Language & Genre – Dirk Response

I introduce both the 1101 and 1121 Writing courses to my students on the first day of class with a reading (transcribed lecture on The Guardian) by Neil Gaiman, about reading and imagination. It is for the most part concerning fictional writing; but in class, we think about how his arguments about the function of fictional writing applies to other forms of writing as well – whether they be literature, news, articles, etc. In part, this first reading is designed to get my students thinking about the function of writing and reading not only within the conventions of a Writing/Literature course, but also within the conventions of whatever field they eventually go into, major in, or have a career in. I have not overtly taught about genre awareness in 1101, but this is one way which I have. But I think it would certainly be helpful to pair the Gaiman reading with Dirk as well. Unconsciously conforming to and adopting the conventions for different genres are of course an instinctive part of being human, but to articulate and consciously recognize genre would certainly enable students to become more conscious writers and thinkers.

Dirk’s point about genre having the “power to help or hurt human interaction, to ease communication or to deceive, to enable someone to speak or to discourage someone from saying something different” reminded me a lot of Toni Morrison’s 1993 lecture “When Language Dies.” She says something very similar about language. This is also our current focus in class for part 3 of the syllabus: Language. We discuss what are the different forms of language that take shape, and how they are used, in what ways do they inhibit/prohibit, can they become forms of power. So this made me consider what ways are genre itself a form of language? Or how are they different/is there a difference?

One aspect this made me think of also is how can genres become a form of constraint in and of themselves, or reflect patterns of hierarchies? For example, how conventions of genre may inhibit goals, such as in the “professional” or, as a peer wrote, in the corporate world. How does the formality or the conventions of “professionalism” in the corporate and capitalist social spaces inhibit those who inhabit them? – particularly for those who may not necessarily be at the top of the hierarchy or decision-making.

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