Saturday, October 08, 2005

An affective paper

It seems like as I read articles in Donna's class that I keep seeing glimmers of reader response theory. The class is the Rhetoric of Emotion, Affect, and Motives. It seems that our readings are leading us to think more about affect, and I guess I took that to mean "where is it?" And, if it's not there, "why not?"

Emotion isn't a valued thing in our society. I sat at a speech tournament and heard a very intelligent young woman say that a woman shouldn't be president because she would be too emotional. So we equate emotion with being irrational or illogical.

So let me try to connec this to rhetoric. For Aristotle, emotion was a tool to persuade. But if you are using it as a tool, you really have to have control of it, you have to be able to balance the emotion. Can't have too much or too little. A good example might be Howard Dean. He had too much and the nation, generally, came down on him for that.

I want to make a connection between emotion and reading. I will generalize here and say that many high school English teachers prescribe to a New Critic stance when approaching literature. There understanding would be that there is one interpretation to a text. This interpretation from the teacher is assessed by a multiple choice test or by a literary analysis paper or a compare-contrast--some paper steeped in rhetorical tradition. These lit. analysis papers, at least when I was in college and I think this is still true, need to be in the third person. You might take a literary element and analyze that through the text. You need to appear objective although you are arguing for an interpretation (more like supporting an interpretation already outlined by the teacher).

Showing emotion in a lit. analysis paper is not a good thing. Good papers are detached, rationale, logical, and organized in a linear fashion.

My suggestion is that reader response theory isn't in classrooms or is misunderstood because it does value an aesthetic or affective response. Although Rosenblatt outlined a continuum with aesthetic on one end and efferent on the other. She didn't really say, I don't think, that one was better than the other, but that both needed to be used in the classroom. But the only approach that we see a majority of the time is the efferent response--that without emotion.

Emotion is seen as silly. For instance, reader response theory may be summarized by those who don't know much about as asking students a questions like this, "How do you feel about the text?" Or they think that reader response means that any answer is okay, no one is wrong.

Is it that our dominant cultural value of being logical and unemotional is so strong that we see sharing emotion or personal connection as a mistake?

I have some more ideas about this paper, but I would love to hear any comments.

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