Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Not Quite a literacy narrative

 In the First Year Writing course I am teaching this semester we have been reading mentor texts to support our own work in writing literacynarratives.  Four that we have been reading are Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue, AnneImbrie’s Words Become Us, Carpet is Mungers by Megan Daum and Living Like Weasels by AnnieDillard.  The first two pieces by Tan andImbrie are as one might expect about

And writing
Things we think of as literacy

These two pieces are creative, personal, academic,narrative, theoretical and for many of us “good reads.”  With their help we can start to see okay,yes, a literacy narrative might be about how literacy is part of my life… whatit has to do with me. 

Then at the suggestion of my wise friend Cindy Urbanski wealso read two more pieces from Daum and Dillard.  Neither piece seems to be directly related toreading and writing or language particularly. So then we start to think…. Well a literacy narrative is just anarrative.  Can be about anything?  Huh?

A look on Google defies this answer many a writing teacherhas assigned a literacy narrative and guideline after guideline mentions thatthe piece should be a narrative about one’s experiences with reading andwriting.   Where do carpet and weaselscome in?

I entered class on Tuesday with all of these thoughts on mymind.  Not totally sure why these two pieces are literacy narratives.  I was both curious and scared to figure this out with my students.   As we talk in small groups I came up with a question, what is our broadest definition of literacy? What does it mean to read and write? Some ideas begin to surface. Literacy is about

Making meaning
Sharing ideas
Symbolic thought
Creating stories we live by

Oh!  So it starts tocome together, the reason why the weasels fit in here.  Just as the words I type here are representations or symbols of my thinking, the weasels are symbols of a theoryabout experience.   So is thecarpet.  So are the words.

And you know how when you learned the word “meme” or “pedagogue”or “kvetch” you then hear it everywhere? Well, this week alongside thinking about literacy narratives with 1101students, I have also been reading for the gender and language studies course Iam taking.  In one of these, Lakoff andJohnson goes right to the idea of metaphorical thinking, they map the ways ourlives are narrated by cultural-specific metaphors.  The metaphors not only describe our lives butcreate them as we live out the metaphors of our culture. 

M.J. Hardman and Lisa Perry describe views of women asshaped by language.  I particularly latchonto her making visible the derivational naming of women in English.  In English women in word and idea are derivedfrom men and are marked that way by language like

Once the French femme
The Bachelorette
Not hardly leather
When Harry Met Sally (See the subject position of Harry?)

Does it matter?  Well,if a metaphor describes what something is like, narrates an idea togenerate connections in our thoughts, what if something or someone is know onlythrough being not quite enough like something else, a diminutiveversion, not even lucky enough for a metaphor of her own.  Just derivation.  
The words matter. They hold the intention of social thought behind them.  They do things and create things in theworld.     

Donna Wilshire writes about metaphorical thinking as a primarysource of feminist activity in that metaphors offer a different kind ofworldview that can and has challenged the literal and linear mindness ofpatriarchy.  Metaphors get messy, theydon’t tell us exactly how things are, they make visible the stickiness ofunderstanding .

Today as I am writing up the literacy narrative work as an assignmentI am wondering how I can make this writing and work recognizable enough in the academiccontext, where linear and literal rule, while also creating space for play withour own conceptions of literacy, academy, and our understandings of what getsto count here and why.

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