveling Through the Dark, published when he was 48. Stafford taught English at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, retiring in 1980 and subsequently focusing on his poetic career. Stafford’s additional works include the essay collections Writing the Australian Crawl (1978), You Must Revise Your Life (1986), and the children’s book The Animal That Drank Up Sound (1992).

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws, philosophies, religions, or—but wait!

Back in school, from the first when I began to try to write things, I felt this richness. One thing would lead to another; the world would give and give. Now, after twenty years or so of trying, I live by that certain richness, an idea hard to pin, difficult to say, and perhaps offensive to some. For there are strange implications in it.

One implication is the importance of just plain receptivity. When I write, I like to have an interval before me when I am not likely to be interrupted. For me, this means usually the early morning, before others are awake. I get pen and paper, take a glance out the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long, for there is always a nibble—and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.

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William Stafford | A Way of Writing 29

Something always occurs, of course, to any of us. We can’t keep from thinking. Maybe I have to settle for an immediate impression: it’s cold, or hot, or dark, or bright, or in between! Or—well, the possibilities are endless. If I put down something, that thing will help the next thing come, and I’m off. If I let the process go on, things will occur to me that were not at all in my mind when I started. These things, odd and trivial as they may be, are somehow connected. And if I let them string out, surprising things will happen.

If I let them string out…Along with initial receptivity, then, there is another readiness: I must be willing to fail. If I am to keep on writing, I cannot bother to insist on high standards. I must get into action and not let anything stop me, or even slow me much. By “standards” I do not mean “correctness”—spelling, punctuation, and so on. These details become mechanical for anyone who writes for a while. I am thinking about what many people would consider “important” standards, such matters as social significance, positive values, consistency, etc. I resolutely disregard these. Something better, greater, is happening! I am following a process that leads so wildly and originally into new territory that no judgment can at the moment be made about values, significance, and so on. I am making something new, something that has not been judged before. Later others—and maybe I myself—will make judgments. Now, I am headlong to discover. Any distraction may harm the creating.

So, receptive, careless of failure, I spin out things on the page. And a wonderful freedom comes. If something occurs to me, it is all right to accept it. It has one justification: it occurs to me. No one else can guide me. I must follow my own weak, wandering, diffident impulses.

A strange bonus happens. At times, without my insisting on it, my writings become coherent; the successive elements that occur to me are clearly related. They lead by themselves to new connections. Sometimes the language, even the syllables that happen along, may start a trend. Sometimes the materials alert me to something waiting in my mind, ready for sustained attention. At such times, I allow myself to be eloquent, or intentional, or for great swoops (treacherous! not to be trusted!) reasonable. But I do not insist on any of that; for I know that back of my activity there will be the coherence of my self, and that indulgence of my impulses will bring recurrent patterns and meanings again.

This attitude toward the process of writing creatively suggests a problem for me, in terms of what others say. They talk about “skills” in writing. Without denying that I do have experience, wide reading,

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30 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

automatic orthodoxies and maneuvers of various kinds, I still must insist that I am often baffled about what “skill” has to do with the precious little area of confusion when I do not know what I am going to say and then I found out what I am going to say. That precious interval I am unable to bridge by skill. What can I witness about it? It remains mysterious, just as all of us must feel puzzled about how we are so inventive as to be able to talk along through complexities with our friends, not needing to plan what we are going to say, but never stalled for long in our confident forward progress. Skill? If so, it is the skill we all have, something we must have learned before the age of three or four.

A writer is one who has become accustomed to trusting that grace, or luck, or—skill.

Yet another attitude I find necessary: most of what I write, like most of what I say in casual conversation, will not amount to much. Even I will realize, and even at the time, that it is not negotiable. It will be like practice. In conversation, I allow myself random remarks—in fact, as I recall, that is the way I learned to talk—so in writing I launch many expendable efforts. A result of this free way of writing is that I am not writing for others, mostly; they will not see the product at all unless the activity eventuates in something that later appears to be worthy. My guide is the self, and its adventuring in the language brings about communication.

This process-rather-than-substance view of writing invites a final, dual reflection:

1. Writers may not be special—sensitive or talented in any usual sense. They are simply engaged in sustained use of a language skill we all have. Their “creations” come about through confident reliance on stray impulses that will, with trust, find occasional patterns that are satisfying.

2. But writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality, and elation, and discovery, in writing. For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision.[…]

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William Stafford | A Way of Writing 31

Excerpted from “A Way of Writing.” Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, no. 2. Published by Oberlin College Press.

 

 

32

hoW I Caused ThaT sTory Doris Kearns Goodwin

dorIs kearns goodWIn (1943- ) Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1943. She received a B.A. from Colby College in 1964 and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University in 1968. After graduating, she began an internship in Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House, which soon became an assistantship to the president himself. Later, she would assist Johnson in writing his memoirs. Following her work in the White House, Goodwin spent 10 years on the faculty at Harvard. During this period, she also wrote her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1977) which put her on the map as a popular writer. She followed it with a larger-scale work, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: an American Saga (1987); though the book would face charges of plagiarism for a failure to properly cite all passages. Goodwin went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for the book’s follow-up, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the American Homefront during World War II. Her next major work, 2005’s Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, was also award-winning—taking that year’s Lincoln Prize for best book about the Civil War and the American History Book Prize from the New York Historical Society. Goodwin’s is currently working on a project that focuses on Theodore Roosevelt. In addition to her work as a writer and scholar, Goodwin has served as a commentator on PBS NewsHour and Meet the Press.

I am a historian. With the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am. And there is nothing I take more seriously.

In recent days, questions have been raised about how historians go about crediting their sources, and I have been caught up in the swirl. Ironically, the more intensive and far-reaching a historian’s research, the greater the difficulty of citation. As the mountain of material grows, so does the possibility of error.

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Doris Kearns Goodwin | How I Caused That Story 33

Fourteen years ago, not long after the publication of my book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, I received a communication from author Lynne McTaggart pointing out that material from her book on Kathleen Kennedy had not been properly attributed. I realized that she was right. Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart’s work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not hers. I made the corrections she requested, and the matter was completely laid to rest—until last week, when the Weekly Standard published an article reviving the issue. The larger question for those of us who write history is to understand how citation mistakes can happen.

The research and writing for this 900-page book, with its 3,500 footnotes, took place over ten years. At that time, I wrote my books and took my notes in longhand, believing I could not think well on a keyboard. Most of my sources were drawn from a multitude of primary materials: manuscript collections, private letters, diaries, oral histories, newspapers, periodicals, personal interviews. After three years of research, I discovered more than 150 cartons of materials that had been previously stored in the attic of Joe Kennedy’s Hyannis Port house. These materials were a treasure trove for a historian— old report cards, thousands of family letters, movie stubs and diaries, which allowed me to cross the boundaries of time and space. It took me two additional years to read, categorize and take notes on these documents.

During this same period, I took handwritten notes on perhaps 300 books. Passages I wanted to quote directly were noted along with general notes on the ideas and story lines of each book. Notes on all these sources were then arranged chronologically and kept in dozens of folders in 25 banker’s boxes. Immersed in a flood of papers, I began to write the book. After each section and each chapter was completed, I returned the notes to the boxes along with notations for future footnoting. When the manuscript was finished, I went back to all these sources to check the accuracy of attributions. As a final protection, I revisited the 300 books themselves. Somehow in this process, a few of the books were not fully rechecked. I relied instead on my notes, which combined direct quotes and paraphrased sentences. If I had had the books in front of me, rather than my notes, I would have caught mistakes in the first place and placed any borrowed phrases in direct quotes.

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34 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

What made this incident particularly hard for me was the fact that I take great pride in the depth of my research and the extensiveness of my citations. The writing of history is a rich process of building on the work of the past with the hope that others will build on what you have done. Through footnotes you point the way to future historians.

The only protection as a historian is to institute a process of research and writing that minimizes the possibility of error. And that I have tried to do, aided by modern technology, which enables me, having long since moved beyond longhand, to use a computer for both organizing and taking notes. I now rely on a scanner, which reproduces the passages I want to cite, and then I keep my own comments on those books in a separate file so that I will never confuse the two again. But the real miracle occurred when my college-age son taught me how to use the mysterious footnote key on the computer, which makes it possible to insert the citations directly into the text while the sources are still in front of me, instead of shuffling through hundreds of folders four or five years down the line, trying desperately to remember from where I derived a particular statistic or quote. Still, there is no guarantee against error. Should one occur, all I can do, as I did 14 years ago, is to correct it as soon as I possibly can, for my own sake and the sake of history. In the end, I am still the same fallible person I was before I made the transition to the computer, and the process of building a lengthy work of history remains a complicated but honorable task.

Reprinted from Time, January 22, 2002, by permission of Time, Inc.

 

 

35

revIsIon sTraTegIes of sTudenT WrITers

and experIenCed adulT WrITers

Nancy Sommers

nanCy sommers Nancy Sommers received an Ed.D. from Boston University. From 1987 to 2007, she served as head of the Expository Writing Program at Harvard University, and continues to serve on the faculty of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Sommers has written extensively on the theories and practice of student writing and the process of teaching writing, with her most notable works including “Revision Strategies of Student and Experienced Writers” (1980) and “Responding to Student Writing” (1982). She has also written several textbooks, and branched out into film with Shaped by Writing, Across the Drafts, and Beyond the Red Ink.

Although various aspects of the writing process have been studied extensively of late, research on revision has been notably absent. The reason for this, I suspect, is that current models of the writing process have directed attention away from revision. With few exceptions, these models are linear; they separate the writing process into discrete stages. Two representative models are Gordon Rohman’s suggestion that the composing process moves from prewriting to writing to rewriting and James Britton’s model of the writing process as a series of stages described in metaphors of linear growth, conception—incubation— production.1 What is striking about these theories of writing is that they model themselves on speech: Rohman defines the writer in a way that cannot distinguish him from a speaker (“A writer is a man who…puts [his] experience into words in his own mind”—p. 15);

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36 Writing Responsibly: Communities in Conversation

and Britton bases his theory of writing on what he calls (following Jakobson) the “expressiveness” of speech.2 Moreover, Britton’s study itself follows the “linear model” of the relation of thought and language in speech proposed by Vygotsky, a relationship embodied in the linear movement “from the motive which engenders a thought to the shaping of the thought, first in inner speech, then in meanings of words, and finally in words” (quoted in Britton, p. 40). What this movement fails to take into account in its linear structure—“first…then…finally”—is the recursive shaping of thought by language; what it fails to take into account is revision. In these linear conceptions of the writing process revision is understood as a separate stage at the end of the process—a stage that comes after the completion of a first or second draft and one that is temporally distinct from the prewriting and writing stages of the process.3

The linear model bases itself on speech in two specific ways. First of all, it is based on traditional rhetorical models, models that were created to serve the spoken art of oratory. In whatever ways the parts of classical rhetoric are described, they offer “stages” of composition that are repeated in contemporary models of the writing process. Edward Corbett, for instance, describes the “five parts of a discourse”—inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, pronuntiatio— and, disregarding the last two parts since “after rhetoric came to be concerned mainly with written discourse, there was no further need to deal with them,”4 he produces a model very close to Britton’s conception [inventio], incubation [dispositio], production [elocutio]. Other rhetorics also follow this procedure, and they do so not simply because of historical accident. Rather, the process represented in the linear model is based on the irreversibility of speech. Speech, Roland Barthes says, “is irreversible”:

“A word cannot be retracted, except precisely by saying that one retracts it. To cross out here is to add: if I want to erase what I have just said, I cannot do it without showing the eraser itself (I must say: ‘or rather…’ ‘I expressed myself badly…’); paradoxically, it is ephemeral speech which is indelible, not monumental writing. All that one can do in the case of a spoken utterance is to tack on another utterance.”5

What is impossible in speech is revision: like the example Barthes gives, revision in speech is an afterthought. In the same way, each stage of the linear model must be exclusive (distinct from the other stages) or else it becomes trivial and counterproductive to refer to these junctures as “stages.”

 
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