Sunday, November 8, 2009

Platonic Vs. Sophistic Myths and Beliefs About Writing and Writers

The Platonic Approach to Writing: The Creation of the Divinely Inspired Author

The myth: Few writers are divinely inspired, but they are special because they do not have to work to produce their text. Writing comes to them from somewhere indefinable. Its source is a mystery.

The message: Hardly anyone can be a good writer, a writer of genius. The writing style must flow, be poetic, and have a deeper, universal meaning.

Type of writer produced: If you believe your WRITING SOURCE is Divine Inspiration, you privilege the notion of the Genius, the Inspired writer, who then becomes one of a select few who are chosen to be well-educated in the classical, liberal, belletristic sense.

Teacher’s role: The teacher's role in this system is to be a mentor or a guide, like Socrates, who could only bring forth or encourage what already existed in the mind of the creator, thinker, writer (cf. midwife imagery in Theatetus, and Socrates-as-guide in the Meno).

Problem: This education is exclusionary, and perpetuates an isolated position in society for the writer of genius. She is elevated to the status of Author, and her words become 'pearls of wisdom.'

Material Outcome: No mere worker can compare to the Author, so by definition, only a few can possibly be considered writers. Writing classes will not help because anyone who has to struggle to write is not a genius, nor is she divinely inspired.

The Sophistic Approach to Writing: The Creation of the Expedient Writer

The myth: You can buy an education that will teach you how to write. This education is available to everyone (who can afford it), and will focus on individual abilities and effort.

The message: Anyone can learn to write if they apply themselves, but good writing takes time and hard work. Styles promoting clarity, logic, and linearity are valued.

Type of writer produced: If you believe your WRITING SOURCE stems from effort and application of skills learned with a teacher, you privilege the Expedient writer.

Teacher’s role: The teacher's role in this system is to be a coach, a mentor, a fellow writer showing new writers how it is done, and how to succeed in a capitalist society of publishers, editors, and bosses.

Problem: The educational experience furthers the notion that hard workers will rise to the top of a hierarchy. Some will make it; some won’t. The less worthy will be culled because they lack ability. The worthy will be exalted as special because they worked against the odds. The classroom experience is designed to capitalize on this writers abilty to manipulate words for persuasive affect.

Material Outcome: The writer learns that her worth is related to realistic notions of her usefulness in educational and professional fields. Although the writer is encouraged to work in collaborative groups, capitalism, with its own elitist markers, means that this writer’s work will be considered of value only when it is marketable.

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