115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ways of Seeing: Connectivity and Transformation in Student Writing

Sarah Allen, University of Hawaii, Manoa

This presentation will show how ways of seeing can be identified, explored, and put to work in our writing courses to encourage and intensify students’ connections (personal, academic, and professional) to the work they do in those courses.

Proposal: 

In the personal essay, “Seeing,” Annie Dillard confesses that, despite her skill in drawing, as a child, her sketches of horses were inaccurate. Her cousins, however, who were raised on a quarter-horse ranch in Cody, Wyoming could draw a horse “beautifully.” “The point,” she says, “is that I just don't know what the lover knows; I just can't see the artificial obvious that those in the know construct." Dillard brings the lover and the knowledgeable into relation with one another, making them equals in their abilities to “see” what the stranger or layperson cannot. Such a claim may seem true enough to our modern sensibilities; however, I suggest that what gets lost behind the obviousness of that claim is the way in which Dillard is calling attention to connection. She suggests that love and knowledge emerge out of sustained connection and a deliberate attentiveness. Then, one can create or “construct,” as she says.

In this presentation, I will explore Dillard’s ways of describing “seeing” in the essay – from the scientist’s to the laborer’s. Bringing her work into conversation with the works of Donna Haraway (Staying with the Trouble), Tom Rickert (Ambient Rhetoric), and theories of attitude formation in social psychology, I will articulate a theory of connectivity that challenges common conceptions of the autonomous writer, who works always in a subject-to-object relation to that which is outside---measuring the world, according to the writer’s own yard stick. Alternatively, I will offer a theory of connectivity that accounts for the transformations that can happen in the writer, as the writer works is a complex of connectivity. Finally, by pointing to specific writing assignments, I will show how ways of seeing can be identified, explored, and put to work in our writing courses in order to encourage and intensify students’ connections to the work they do in those courses.