Johnson-Eiola Response

At the beginning of his chapter, “The Database and The Essay,” Johndan Johnson-Eiola reminds us what writing is: the creative production of original words in linear streams that some reader receives and understands, and that the key question to address is: where does writing some from? (200).

It seems that the focus of many of the readings for this class has been to suggest that writing comes from other writing, texts rely on other texts, and though the push toward what Johnson-Eiola calls “commodification” of writing (as “a depressing trend”) (216), it is symbolic-analytic work that allows us to see the value in new ways of writing in response to the breakdown of textuality (201).

It takes a certain part of my brain to accept this approach to thinking about writing. It’s much “easier” to think of it in terms of originality, as means of creating something that is unique and whole all on its own. The example of “web logs” or blogs (a new etymological fact for me) demonstrates this conundrum in that this format is somewhat defined by the “incessant dispersal—the constant centrifugal force that encourages readers to click links and move away from their current location” of information, which “suggests an ironic reversal of a traditional diary’s attempts to unify the writing subject by making the subject both speaker and listener” (216).

I must admit that the way I tend to read (and listen perhaps) is fragmented in that I notice how my brain picks up on certain sentences (or phrases in dialogue), and holds on to them and derives value from them as separate entities. What I mean is, it’s often hard for me to hold focus with the entirety of a discussion like Johnson-Eiola’s, and I latch onto (receive) certain things he says—specific linear streams of words—and make my own meaning (understanding) from them.

The last example—diary vs. blog—hits home in that sense. My approach to writing, where my writing comes from, is directly related to the way in which I process information. For instance, when I hear something I like I write it down. Often when I see something I like, I take a photograph of it. I capture that one moment in so many words or in an image, and though it merely a sliver of a much larger experience, it still counts and has potential to become something even greater and completely different.

“Meaning derives from relationships and articulation,” our professor, Doug Downs, wrote in the margins of this reading (202). When I saw this, my first thought was that this could be applied to not only our relationship with writing, but with our relationships with other people (and ourselves). Sometimes when I get stuck on the page, I refer to a bit of advice I received from a mentor: Write one true sentence. Easier said than done of course, but to express truth requires articulation. And to be articulate requires our abilities to draw on what it already out there, floating around in a sense, enhance it (capture the essence of it) and send it back out into world.

I will end this blog post with my favorite sentence from this chapter: “Contemporary ideas in our field indicate that writing is not solely an individual act (or even largely), but a social one; new ideas and texts do not spring from the brow of isolated writers, but are developed intertextually from bits and pieces already out there (200).