The Company of Categories

This blog began as a chronicle of my near midlife career. For me, and maybe others at a crossroad, I hoped it could sound a weekly alarm in prose: “write or wrestle with regret.”

“Alarm” signals immediate need, even emergency.  And writing this blog sometimes felt like that.  It’s clear that the book-report/writing process entries could belong in a category I could call “alarm.”  Tag: product.

But sometimes writing the blog was like hitting a snooze button.  My musings on the end of summer and the start of fall (thinly masked mediations on melancholy) belong in this category:  “snooze.”  Tag: process.

I started thinking about the company of the categories I keep last Monday at the CUNY Graduate Center, when I had the priviledge of speaking at an event for Ph.D students and faculty sponsored by the GCCRC (a branch of the CUNY Composition and Rhetoric Community).  The topic chosen for the evening was the relationship between informal and scholarly writing.

At this half-life in my year of blogging, I thought it would be a good time to find out if the alarm and the snooze posts could coexist.

So I gave the group a tour of my blog, stopping to speak about posts that perform the blurred lines of public-personal-scholarly writing.

At the end of the talk, one participant asked a key question that prompted this post. She asked, “how does a blogger find readers?”

The answer offered by everyone was clear: create good categories and tags, those devices that enable blog entries to be “found” (linked to others).

I agree in theory.  But in practice I’ve been dismissive of categories and tagging.  I find them too driven, purposeful, and promotional. I’m always striving for something a little more illusive, something like the potential of prose. It’s the reader’s job to label and the writer’s job to, well, get out of the way.

Blame it on the French. Their theory taught me to read into texts, not climb all over them with categories.  Roland Barthes said it best: the minute we write, “our subject slips away” and “the author enters into his own death.”

But thanks to this extraordinary group of student-scholars, this author is newly energized.  I have found a truce between reader-writer and reading-writing, between the alarm and the snooze.

Reconciliation happened when I came face to face (in real life, real time) with actual people asking  questions that pushed my thinking beyond a false potential/purpose “binary opposition” (that’s a phrase to take me back)….

Careful keywords can help our many identities and identifications coexist.  But so can good, live conversation–not composed but contractual.

I now welcome a new category for this blog: camaraderie.  Tag: reality check.

About Jessica Yood

I am an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY). Composition and Rhetoric is my primary field and research into the history and emerging role of writing in our contemporary culture continues to broaden my definition of this discipline. Work for my book project takes me into the history of literary criticism in America, complexity theories, the culture wars and the intellectual crises of the 1990s, and the enduring complexity of first-year writing and writers.
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2 Responses to The Company of Categories

  1. Nora says:

    Enjoyed your blog and happy to learn that a truce between snooze and alarm among other seeming mutually exclusive states is possible.

  2. Dominique says:

    Jessica, I also walked away from Monday’s session feeling really lucky to have access to our group. And, it’s funny, even your brief comment after the meeting about enjoying The Metaphysical Club has now made me read it with a new awareness of fellow readers and a new question burrowing up into my consciousness: “how would I write about this on my blog?” Thanks for inspiring an excellent conversation!

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