Answering Rhetorical Questions

“What is writing” is, in my mind, a question similar in purpose to “What is art” or “Who is John Galt”; that is to say, it doesn’t so much prompt an answer as it does incite circular logic in the answerer. But when one does look for an objective answer, it sets off a train of thought with no particular destination at all. After our conversation in class, I’m convinced that writing is whatever you want it to be – you could make a feasible argument for virtually anything if you tried. The question begs you to contemplate a question that doesn’t require an answer, so I personally am less concerned with what writing is and more with how it relates to me.

So, while acknowledging that writing can mean many things for many different people, as was clearly exemplified in our conversations and the “What is writing” gallery, for me, writing is just a means for enhancing my interactions with any field. Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single discipline in this world that wouldn’t benefit from better writing, and that’s one over-the-top statement I have no problem making. My individual relationship with writing ranges from the academic theses I write on political economy and development to the professional emails and resumes I often draft to my personal writing on the side that sometimes helps me better absorb life events. Writing even explains my tastes in music, particularly hip-hop, one of the most lyrical forms of music, where verses are essentially poems (Ong’s argument here fell through to me, as I don’t view writing as compromising the oral tradition, but as sustaining it – writing is the foundation behind many verbal arts). All these fields could barely function without writing, and yet for many people, pairing a study in writing with more traditional fields seems counter-intuitive. But I have always seen the world this way – through writing – and so, objectively, I know what writing means to me. I can define the practice for myself without needing to make some grandiose statement about the nature of the concept itself.

However, the one major thing I did get out of our conversation last Thursday was a chance to really visualize how fluid definitions of writing are for various people. As I said, I think this is how it should be – I don’t think that an answer needs to ever be decided on – but that did allow me to realize that my definition of writing is perhaps too rigid. In this course, I don’t want to come to a new definition of what writing is; rather, I’d like to rediscover what writing is to me, hopefully evolving while breaking down some of that rigidity. I’m concerned that for writers, as with artists, the trap of pretentiousness is too easy to fall into when big questions like “What is ____” are posed, and that’s one thing I want to dodge: you won’t see me turning in a doodle as “writing” any time soon. But I definitely do want to explore more how writing interacts with, or even serves as the basis for the rest of the world, and if that means diving into untraditional practices, that’s a risk I may have to take.


2 thoughts to “Answering Rhetorical Questions”

  1. Hi Chad!!

    I am totally supportive of your stance on the fluidity of the term “writing” in this post. I like that you question our act of questioning what writing is, as it truly means something different for every single person who comes across the word. I also appreciate your ability to self confront when it comes to the idea that you might be to rigid in your own definition of writing.
    I think that we will both learn a lot about being open-minded this semester, whether this means taking more risks with our ideas and intuitions or even with the means in which we choose to express these ideas.
    I am excited to get to work with you throughout the entirety of our time in Writing 220.
    See ya tomorrow!

  2. I agree with a lot of what you say in this entry, and I really appreciate some of the ideas you bring to table here. For one, I think you make a good point that oftentimes when questions as abstract and all encompassing as “What is __” are posed, it is easy for a writer to get caught up in the cliche of being profound and all knowing. Instead, I think, what is really valuable is the individual or writer’s voice, in itself, and what it can bring to the table naturally, logically. I also enjoy your brief exploration into writing in accordance with how it relates to you and how you, personally, have come to appreciate it. Writing really is a tool, and the more we are able to master it, the more we can use it. Writing can be very powerful stuff; there have been things I have read that have truly changed my life (and also things that have had no impact on my life whatsoever). I am excited to continue to explore these ideas throughout the semester, as we analyze what writing means for us and how we plan on improving our ability to use and interact with it.


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