Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

In his essay for The Atlantic, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” John Maguire argues student writers and writing instruction are too focused on abstract ideas. In fact, he contends that “[s]tudent papers are often unreadable” (His words, not mine!) “because they are way, way too abstract.” Rather than asking students to grapple with abstract ideas from the outset, Maguire argues writing teachers should instead get students to focus on the physical world, and let the abstract ideas emerge from that emphasis:

An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with those in mind, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do, in fact, take that approach. “If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it,” I say. “Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.”

To some extent this course, with its focus on material objects or “artifacts,” puts Maguire’s assertion to the test.

Described by the photographer as,
“Read & write” used courtesy of a Creative Common license, by Cathrine Idsøe on Flickr.

In our work over the course of the semester, we will hopefully learn whether–and maybe even how or why–writing about things might lead to better writing. For this post, however, I don’t want to focus on Maguire’s argument about how we should or shouldn’t teach writing, but rather on how Maguire has characterized student writing and writing students in his essay.

Carefully read Maguire’s article, paying attention to how he relies on objects, perhaps even turning people (i.e., student writers) into objects to make his argument. How does Maguire’s use of objects in his essay compare or contrast with how Czikszentmihalyi and Prown treat objects in the reading for this week? Do you agree with Maguire’s characterization of student writers or student writing? Are you offended by those characterizations? What objects might you use to explain some of the difficulties you’ve encountered as a student writer? Or how might you describe student writing as an object, using some of the methods suggested in our reading? As you read (and re-read) the Maguire article, identify what you consider the most valuable and interesting (or provocative) parts, so you can quote and paraphrase. You should also draw upon, appropriately use, and cite at least one of our class discussion readings for this week, in order to extend the discussion.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Objects and Writing

In your Blog #1 post, you should offer a cohesive argument that responds to one or more of the questions above. You should not just try to answer the questions in the order they’re presented. The questions are meant to focus your attention and provide a starting place for your thinking, but they don’t need to dictate or limit the form of your post. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

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