Date: Fri, 7 Oct 2005 05:21:41 -0700 (PDT) From: Joseph Afful Subject: Writing With, Through, and Beyond the Text: An Ecology of Language
AUTHOR: Luce-Kapler, Rebecca TITLE: Writing With, Through, and Beyond the Text SUBTITLE: An Ecology of Language PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2005
Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful, Department of English Language & Literature, National University of Singapore
Rebecca Luce-Kapler's 185-page book draws on insights from feminism, post- structuralism, and various writing pedagogies to explore how an understanding of writing as a system, circumscribed by social context and interpretations of experience can lead to an exciting process of learning and meaning-making. To achieve this goal, the book is organized in six chapters, with each chapter introduced by a thought-provoking epigraph. The peripheral aspects of the book include a table of contents, preface, references, and index.
Chapter 1: The Kitchen of my Imagination The writer begins the chapter by alluding to how she came to be interested in writing and her early experience with teaching writing, which basically excluded the ordinary experience of humans. In broad strokes, she describes how her working with women and her introduction to feminist theory enable her to see writing as a) embodied and psychological b) socially constructed c) poststructural text, and d) complex. In the rest of the chapter, she shows how these perspectives interact in varied and revealing ways to inform the process of writing and issues even after writing has been produced.
Chapter 2: A Coherence of Being As though the previous chapter had been disparate, this chapter explores the notion of coherence. Supported by an apt and cautious selection of relevant texts, the writer specifically argues that the coherence of rhythm, granted its significance in lived human life, manifests in three ways in writing The first, according to the writer is "the character of rhythm", which is further exemplified in the connection between language, rhythm, and lived experience. In elucidating "the rhythm of writing", Luce-Kapler demonstrates that writing proceeds as a concrete realization of life experience and a valuable interpretation. Lastly, explaining "the rhythm of subjectivity", she contends that writing issues out of different experiences located in different spatio-temporal contexts, leading to diverse and enriching subjectivities of the individual.
Chapter 3: The Language Connection Chapter 3 focuses on specific writing practices that the writer engages the members of her writing group. These writing practices, Luce-Kapler explains, are underpinned by three key notions of language. First, she underscores the fact that writing allows the interaction of intertextuality and creativity, two very valuable aspects of language use. Second, she intimates that language can be limiting but agrees with Mikhail Bakhtin that it offers endless possibilities for interpretation and reinterpretation, and thus in the process can become liberating. Finally, as a corollary of the above, and drawing on Derrida, the author demonstrates that this two-pronged quality of interpretation and re- interpretation that language possesses is realizable at various levels: "research re-textured", "con-text", "pre-text", "sub-text", and "re-text". The full benefit of writing, the author suggests, is attainable when writers shift from one level to another.
Chapter 4: The Subjunctive Cottage Chapter Four highlights the possibilities that texts offers for change or what the writer boldly calls "disruption". Some of the avenues through which change can be effected include writing structures such as narratives, the imaginative (as-if world), and side-showing. Experimenting with these structures can lead to the complexity of writing, Luce-Kapler suggests. But the author demonstrates through her interaction with the women in the writing groups that these structures can be rewarding. She suggests that engaging in such writing practices leads to individuals experimenting with the "forbidden"; but more importantly, it achieves three main things: challenging the patriarchal order, enriching women's subjectivity (that is, meaning-making), and empowering women to act in the world.
Chapter 5: In the Company of Writers In Chapter 5 the significance of the Canadian artist, Emily Carr, to the author is not lost on the reader. Luce-Kapler draws on both the experience of Emily Carr and her own dialogue with her to explore and understand the influence of her own writing. Specifically, the author utilizes the insights she gains from her interaction with Emily Carr to construct a picture of her work as a writer and to relate those issues to her work in writing groups. Continuing, she recounts how engaging the writing groups in different writing practices such as narratives, changing narratives into poetry, grouping several poems under similar theme, and discussing readings brought home cogently the inextricable link between heteroglossia and intertextuality.
Chapter 6: Writing Otherwise The author underscores four salient points in the final chapter. First, the writer shows how the embodiment of writing, its social influence, and the fluidity of language interact in varied ways to create a context for writing. Second, the author views ecology of writing as embedded in a system or relationship with both the human and non-human world; this point is aptly illustrated in how the author came to write a poem about the American author, Kate Chopin. Third, the author offers three suggestions in utilizing the notion of ecology of writing: introducing writing practices, developing critical awareness, and creating opportunities to be heard. Finally, on an optimistic note, Luce-Kapler argues that despite the unpredictable future as well as the gaps and constraints of writing, the "ecology of writing" nonetheless offers an endless and exciting opportunity for meaning-making, an essential aspect of subjectivity.
Luce-Kapler's book is appealing to the reader on several fronts. The first point to note is the clarity of the language that is used throughout the book to elucidate ideas such as symbolic order, complexity, subjectivity, intertextuality, and heteroglossia. The effortlessness and ease with which the writer explains and elaborates on these attests to the author's adroitness of language use and makes them stick in the reader's mind. A related issue to the writer's use of language is the cautious balance she maintains in the use of homely images and abstract language (in both the chapter headings and the main text). The second merit to note about the writer's work is the structuring of the entire work. It is to the credit of the author that minimal visual features are used, while using to a great effect headings, sub-headings, and appropriate metatextual elements (in various parts of chapters) to make the book easily comprehensible. The reader is thus not distracted in his/her attempt to follow the writer's trend of argument. A third strength of Luce-Kapler's work is the effective use of illustrative materials: anecdotes, samples of poems and other literary pieces, and recount of personal experiences. These illustrative materials serve usefully to reduce the dense nature of prose that would have resulted if only elaborations of theories of writing and writing pedagogy had been used in the text. The cumulative effect is that we see the author skillfully combining theory and practice of writing. Finally, I find the bibliography offered by the author very helpful. They contain very useful references that any curious reader of writing pedagogies, feminism, women's studies, and creative writing would find helpful to follow up. A similar purpose is served by the writer's use of notes at the end of each chapter without making the chapters tedious.
Notwithstanding these admirable aspects of the book, a few points, though debatable, are likely to catch the attention of readers. The first concerns the nature of illustrative materials used. It would appear that the book is mainly directed to a western audience. This would appear to be an ideological issue as the book seems to espouse mainstream academic thought, practices, and way of doing things without catering for scholars in so-called developing countries. This point is worth making in light of the emerging literature on geo-politics in academic writing (e.g. Canagarajah, 2002), and for that matter other forms of writing programmes in academia. Nonetheless, rather than say that readers from the developing world are not likely to appreciate the illustrative literary texts, I would say that intellectual challenge for them is likely to be immense and daunting. Another point, really minor, concerns the title of the book. On merely reading the title of the book, the reader who approaches Luce- Kapler with the intention of discovering further insights into academic writing is likely to be disappointed. My candid opinion about the title is that as a teaser, it is too broad to achieve the desired effect. The sub title does not help either.
Overall, despite the few concerns expressed above, Luce-Kapler's book is worth recommending as an intellectually stimulating book for readers (students and scholars) interested in Women's Studies, Feminist Theory, English Studies, Creative Writing, and Writing Pedagogy. It combines both theories and practices in a very engaging manner.
Canagarajah, A. Suresh (2002). A geo-politics of academic writing. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Joseph Benjamin Archibald Afful is a research scholar at the last stage of his doctoral studies at the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore. He recently submitted his doctoral thesis on the interface between rhetoric and disciplinary writing at the undergraduate level. Prior to the commencement of his higher studies, he had taught various courses in Applied English Linguistics and general academic literacy at the University of Cape Coast and University of Education of Winneba (both in Ghana) and tutored at National University of Singapore. His teaching and research interests include (critical) discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, academic writing/literacy, general linguistics, and the interface between linguistics and literature. He has presented papers at international conferences in the United Kingdom, the USA, Australia, and Singapore and has papers that are currently being reviewed for publication.