Paragraphs Trump Paintings

In “Challenging Theories of Knowing”, Patricia Dunn states that traditional ideas about Composition rely heavily on the belief that writing is the best way of knowing things about the world, not just one way among many ways of knowing the world. She then begins to demolish this idea and asks us to accept that writing is just another path to knowledge, though some individuals may prefer this path to others. The definition of composition in this class is that composition is almost a synonym for creation, it can be accomplished with many different techniques and hold many forms (audio, text, images, or some other form my mind can barely comprehend).

Patricia Dunn sets out that collapsing writing into language endangers our understanding of knowledge. We apparently put writing on a pedestal and when we do so we ignore other equally valid types of knowledge. Talking, sketching, and moving are mentioned in the title. Presumably, these are included in our new toolbox of knowledge implements. The “primacy of language” fallacy is to use only one of our knowledge tools and condemn the rest to disuse. Cleverly, our class supports many ways of knowing and avoids this writing-oriented trap.

I think there’s some value in this essay, but the overall direction of the essay reminds me of certain postmodern ideas about science. (Science is just what a bunch of dead European men thought about the world. They didn’t know truth. Nobody owns the truth. Everybody owns the truth. Truth is relative to social situations.) I think this type of thinking gets something deeply wrong; science deserves its elevated status among the various ways of knowing things. That status is deserved for many reasons, but the most self-evident of these reasons is the utility of science. That is, we can use the scientific way of knowing to effect material changes on the world (whether vaccines or nukes).

For much the same reason, writing deserves a certain elevated status. Writing (and language in a more general sense) allows a near-precise transfer of thought from one human to another. In a sense, writing is better than thought; thoughts are cluttered and entangled with themselves. Written words can aspire to a concise clarity that no other form of knowledge can rival. I don’t dispute that these other ways of knowing the world exist or add value to the human experience. Images and sounds can bend consciousness and induce emotions in ways that even the best writer can only envy. But text has acquired a hallowed status after thousands of years of competition with other knowledge structures. Demoting it to truth-equivalence with dance and song strikes me as wholly wrong.

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