A lot of what I’ll say here concerning personal writing circles back not only to yesterday’s post, but also (as Clancy points out) to what I was thinking last year, and also to the recent excellent posts (and the subsequent discussions they spurred) by Sharon Gerald and John Lovas. So, first, some givens: I agree with Sharon that “personal writing is academic writing,” and with John that “all writing is personal. All good writing conveys a sense of the person who produced it, including good academic writing.” No surprises there. And I think the insights offered by John’s answer to his rhetorical question are extremely useful, and also interesting in the way they anticipate the title of Thomas De Zengotita’s new book (referenced in yesterday’s post): “How does the personal intersect with knowledge-building? It means finding in each subject a personal connection, a dimension of the topic that connects to or illuminates one’s lived experience, including previous reading and mediated experience.” But what I’m talking about here is different from Sharon’s “personal” essays that “are all about something other than the student”: this is writing that is, in fact, about the student (more on this in the Method section), because I think such writing can work against those assignments that — as I said before — “rely upon a vague rhetoric of individualism and positioning, while actually ignoring individual and institutional context: they are simultaneously solipsistic, generalized, and abstracted from any concrete and particular context.” Personal writing is worthwhile in its groundedness, in its connectedness, in its being located in its done-for-its-own-sake non-exchangeable non-equivalent value: in its Use Value.
Which is why I’m puzzled when Clancy asks to what ends personal writing might be put; when she asks what it’s for; when she wonders about transforming experience into evidence. It’s not for anything other than itself-as-writing, I want to answer. Its value is in its doing. This weblog — even as I’m writing about composition theory, about politics, about the Romans who I love for their sheer cussed weirdness, about rhetoric, about material that may seem largely academic — is personal writing. But then I follow Clancy’s link to Joan W. Scott’s work on experience, and I start to understand a little.