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University of Balamand > Academics > Research > Seminars > Jonathan Hall

Writing Citizens: Teaching Writing and Performing Citizenship

Thursday, March 15, 2007 from 12:30 to 13:30 at Jacobo Auditorium

SUBMITTED BY: Dr. Jonathan Hall
Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Balamand

ABSTRACT: This paper is based on the experience of designing and teaching a writing course which focuses on the construction and use of public space. The course is centered in particular on the reconstruction of Martyrs' Square, the public square at the heart of Beirut. As a non-sectarian, central area, it was the dividing line between east and west Beirut during the war, and the scene of fierce fighting; its reconstruction may be seen as an attempt give back to the nation a space in which people may encounter one another as citizens, and in so doing, cross religious, gender and class boundaries. The course has two main aims: first, to call forth the students as citizens who think critically about the construction and use of public space; second, to call forth the students as writers who are able to participate in public discourse. The felicitous metaphors of text as space and space as text shed interesting light on the ways in which citizens and students are brought forth by the discourses in which they participate. In hailing them as citizens, the course sets up public space as the site of open encounters with, and negotiations of, difference, without setting the goal of consensus. However, in hailing them as writers, the course is a disciplinary instrument that territorializes the space of writing. Implicitly, it presents effective communication in terms of following certain rules so as to perform an act of persuasion, creating a community of consensus that excludes difference. Another contradiction lies in the course's relation to bodies: it emphasizes the embodiment of citizens in public space, but gives a strangely disembodied existence to the students as writers. Reading these conflicting ideas back into each other raises key questions: as public space is constructed (or written), is this inevitably an act of territorialization? Does it erase certain bodies? If we are to teach writing as a discipline, how can we possibly keep the space of writing open? How can we position student writers as embodied subjects? What are the possibilities in the Lebanese public sphere and in the writing classroom for 'a more open, even more ethical kind of being' to enable the formation of identities that would have a certain detachability? (Butler, Excitable Speech 161) The paper will examine writing as a form of public performance, a way of turning the self out into public space, and it will explore some of the successes and failures of attempting to imagine and enact certain publicly regulated performances within the writing classroom and within the fraught political context of Lebanon.
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