THE ROLE OF TRAUMATIC CONFESSIONAL WRITING IN THE COLLEGE COMPOSITION CLASS
Lehman College, CUNY (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Conference name: 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 15-17 November, 2010
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:Spinoza observes in the ETHICS that Peter's portrait of Paul tells more about Peter than it does about Paul. Writers in a college composition class sometimes startle a teacher by producing traumatic confessional writing. Such writing may chronicle physical abuse, personal rejection, or a psychological disorder. What is the instructor to make of the writing? Concerns over being qualified to assess such writing often cause the teacher to avoid the writer's content. Traumatic confessional writing is silenced, either by responding to grammatical form alone or by muting the emotional significance of the writing. The teacher avoids responding to a written disclosure of personal trauma by citing his or her lack of training in that area.
I suggest that traumatic confessional writing should be elicited, discussed, and responded to in the composition class. Such an approach provides a number of classroom gains. A sense of audience, relevance of content, authorial voice, and honest writing are among the benefits of directly exploring confessional writing. Of course, delicate subject matter requires teacher discretion. Some students won't want to participate, so alternative assignments must be provided. The student must be made to feel comfortable sharing his or her disclosure in a non-threatening environment.
A number of interesting discoveries occur from classroom discussion of traumatic confessional writing. When relating a traumatic anecdote, the objective emphasis upon what happened is contrasted with the subjective stress upon how one felt. Objective and subjective focus, in turn, relate to the audience for whom the traumatic confessional writing is intended. What the writer thinks personally traumatic is sometimes incorrectly believed to be so. Class discussion helps to locate and distinguish traumatic experience from disappointing experience, a matter of topic relevance.
Trauma is psychologically engaging. Television programs testify to this daily. The gain for the classroom writer is a sense that his or her story matters; others are interested in it because of the experience the author relates.
George Orwell remarks that all writing should be political in the restricted sense that the writer's subject matter is intended to affect others. Traumatic confessional writing does this and more. It makes writing real. Writing isn't simply done for the teacher, but because it personally matters to the writer.
The lessons of traumatic confessional writing can be reinforced with confessional readings. Possible selections are legion, but a mixture of classic and contemporary readings is useful, e.g., Rousseau, St. Augustine, Arthur Koestler, and Maya Angelou. Traumatic confessional readings in conjunction with student writings go some distance towards overcoming naive, indulgent student writing while developing a sense of audience, relevance, voice, and authenticity. The use of traumatic confessional writing in the classroom will not only teach a classroom Peter about himself, but also better inform and guide his writing for and about Paul.
Keywords: Confessional, college, composition.