(#2: Recent Academic Source)
Hesse, Douglas. "The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies." College Composition and Communication 62.1, The Future of Rhetoric and Composition (2010): 31-52. JSTOR. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.
A Useful Move
Douglas Hesse, in his essay on the divide and potential interplay between composition and creative writing, makes several moves which I found useful, especially as a burgeoning scholar who keeps a foot in each English Department realm. (This semester, I’m finishing coursework for a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, and I also teach creative writing, participate in a graduate-level creative writing workshop, and work in an administrative capacity as the Assistant Director of Creative Writing, all at the University of Louisville.) Hesse does well in terms of his research methodology when he gives the reader an overview of the conversation about creative writing in the field of composition; the first of three parts in his essay he titles, “Where We’ve Been.” He uses data from CCC, perhaps the most influential journal in the field, and does not appear to shape the narrative of composition’s involvement with creative writing in order to suit his ends. Hesse writes, “A generous count shows around 20 ... [s]ubstatial articles with creative writing as the focus [in the sixty-year history of CCC]” (35). He likewise finds 284 articles which contain the words “creative writing,” and another 66 with the words “imaginative writing” in the sixty-year history of CCC. This type of research, in order to find what’s missing from the conversation in a field, has become much less time consuming with the advent of certain databases.
A Bigger Lens?
One area I thought a larger scope might benefit Hesse’s work is when he writes about the cultural participation and proliferation of texts in the digital age:
What explains the drive to matter in the world, a drive grinding most garishly in extreme cases: Richard Heene’s balloon boy hoax across Colorado skies and world televisions, Tareq and Michaela Salahi’s crashing a White House state dinner? Perhaps human genetics, perhaps more likely social constructions – or rather, a counter construct, against anonymity and alienation. Exploring the absence of traditional economic motivations for sharing writing online, James Porter simply notes that “people write because they want to interact, to share, to learn, to play, to feel valued, and to help others” (47).
By posing such a large question, essentially, “Why do humans produce utterances of one kind or another?” and remaining within the field of rhetoric and composition, Hesse is bound to get a surface-level, though accurate, answer. My impulse in this situation would have been to turn to the work of the anthropologist Ernest Becker. Becker developed broad but verifiable arguments for why people in symbol systems produce signs. Perhaps Hesse didn’t want to find himself down a rabbit hole, and perhaps that’s why he’s a prominent English professor, and I’m not (yet, at least), but sometimes I feel like the answers rhet/comp scholars produce to questions we face in the field come up unfulfilled because we are not willing to look to relevant work from other disciplines.
About as fair and accurate a summation of Ernest Becker's work as one will find in an 8 minute YouTube video.
Continuing the Conversation
Hesse’s essay represents a valuable contribution to an under-discussed conversation about possible interactions between creative writing and English composition. Much of the divide in composition he talks about seems to be between expressivist vestiges and those interested in political and ideological critique. Hesse cites Gary Olsen who hopes “that the field would accomplish ‘much more than teaching students to “express themselves”’ by helping them to ‘learn to engage in ideological critique ... to effect real change in their lives’” (39). However, I would like to extend the conversation to include creative writing which does engage in ideological critique and lead to societal change. This is what artists and writers who have not given up do. I think composition classes are appropriate places for this endeavor, and as the “academy’s pleasant porch or rec room” (35), I would like to use creative writing in my composition classrooms to help students think critically about power, assessment, time, resources, and the role of play and fun in their lives.