Excerpt from Bootstraps: From an Academic of Color VICTOR VILLANUEVA

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Excerpt from Bootstraps: From an Academic of Color VICTOR VILLANUEVA

Villanueva. Victor. Excerpt from Bootstraps: From an Academic of Color. Urbana. IL: NCTE, 1993. 66—7. Print.

Framing the Reading

No matter what races or ethnicwes or natonatties you as a reaoer c this book identh Nith, t’s probably not news that in any civen settina, some languages or st1les of a lan guage seem dominant and others seem marginalized. Whether you have thought about this or not, you have the acility to change your language and tone for different audiences

poses—hat s, 😮 “coae-switch.” The aoility to move among Different Jerson5 Dr cr ancuage, or ,aifferent languages altogethe’ in order to matcn different social urcum stanc – s an mportant one for successfully engaging vith others. For some of you, this code-sxitching might mean using a differeor language and sound in a place of worship :ra ou ao in a place of worK or scoool. For some of you, 0 rnignt mean usrg the an guags characterstic of ethnicities other than your own. Some of you are nternatonal stu nt vho are multilingual, wI-ne others m ght be second-generation students who soeak

one a’-guage with your fam.es and another at schoct One way or another, to cc human s to cc aware of the ntero!av among languages and how they mark aentity, status, and potential. And to be human s to be aware that in circumstances where you use a form of language that is not the one most commonly used n oroader society, one of your struggles is earning the arcuage used cv toe majority ano decoing what of it to use—,xhen, vbere. I-ow much. 1Uakrg aecsions about ‘at .anguage practces to use is not dust a ma:ter of earning something new, but of aeciding who to be.

‘/‘ctor Villanueva’s booK Bootstraps: From an Academic of Co/or 5 a narrative and an anas of I-s own experience wth this struggle. \Jiilanueva grew’p as a Puerto Rican in the Heil’s Kitchen area o New yr City, with parents who had emigrated from Puerto Rico wth Spanish as their first language. He crew up to be a very Successful professor of rnetoric, focusing on questions of race, anguage and power. Bootstraps teils the story of his evolution, and the excerpt that vou’11 read here focuses specifically on his movement from the U.S. Army into an English degree and grad uate school It’s a literacy narrative that captures the feelings of Contusion and frustration, as well as elation and satisfaction, Oxperenced by one member of a group whose languge and

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108 CHAPTER Lteracies

ethn;city are not the majority as he earns to participate in. an academic community that requred usng ve ifferen: language practices. We ndude it because we th:nk tnat, like the other literacy narratives included ifl this chapter, it speaks to students who have exqe rienced trying out new anouaae practices n a nev piace: it a1so describes the frustrations of learning to write in school settings iike the one you are in now.

Vi!:anuera iS Regents Professor at Washington State Unversitv. In hs work, he descrbes and tneorizes the ways culturai systems, including universities, use language and rhetoric to reinforce or to ncr st eth nic and racai oppression, He made another major contrbu:on to the study of rhetor c and writing with his anthology Cross-Talk In Comp Theory, a readerwhich gathered a wine range of composition research and theory and made it accessible to students. Heis headed the Conference on College Composition and Communication and won a wide range of nonors both from the field of writing studies and the universities in which he’s taught, researched, and administered.

Getfing Ready to Read

Before you read, do a: least one of the following activities:

Find out more anout this writer. You can begin at his scnooi Web page, http://wwwiibarts.wsu.edii/engllsh/Villanueva.htm, and also Google-search more broadly. Think back to when you first considered going to college, whatever age that was. Did you think, bach then, you could do it? If you didn’t feel confiqent, wnat pre vented that confidence?

As you read, consider the following questions:

What school-writ;no experiences have you encountered that resemble any descrbed by \/illanueva? What do you know about affirmative action in higher education, and how is this reading matching up with that knowledge?

T wanted to try my hand at college, go beyond the GED. But college scared me.I I had been told long ago that college wasn’t my lot. He drives by the University District of Seattle during his last days in the 2military and sees the college kids, long hair and sandals, baggy short pants onthe men. long, flowing dresses on the women, some men in suits, some women

in high heels, all carrying backpacks over one shoulder. There is both purpose and contentment in the air. Storefronts carry names like Dr. Feelgoodand Magus Bookstore, reflecting the good feelings and magic he senses. A blockaway is the Universitr red tiles and green grass, rolling hills and tall pines, appleand cherry blossoms, the trees shading modern monoliths of gray concrete andgothic, church-like buildings of red brick. And he says to himself, “Maybe in thenext lite.” He must be content with escaping a life at menial laho at being able to 3bank on the skills in personnel management he had acquired in the Army. Butthere are only two takers. The large department-store chain would hire him as

 

 

VICTOR VILLANUEVA Eyceot ram Bcorstram 109

a management trainee—a shoe salesman on commission, no set income. hut atrainee could qualify for GI Bill benefits as well as the commissions. Not goodenough, not getting paid beyond the GI Bill; and a sales career wasnt goodenough either, the thought of his mother’s years as a saleslady. years lost, stillin memory. A finance corporatIon offers him a job: management trainee. The title: Assistant Manager. The job: bill collector, with low wage, but as a trainee, qualified to supplement with the GI Bill. The combined pay would be good. but he would surely lose his job in time, would be unable to be righteously indig nant like the hil collectors he has too often had to face too often are, unable to bother people like Mom and Dad, knowing that being unable to meet bills isn’tusually a moral shortcoming but most often an economic condition.

The GI Bill had come up again, howeve setting the “gettinover” wheels in 4 motion. The nearby community college charges ninety dollars a quarter tuition. would accept him on the strength of his GED scores. That would mean nearly four hundred dollars a month from the GI Bill, with only thirty dollars a month for schooling (“forgetting” to account for books and supplies. What a get-over! There would be immediate profit in simply going to school. And if he failed, there would be nothing lost. And if he succeeded, an Associate degree in something. Hed he better equipped to brave the job market again.

So he walks onto the community college campus in the summer of 19Th. 1ts 5not the campus of the University of Washington. It’s more like Dominguez HighSchool in California. But it is a college. Chemistry: a clumsiness at the lab, but rela tive grace at mathematical equations and memorization. French is listening toaudiorapes and filling out workbooks. History is enjoyable stories, local lorefrom a retired newsman, easy memorization for the grade.

Then there is English. There are the stories, the taste he had always had forreading, now peppered with talk of philosophy and psychology and tensions andtextures. Writing is 200 words on anything, preceded by a sentence outline. He’dwrite about Korea and why The Rolling Stone could write about conspiracies ofsilence, or he’d write about the problems in trying to get a son to understand thathe is Puerto Rican when the only Puerto Ricans he knows are his grandparents;he’d write about whatever seemed to be on his mind at the time. The night beforea paper would be due, he’d gather pen and pad, and stare. Clean the dishes. Stare.WatLh an I Loe Lucx rerun Stare Then sometime in the night the wordswould come. He’d write; scratch something out; draw arrows shifting paragraphsaround; add a phrase or two. Then he’d pull out: the erasable bond, makingchanges even as he typed, frantic to be done before school. Then he’d usethe completed essa to 0. pe out an outline eehng a little guiln about ha ingchedted in not ha in produced the outline rirst The guilt showed one da when Mrs Ras th Indian woman in tradtieJuress with a Ph D in English from Oxtoid, part timL instructor at the commurLit Lollege said there was a problem with his writing She must hae been ble COted omehow that he was discoermg what to write while writing, no prior thesisStatement, no ou1ine just a viguL. notion that would marernlize, maglLalh i er ting In her stark, small otfiLe she hands him a sheet with three tamihar sa Irgsmilneoed instr iL bin’ o r c e right there right then He riteson a bird in the hand is worth two n thc bush “o memory ot what he nad

 

 

110 CHgPTER I Literacies

written, probably forgotten during the writing. Thirty minutes or so later, shetakes the four or five pages he had written; she reads; she smiles; then she explainsthat she had suspected plagiarism in his previous writings. She apologizes. savingshe found his writing too serious,” too abstract, not typical of her students. Heis not insulted: he is flattered. He knew he could read; now he knew he could writewell enough for college. English 102. Mr. Lukens devotes a portion of the quarter to Afro-Americanliterature. Victor reads lshmael Reed, “I’m a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra.” it begins,1 am a cou’bov in the boat of Ra,

sideuinders in the saloons of fools hit nh forehead like 0 the untrustworthiness of Egxptologists Who do not knott’ their trips. ‘.U?o was thatdog ficed maul thex asked, the day I rode from town.

School marms with halitosis cannot see the ‘\iefertirti fike chipped on the run by slickgernzans. the hawk behind Sonny Rollins’ head orthe ritual beard of his axe; a longhorn windingits hells thru the field of Reeds.

There was more, but by this point he was already entranced and excited. Poetry 9has meaning, more than the drama of Mark Antonvs speech years hack.Mr. Lukens says that here is an instance of poetrY more for effect (or mayhe affect) than for meaning, citing a line from Archibald MacLeish: “A poemshould not mean / But be.” But there was meaning in this poem. Victor writesabout it. in the second stanza, the chipped Neferritti, a reference to a false blackhistory, with images from “The Maltese Falcon” and war movies. The “Schoolmarms” Reed mentions are like the schoolmasters at Hamilton, unknowingand seeming not to know of being unknowing. Sonnv Rollins’ axe and theField of Reeds: a saxophone, a reed instrument, the African American’s linksto Egypt, a history whitewashed by “Egvptologists / Who do not know theirtrips.” He understood the allusions, appreciated the wordplay. The poem hadthe politics of Bracy, the language of the block, TV of the fifties, together in themedium Mr. D had introduced to Victor, Papi, hut now more powerful. Thiswas fun; this was politics. This was Victor’s history, his life with language play.Years later, Victor is on a special two-man panel at a conference of the Mod- ioem Language Association. He shares the podium with lshmael Reed. Victorgives a talk on “Teaching as Social Action,” receives applause, turns to see Ishmaci Reed looking him in the eve, applauding loudly. He tries to convey howinstrumental this “colleague” had been in his life.He’ll be an English major. Mr. Lukens is his advisor, sets up the communitycollege curriculum in such a way as to have all hut the major’s requirementsfor a BA from the University of Washington out of the way. The University ofWashington is the only choice: it’s relatively nearby, tuition for Vietnam veterais is $176 a quarter \Iabe in this life

 

 

VICTOR VILLANUEVA Excerpt fram Boerxtraps 111

His AA degree in his back pocket. his heart beating audibly with exhilara- ‘2non and fear, he walks up the campus of the University of Washington, moreexcited than at Disneyland when he was sixteen. He’s proud: a regular transferstudent, no special minority waivers. The summer of 197.But the community is not college in the same way the University is. The 13community college is torn between vocational training and preparing the unprepared for traditional university work. And it seems unable to resolve theconflict (see Cohen and Brawer). His high community-college GPA is no measure of what he is prepared to undertake at the University. He fails at French103, unable to carry the French conversations, unable to do the reading, unableto do the writing, dropping the course before the failure becomes a matter ofrecord. He starts again. French 101. only to find he is still not really competitivewith the white kids who had had high school French. But he cannot fail, and hedoes not fail, thanks to hour after hour with French tapes after his son’s in bed.English 301. the literature survey, is fun. Chaucer is a ghetto boy, poking fun 14at folks, the rhyming reminding him of when he did the dozens on the block;Chaucer telling bawdy jokes: “And at the wvndow out she puree hir holeA herd, a herd!; quod hende Nicholas.” So this is literature. Chaucer surelyain’t white. Ar least he doesn’t sound white. “the first to write poetry in the vernaculag’ he’s told. Spenser is exciting: images of knights and damsels distressing, magic and dragons. the Lord oft/Ye Rings that he had read in Korea palingin the comparison. Donne kick: trying to get laid when he’s Jack Donne,with a rap the boys from the block could never imagine building church floorswith words on a page when he’s Dr. John Donne. Every reading is an adventure, never a nod, no matter how late into the night the reading. For his firstpaper, Victor, the 3.8 at Tacoma Community College, gets 36 out of a possible100—”for your imagination,” written alongside the grade.I was both devastated and determined, my not belonging was verified but I wasnot ready to be shut down, not so quickly. So to the library to look up whatthe Professor himself had published: Proceedings ot the Spenser Society I hadno ide’t xehat the Professor as going on about in his paper but I could seethe pattern: an introduction that said something about what others had said,what he was going to be writing about, in what order, and what all this wouldprove; details about what he said he was going to he writing about, completewith quotes, mainly from the poetry, not much from other writers on Spenser;and a “therefore.” It wasn’t the five-paragraph paper Mr. Lukens had insistedon, not just three points, not just repetition of the opening in the dose but thepattern was ssentiaIh the same The next piper 62 out of 100 ind a MuUibetter.” Course grade: B. Charity.I nmer vindicated myself with that professor I did tti tried to show thtt I ididn’t need academic charity. Economic charity was hard enough. I took myfirst graduate course from him. This time I got an “All well and good, butwhats the point alongside a B tor a paper I hd ‘orked on that paper allSummer long. I hae had to tace that same professor now a Director of Freshman Writ -ing, at conferejices knd sith e cry contaLt, feelings of insecurin well up from

 

 

112 CHAPTER 1 Lfterac)es

within. the feeling that I’m seen as the minority (a literal term in aca demics for those of us of color), the feeling of being perceived as having gotten through because I am a minority, an insecurity I face often. But though I never got over the stigma with that professor (whether real or imagined), I did get some idea on how to write for the University.

Professorial Discourse Analysis is became a standard practice: go to the library; see what the course’s professor had published; try to discern a pattern to her writing; try to mimic the pattern. Some would begin with anecdotes. Some would have no personal i-ronouns. Some would cite others’ research. Some would cite different literary works to make assertions about one literary work. Whatever they did, I would do too, And it worked, for the most part, so that I could continue the joy of time travel and mind travel with those, and within those, who wrote about things I had discovered I liked to think about: Shakespeare and work versus pleasure. re hgion and the day-to-day world, racism, black Othello and the Jewish Merchant of Venice; Dickens and the impossibility of really getting into the middle class whch I read as “race.” getting into the white world, at the time), pokes at white

folks (though the Podsnaps \vere more likely jabs at the middle class); Milton and social responsibility versus religious mandates; Yeats and being assimilated and yet other (critically conscious with a cultural literacy, I’d say now): others and other themes. And soon I was writing like I had written in the community college: some secondary reading beforehand, but composing the night before a paper was due, a combination of fear that nothing will come and faith that something would eventually develop, then revising to fit the pattern discovered in the Professorial Discourse Analysis, getting “A’s” and “B’s,” and getting comnents like “I never saw that before.”

There were failures, of course. One professor said my writing was too forrnu- i9 laic. One professor said it was too novel. Another wrote only one word for the one paper required of the course: “nonsense.” But while I was on the campus I could escape and not. I could think about the things that troubled me or intrigued me. hut through others’ eyes in other times and other places. I couldnt get enough, despite the pain and the insecurity.

School becomes his obsession. There is the education. But the obsession is as 20 much, if not more, in getting a degree, not with a job in mind, just the degree, )ust because he thinks he can, despite all that has said he could not. His mar riage withers away, not with rancor, just melting into a dew The daily routine has him taking the kid to a daycare!school at 6:00 a.m., then himself to school, from school to work as a groundskeeper for a large apartment complex; laten a maintenance man, then a garbage man, then a plumber, sometimes coupled

 

 

VICTOR VILLANUEVA Excerpt from Bootstraps 113

with other jobs: shipping clerk for the library, test proctor. From work to pick up the kid from school, prepare dinner, maybe watch a TV show with the kid. tuck him into bed, read. There are some girlfriends along the vav. and he studies them too: the English major who won constant approval from the same professor who had given him the 36 for being imaginative; the art major who had traveled to France French practice); the fisheries major whose father was an executive vice president for IBM practice at being middle class). Victor was going to learn—quite consciousi v—what it means to be white, middle class. He didn’t see the exploita tion: not then: he was obsessed. There were things going on in his classes that he did not understand and that the others did. He didn’t know what the things were that he didn’t understand. but he knew that even those who didn’t do as well as he did, somehow did not act as foreign as he felt. He was the only colored kid in every one of those classes. And he hadn’t the time nor the racial affiliation to join the Black Student Union or Mecha. He was on his own, an individual pull ing on his bootstaps, looking out for number one. He’s not proud of the sensihil itv. but isolation—and, likely, exploitation of others—are the stuff of racelessness.

There were two male friends, Mickey, a friend to this da and Luis el Loco. 21 Luis was a pttertoriceño, from Puerto Rico, who had found his way to Wash ington by having been imprisoned in the federal penitentiary at MacNeal Island, attending school on a prison-release program. Together. they would enjoy talking in Spanglish, listening to salsa. But Luis was a Modern Languages major. Span ish literature. Nothing there to exploit. It’s a short-lived friendship. Mickey was the other older student in Victofs French 101 course, white, middle class, vet somehow othei one who had left the country during Vietnam, a disc jockey in Amsterdam. The friendship begins with simply being the two older men in the class, longer away from adolescence than the rest: the friendship grows with con versations about politics, perceptions about America from abroad. literature. But Victor would not be honest with his friend about feeling foreign until years latei a literary bravado. Mickey was well read in the literary figures Victor was coming to know. Mickey would be a testing ground for how Victor was reading, another contact to be exploited. Eventually, Mickey and his wife would introduce Victor to their friend, a co-worker at the post office. This is Carol. She comes from a life of affluence, and from a life of poverty, a traveler within the class system, not a jour ney anyone would volunteer for, but one which provides a unique education, a path not unlike Paulo Freire’s. From hep there is the physical and the things he would know of the middle class, discussed explicitly, and there is their mutual isolation. There is love and friendship, still his closest friend, still his lover.

But before Carol there is simply the outsider obsessed. He manages the BA. He 22cannot stop, even as the GI Bill reaches its end. He will continue to gather credentials until he is kicked out. Takes the GRE, does not do well, but gets into thegraauae program with the help of references from within the faculty—and withthe help ot minoritx status m a program decidedh low in numbers ot minorities4Mmority or something like that is t ped on the GRE test results in his file tobe seen while scaing the file tor the reterences His pride is hun but he remembersA11 Saints, begins to behcve r the bi ses of srandrdtzed tests baLk in the eighthVade, a failure too student no a near ai’ure despi e 3 6 at the Lompetit1 e Big

 

 

114 CHAPTER 1 Literaces

Umversitv of State. Not all his grades, he knew were matters of charity. He had earned his GPA, for the most part. Nevertheless, he is shaken.

More insecure than ever, there are no more overnight papers. Papers are written 23 over days, weeks, paragraphs literally cut and laid out on the floor to be pasted. One comment appears in paper after paper: “Logic?” He thinks, “Yes.” He does not understand. Carol cannot explain the problem. Neither can Mickey, He does not even consider asking the professors. To ask would be an admission of igno rance, “stupid spic” still resounding within. This is his problem.

Then by chance (exactly how is now forgotten), he hears a tape of a con- 24 ference paper delivered by the applied linguist Robert Kaplan. Kaplan describes contrasrive rhetoric. Kaplan describes a research study conducted in New York City among Puerto Ricans who are bilingual and Puerto Ricans who are monolingual in English. and he says that the discourse patterns, the rhetorical patterns which include the logic, of monolingual Puerto Ricans are like those of Puerto Rican bi linguals and different from Whites, more Greek than the Latin-like prose of Ameri can written English. Discourse analysis takes on a new intensity. At this pomt, what this means is that he will have to go beyond patterns in his writing, become more analytical of the onnections between ideas. The implications of Kaplan’s talk, for him at least, will take on historical and political significance as he learns more of rhetoric.

About the same time as that now lost tape on Kaplan’s New York research ta study that was never published, evidently). Victor stumbles into his first rhetoric course.

The preview of course offerings announces a course titled “Theories of Inven tion, to be taught by Anne Ruggles Gere. His GRE had made it clear that he was deficient in Early American Literature. Somewhere in his mind he recalls reading that Benjamin Franklin had identified himself as an inventor; so somehow, Vic tor interprets “Theories of Invention” as “Theories of Inventors,” an American lit course. What he discovers is Rhetoric.

Not all at once, not just in that first class on rhetoric, I discover some things 27 about writing, my own, and about the teaching of writing. I find some of mod ern composition’s insights are modern hindsights. I don’t mind the repetition. Some things bear repeating. The repetitions take on new significance and are elaborated upon in a new context, a new time. Besides, not everyone who teaches writing knows of rhetoric, though I believe everyone should.

I read Cicero’s de inventione. It’s a major influence in rhetoric for centuries. 29 The strategies he describes on how to argue a court case hears a remarkable resemblance to current academic discourse, the pattern I first discovered when I first tried to figure out what I had not done in that first English course at the University.

Janet Emig looks to depth psychology and studies on creativity and even 29 neurophvsiologv. the workings of the brain’s two hemispheres, to pose the case that writing is a mode of learning. She explains what I had been doing with my first attempts at college writing, neither magic nor a perversion. Cicero had said much the same in his de Oratore in the first century BCE (Before the Com mon Era, the modern way of saving BC):

 

 

VICTOR VII.LANIJEVA Excerm vnrsps 115

Writing is said to be the best and most excellent modeler and teacher of orator-c: and not without reason; for f what is meditated and considered easily surpasses sud den and extemporary speech, a constant and diligent habit of writing will surely be of more effect than meditation and consideration itself; since all the arguments relating to the subject on which we write, whether they are suggested by art, or by a certain power of genius and understanding, will present themselves, and occur to us, while we examine and contemplate it in the full light of our intellect and all the thoughts and words, which are the most expressive of their kind, must of necessity conic under and submit to the keenness of our judgment while writing; and a fair arrangement and collocation of the words is effected by writing, in a certain rhythm and measure, not poetical, but oratorical. dc Oratore l.cxxxiv)

Writing is a way of discovering, of learning, of thinking. Cicero is arguing the case for literacy i-n ways we still argue or are arguing anew.

David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky discuss literary theorists like 30 Jonathan Culler and the pedagogical theorist Paulo Freire to come up with a curriculum in which reading is used to introduce basic writers, those students who come into the colleges not quite prepared for college work, to the ways of academic discourse. Quinrilian, like others of his time, the first century CE. and like others before his time, advocates reading as a way to come to discover the ways of language and the ways of writing and the ways to broaden the range of experience.

Kenneth Bruffee. Peter Elbow, and others, see the hope of democratizing the 31 classroom through peer-group learning. So did Quintilian:

But as emulation is of use to those who have made some advancement of learning, so. to those who are hut beginning and still of tender age, to imitate their school- fellows is more pleasant than to imitate their master, for the very reason that it is more easy; for they who are learning the first rudiments will scarcely dare to exalt themselves to the hope of attaining that eloquence which they regard as the highest; they will rather fix on what is nearest to them, as vines attached to trees fain the top by taking hold of the lower branches first 23—24).

Quintilian describes commenting on student papers in ways we consider new

T]he powers of boys sometimes sink under too great severity in correction: for they despond, and grieve, and at last hate their work; and what is most prejudicial, while the’ fear even thing tue-v cease to mempr an tning 4 teacher ought therefore to be as agreeable as possible. that remedies, which are rough in their nature, may be rendered soothing by gentleness of hand; he ought to praise some parts of his pupils’ performances, tolerate some, and to alter others, giving his reasons why the alterations are made (100)

Richard Haswell recommends minimal scoring of student papers, stickingto one or two items in need of correction per paper Nancy Summers warnsagainst rubber-stamp comments on student papers, comments like ‘awk;” shesa}s comments ought to explain Both have more to say than Quinrilian onsuch matters, but in essence both are Quineilian revisited.

 

 

116 CHAPTER 1 Literacies

Edward P. J. Corhett looks to Quintilian, Cicero. and others from among 3: the ancients, especially Aristotle, to write Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. In some ways, the book says little that is different from other books on student writing. But the book is special in its explicit connections to ancient rhetorical traditions.

Without a knowledge of history and traditions, we risk running in circles 33 while seeking new paths. Without knowing the traditions, there is no way of knowing which traditions to hold dear and which to discard. Self evident? Maybe. Yet the circles exist.

For all the wonders I had found in literature—and still find—literature s.i seemed to me self-enveloping. What I would do is read and enjoy. And, when it was time to write, what I would write about would be an explanation of what I had enjoyed, using words like Oedipal complex or polvvocal or anxi etv or unpacking. depending on what 1 had found in my discourse-analytical journeys. but essentially saving “this is what I saw” or “this is how what I read took on a special meaning for me’ (sometimes being told that what I had seen or experienced was nonsense). I could imagine teaching literature—and often I do, within the context of composition—hut 1 knew that at best Fd be imparting or imposing one view: the what I saw or the meaning for me. The reader-response theorists I would come to read, Rosenblatt, Fish, Culler, and others, would make sense to me, that what matters most is what the reader finds. Bakhtin’s cultural and political dimension would make even more sense: that all language is an approximation, generated and understood based on what one has experienced with language. In teaching literature, I thought, there would he those among students I would face who would come to take on read ing, perhaps: likely some who would appreciate more fully what they had read. But it did not seem to me that I could somehow make someone enjoy. Enjoy ment would be a personal matter: from the self, for the self.

And what if I did manage a Ph.D. and did get a job as a professor? I would 35 have to pubhsh. A guest lecturer in a medieval lit course spoke of one of the im portant findings in his new book: medieval scribes were conscious of the thick ness of the lozenge, the medieval version of the comma. He found that thinner lozenges would indicate a slight pause in reading; thicker lozenges, longer pauses. Interesting, I reckon. Surely of interest to a select few. But so what, in some larger sense? What would I write about?

Then I stumbled onto rhetoric. Here was all that language had been to me. s There were the practical matters of writing and teaching writing. There were the st listic devices, the tricks of language use that most people think about when they hear the word rhetoric; “Let’s cut through the rhetoric.” It’s nice to have those devices at one’s disposal—nice, even important, to know when those devices are operating. But there is more. Rhetoric’s classic definition as the art of persuasion suggests a power. So much of what we do when we speak or write is suasive in intent. So much of what we receive from others—from family and friends to thirty-second blurbs on TV—is intended to persuade. Recognizing how this is done gives greater power to choose. But rhetoric is still more.

 

 

VICTOR VILtANUEVA Excerpt irom Bootstraps 117

Rhetoric is the conscious use of language: oItserving in any given case the avalahle means of persuasion.” to quote Aristotle un. As the conscious use of language. rhetoric would include everything that is conveyed through language: philosophy, histor anthropology, psycholog sociolog literature, politics—”the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols.” according to modern rhetorician Kenneth Burke 46). The definition says something about an essentially human characteristic: our pre dilection to use symbols. Language is our primary symbol system. The ability to learn language is biologically transmitted. Burke’s dehnition points to language as ontological, part of our being. And his definition suggests that it is epistemologi cal, part of our thinking, an idea others say more about (see Leff).

So to study rhetoric becomes a way of studying humans. Rhetoric becomes for St me the complete study of language, the study of the ways in which peoples have accomplished all that has been accomplished beyond the instinctual. There were the ancient greats saying that there was political import to the use of language. There were the modern greats saying that how one comes to know is at least me diated by language, maybe even constituted in language. There were the pragmatic applications. There was the possibility that in teaching writing and in teaching rhetoric as conscious considerations of language use I could help others like my- self: players with language, victims of the language of failure.

Questions for Discussion and Journaling

This account shifts back and fcrth between the first person (“i’) and the tturd person “Victor” ‘he”). What effects does that shifting create? Does it break any rules you’ve

been taught?

2. How does VUlanue’a define rhetoric? Vt/hat else does he say that studying rhetoric helps iou study?

3. Have you ever tred observine and :mitatnc the vvriting moves that other wnters make, as Vilanueva describes doing with his English teachers (“Professorial Discourse nalysis”)? If so, what was your experience doing so? If not, what would you need to look for in order to do the kind of imitation Vilanueva describes?

4. In paragraph 6, \Itllanueva describes his college writing process as, “The niant before a paper was due. hed gather aen and pad, and stare. C’ean the dishes. Stare. VVatch an ‘I Love Lic’,’ rerun. Stare. Then sometime in the night the words would come.” (A few more sentences finish his descrption.) What elements of this process resemble your own How is yours different

5. Villanuev is describing his own experience of encountering affirmative action—how be benefted from it, and how it also had some negative effes. Was this an account you might have expected to hear? If not, how did it differ from your perceptions of affirmative action?

6 In telling the story of his v’ ruing proce s and being called into Mrs Rays office (pdra 7) illcnueia suggesu Lba1 he e<oectea \irs Ray ould LaKe issue with his

 

 

118 CHAPTER 1 Literacies

writing style of “d:scoverinq what to write by writing, no prior thesis statement, nc outline, just a vague notion of what would matenalize, magically, while writing.” How does that story reflect your own experience of being taught how writinc is supposed to happen?

7 Did you attend other colleges before attendnc the one at whicn you’re using tbs book? Vilanueva descobes toe d:fference between hs community cohege anc the Uni versity of Washington (paras. 5—2 ii. If you’ve attended both two-year and four-year schools, what differences do you see? If you’ve attended different schools of the same sort, what were the differences? Can you see your experiences at different schooe as acquiring different “literacies”?

8. in a number of places in ths excerpt, Vflanueva talks not j:ust about “iiteracy spon sors” but about authors whose ideas about writing and teaching writing shaped his own. Before coming to college, what authors had you read that shaped your thinking about writing?

Applying and Ex’orinct Ideas

V Villanueva writes that “school became my obsession,” and yet he describes struggling with writing for school. In other words, he ran the risk of being barred from doing the thing he loved because of his writing. Consider the activities you most love being part of: was there ever a moment where language or writing threatened to or did) bar vou’ access to them? Or where language or writnQ provided your gateway to them? tVrite a two- to three-page descriptive narrative (imitate Villanuevas style, if you like about that situation.

2. Analyze Villanueva’s piece here using Brandt’s notion of literacy sponsorship. What teracy sponsors appear in V:Ilanueva’s l:teracy narratrie? (Start by making as complete

a list as you can.: What oid tnese sponsors allow ane iimit?

3 Do some Professor:a1Decourse Analysis of two college or tigh school teachers you’ve had. What did they each expect from your writing? Dd they agree or differ in their expectations? Desribe their expectations in two to three pages, and give specific examples of what each expected.

A Look upinformation about Robert Kaplan “contrastve rherorc. “WrIte a two-to three-page explanation describing contrastive rhetoric and explaining why might it nave helped a student like Villanueva make sense of hs own experiences in college.

Meta Moment Do you think differently about anything (ideas about writing, social issues) after reading VIIIanueva than you did coming into it? What, and how?

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