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College writing and the “generative paradox” of academic work

September 3, 2015

For the first week or two of our class, I’d like us to reflect a bit on what it means to be a college student and what you can do to make the most of your experience. The introductory chapter from Rewriting, by Joseph Harris, gives us some insight into the way that college professors most often think of the writing process. In particular, in the first pages he explains why he chose the term “rewriting” for the title of his book, and he suggests that there is a “generative paradox” at the heart of most academic work:

[C]ertainly, I hope it’s clear that the kind of rewriting I value has nothing to do with simply copying or reciting the work rewritingof others. Quite the contrary. My goal is to rewritingshow you some ways of using their texts for your purposes. The reason I call this rewriting is to point to a generative paradox of academic work: Like all writers, intellectuals need to say something new and say it well. But unlike many other writers, what intellectuals have to say is bound up inextricably with the books we are reading, the movies we are watching, the music we are listening to, and the ideas of the people we are talking to. Our creativity thus has its roots in the work of others – in response, reuse, and rewriting. (2)

Although some of the terminology he uses here might seem difficult or imposing, I think this passage makes an essential observation about what it means to write in an academic context. For this Thursday’s class, let’s try to get at the heart of the paradox Harris is referring to. What is “paradoxical” about the work that professors ask you to do?

Welcome to the English 101-21 Class Blog

August 30, 2015

Welcome to English 101-21, Doing Writing: Literature and Composition. This blog will be the online home for much of the work we do this semester, so please plan to check here frequently for news about the class, updates on assignments, and other important details. I’ll also be using this as a place to reflect on our group discussions, so I hope my own blog posts will give you some insight into what I’d like us to accomplish over the course of the semester.

To get this process started, I’ll ask you to do a few things right away:

First, please take a moment to look around the blog and explore what’s already here. The blog is pretty sparse for the moment, but it should grow quickly as our class gets underway. At this point, you’ll find that there are links to course materials listed across the top of the page. You’ll also see an explanation of the blog title on the About This Blog page.

Second, I’d like you to set up a blog for your own writing this semester and make your first post. To do this, simply go to and click on the “Get Started” link provided there. As you’ll see, it’s an easy process. You’ll be prompted to create a user name, a password, and a domain name and title for your blog. Once you have your own blog set up, please comment to this post and paste in the web address for your blog. I’ll then add everyone to the “Blogroll” list in the column to the right.

Finally, make your own first blog post. For this initial entry, you should introduce yourself briefly, and then think about one or two goals that you have for yourself in this class. Is there something you’d especially like to work on or get better at in your own writing? Rather than focusing on general goals (like making good grades), try to identify something specific you’d like to be able to do more effectively.

We’ll troubleshoot for any problems you’re having with your blog in class on Thursday. If you have a laptop, feel free to bring it with you for this session.

Thanks, and happy blogging!


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