Monday, February 25, 2008

Bawarshi, Center Stage

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed Bawarshi’s first two chapters. Something about his messages about genre and invention were really speaking to me. I felt he had a little Burkean flair to his prose in the beginning when he asks the question “what do writers do when they write?” and “what happens to writers that motivates them to do what they do?” Like Burke, Bawarshi brings up the notion of motivation as driving force for writers. Bawarshi, however, is interested in the idea of invention and how the study and teaching of genre theory play a major role in the invention of the writer.
The introduction of his book outlines the term “beginning” as a relatively false claim. As Bakhtin notes, “every beginning is a response to a prior beginning” (2). Said also describes beginnings in much the same way, as a continuation of a prior idea; an idea, however new, that stands next to previous texts, not in a linear line ahead of the rest.
Again, this was another concept that made complete sense to me because if it weren’t for previous texts, people would have a difficult time creating their own in relation to the rest. Bawarshi’s idea of the blank page is also brilliant. He says “the blank page is mythologized as an unmarked space waiting to be marked, its physical blankness masking the fact of its specification in discursive and ideological conventions, including genres, which already situate it, already mark it” (3). Would students feel more comfortable knowing that their the page itself is already situated within a particular genre?
Here we come to the bulk of his argument – the significance of genre theory. He believes invention happens within genres. He also believes that new genres can be created out of already recognized genres through interaction and contact with these genres and by the natural evolution that occurs through the changing of values and assumptions (10). He also brings up the importance of social and rhetorical practices in the creation of tension between the writer’s intention and the genre’s social motives.
He does not confine genres to writing only but rather opens up the possibility of our lives being led through various forms of genre. He says, “…genres are both functional and epistemological – they help us function within particular situations at the same time as they help shape the ways we come to know and organize these situations” (24). There is interplay between genre and those who exist within genres. We shape them as they shape us; it is a mutually exclusive act.
As far as the teaching of writing is concerned, Bawarshi sees genre theory as a tool that can be used to access a writer’s purpose. Not only can it reveal, “what a writer does [but] why they do it, and what happens as a result” (25). I will admit I was a little thrown by his description of Halliday’s “register.” I am not all together clear on what Halliday is going for with this concept of register. Perhaps we can go over this in class.
As a last note, I am very interested in the placement of composition. Bawarshi brings up the debate among scholars as to where composition should rightfully be placed in academia. I had never considered the idea of composition as an entity all on its own, as
it’s own discipline, or as part of writing in the disciplines programs. This is a topic I look forward to reading more about and possibly researching myself.

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