2003 MMLA
New Histories of Writing I:

Richard Jewell
Inver Hills Community College

A Phenomenology of Composition's Fifty-Year War of the Paradigms

Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology in the early twentieth century, asks us in his Cartesian Meditations to accept "any judgment as scientific" only if it is "derived from evidence, from 'experiences'...present to me." Spellmeyer calls such evidence "ordinary sensuous life, which is...the ground of thought itself...." It is this sensuous life--the real writing experiences of real writers--that suggests no one system alone is right and the interregnum that now exists--what Kathleen Blake Yancey calls our "plural commons"--might be the best situation possible in the field of writing practice. Fifty years ago, there was no understanding, let alone acceptance of, Spellmeyer's "sensuous life" in student writers. Thirty years ago, Peter Elbow's books helped set the cultural stage for the process movement. Ten years later, social epistemic theories began gaining power. We now seem to be in the midst of a great and continuing pause, a time when no one system dominates. The phenomenological experience of writing, in itself, thus has become the concrete ground in which we submerge ourselves each day to discover which theories truly work.