Authority Isn’t Scary

So, I had originally planned to write my entire “Why I Write” essay about how I write because I read. I have always loved to read and up until the perusal (I would say reading, but I’m not so sure of that anymore) of these past few classes’ articles, I thought I was far better at reading than writing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have ever read anything with as much intensity as would qualify a “good reader” as defined by Tierney and Pearson.

I was extraordinarily disappointed in myself upon the realization that I don’t stop every few paragraphs to think about what I learned, what I’m taking away from it, what the author meant, or even who the author is. Really, I became hyperaware of this halfway through the readings for the week. Let’s face it…these articles were LONG. We have a lot of reading, and checking off completing each article from a to-do list feels far more instantly satisfying than understanding and relating to each paragraph of an article. I am so unbelievably guilty of merely surface reading for all academic articles that I can’t even pretend to be ashamed. It’s simply a fact.

That being said, it has always worked out for me. Especially when translating these readings into writings. I’ve gotten As on all college papers that ask for responses or analyses to a group of readings. From 5 pages about Hamlet (which I really did try to read closely, but I will never understand Shakespeare) to 9 pages about the origins in writing in Mesopotamia, I’ve proudly maintained my title as Master Bullshitter.

However, upon rereading these articles and thinking back about these own miraculous bullshitting tactics, they may not be bullshit at all. Based on the Penrose and Geisler reading, I feel a little bit redeemed. These tactics I thought simply added fluff to my paper, may actually have been an asset this whole time. I was taught in high school to relay facts. I was taught to write like Janet. First person and my own opinions and conclusions have no place in research papers. I lack the “authority.”

Fortunately (well…sometimes) for me, I’m an opinionated person and I cannot help but insert my own notions and conclusions into my papers. Therefore, if Penrose and Geisler’s claim about Roger’s more effective and mature approach to writing is in fact correct, I feel as though I’m actually doing something right. The part that baffles me the most though, is that, as I mentioned before, I do not read “effectively”.  This makes me stop to question the true relation between strong reading and writing. I want to believe that this correlation exists. As both an avid reader and writer, I do think they go hand in hand. But I find that reading more strongly influences my decisions in terms of word choice, syntax, genre, and format than my opinions on a topic. Now this could be due to my serious authority issues, making me an anomaly, or it could be a major flaw in the studies most recently performed on the link between reading and writing.

I attribute a large part of the confusion of the correlation between reading and writing to the schism between the teachings of these two practices in school. We are taught to read to comprehend the basics and we are taught to write to relay information. Well, at least I was. I can’t speak for students in any other schools in any other part of the country, so as a born and raised Georgia girl, I know that my early education placed very little focus on these two practices. This lack of a uniform understanding of what passes as effective reading or authoritative writing will forever make this an extremely difficult correlation to study. However, speaking solely on my own behalf, the guilt of my lame surface reading tactics have forced me to reconsider my success, and I plan to implement stronger tactics to my future academic readings. Tierney, Pearson, Penrose, and Geisler can sleep well knowing they have stirred up a vicious internal debate with this one reader.

3 thoughts to “Authority Isn’t Scary”

  1. Amy-

    As I mentioned in class, I don’t read. Ever. In fact, I will admit that I about one paragraph of this blog post before I found something to respond to, and skimmed the rest (note, that is not a knock on you but on me, again, you’re writing is very entertaining).

    Though you love to read, and I hate to, I feel that we found common ground when you said you read just five pages of Hamlet to produce a full length paper, thus earning the title “Master Bullshitter.” I too, consider myself among the Noble Bullshitters of the land. I find that I am very keen on specific lines, pulling them out of a reading to sculpt a larger argument. In high school, we were told to analyze the origins of WWI and place blame on a single country. I chose three words from the “Blank Check” (a very short document to begin with) and won the debate without contest. I think that often writers are good at that skill, and that as already proven and developed writers, we do not need perhaps to go through all the steps that Tierney, Pearson and Penrose outline.

  2. Amy,
    I always love to read your posts; as Erin said, you are a very entertaining writer. I think that a lot of people will identify with your “Master Bullshitter” title. Even those of us who really love to read and write are guilty of “lame surface reading” as you put it. I sometimes think that being able to just surface read and construct some sort of argument from it is a bigger talent than close reading. Even if it isn’t what we’re supposed to do, it’s definitely what we’re forced to do on occasion with all of the readings that we’re assigned. Maybe someday teachers will realize this and assign less reading and give us more time to really analyze it.

  3. Amy,

    I’m gonna own up to being a Master Bullshitter as well (I’m actually working on my PhD right now). But you know what I’ve found- and this is going to sound awful- but sometimes bullshitting is all you need to do. Honestly, when are you ever going to need to know about writing in Mesopotamia other than to just write a paper? I’ve had many classes where my thought process is “this paper is stupid, I am just going to skim the reading, pull some quotes, and call it good.” And you know what, it works for me.

    At the same time, I think there are certain topics where we might be more passionate about reading effectively and giving the text the time it deserves because it actually means something to us. And I think that’s the difference between Janet and Roger- Janet was just given the texts to relay information, while Roger actually cared about what the texts were saying, so he was able to read and write more effectively. (I just had this epiphany because of your post, so thank you)

    -Great post!

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