Skip to content

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?

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: