Friday, February 20, 2009

On the Objectification of Subordinates in The Book of Saladin

Essay written for a special topics in literature class. It received an A. I don't think this is the version I turned in, but I wanted to throw this up so it was uh, something. Stoking my vanity, maybe.

Although much is made of the apparent equality of all men under the eyes of Allah - particularly during a jihad - this is seldom achieved in Tariq Ali's The Book of Saladin. Even under the guise of friendship, the value of one character to another in seems to often be measured only by what that character is capable of doing for another. Throughout the novel, individuals are frequently delegated to the rank of possessions, and few characters - most notably Shadhi - ever manage to escape this. The objectification of subordinates is a theme found throughout Saladin, and suggests a multitude of views that Ali has on authority, military/political hierarchies, and the life and social aspects of the ancient Muslim world in general.

In the weeks preceding the final campaign to Jerusalem, the novel's narrator and protagonist, Ibn Yakub mentions that, for the Sultan Salah al-Din, "It was necessary to show both friend and enemy that, in a jihad, all were equal in the eyes of Allah." (p. 240) This is a troubling thought given the importance that s placed on rank during the campaign. Although all of the soldiers in the camp hail from throughout the Muslim world, eat the same food from the same cooks, and are es expected to lay down their lives for the cause as anyone else, they are not welcome in the tents where the highest levels of strategy are to be deployed. That honor is instead reserved for Salah al-Din's closest and most trusted military generals and advisors, such as his nephews Taki al-Din and Farrukh Shah and, sometimes for the sake of historicity, the scribe Ibn Yakub. The soldiers, then, are equal to their superiors in the food they eat, the loot they may pillage from conquered cities, and the level of ribaldry they can spew in front of the camp fires - but not for sensitive topics such as strategy. This implies a strange sort of equality, and one reflected by many of the characters found in the novel.

This treatment of inferiors is most often demonstrated through the actions of the characters that surround Ibn Yakub, and sometimes by him as well. Although Salah al-Din treats Ibn Yakub with generosity and great courtesy, never are Ibn Yakub's personal wishes and drives acknowledged by the Sultan. The Sultan uses him in his official capacity - as a personal scribe - to great effect, and in this context his objectification of Ibn Yakub is understandable. However, as the novel moves forward and the Sultan seems to begin to view Ibn Yakub as a friend, the underlying dynamic of their relationship - subject and master - is never quite escaped. After Ibn Yakub returns from Cairo - where his family had been murdered by raiding Franj soldiers - he immediately visits with the Sultan. Whereas old friends and relative equals might embrace and enquire on the mental well-being of a friend after having dealt with such an ordeal, the Sultan instead immediately begins to recount his most recent failings and struggles with the jihad – and the scribe's troubles ignored.

Ibn Yakub seems to be unmindful of the lack of care expressed by the Sultan, and views him always as a superior instead of a friend. As their relationship begins early in the novel, Ibn Yakub acknowledges this when he fails to recognize the Sultan in his own home; prostrating himself before the Sultan, Ibn Yakub says, "Forgive my for not recognizing Your Majesty. Your slave begs forgiveness." (p. 5) Establishing early on the dynamic that would follow the pair throughout the novel, the Sultan responds by saying, "I do not care much for slaves. They are too prone to rebellion." (p. 5) Although possible that Ibn Yakub was following a societal norm in his address of the Sultan, his innate sense of inferiority is telling.

Telling, too, is the Sultan's response - rather than implying that Ibn Yakub was not his slave, he suggests instead that he'd rather he was something below even the status of the slave - something incapable of rebellion, perhaps. Mere days after this exchange, during the scribe's first official appointment with the Sultan, Ibn Yakub comments, "My hand began to move on the paper, pushed as if by a force much greater than me." (p. 30) Although this "greater force" could be any number of things - up to and including, potentially, Ibn Yakub's god - it is most certainly not Ibn Yakub himself. He is merely the instrument of more powerful hands, and seldom is seen as otherwise, whether by himself or by those around him.
Even when dealing with social issues not related directly to the Sultan or his court, the disparity between social/political ranks among characters is ever-present. The scribe's first interactions with women in the novel have him on both sides of this dynamic, both as subordinate and master. The former comes during his first meeting with the Sultana Halima, whom had been saved from a public execution by the Sultan so that he might keep her in his harem - whether by her choice or not. Clearly confused as to the intentions of Halima's desire for audience with him - and intimidated by her beauty and intelligence - Ibn Yakub begins their conversation by saying nothing, provoking Halima to ask, "Have you been struck dumb, scribe?" (p.92) Ibn Yakub indicates that he has not, and "assume[s] there was something [Halima] wished to communicate to me. You see I have brought my equipment with me so that I may transcribe your every utterance." (p. 92) In the first few exchanges between the pair, a hierarchy between them has become clear; Halima, who often seems to look down on everyone around her, is well aware that she has the initial advantage, and her vague insult signifies this. Ibn Yakub himself went into the conversation with an understanding that he was an object to be used by the Sultana - hence his equipment and hesitancy to initiate conversation. His first thought after mentioning his capacities as a scribe are that "She ignored my display of servility," (p. 92) suggesting perhaps that either she didn't care about what his skills were and wanted him for something else, or that she was above even servility – but she was nonetheless in a position above that of Ibn Yakub and able, through her own decision, to do either.

Her use of Ibn Yakub as an element of, initially, entertainment, and then as a listening post, is demonstrated by the content - and the conclusion - of their one-sided conversation. Halima relates to Ibn Yakub the story of how she came to be caught in the arms of a man other than her husband, although she fails to acknowledge that Ibn Yakub, too, may have a story. Disgusted and annoyed with his shock at the concept of Halima taking a female lover, she dismisses him, saying "I'm disappointed in you, scribe. I don't think I shall summon you again," (p. 96) indicating that Ibn Yakub's value to her extends only so far as he is capable of being a listener - and not a judger - of her words.

Ibn Yakub treats his wife, Rachel, in a similar capacity to how the Sultan and Halima treat him. His taking of the position of royal scribe had removed him for long periods of time from their home and their daughter, and rather than addressing the problem with their relationship in the fashion that equals in marriage perhaps would, Ibn Yakub instead seems to regularly dismiss her complaints. After he returns home one evening and finds his friend and mentor, Ibn Maymum, fornicating with his wife, neither his mind nor his words turn to what he could have personally done to avert such a terrible thing from happening, or even how he might be partially at fault. Instead, he grows angry with her and Ibn Maymum, assaulting the man and nearly doing the same to his wife. When he comes and looks to her and she says, "You never forgave me for not giving you a son. Was it my fault that after our daughter was born I could never conceive again? You abandoned me for the Sultan and life in the palace. Ibn Maymum became my only source of consolation. I was lonely. Can't you understand?" (p. 155) His response to what should have been a clear indictment of his recent lifestyle was, rather than even vague understanding, was "I was shaken. No reply formed on my lips. I was filled with blind rage and, had I not left the room, would have struck her several blows." (p. 155)

Although his initial, potentially violent reaction is (sort of) understandable, her words provide an insight into their relationship that Ibn Yakub failed to take notice of. Although Ibn Yakub never seemed to mention it, that Rachel failed to provide for him a son - and thereby, in a sense typical to the novel, outlived her usefulness - was a substantial cause of tension in their relationship. Instead of viewing her as an equal, a partner with whom to share struggles and joys and life, he - or at least, how she felt he viewed her - wanted her exclusively for her capacity to bear him a male heir. Failing that, she became nearly useless.

That a person can become useless and ultimately discarded is a concept that also arises repeatedly in The Book of Saladin. One of the most highly-favored of the royal concubines, Jamila, seems to experience this as both a discarded person and a discarder of people. Shortly after arriving in the royal harem, Jamila and Halima became close friends and closer lovers, and the joy the pair brought to one another was seen and commented upon by many characters in the novel. After Halima became heavy with the Sultan's child, however, their relationship changed; seduced by the superstitions of the old women of the harem, she rejected Jamila, both as a friend and lover. That she could allow what appeared to be a fundamentally strong relationship to falter and fail at the words of old women suggests that Jamila had a real and tangible value to Halima - and those values could be found elsewhere and in perhaps greater quality. Halima had replaced Jamila.

This was not to be the last cause of tension between the two characters. Amjad, the personal eununch and servant of Jamila, worshipped his master, saying at one point that "[Jamila] is the only one I love, and I would die happily at her command." (p. 257) This indicates that, even if Jamila personally hadn't intended to objectify the eununch, then he had objected himself to her - he lived and found life on her every word, and seemed to function as little else than pleasing her in any way possible. The above quotation resulted in a conversation that the eununch had with the scribe, Ibn Yakub, about a terrible sort of secret that the eununch had been trying to hide from his master, Jamila - that Halima had been raping him on an almost nightly basis. Shortly after finding this out and learning of the death of Halima, Jamila had the eununch sent away, and explained it in a heartbreakingly-casual fashion; "Amjad? Alas, he is no longer with us. He spread so many calumnies to so many people that I had to ask for him to be sent away. The steward dealt with the matter. Do not look so worried. He is still alive." (p. 322) She discarded him, ironically, in a fashion similar to the way that Halima discarded her - on what were false pretenses, paranoid delusions, and self-damning, blind acts of temper. People that are seen as fellow humans, and not objects with a quantifiable value, should seldom be treated in such a fashion - but objects capable of outliving their value frequently are.

A certain amount of consideration for cultures foreign to my own should be taken, however; the way that my peers treat one another is imagined to be vastly different than the way that peers in the ancient Muslim world would treat one another - particularly those in a militaristic or royal setting. That essentially every character in the novel is guilty of objectification when they can get away with it - except, again, for Shadhi - is troublesome. Were all of the people surrounding Salah al-Din really just miserable bastards? I have a difficult time accepting this, as characters like Shadhi, who treats nearly everyone with the same hyperbolic level of either venom or love, suggest that some of the individuals found in the novel view human beings as creatures worthy of care. This suggests that, instead, Ali has chosen to infuse most of the characters in The Book of Saladin with the capacity for a cold and callous disregard for the emotional and physical needs of others. That this occurs most often with characters dealing with those they might consider subordinates - such as the Sultan Salah al-Din to the scribe Ibn Yakub and the husband Ibn Yakub to the wife Rachel - indicates a certain attitude that Ali may have towards people that inhabit positions of power over others. He perhaps has an innate dislike for people that find themselves in such positions, or has experienced that they view those below them as objects to use as tools and not as individuals to care for.

The singular character that seems to avoid being used as a tool is that of Shadhi; a Kurd, like Salah al-Din and hailing from the mountains, he tends to be less refined and far more callous than the other characters found within Saladin. Shadhi, who taught the Sultan in the ways of war and of life since an early age, is particularly close to the Sultan, and often takes advantage of this by way of both openly mocking any member of the royal court he wishes to, and by having the freedom to do most anything he wants. Both the narrator Ibn Yakub and the Sultan develop a deep affection for the man, and it becomes clear by the time of his death that he is a special case in the kingdom. That Ali chose essentially the most barbaric and uncivilized of characters to be among the few that escape objectification is interesting, suggesting, perhaps, that civilization itself is a corrupting influence. That he is often present at potentially dangerous exchanges – such as Ibn Yakub's first meeting with Halima – is a strange choice. Intrinsically an outsider, the most socially privelaged and unrefined character often finds himself as anything but an outsider. Even if not directly center-stage, Shadhi never misses a performance and is usually just on the periphery, absorbing the input and returning insults. He also seems to be one of few characters that develops a genuine bond with Ibn Yakub, taking special care to ensure he doesn't step on the wrong feet, and appeared to be genuinely sympathetic to the narrator when he found his wife with Ibn Maymun.

Although Shadhi is near all of the positions of power, he seems to wield little of it himself, instead acting as confidant and advisor to his Sultan. That he also fails to systematically objectify all of those around him suggests perhaps an alternate take on motivations – not that those in power abuse personal relationships because they can, but because they must. In order to rule a kingdom effectively a leader must have an effective eye not merely for talent, but for personality – and the capacity to know how to use that personality. In order to solidify their positions as strongly as they can in the harem, Halima and Jamila are forced to abandon people they otherwise might not. This doesn't address Ibn Yakub or Ibn Maymum, however. Neither of them seemed to be particularly interested in jockeying for increased power or social influence, and Ibn Yakub seemed at all times secure in his position. However, that didn't stop him from objectifying one of the few characters beneath him – his wife – and nor did it stop his friend Ibn Maymum from commodizing their friendship by fornicating with Rachel.

Saladin seems to end as a series of objects caught adrift in a storm of jihad and confused spirituality, with the exertions of each object upon another providing the catalyst for conversation and the forwarding of plot. Even the underlying goal of the majority of the book – the Sultan's planned reconquest of Jerusalem and Ibn Yakub's recording of it – is a struggle about attaining objects. Fitting, then, that the novel ends as a series of physical objects, the letters that Ibn Yakub wrote to Ibn Maymun, instead of in the narrative voice that dominated so much of the story.

Major Online Presence

Major Online Presence assignment. The goal was to examine our field of aspiration's presence on the internets. This paper received an A. A powerpoint presentation goes along with this, but I have no idea how to include that here so fuck off or something.

The breadth and scope of forms of writing found on the Internet are nearly as broad as the Internet itself; poetry, journalism, teenage-angst blogging, and forms of criticism are all prevalent, and are but a few of the possible forms that a writer might present himself on the Internet. Attempting to list, categorize, and actually read all of these poses not merely a daunting task, but an impossible one – even a quick Google search for “writing” returns more than 380 million results.

One of the more prevelant forms of writing on the Internet today is known as blogging. An inherently more social form of writing than has been traditional, both in academia and print/circular, blogging typically invites readers to both comment and to actively engage in the conversation taking place. As my chosen forms of writing is both creative and critical, a small selection of blogs of each type has been selected for examination.

The closest affiliation that I maintain with the creative section of the blogosphere is dedicated to the poetry of a small group of fellow students over Facebook called “Why Don't You Write a Poem About it, Pussy?” Being a closed group, the world at large cannot read the works found within – which is exactly the way that the founder intended it to be. By being isolated from the public, I believe that “Why Don't” provides a unique platform for writers to experiment with forms and ideas that they may otherwise be hesitant to share, and the expression of content that might be viewed with hostility by the outside world. As many of the groups members share their work with the public at a variety of open-mic settings, “Why Don't” also provides a set of experienced speakers and orators that can give advice to some of the younger aspiring poets. This collaboration sometimes extends to group presentations, in which several poets come together to create and ultimately deliver pieces to an audience.

The Readers and Writers Blog serves a similar purpose; to permit aspiring writers, typically unpublished, to come together to hone their craft. Readers are welcome and encouraged to not merely comment on posted items, but to criticize them in an effort to encourage them to produce better pieces. Although the concept of R&W Blog is essentially the same as that of the“Why Don't You” Facebook group, the openness to public discourse shifts the nature of the website and how writing manifests itself. The quantity of works posted to the R&W Blog are immense, and demonstrate the greatest strength of an open writing forum: a gigantic library of posted works, which writers can use both as inspiration and as a guide for their own writing. Although the website has only been around since April 2007, their archives contain several thousand entries, and the variety of writing styles found vastly eclipses that of “Why Don't You.” Although any piece can be commented upon and criticized, the level of response to a specific piece is seemingly random; some poems will receive hundreds of responses, while others receive none. Unfortunately, the community of R&W Blog tends to gravitate towards works that are short, easily-understood, and dealing mostly with upbeat themes like love and sunshine. Abstract, long-form and difficult forms rarely receive the level of attention that easy ones do.

An aspect that I often consider when posting various works to either of these groups is the audience; I must admit that what I post anonymously to the R&W Blog tends to be of a different nature than what I would post to “Why Don't You.” The anonymity of the former allows me to write on concepts that I find difficult to share with those that are close to me, particularly if a work happens to be about one of them, whereas I – and the other posters to the R&W Blog – are free to speak their minds in relative privacy. The other edge of the anonymous sword, however, is that anything posted to “Why Don't You” will never be read by a publisher or a talent scout. While unlikely, the possibility exists that a publisher might read something of particular merit on the R&W Blog and seek to hire the original author. Thus, one of the major functions of publically-open publishing such as through the R&W Blog is that it might actually help your career. It's just a shame that it is less likely to improve my craft, as my work tends to be of a more complex and abstract nature.

While there exists a substantial community for creative writing on the Internet, the financial demand for individuals vested in the field appears to be steadily shrinking. Although writing positions of all kinds have been terminated in recent months, the job availability and security of working for a regular publication is generally better than what could be expected with poetry. It would seem initially that tailoring my education and research into fields that are more likely to reap financial success is, in some small measure, the sale of a slight part of my soul.

Man, however, is not limited to singular passions, and as such the decision to focus on an alternate field – criticism – is one that will not compromise my soul. As my personal preference is gaming journalism, I tend to frequent a small set of blogs dedicated to the craft and have become familiar with both their Internet presence and the communities that have developed around them.

Among the most personally influential is that of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a UK-based PC-gaming blog run by four freelance gaming journalists. Although they don't have a specific focus aside from games based on the PC platform, they write with an intelligence and wit seldom seen in the gaming blogosphere. Often, the entries contain good measures of dry, English humo[u]r while providing thoughtful commentary on the issues they find presented. While the pithy nature of the writing is entertaining and engaging enough to ensure two visits per day, it is the capacity of the four freelancers to examine the larger issues raised by games – whether it comes in the form of strange or clever design decisions, the use of action and environment over dialogue as a method for delivering narration, or the implications of the plethora of recent software piracy studies – that allows for its rapidly-growing audience to proliferate.

Their community consist of two primary sources. The first, which functions similarly to the majority of blogs, is the comment section. A user, whether anonymous or registered, may post a comment after each post. Often this creates a somewhat stilted form of conversation, particularly with controversial topics such as software piracy. While the freelancers of RPS provide ample reason to visit, the level of depth found within their comments community is surprising; the most well-informed, researched and reasoned debates that I've been able to observe on software piracy have occurred there, and each school of thought boasted several software developers providing opinion and insight.

A more recent addition to Rock, Paper, Shotgun is the forum. Although the forum architecture itself is typical, the community is entirely positive. Software developers don't seem to involve themselves in the forum as much as they do the comments section, but the conversations that take place remain productive and thoughtful. Many readers of Rock, Paper, Shotgun appear to be older, and nostalgic thought and archaic reference are common when their influences are felt in modern games.

Although RPS has generated several provocative discussions about piracy, one website – Gamasutra – has generated enormous volumes of conversation on many aspects of gaming. Although most of their content is straight gaming-journalism, often reading like a newspaper, the more interesting features posted focus on the intellectual aspect of gaming. Questions such as, “Are videogames art?”, “Are videogame regulations working?”, and “Do game developers understand visual-floating dot points?” are commonplace, and present to the world-at-large a more intelligent and developed forum for thought and writing about video games than would otherwise be thought by people that spend their lives playing videogames.

In itself, hosting a discussion or posting a feature about a particular issue is nothing special; the primary difference here between Gamasutra and Rock, Paper, Shotgun is that those articles posted on Gamasutra are often linked to throughout the gaming blogosphere – while Rock, Paper, Shotgun is not.

Much of the world still views gaming in general as something for children and for idle minds, and not a real form of either art of media. Since the release of the first Mortal Kombat, games have often been scapegoated for the rise in school violence and moral depravity in general. Blogs such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Gamasutra stand in stark opposition to this, providing a place for intelligently and well-made games to be celebrated, and those that fail to meet the rigors of quality development are panned. Either of these groups are organizations that I personally would enjoy writing for, as I personally – along with many of their regular readers – find that their objectives and methods of delivery are directly in line with my own.

Unfortunately, not every video game blog is pushing the industry as intellectually forward as Gamasutra or RPS. One blog in particular, Kotaku, is notoriously inept and demonstrates everything that is wrong with both video games and their publish manifestations. Although reliable enough for rapidly-deployed news about gaming across all platforms, the various posters of Kotaku have tendencies for not merely self-indulgence, but of outright using their positions as publically-read writers to sway the minds and opinions of readers. Where the function of RPS and Gamasutra is to, generally, provide nearly-objective criticism, commentary and interviews, Kotaku often makes terribly clear its biases and preferences to the reader, forcing them to struggle to adopt their own.

The community that regularly reads Kotaku is almost expected based on their blog entries; where the forum users and entry commentors of RPS tend to be well-written and thoughtful, Kotaku gravitates towards the sentence-long, gut-reaction soundbyte form of public discourse. An argument could be made that Kotaku is even in danger of pushing the industry backwards due to how it handles content; the owner and a regular poster of Kotaku, Brian Crecente, has developed a reputation for ranting and writing irrelevant entries. The many enemies of video games latch onto figures such as Crecente, and assume that, due to his pointed rhetoric, that all gamers are of a similar mindset.

Thankfully, there are writers associated with gaming that aren't incendiary and biased, just as not all gaming websites are dedicated to the intellectual aspects of gaming. The quantity of different writing styles, forms and types on the Internet are as diverse as the Internet itself is – even though a great deal of content is now being delivered via video or music, someone has to write the content surrounding it. As my intended major and profession is a fairly broad goal, it's difficult to select a particular area to focus on as I plan on doing a great many things with my degree.

Voice and Purpose: On Using an Argumentative Method in the Instruction of Composition

Midterm for Composition Theory. Grade pending. update: grade A.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins maneuvers through a set of theological arguments in an attempt to disprove the Western conception of God. He tries to do this through an examination of a variety of arguments that have been presented over the course of the last century and weaves through biology, philosophy, and even cosmology – all while ensuring that his arguments are easily understood and digestible for a variety of audiences. Regardless of the potential ethical issues that his arguments on this topic may generate, Dawkins' capacity to persuade and illuminate readers on a series of otherwise complex and often abstract arguments is incredibly well-developed. What is it about Dawkins' delivery of prose that allows for the easy consumption and understanding of its message, and how is it that, even though the message is often contentious and antagonistic, it is still able to be understood and not lost in theological misgivings?

Turning quickly to and reading any page found within The God Delusion reveals an aspect of Dawkins' work that exists almost outside of the content found within; always, in every page, in every foot note – even in every section heading – the presence of his distinctive voice is found. It's almost as if he's developed his delivery of non-fiction in the method that a novelist might develop a narrative character, and the impact that is has on the reader cannot be emphasized enough. By allowing for his personality to emerge through the text, he is providing for the reader a face, a consistent voice with which to identify, and this – at least, to me – provides great benefit in the understanding of his words. How is it that he can achieve this, and could this be used as a tool for teaching composition?

By studying writers like Dawkins that manage to effectively convey new and sometimes controversial ideas with clarity and persuasion, students, with the aide of a well-versed instructor, can learn to use his methods of delivery to enhance their own writing. Every act of dialogue with another person, whether they be a peer, superior or subordinate, is ultimately an argument; each of the parties involved has arrived at, even if only slightly, a different truth than those around them. Even when speaking on something as banal as the weather, their interpretations will be different from one another. As argumentation forms a critical component of discourse between any group of individuals, it is of utmost importance that students learn to engage in this style of communication effectively. Every student, from the English major crafting Shakespearean analysis to the business major drafting business proposals, is asserting their own, personal truth, and the effective arguing of that truth is necessary for success in either field. It is therefore important to understand not simply that writers like Dawkins are capable of effective argumentation and persuasion, but how it is that they are effective at it, and how it is that these skills can be developed in students.

In order to understand what it is about Dawkins' work that causes it to be such a worthy example of effective argumentative writing, a pair of components must be examined. The first is that of purpose; without a clear purpose and an understanding of the goals that one hopes to achieve with writing, then the composition is bound for, at best, a lack of comprehension and, at worse, an alienation of the audience. The second aspect is the audience being addressed; who are they? What do they know and believe already, and what are the weaker aspects of their arguments? How can their predispositions be overcome?

These two attributes of The God Delusion leap to the forefront as an explanation of his effectiveness at delivering his personal version of truth: his absolute and clear sense of purpose, and his delivery through a conversational, confrontational tone, which displays an intimate understanding of his audience. His purpose – that of disproving God, or at least arguments that prop Him up to desists around the world – is omnipresent in his style, and every sentence in the work demonstrates this. His conversational tone enables him to easily address issues with his arguments and potential flaws within them, permitting him to address them almost before the reader can raise them. This sort of argumentative, conversational writing is the stuff of human discourse, and provides a platform on which writers can argue the truths that they have come to find – as writing, in the end, is little more than the examination, refutation, or proving of some truth, whether abstract, concrete or whimsical, that a writer may have determined. In Donald Murray's essay “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product,” he says that, “The students are individuals who must explore the writing process in their own way ... to find their own way to their own truth.” (p. 6) If that truth arises in the way that Murray claims – independently for each student – then some students will have conflicting truths from their peers. The most effective way for students to compare truths and strengthen their own are by way of adopting a style similar to that of Dawkins', so that they can see how to “[use] language to reveal the truth to himself so that he can tell it to others.” (p. 4)

In order for this style of composition to function, a point of contention must be first decided upon, as there can be no truth without contention. For Dawkins, this was simple: a lot of people believe in God, but he does not, and felt that their believing in God did more harm than good. Points of contention exist everywhere, although depending on the level of education, care should perhaps be taken in subject matter; instructing students to debate the relative merits of atheism or abortion in a Bible-belt state could potentially be grounds for dismissal (especially if the instructor has yet to reach tenure!), but a host of other options exist. Ideally, topics should involve a series of concerns, and the best will involve many, such as economics, ethics, feasibility and so on. Topics should also have relatively rigid lines between standpoints as well. This will encourage – force, even – the student to adopt a strong stance on one side or another, and will hopefully make it easier for the student to carry the same message throughout their compositions.

This speaks to the purpose component of using Dawkins' style in composition, but not the voice – that must come, ultimately, from the student. This can be encouraged and brought to the surface by having students, having already decided on their points of contention, converse with one another about the topic. It is important that they go over most of the components that they will be arguing, as when they finally sit down to begin composing drafts of the written works, they will have a clear audience in mind – their opponent. Although the assignment will call for them to compose it in a fashion that can be read and understood by anyone, by imagining that they are directly addressing a peer, and not just the instructor or the abstract letter grade, it will allow them to write almost as if speaking to an audience.

By speaking to a defined audience, the student will be able to more clearly understand the necessity for making their arguments lucid; if the reader of their words cannot understand them, then they will persuade no one and render the purpose of their composition irrelevant. Because a critical component of the pre-writing process is the development of points of contention with another student, then the students' will have an understanding of what points are important to address in the final composing of their arguments. By engaging in a series of similar assignments, the students will grow to understand not only how to compose confrontational and argumentative essays, but will understand also where the weak points of their arguments lie by having them pointed out by their audience – their peers. In order for the truth that Murray talks about to emerge in the works of students, they must be able to understand how to make their words into truth.

This is best accomplished by an understanding of what makes for a true statement. Although there are certain absolute truths to the world, such as space being super-scary and Mars being mostly red, most students will only rarely make use of these. Instead, they will be developing their own truths and arguing them – only generally, they will be forced to define their audience and their arguments on their own, without the benefit of having each assigned by an instructor. The understanding that absolute truths are nearly nonexistent, and the only truths relevant are those that they learn to construct, becomes increasingly important as they begin to enter the real world. The initial instruction will enable them to understand how such arguments – and truths – are made. Perhaps the most straightforward way to establish an understanding of this before the actual composing process begins is to instruct students to read argumentative works, such as Dawkins' The God Delusion, and discuss how it is that he arrives at and defends his various truths.

Although his logical structures and arguments can be dissected, it is ultimately his creation of truths, through a variety of devices, that allow him to assert himself as effectively as he does. In James Berlin's essay “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories,” he quotes Ann Berthoff as saying, “As a writer, you learn to make words behave the way you want them to .... Learning to write is not a matter of learning rules that govern the use of the semicolon or the names of sentence structures, nor is it a matter of manipulating words; it is a matter of making meanings[.]” (p. 267) This – the making of new meanings and truths – is another key aspect of Dawkins' writing. He uses logic, philosophy, hard scientific data and established theory to establish this truth, and this is apparent in every paragraph found throughout The God Delusion.

For better or worse, an understanding of the mechanical aspects of the language and the forms that it follows is necessary to understand how to make those meanings. These do not necessarily have to be taught traditionally, however, and abstracting the language too far into rules and forms may prove to be detrimental to understanding. By teaching the structural rules alongside the purpose of composition – the development of truth – some of the loss of attention associated with the instruction of grammar-only may be mitigated.

One of the difficulties in teaching subjects such as algebra are the high levels of abstraction necessary to work with the problems. Often, the goal of such problems seems to be arbitrary; although most college students wouldn't struggle with the simple equation “1 + X = 5,” understanding easily that “X = 4,” they likely won't have any idea what X – or the problem as a whole – is meant to represent or accomplish. Teaching problems that seem irrelevant to students will be seen as being irrelevant, and if a problem is irrelevant to a student, then is it really a problem? Is it even worthy of attention? Although the usage of algebra in this context is unfair as the purpose is to teach skills necessary in the understanding of real problems later, such as using trigonometry to measure the optimal angle of the fin on a rocket ship, it demonstrates a problem with teaching skills that are essentially worthless on their own: that, to the students, they are useless, and therefore not worth learning.

So too is it with the instruction of composition; if the purpose of composition is to discover and assert truths, then this should be taught alongside the more technical aspects of composition. By understanding that the rules of the language are in place to facilitate effective communication, and that effective communication is necessary to establish and assert those truths, then the learning of those mechanical rules makes a great deal more sense than if they were taught in a vacuum. Unlike the teaching of basic algebra, which has applications only in mathematics and the sciences, the teaching of argumentation through purpose and voice extends far beyond the confines of the English classroom. Business proposals for executives will be met, at least occasionally, with opposition – and an effective understanding of audience and purpose can help to win those executives to your side by understanding how best to phrase the truths presented to them. Philosophical discourse relies on an understanding of the intricacies of logic and argumentation, but an understanding of your audience will allow you to structure your argument in a fashion that is potentially more palatable than that of your opponent. The political applications of these sorts of skills are limitless, and an understanding of audience is perhaps more important here than in any other field – whether or not you keep, much less get, your job is entirely dependent on this. Every paper and assignment composed in the process of college education will contain an argument – having a solid background (or even one good class) will directly benefit each and every paper.

By developing in students an understanding of how to create, manipulate, and deliver truths, it removes a layer of abstraction from the teaching of composition. Now, the composing of that six-page essay that may have been seen at one point as irrelevant now has real meaning; by creating their own truth, students establish an attachment to each assignment, and the (hopeful) drive to rigorously defend that truth. The letter grade that comes as the final result becomes more than a pass/fail mechanic, or even a “How awesome you are” gradient – it becomes an acceptance and validation of a personal truth from an exterior source, or the refutation and dismantling of an idea held dear by an external source.

Initially emulating the work of writers like Dawkins, first through reading, comprehension and discussion and, ultimately, by applying his methods of persuasion to their own written works, students will develop not only a dialectic style of writing, but an understanding that their method of delivery is equally as important as the content of their work. Although truth can exist in a vacuum for an individual student, they must learn to persuade their audience of their personal vision of truth so that it begins to hold true for the reader as well.

Works Cited:
1. Berlin, James. “Contemporary Criticism: The Major Pedagogical Theories.”
Cross-Talk in Comp Theory.Ed. Victor Villanueva. National Council of Teachers of English. 2003. 255-269.
2. Murray, Donald. “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product.” Cross-Talk in Comp Theory.
Ed. Victor Villanueva. National Council of Teachers of English. 2003. 3-6.
3. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Bantam Press. 2006.