This Is the Discipline?

I find myself in this situation pretty often: with about 15 minutes left in my day, however that gets defined (often “the time I go to bed” or “the time I go home from work or teaching”), I sit down to draft a post. At the end of a typical weekday, I spend about an hour and a half working on classwork or preparing for the class I’m teaching. As a result, my posts generally reflect what I’ve been working on that day, either in my reading or my research. Today is no exception, as I was typing up my reading notes for an assigned essay.

What’s missing, of course, is the daily, methodical writing I’m pretty sure I need to be doing as I continue my program of study. I’d like to think that will come naturally, although I am quite sure I’ll need to build in such time if I hope to expand my writing on a daily or weekly basis.

So here are the three bits of information from my reading notes I’d like to share. The source is  Richard C. Taylor’s essay, “Literature and Literary Criticism.”

“Learning how to decipher various cultural codes is surely an interdisciplinary enterprise. Perhaps the role of literary study is to read writers reading different worlds” (219).

I recently wrote a class brief on the role of technology in the composition classroom. One of the interesting ideas in that article was that we teachers read our students as texts in the same way we read literature or other written work as texts. We see them in a cultural context, and we predict their actions and attitudes based on our own prior experience. I think this same concept informs Taylor’s conclusion—literary study is about writers in context writing in context. Our role as readers and critics is to examine, deconstruct, reconstruct, and comment upon the writer in his or her context and the writing in its context. And we apply to the writer in context and the writing in context most of the same critical approaches and theories; we read the author as text, the text as text, and perhaps even the reader as text.

“A discipline in conflict is, in many respects, more interesting than one that is static and unified” (220).

This IS an incredibly interesting and exciting time to study English as a discipline (or supradiscipline, as I’ve seen it termed). The field of study is wide open. From critical theory to creative writing, multiculturalism to area studies, digital media studies to sociolinguistics, I feel empowered to choose from a plethora of vibrant, if sometimes contentious, disciplines in the field.

“If students in all the various areas can listen and argue productively from the beginning, to forge theoretical and practical connections, then the fields of English studies can prosper under one roof” (220).

That is one big “if.” But I think these three selected encompass an important concept about the discipline—it’s in conflict, that makes it interesting, and we need to read ourselves and our discipline as texts, allowing ourselves to remain slightly ambiguous and ill-defined. We expect that of our texts; we should expect it of ourselves.

Work Cited

Taylor, Richard C. “Literature and Literary Criticism.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Ed. Bruce McComiskey. Urbana, Ill: NCTE, 2006. Print. 199-222.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Expert Infantry]

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