5390: Article Commentary 3: I, techne.

Johnson, R. R. (2010). Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies. College Composition and Communication, 61(4), 673-690.

Evidenced by his title’s opening noun phrase: “Craft Knowledge,” this piece is firmly riding what I might call the “techne wave”—a vigorous theoretical debate that reaches back to Plato but has tons of implications today as we’re constantly being reminded of the ever-changing technological elements of writing. Johnson neatly ties this to issues of disciplinary identity in his title; his first paragraph then speaks to a “we” that includes all of writing studies and the wide array of participants in this techne debate (so, a good-sized chunk of the CCC audience).

Johnson’s tone and style consists of that that odd mix that appears often this journal: the “pretentious I.” In terms of sentence style, the article is average—neither especially active nor overdensely passive. However, there’s a lot of formality with technical terminology, especially classical Greek terminology and concepts. (In the space of only three pages, parentheticized terms included: aitiai, arche, hule, eidos, telos, phronesis, episteme, logos, phronomi, technite, ergon, techne, poesis.) The author also uses traditionally academic complex reiterations of single concepts. (For example, the following four-sentence structure: complex sentence + “in other words” + “that is” + “simply”).  All of this is surrounded and imbued with a direct, mildly more informal writerly ‘I,’ especially in the metadiscourse. (“I will not be delusional and think that I will solve this problem.”) The “pretentious I”—a mix of terminological complexity, syntactic redundancy, and strongly voiced “I”—is not problematic in any way, (and indeed I often fall sway to in my own writing), but it is a noticeable trend in CCC.

The author begins his second paragraph with a discussion of how “amusing” oxymorons are, and how they are “wonderful starting points because they are inherently dissonant.” Tonally, he expresses both an irony about and a love for productive dissonance; one that many academics find irresistible. I did find at least one somewhat distressing mixed metaphor—he goes in one paragraph from emblems and double-edged swords to wending, forging, and covering over alternate paths in a forest.  It’s not a huge jar, but a more consistently exploratory metaphor might have been tighter. (Machetes, perhaps?) At times the author’s sense of humor got away from him, with little jokes that I found more droll than especially witty (“The act of constructing (or should I say ‘crafting?’) a knowledge base…”). Har har har.

Johnson’s claim is not a sweeping one (though this is an arguable point, depending on any particular reader’s perspective), and he primarily uses abstract logic to get there. That is, after elaborating on ancient notions of and debates craft from both ancient and modern authorities, he describes (in what apparently is his own synthesis, but it’s not quite clear) “five aspects” or characteristics of Aristotle’s four causes of making. Using these, he reframes writing studies as a discipline (or “interdiscipline”) with an entire economy of knowledge that goes beyond biased notions of craft knowledge as lower knowledge—thus tying writing studies to engagement with theoretical aspects of making.

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