Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Represents the World, Events, Ideas, and Feelings”

Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Represents the World, Events, Ideas, and Feelings.”  Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Eds. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle. Logan: Utah State UP, 2015. Print.

Bazerman speaks to the care that is due in word choice whenever we describe a thing – whether abstract or concrete. He explains that words are always a reduction of an experience (as this summary is reduction of his explanation), but insists that it is for this very reason that writers (and all other communicators) must be even more selective with language, regardless of the thing that is being expressed. He highlights the “knowledge-making” quality of writing and emphasizes that it is out of obligation to knowledge-making that communicators must exercise clarity and that the readers/hearers must exercise caution in absorbing expressed information.

Keywords:

Language, Representation, Communication, Reduction, Limitations, Knowledge-making, Word Choice

Citations:

Korzybski, Ken. 1999. “Academic Attribution: Citation and the Construction of Disciplinary Knowledge.” Applied Linguistics 20 (3): 341-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093.applin/20.3.341

Quotations:

“It is something of a surprise to realize how each of these [pieces of writing] is represented in the writing or speaking – in other words, the communication – changes what is shared about each of them and thus what our common knowledge is” (38).

“Recognizing the limitations of our representations can lead us to appropriate modesty and caution about what we and others write and about decisions and calculations made on the basis of representations” (38).

Questions:

If truth in writing is so closely tied to context given the limitations of language, how much background knowledge is necessary for a reader to have a grasp on the reality (or idea or sentiment or imagined reality) as it is written?

How can a writer possibly account for the varied connotative understandings or affective sensibilities of even a small handful of readers? Where do we root our clarity? Does it make sense to mimic language and tropes of the targeted discourse community? How might we create new metaphors, new ways of seeing, knowing?

How does this understanding of the fragility and limitations of language impact the reader? Do we trust the author less? Do we put more stock in lived experiences than in another’s expressed experience? Is just knowing this enough? Does this warrant an inaccessibility/mistrust of all things written and spoken?

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