- Guest Editors’ Introduction:Guest Editing as a Form of Disciplinary Probing
1986. New Orleans. The Conference on College Composition and Communication. The two of us and Elaine O. Lees are presenting on a panel titled “Reader-Response Theory and the Teaching of Writing: The Teacher as Responding Reader.” Our titles? Salvatori: “Some Implications of Iser’s Theory of Reading for the Teaching of Writing.” Donahue: “Barthes and the Obtuse Reader.” Lees: “Is There an Error in This Text? What Stanley Fish’s Theory of Reading Implies about the Teaching of English.”
There was something special about the Conference on College Composition and Communication that year, especially for anyone concerned about reading. A few books had already been published: Composition and Literature: Bridging the Gap, edited by Winfred Bryan Horner (1983); Writing and Reading Differently, edited by G. Douglas Atkins and Michael Johnson (1985); Only Connect, edited by Thomas Newkirk (1986); and Convergences: Transactions in Reading and Writing, edited by Bruce T. Peterson (1986). More appeared to be on the way, for instance, Reclaiming Pedagogy: The Rhetoric of the Classroom, edited by Patricia Donahue and Ellen Quandahl (1989). College English and College Composition and Communication were brimming with provocative investigations. Interest in reading was, paradoxically, both bourgeoning and at its apex, which we came to recognize only in retrospect. Over the next few years, while we and a few others (most notably David Bartholomae, Elizabeth Flynn, Joseph Harris, David Jolliffe, Kathleen McCormick, Susan Miller, Thomas Newkirk, and Donna Qualley) [End Page 1] continued to think and speak about reading’s interconnection with writing and the pedagogical advantages of teaching them as interconnected, the crowds thinned. At a convention a few years after the New Orleans one, we were scheduled for a small, out-of-the-way space, which we remember being named the Outback Room (whether or not it was is beside the point). Reading had had its moment. That moment was over.
While work on reading continued to be delivered and published, it was obvious that new topics had seized the professional imagination. As composition began to articulate its contours and separate itself further and further from literary studies, scholar-teachers seemed to find categories like cultural studies and literacy more provocative, or generative, or rewarding—more socially committed than the supposedly rarefied reader-response, hermeneutical, and reception theories. This is not to say that reading disappeared altogether, but it did seem to take a backseat to other kinds of disciplinary construction. Was it because capturing meandering reading processes was difficult, or risky, or suspect? Or perhaps, as we have argued elsewhere, the importance of reading to the teaching of writing was to many so obvious, so vivid, that it could be taken for granted? Reading? Check.
In many respects this special issue is, as has been much of our collaborative work over the past few years, an attempt to come to terms with, to understand in constructive and theoretical ways, why reading acquired such visibility only then to fall into relative neglect. Of course, over these years reading has always been “there,” whether “there” is the classroom or the book or the journal or the Internet. Recently, in one of the always lively discussions that take place on the Writing Program Administrators electronic mailing list, several have forcefully stated that, yes, of course reading has to be taught, of course reading cannot be taken for granted, of course students can only improve as writers when they improve as readers. But, we feel, the question of how the teaching of reading should change to achieve these results needs more sustained attention.
Fortunately, alongside these claims of the “always already” and the unquestionable imbrication of reading and writing is heard another chorus of voices, of those who feel the need to rethink and reconceptualize how teaching can mine that imbrication. To do so, several contributors draw upon the theoretical work on reading published in the 1980s and 1990s. A few are thinking, as others did before them, about reading as a function of interpretation or meaning making. Considerations about the interconnection of reading and writing that ignited the work in the 1980s are...