This week I am focusing on Sharon Crowley‘s 1985 article “The Evolution of Invention in Current-Traditional Rhetoric” and Yameng Liu’s 2002 article “Invention and Inventiveness: A Postmodern Redaction.” I find invention fascinating because we can never be sure where our ideas come from – at least not in any way we can imagine now.
Though these are two very different essays, I am interested in ways in which they connect and overlap. Crowley gives us some background on where the invention discussion has been. She takes us through the work of earlier scholars concerned with writing such as Alexander Bain, H.N. Day, and John Franklin Genung, to name only a few.
As someone whose ratio of planning to writing is approximately 4/1 depending on the style of the composition, I am personally invested in theories involving planning processes. I am well aware that this is not the strategy most people use. While I agree with Crowley that there exists a “disparity between the formulaic composing process recommended by current-traditional composition textbooks and the messy procedure that writing is for most people” (159), it seems that there is a further disparity between how we actually write, and how we talk about writing.
This then directly relates to what Liu is stressing when addressing the issues with terms we use when talking about invention – ‘discovery,’ ‘formation,’ ‘creation,’ and ‘construction.’ In classic I.A. Richards fashion, Liu argues that “one who wishes to promote a new theoretical model or to challenge an old one cannot afford to be careless about the terms he or she is using” (57). For me to think of invention as ‘discovery’ feel preposterous. I say this because the word ‘discovery’ makes me think about finding something that is already there, as Liu tells us. When I create an argument, I feel like it is part creation, but mostly construction. As Liu observes, new always contains old, the unique contains the common, and the different contains sameness (60). But if I take several mundane objects and use them to construct a working robot, am I creating, constructing, or forming? Certainly, I am not discovering the robot…
This then makes me think about Crowley’s brief discussion of topic focus. In her article, Crowley quotes Newman as saying, “as the field of inquiry is narrowed, questions arise more exciting to the mind, and thought are suggested of greater value and interest to the readers” (154). I propose that this narrowing of field is a bit like construction/creation and that it is the most crucial stage in the invention process. I wonder then, why do we spend so little time asking our students to focus their topic in? Once we spend little time on this, why do we then teach them to plan and pre-write in ways we don’t actually use ourselves?