What Is Composition and (If You Know What That Is) Why Do We Teach It?
I will not be presenting a theory paper here. Nor do I want to argue for a particular kind of program or set of practices. I have no desire to be comprehensive. I have, however, been “in” composition for some time; more recently, I have done a good bit of traveling to evaluate departments and programs. I would like to offer something like a report from the field and to write about some places where composition has shown its face in interesting or surprising ways. I need to be clear: the composition I am talking about is not a consensus or a specific professional (or “disciplinary” ) agenda; it is not in the control of composition professionals; it is not represented by the conflicts that take place at meetings or in journals. It is, rather, a set of problems produced by a wider, more diffuse set of practices and desires, usually brought into play by instances of language change or variety (or by the possibility that writing might change or be various). In a sense, the history of composition has been the record of institutional and professional responses to challenged standards, challenges to a standard of writing produced by writers who were said to be unprepared. Composition marked the people and places charged to prepare those students and/or to defend and rationalize their “unauthorized” writing.
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