The Methodical Memory by Sharon Crowley

Yet another belated book review. I have one more to write tonight.

Crowley’s book is another key text of the early ’90s. It is not quite a history so much as an dual account of invention’s absence in 19th-century textbooks and a fierce attack on the epistomological and moral weaknesses of currrent-traditionalism. Crowley does not go into the political and social landscape as much as Miller or Connors might, but she has some very adroit close readings of Campbell, Bain, Whately, and the whole murderer’s row of prescriptive textbooks, which served for a long time as composition’s only theorietical basis.

She also has a tendency in this book to make incredible statements without citation (I wrote CITE? in the margins quite a bit) though she’s not Susan Sontag, thankfully, which would have required a stamp.

I would confidently place this book on my shelf – and I will, ironically enough, when I finish writing this entry – next to Neel’s Plato, Writing, and Derrida. They seem almost to be companion volumes, as his “anti-writing” is precisely what she is deconstructing the origins of – those audience-free, writer-free, passionless shells that every teacher has seen all too often.

Of particular interest for me was her take on Bain’s paragraph principles, which she links directly to his obsession with method. It’s too bad I hadn’t read this or Kitzhaber earlier.

It’s probably quite hard to write such a work without holding back a considerable amount of bile, and I think some of it escapes in the last two chapters, where C-T, having been analyzed more or less dispassionately earlier, is then nailed to the proverbial wall. 17 years later, there is still very little to disagree with.

Some remarks on plagiarism in the last chapter are particularly well put – C-T’s research paper is “an elaborate exercise in the art of borrowing knowledge without seeming to steal it… this assignment quite literally invites plagiarism.” I hadn’t thought of it as a honeypot before, but the analogy fits rather well.

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