Writing in the Zone

The drama of the writing room

The writing teacher enables learners to explore the limits of their writing zone (cf. Vygotsky: zone of proximal development; scaffolding), perhaps to understand, perhaps to enlarge or deform it.

They should learn where their writing zone fits within – or rather, overlaps with – the institutional zone (IZ), or, speaking in terms of writing per se, how their idiom maps onto the institutional idiom (II).

An aside:

  1. The writing teacher is not a mentor, i.e. who knows more, i.e. has access to distal knowledge beyond the proximal knowledge of the student [the hand-up or or hands-up model].
  2. Instead they model an exploratory or open mode of being within the writing zone [the many hands make light work model].

The writing room becomes a place of drama (Gk “action, deed”), where everyone actively learns by enacting what they know, rather than a place of edification, where learners passively receive and rehearse knowledge from the teacher. This is in keeping with the principle of the distributed intelligence of the writing room, i.e. we’re all in this together: teachers are learners; learners teach the teachers and each other; we all at once teach and learn.

Learning—and the writing of—Grammar B enables one to deform the Ii, as:

  1. a “negative” (or privative) method: learning to do right by doing wrong, i.e. learning the rules of Ii by making conscious “errors” (un-errors) that make them explicit, a.k.a. erratology
  2. a “critical” (or private) method: learning, through this process, to deform Ii, i.e. to find a space of freedom (a private or temporary autonomous zone) within the IZ, a.k.a. ?

Thus, they learn the rules of the Ii/IZ to be able to break or bend them in their own interests.

The writing teacher as guide

The writing teacher is like Stalker (Guide) in Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), who works as a guide to bring people in and out of the Zone to the Room [the writing room as hypertopia], which is said to grant “the deepest, innermost” wishes [the desire of writers].

He guides a sceptical writer (Writer [radical learner]) and a credulous professor (Professor [conservative learner]) out of the city into the Zone, in which the residual effects of an unspecifed visitation or catastrophe have transformed an otherwise mundane rural area scattered with ruined buildings into an area where the normal laws of physics no longer apply [the unreal world of the IZ].

Once in the Zone, he tells them that they must do exactly as he says to survive the dangers that are all around them [the leap of faith into the chaotic hypertopia of the writing space]. No harm comes to any of the three men; there is a tension between disbelief of the need for his elaborate precautions, and the possibility that they are necessary. He alone knows the rules of the Zone, having learnt them from his mentor “Porcupine” and can sense the dangers around them.

As they journey, the characters share their reasons for wanting to visit the room: Writer wants inspiration [freedom]; Professor wants recognition [affirmation]. Interestingly, Stalker takes on faith the powers [enchantment] of the room (because he says he’s never been in there, i.e. his job is just to lead) – and bemoans the loss of faith in society [the disenchantment of modernity].
(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalker_(film and http://skywalking.com/wwwboard/messages/847.html.)

Stalker, Writer and Professor (and the fourth figure is Tarkovsky, a.k.a. Porcupine):


Zone of proximal development [зона ближайшего развития; ZPD]: the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help, i.e. “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes [Harvard UP, 1978] 86).


Image: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rallrich/learn/zone.html

“ZPD”: zone of personal and/or professional development

Scaffolding: a process through which a teacher or peer supports the student in his or her ZPD as necessary, and tapers off this support as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building during construction, i.e. “Scaffolding refers to the way the adult guides the child’s learning via focused questions and positive interactions” (Nancy Balaban, “Seeing the Child, Knowing the Person,” in W. Ayers, To Become a Teacher (Teachers College Press, 1995) 52)

Porcupine: a.k.a. hedgehog, see Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox” (after Archilochus: πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ’ἓν μέγα, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”). Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea; foxes do not, drawing on a wide variety of experiences to understand the world. The Fox may be the black dog of Stalker. (See http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/rt/HF.pdf).

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