Pedagogy 1.3 (2001) 590-592
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The Life of the Author
Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. 5th ed. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.
When Tony Petrosky and I handed in the first draft of the first edition of Ways of Reading, our editors were concerned about the book's mode of address and asked us to reconsider. In the preface and introduction we referred to ourselves as "we" and referred to our students at the University of Pittsburgh. In the assignments, too, we said "we," and we referred to students, this time other teachers' students, as "you." We highlighted our presence as authors and teachers. For our editors, there were two related concerns. We had violated the conventions of the textbook, where authors disappeared and the words appeared to come from above or afar or some space beyond human limit. More important, we were inserting ourselves into other people's classrooms, and that seemed wrong--too pushy, too invasive, somehow a breach of the social contract invoked when a teacher uses a textbook in a classroom. Teachers, our editors felt, would lose their priority if they had to deal with a Bartholomae and a Petrosky when they handed out assignments and presented the readings. This was one of the most serious criticisms we encountered when we handed in the first draft to Bedford.
We did not make the changes because we felt that the textbook should, in fact, announce its presence as a book. We thought it would be more useful as a teaching instrument if a teacher, whether an experienced teacher or a new teaching assistant, could locate the language and arguments in the book (in the introduction, in the odd cast of the assignments, in the choice of the selections) in the names Bartholomae and Petrosky, as though the language and arguments belonged to those figures--not figures in the field of English studies but authors on the page, whose interests were not necessarily those of the people reading, teaching, or using the assignments. This would allow a teacher, for example, to say, "Here they go again," fronting the question of who "they" are and what they are going on about.
We considered it pedagogically useful to be present rather than absent as the writers of the textbook. We stand by that decision today. We did not pretend to be innocent. To turn Jeffrey P. Cain's words back to the book, its authors are decidedly "implicated in the complex, coded web of conflicting signs, anxieties, desires, frustrations, contradictions, politics, ironies, jokes, and fears that institutional composition instruction comprises."
Let me add, I am grateful for the way Cain reads the textbook and the [End Page 590] instructor's manual in relation to some of my other scholarly work. I see it all as part of the same project. For one thing, Tony and I and our colleagues taught all of the selections that went into the first five editions, so, to speak for myself, I have been working on the book regularly as I have taught my own composition courses. But the decision to write a textbook was also motivated by a desire to work out theoretical questions in practice (questions represented in "Inventing the University" [Bartholomae 1985]) and to see if I could write to a much broader audience and in a form and language that would serve the work of student writers and their teachers.
Moreover, the book was the product of our desire to anthologize significant works of contemporary nonfiction that had not been collected in either composition readers or belletristic collections--critical writing, experimental nonfiction, scholarly writing, academic essays. Ways of Reading openly invites students to read the textbook in relation to the arguments of the writers it anthologizes, and it offers itself as the object of critical attention. It should come as no surprise, then, as Bonnie L. Kyburz notes, that "the selections in Ways of Reading present arguments for resistance to the very practices and beliefs, methodologies and myths, that it deploys."