Thoughts on Eli Goldblatt’s Don’t Call it Expressivism: Legacies of a “Tacit Tradition,” an exploration of the role of the writer in writing.
I was drawn to the point that Goldblatt makes about Adam Banks’ tone and diction in his Digital Griots, an argument for what Banks calls “old school ethos.” Goldblatt says of Banks:
“There is, the very distinctiveness of his tone and diction, a statement of pride in a hard-won and much-tested Discourse—not only its words and deeds but…a compendium of its habits and gestures, its values and attitudes—in short, the way a historically rooted people express suffering, desire, and hope” (452).
This brought to mind the close reading techniques of New Criticism that reign supreme in contemporary secondary school English literature classes. Students are taught to look at the text itself for meaning, and nothing else. Examine tone and diction, but do not say what the author thinks or means. Now, I do not purport to know authorial intent. Nor do I think that anyone can. But, isn’t talking about tone and diction pretty darn close? Yes, by talking about tone and diction, we take an effective approach – examining the effect that the words have on the reader, instead of the author’s intentional affect. But, we still acknowledge that the author chose those words for a reason. The words are put on paper in a specific order not by luck or happenstance, but by a person.
Now, I understand the reasoning behind the New Critical approach, and the general movement away from expressivism in academic writing norms. As Greenblatt points out, it was a natural progression bolstered by professional climate. And by foregrounding social constructivism, “the shift made possible a view of writing that could address race, class, gender, sexuality, and other social categories so crucial in debates over the next decades throughout the academy” (445).
I suppose my point here is in line with Goldblatt’s. That even in taking an effective approach to interpreting writing, a reader is tacitly (to use Goldblatt’s word) addressing authorial intent. I may not know what the author was trying to say, but I’m still going to make claims about what they are saying. I’m just examining it from the back-end instead of from the front.
Goldblatt’s essay is refreshing and provocative. I can see how “the man” of academia might marginalize his views. Strangely, or perhaps interestingly, I read the piece without looking at the name of the author, knowing nothing about him, and I assumed he was a woman because of the nature of the conversation with his colleague and his subsequent views on expressivism. I wonder if I am being sexist if I say that expressivism seems to be a feminine way to approach writing, and the dominant way its masculine counterpart.
Yeah, that’s probably super sexist. Forget I mentioned it.