Category Archives: Objects and Writing

What exactly am I supposed to be writing about…?

John Maguire's  argues in his article that effective student writers, and writers in general, write about objects rather than ideas. I see his point. Communication occurs when the audience connects to a tangible experience. If I can't illicit recognition from my readers then my writing hasn't been too effective. Maguire's suggestion that writers start with describing objects intrigues me, especially given the nature of this expository writing class and the Prown readings. The definition of exposition as a description of an idea or theory falls short without the medium. I think of an actor whose facial expressions and body language convey a message beyond the dialog. My words have to convey this meaning, have to evoke a reaction, a recognition. The most effective communication tool that I have to accomplish this goal is through narrative discourse. Neal Postman suggests in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death that the natural form of American communication is in story telling, and I agree. Sometimes when I am totally stuck about how to relate to my audience I think of a story, an event, and I start there. My audience doesn't always know where I am taking them, but when I get to the end of the story I can actually feel the recognition and understanding.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

I think Maguire suggests a similar approach to teach and executing quality writing. He is basically saying start with what you know. Ideas or vague concepts can't just be conjured out of thin air. A writer must have a starting point or foundation solid enough to support a theory. For instance in Prown's description of the teapot, he begins with actually describing the physical characteristics of the vessel-- dimensions, shapes, materials, mass-- before he suggests the idea that teapots are surrogates for breasts. Prown's approach is powerful and provocative. I doubt I ever would have made that almost intangible connection on my own, but after reading and seeing the teapot through Prown's words I have a new perception.

teapot

Maguire makes another valid point about the importance of teaching students how to describe objects. Start with the basics. to become a strong writer and communicator of ideas I have to first hone my craft. If I can't tie my shoelaces then I very likely can't walk very far much less run a marathon.  Just like Maguire says, "all abstract ideas derive from objects. You can approach them in that concrete way and teach students to do the same." In order to convey complicated theories and ideas I must first proficiently describe the commonplace objects. How can I persuade someone or effect someone's mind if I lack the most basic descriptive writing skills? Or, if I hit the mother load and become a successful novelist, I definitely need to be painting vivid pictures with my words. No one would buy the movie rights to my books otherwise. Closing in on a decade after Twilight Stephanie Meyer  still rides the wave of phenomenal success just because she was able to describe a dream of a sparkly man standing in a meadow. And we all know what Edward looks like, for reals.

Amusing Ourselves to Death Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/Amusing-Ourselves-Death-Discourse-Business/dp/014303653X

Teapot Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/ceramic-teapots/

#1: Object Students and Droppables

In his article, Maguire makes an argument for how we ought to go about solving the growing issue of the writing skill of students in our educational system. Much like the sophists of ancient Greece used rhetoric to persuade audiences of its importance and value, Maguire cleverly employs his suggested technique in his own argument. He does this by first turning the very students he says should be taught to write using objects into objects themselves. As opposed to working with the abstract concept of “students,” Maguire turns them into objects that have or lack certain skills: “It's a crucial question for those who want to reform the teaching of writing, because once you ask what skills are missing, you can make a list and start a counter-attack.”

In regards to our readings for this week, Maguire strays from Czikszentmihalyi's breakdown of objects. Out of the three categories offered by Czikszentmihalyi, Maguire's “student objects” are most closely related to the continuity of self, as these students could be argued to be an extension of our greater society and what it is capable of creating. After all, Maguire does not believe that these students are inherently to blame for their lack of success in the field of writing, but rather the educational system itself. Likewise, Prown would see these “student objects” as an indication of our culture's current treatment of education. The “style” in this circumstance would be the very skill sets Maguire is assessing.

If asked to produce a set of items with which to begin discussing difficulties I have encountered in my writing process, I would have to describe my immediate surroundings. My “droppable” items would be my laptop, and the figurative weight of its keyboard, writing outlines and their sticky text, and the most frustrating, the swell of sound around me, ranging from silence of the hum of students in the library. These may not point directly towards the issues Maguire addresses in his article, but I can see how these concrete objects are stepping stones to delve into deeper meanings.