by Peter Jasinski
In Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, Deane presents us with the childhood of an unnamed narrator who tells the story of his troubled family in postwar Northern Ireland. As the boy stumbles through the complexities and ironies of the adult world, he slowly increases in social and political awareness. The novel takes its title from a scene in which the boy, after the lights are turned off, tries to imagine the story he had been reading. The image of reading in the dark expresses the difficulty of reconstructing the past from fragmentary accounts available in the present: the narrator’s family history “came to [him] in bits, from people who rarely recognized all they had told” (236). He uncovers only a partial picture of the truth as he tries to put together the tragic, mysterious past of his family.
The story is concerned with the complexities of how we know, particularly how we know ourselves. For the boy, knowing himself requires knowing and situating himself in his family’s history and Ireland’s history, both of which prove to be elusive. The boy’s search for identity parallels author Seamus Deane‘s broader attempt in his nonfiction to explore the mystery of Ireland‘s past and its present identity, an attempt which is particularly evident in Deane’s political work in the Field Day enterprise¹. It therefore may be tempting to read Reading in the Dark as a movement to produce a nationalist reconstruction of Ireland’s history. But in Reading in the Dark, Deane is nor attempting a simple reconstruction, or rereading, of Ireland‘s history in the darkness of the present. Rather, Deane illustrates-char is, gives an aesthetic form to-the problems and paradoxes of defining Irish identity .
As with many perceptions of identity, the model for Irish identity explored by Deane is built on binary oppositions. Binary oppositions are pairings of opposites-such as black/white, good/evil, masculine/ feminine-that allow for simplistic identification. Deane explores key binary oppositions that make up Irish identity, including Irish/English and Catholic/Protestant, that are inherited from history and perpetuated in present-day Ireland. When these binaries are aligned with good/evil, for example, and then used to construct identity, they can be and, indeed, have proven destructive. Although ultimately impossible to eliminate, such binaries form a destructive model of Irish identity. Deane seeks to find new, less-destructive approaches to these categories and the complex, heart-wrenching conflicts they represent. I shall discuss three binary oppositions that characterize Deane’s wresde with Irish identity, reading Reading in the Dark as an artistic expression of the political ideas found in Deane‘s nonfiction.
That Deane would discuss the Irish identity through literary and not historical precedent is not surprising, considering the current conflation of the history/literature binary. Echoing Louis Montrose’s “Historicity of Texts, Textuality of History,” Deane asserts the impracticality of the history/literature binary:
Literature can be written as History, History as Literature. It would be foolhardy to choose one among the many competing variations and say that it is true on some specifically historical or literary basis. Such choices are always moral and/or aesthetic. They always have an ideological implication. (“Heroic Styles” 45)
For Deane there is no such thing as an unbiased history, and because histories are no more valid than fictions, no single version of history can be privileged over another. In an introductory essay to Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, Deane applies his assessment of the history/ literature binary co nationalist literature. He argues that insurgent nationalists use literature “to create a version of history for themselves.” In such a manufactured history,
their intrinsic essence has always manifested itself, thereby producing readings of the ·past that are as monolithic as that which they are trying to supplant. They are usually, as in Ire land, under the additional disadvantage that much of their past has been destroyed, silenced, erased. (“Introduction” 9)
Deane acknowledges that the Irish need, but can never achieve, an accurate understanding of their past. At least, the effort to create to respond to the oppressor‘s version of history with one‘s own is fraught with paradox.
Nevertheless, conscious of the paradox, Deane asserts his own reading of history, which interestingly enough is concerned primarily with literature. In “The Production of Cultural Space in Irish Writing,” Deane maps out the “process whereby the urge to make what was strange-a recalcitrant Ireland-familiar, a part of the United Kingdom” (120), an urge that I perceive as a move to unify the two binaries. Throughout the article, Deane points out the impossibility of merging several cultural binaries. In the late eighteenth century, Irish nationalists attempted to meld the “Gaelic-/ and English-language traditions in poetry, [ … ] an attempt to reconcile in the field of literature what had become irreconcilable in the field of politics” (121). In the nineteenth century, Irish writing was seen as “anachronistic,” in need of being “coerced out of its willfully nonmodern, even antimodern, condition so that it can be cleared for the initiation of modernity” (123). This coercion was done by simultaneously recording and thereby destroying (silencing) Irish folklore. But by the turn of the century, Ireland’s anachronism became seen “as a unique form of modernity, the form that was opposed to modernization and was, in consequence, culturally richer” (124). Writers turned to Celtic lore as a legitimizing source of anachronistic/modern lrishness, a move that only superficially represents the merging of Protestant and Catholic in the “Celtic spirit” by writers such as Yeats.² The fallacy of this move, meant to fuse Protestant/Catholic and Irish/English into a single Irish culture, will be discussed below.
But first, let us turn to the novel. Given Deane’s view on history, we should not be surprised that history permeates Reading in the Dark. However, we should be hesitant to interpret the novel (despite its many historical allusions, ranging from Celtic myth to IRA uprisings) as a rewriting of Irish history in order to produce a more authentic, “historically accurate” Irish cultural identity. This is most clearly illustrated by the text the boy narrator reads in the dark, entitled The Shan van Vocht. The book’s political goal is to retell the rebellion of 1798. After he turns off the light, the boy would “lie there, the book still open, re-imagining all [he] had read, the various ways the plot might unravel, the novel opening into endless possibilities in the dark” (20). The boy’s access to the true story of Ireland is mediated by the text, which leaves open “end less possibilities” to its meaning. His imaginings are as important as the text in creating the story he reads. Indeed, he enters into this fictive world, conversing with the heroine, Ann, and refusing to leave her to fight in the rebellion. In the darkness of the present, he can rewrite “his tory” any way he wishes. The book cannot be expected to reveal a single, true History to the boy; rather, history is malleable, changed by the reader who participates in its creation.
The Shan van Vocht is a phonetic rendering of an Irish phrase meaning “The Poor Old Woman, a traditional name for Ireland” (19). The boy’s reading is connected to the larger issue of connecting to a true history of Ireland. His text is Ireland, a repressed Ireland. As a translated text, The Shan van Vocht (or Ireland) is already linguistically and metaphorically removed from its original context, further complicating an attempt to read it aright. The boy’s participation in creating a version of history suggests that reconstructing Ireland’s history is likewise inextricably in accurate, requiring the reader to fill in gaps with her own narrative. At best, the reader can be conscious of the limits of a text and her participation in creating its meaning.
If Deane does not attempt a portrayal of a single, true history in Reading in the Dark, he does use the novel to show how a politicized version of history perpetuates destructive prejudices, prejudices that, again, are based on binaries that deconstruct. The stereotypes that form reality in Reading in the Dark are based on the destructive Catholic/Protestant binary opposition, a dichotomy based on religious vocabulary that disguises political work. Considering this political manipulation, the Catholic/Protestant binary can be seen as being an arbitrary division of people. It may be surprising chat an Irish artist would consider the deeply rooted Catholic/Protestant division in Ire land as arbitrary, political, or destructive. But as Terry Eagleton, writing for Deane‘s Field Day enterprise, notes:
All oppositional politics thus move under the sign of irony, knowing themselves ineluctably parasitic on their antagonists. Our grudge against the ruling order is not only chat it has oppressed us in our social, sexual, or racial identities, but that it has thereby forced us to lavish an extraordinary amount of attention on these things, which are not in the long run all that important. (26)
While oppositional political binaries may be arbitrary and ironically parasitic (i.e., Catholic is defined as everything “not Protestant,” and vice versa), they are nevertheless undeniably real and, in Ireland, painfully destructive. In fact, Reading in the Dark illustrates how, as Deane states in a Field Day essay, the Northern Irish “communities have become stereo typed into their roles of oppressor and victim to such an extent that the notion of a Protestant or a Catholic sensibility is now assumed to be a fact of nature rather than a product of[ … ] very special and ferocious conditions” (“Heroic Styles” 54). It is against the perceived “naturalness” of Ireland’s Protestant-Catholic division that Deane argues.
Reading in the Dark opens up a space wherein we can see the artifice of dividing along the religiopolitical boundary of Protestant and Catholic. We see this particularly in how chis ideology (or politically informed “history”) is passed from one generation to another. The novel shows how various ideological apparatuses of the state (family, school, church) inculcate the boy with a destructive, politicized version of history. Deane shows the boy is at first innocent, unprejudiced; he must learn the ideological stereotypes in order to adopt the prejudices against the Protestants. Early in his life, the boy witnesses an accident in which another boy is run over by a lorry. One of the policemen, a Protestant, who is investigating the accident vomits at the sight of the dead body. The narrator feels the same “vertigo” chat the policeman feels and thus feels “pity for the man. But chis seemed wrong; everyone hated the police, told us to stay away from chem, chat they were a bad lot. So I said nothing” (11). In contrast to his sympathy with the enemy, the boy feels “scarcely any thing for [the dead boy’s] mother or the lorry driver, both of whom I knew” (11). But a year later someone retells the story, this time with the policemen deliberately running over the boy. The narrator‘s sympathies transfer from the Protestant policeman to the Catholic mother and lorry driver, and the guilt of feeling pity before for the policeman is allayed. His feelings have been brought into conformity with his community’s stereotypes through a politically constructed version of history, reality, and nature.
Since models of identity that depend on binary oppositions are arbitrary and destructive and focus our attention on unimportant differences, they should be abolished. But equally destructive can be the attempt to unify binary oppositions, as in the attempts to unify Ireland and England. Reading in the Dark’s epigraph, taken from “She Moved through the Fair,” compares the unification of England and Ireland to marriage: “The people were saying no two were e’er wed / But one had a sorrow that never was said.” According to the poem, marriage, or the unifying of sexual opposites, results in the sorrow of one person in the pair. The parallel between marriage and the unification (cultural assimilation or appropriation) of Ireland and England is evident, with Ireland as the suffering, silent partner. As past efforts show, unifying Catholic and Protestant difference cannot be achieved through rewriting a new political version of history. Though rhetorically sophisticated, unifying oppositions ignores the real, oppressive conditions of present-day Ireland.
Reading in the Dark refutes the historical attempts to unify the inherited, divisive stereotypes. Because of the negative results of trying to bring binary opposites together, there is no obvious attempt at political reconciliation between the Catholics and the Protestants presented in the novel. Continuing the marriage metaphor, the book the boy reads in the dark belonged to his mother before she was married. She had written her maiden name on the flyleaf. “The ink had faded, but the letters were very clear. They seemed strange to me, as though they represented some one she was before she was the mother I knew” (19). The boy later learns that his mother possibly went into her marriage knowing that her father, a strong nationalist, ordered the execution of her husband’s brother on false accusations of treason. The boy‘s parents‘ relationship as a result is strained and fraught with suffering. The unifying of the two families should never have taken place.
Instead of trying to unify opposites, Deane exposes ideology by blur ring binaries and, in a broader sense, opening up a gap wherein we can see ideology for what it is: a fraud. However, Deane also shows that exposing the artifice of ideology simultaneously destroys those that depend on binaries to construct reality. Reading in the Dark’s most engaging example of blurring binaries-and the destructive effects of doing so-is found in a story told by the boy’s aunt Katie. In the story, two orphans, a brother and sister, are sent by their uncle to live with the nanny. The girl “was dark, the boy was fair” (64). The orphans, Francis and Frances, are obvi ously a binary pair: male and female, light and dark. But when the nanny refuses to let them visit their parents‘ grave, the distinctions that make them opposite begin to blur. The boy becomes dark-haired and the girl, fair. But when the nanny takes the children to a priest, they switch back before he sees them. Back at home, the children continue to change, until they change sexes: “The boy was a girl, and the girl was a boy” (67). After this, the children swap incidental features, like eye color and height, driving the nanny mad. Finally, the children change back and forth so rapidly before the nanny’s eyes, that she could no longer tell “which was the boy, which the girl” (71). The nanny remains mute the rest of her life. Through this tragic story-within-the-story, Deane comments on the danger of rigid dependence on oppositional metaphors that result in muteness and madness.
Obviously, the binaries that form our metaphors are not only sexual; they may just as easily be political. In fact, the lesson taken from the story-that dependence on binaries is destructive-seems to apply not so much to gender, but, again, to Ireland’s political strife. According to Eagleton, “If the binary opposition between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ can always be deconstructed-if each term can always be shown to inhere parasitically within the other-then just the same is true of the opposition between those other virulently metaphysical forms of identity, Catholic and Protestant” (24).³
Ireland’s political strife is represented in the boy’s family. Paralleling the nanny’s experience, the boy’s mother witnesses the destruction of her constructed political reality. Just as the gender lines blur in Aunt Katie’s story, the lines between Catholic and Protestant blur in the mother’s world. Because the nanny in the story depends too much on binary oppositions, Aunt Katie says that a “blight‘s on that family to this very day” (73). Because the boy’s mother has been taught to depend on Catholics always being good and Protestants bad, she also passes on a blight to her family when this model deconstructs. Her father ordered the death of her husband’s brother based on inaccurate information relating that the brother was an informer. Her knowledge of the execution shatters her association of the Catholic political cause with the right. Like the nanny, the mother descends into madness and muteness. That is, destroying the binaries that form an individual’s reality, and thus her identity, corresponds to a destruction of self. Likewise, if Ireland’s Catholics depend on the Other for defining the self, then destroying the Other (or even the binary) destroys the self. Again, Deane would point us to seek out new metaphors for understanding reality and the self.
Reading in the Dark then is not so much Deane’s solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, as it is his representation of the troubles there. He shows the complexity of the issues, without attempting to simplify them. By putting the conflict in an aesthetic form, Deane makes the novel do political work, exposing the false dichotomies set up by the Catholic/Protestant, Irish/English oppositions. Deane’s solution is articulated by Eagleton, who posits that Marx believed “that to undo this alienation [caused by class] you had to go, not around class, but somehow all the way through it and out the other side” (23). Deane, paraphrasing Eagleton, states, “The oppositional terms it [nationalism] deploys are the very terms it must ultimately abolish. Yet such abolition is not an easy, peremptory gesture. The divisions of English and Irish, Protestant and Catholic, must be lived through in the present” (“Introduction” 4). That is, throwing out the oppositions immediately may have extremely destructive implications.
“Living through” the binary oppositions implies that we can no more ignore the arbitrary difference between them than we could ignore the differences between man and woman. Solutions to the conflict in Northern Ireland must deal squarely with the political realities of the present. At the same time, Deane‘s solution implies that another rewriting of history, meant to formulate a new present, is inefficient. Real history is always inaccessible to us; no number of perspectives will get us there. And we especially cannot expect to get at real history through literature, which is unavoidably based on ideology that masks over history with its own politically charged history. Instead of rewriting history, Deane exposes through the novel the destructive effects of the binaries on individuals. He also shows in literature-so perhaps it can be avoided in reality-what happens when the binaries break down.
“Living through” does not mean to casually pass over the painful, difficult information. It is pursuing as accurate a version of the past, accepting the truth of it, even if it is incomplete, even if it is painful. In a pivotal chapter near the end of the novel entitled ”All of It?” the narrator pieces together the fragmented accounts of his family’s past that he has heard throughout his life. With a considerable degree of speculation, leaving some questions unanswered, he eventually arrives at a plausible history of his family that explains the mystery, the silences, and the heartache of his past. Though he has begun to understand his past and himself, the burden of the knowledge, which he shares only with his mother, is difficult to bear. The close of this chapter reveals the central mystery of the novel-the fate of the narrator’s paternal uncle Eddie and how his mother discovered the secret:
Her father must have told her that; what he hadn’t told her, not until just before he died, was the truth about what had happened to Eddie. She knew it all now. She knew I knew it too. And she wasn‘t going to tell any of it. Nor was I. But she didn‘t like me for knowing it. And my father thought he had told me everything. I could tell him nothing, though I hated him not knowing. But only my mother could tell him. No one else. Was it her way of loving him, not telling him? It was my way of loving them both, not telling either. But knowing what I did separated me from chem both. (194)
But telling, celling one’s own version of the truth, celling one’s pain, may be the only solution. The narrator‘s mother tells him of a conversation between her and a Sergeant Burke, who comes seeking corroborating evidence for his police files on her father. Burke says, “Politics destroyed people’s lives in this place….People were better not knowing some things, especially the younger people, for all chat bother dragged on them all their lives, and what was the point?” (215). As if in response, after the conversation, the boy imagines a conversation with his mother, one that he wishes he could have: “What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you….What I don‘t know and you won’t tell, that does hurt me” (216). For the narrator, not knowing but imagining alternatives to the past is “worse than having just one set of facts, the one story that cancelled all the others, the one truth she could tell. But everyone who had been there was dead or in exile or silenced one way or the other” (216-17). If any healing is to occur in Ireland, full disclosure of the past as experienced by one generation must be passed on to the next.
For Deane, part of living through the paradoxes afflicting Irish identity is to turn the conflict into art. Reading in the Dark perhaps does not give solutions to the troubles, but may be a solution itself. The memoirs of the unnamed narrator take us back through his personal history. As readers, we too live through the experience. We may not understand perfectly, but we understand better. While the narrator remains unnamed throughout the novel, we are left suspecting that the childhood of the narrator growing up in the 1940s in Derry shares at least some biographical features with Deane, also born in Derry in 1940. For Deane, telling his story, as mixture of fiction and history, is a constructive rather than destructive way of grappling with the impossibly complex emergence of the colonized from the colonizer. In the narrative, the binary oppositions that have long troubled the quest for Irish national identity and the identity of self in Ireland can exist side by side, they can dissolve, fuse into each other, or ultimately be abolished-with results that are instructive. By telling a story, Deane does not have to point fingers and perpetuate a cycle of retribution. By accepting and representing his past, he lives through it and emerges on the other side.
¹Deane is one of the directors of the Field Day Theatre Company. Established in 1980, the company quickly expanded into pamphleteering and publishing. Field Day seeks solutions co the crisis in Northern Ireland “by producing analyses of the established opinions, myths and stereotypes which had become both a symptom and a cause of the current situation” (Ireland’s Field Day vii). Deane has been the editor of the recently published Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature (1992). As might be suspected from the inherent social and political aims of Field Day, much of the theory behind their work leans on Marxist criticism, as apparent in the fifth series of Field Day pamphlets, Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, a collection of essays by Marxist scholars Terry Eagleton, Frederick Jan1eson, and William Said.
²Deane scares, “Once the Irish revival had, through Standish O’Grady, Sigerson, and Years, established chat chis ‘Celtic spirit‘ was Protestant as well as Catholic, a form of Protestant dissent chat repudiated the modern world just as much as Catholic loyalty to ancient forms had resisted it, the cultural version of the solidarity of the Irish national community was complete” (Production 125).
³Eagleton shows the parasitic nature as follows: “Catholic, of course, means universal; so there is something curious in using it to define a particular kind of national identity. There is a good Joycean irony involved in establishing one’s Irish identity by reference to a European capital. But the claim of the Roman Catholic church to universality is in any case only necessary once that status has been challenged by Protestantism, and so is no sooner raised than refuted, denying in the very act of assertion. Protestantism, on the other hand, is in one sense an aberration from such universal identity, an affirmation of national difference; yet it takes the historical form of a return to the pure universal essence of Christianity which the Church of Rome has supposedly contaminated” (24-25).
Deane, Seamus. “Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea.” Ireland‘s Field Day. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986. 45-58.
—. “Introduction.” Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis: Uni versity of Minnesota Press, 1990.3-19.
—. “The Production of Cultural Space in Irish Writing.” Boundary 2 21 (Fall 1994): 117-44.
—. Reading in the Dark. New York: Vintage, 1996.
Eagleton, Terry. “Nationalism: Irony and Commitment.” Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. 23-39. —. Ireland’s Field Day. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986.
by Daniel Brough
For most people, Arthurian legends make wonderful bedtime stories: they are full of heroism, courage, romance, and triumph. To me, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems to be a different kind of Arthurian legend; in this case, the hero is fearful, conscience-stricken, and persistently seduced by another man’s wife–and chis, in my opinion, just scratches the surface.
An Introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The story goes like chis: during a fairly raucous holiday parry in King Arthur’s court, a mysterious green knight rides in with a dare for anyone brave enough to accept it-the green knight will allow anyone in the court to deal him a blow with a battle axe, as long as the challenger will meet up with the green knight in exactly a year to receive his blow. Sir Gawain bravely steps up to take Arthur’s place at the dare and promptly severs the green knight’s head, only to witness the green knight pick up his head, bid farewell, and walk calmly out of the castle. Bound by his word, Sir Gawain sets off after a year to hold the fateful reunion with the green knight, but on the way he runs into a winter storm and takes refuge in Lord Bercilak‘s castle. The two quickly become friends, and Lord Bercilak makes a deal with Gawain: the two men will exchange whatever they win or otherwise obtain during the day. The deal is soon complicated, however, by the romantic advances of Bercilak‘s wife, who unsuccessfully cries three times to seduce Gawain. At the end of each day, Gawain valiantly bestows upon Lord Bercilak a kiss (representing the one he had received earlier from Lady Bercilak), bur on the third day Gawain receives from the lady a green girdle designed to protect him from any physical harm and, true to his word to the lady, keeps it a secret from the lord of the castle. Upon his meeting with the green knight, Gawain is indeed protected, but is chastened by the knight, who turns out to be Lord Bertilak in disguise, transformed by a spell of the witch Morgan le Fay. The members of Camelot instantly pardon Gawain’s sin, but the reader is left feeling as if Gawain’s sin is still somehow unresolved.
Most scholarship concerning Sir Gawain and the Green Knight argues that Gawain’s sin, if indeed he did commit one, lies in the withholding of the green girdle from Lord Bertilak. My disagreement with that argument lies in the detail that Gawain attempts repentance before actually lying to Lord Bercilak-but immediately after his third encounter with Lady Bercilak. Gawain does not try to repent after the first two meetings; only after the third. This paper deals with what exactly happened during that third seduction and explains it in the context of prevalent notions of courtly love and Renaissance love physiology. The latter of the two considerably postdates Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but I assume that Renaissance writers read texts that in turn considerably pre-dated them.
Traditional scholarship dealing with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight considers Gawain’s sin to be that of withholding the green girdle from Lord Bertilak, thus violating the knightly ideals of honesty and truth. Gawain does, in fact, lie to Lord Bertilak, but this does not constitute the sin of which he repents before meeting the Green Knight. Rather, an analysis contrasting chivalric love and medieval love physiology reveals that Gawain’s true sin is a shocking and unorthodox form of fornication: Gawain’s rejection of Lady Bertilak is, in fact, a paradoxical effort to augment the passion he feels for her-this is the sin which torments Gawain so profoundly.
The Sin: Gawain’s Wooing of Lady Bertilak
Gawain at first seems to be a passive victim of Lady Bertilak’s advances, but he is actually an active seducer. When Gawain first meets Lady Bertilak, he feels she is even more beautiful than Guenevere (945). Gawain’s attraction does not consist of a pure admiration of beauty; upon being formally introduced to the lady, he takes her “briefly into his arms, / Kisses her respectfully and courteously speaks” (973-74). Later, at a banquet, Gawain and the lady sit together, while her husband goes to sit by the “ancient lady” later revealed as Morgan le Fay. Until this point, Gawain’s actions toward Lady Bercilak are completely conventional; kissing, embracing, and sitting next to one another would probably be normal ways for a lady to associate with a guest. However, the Gawain poet makes reference to attitudes and desires that go above and beyond the norms of hospitality, and all before Lord Bertilak officially awards Gawain his wife as a “charming companion” while Bertilak is away hunting (1099). For example, he mentions that, during the evening festivities, “Each man fulfilled his wishes, / And those two followed theirs” (1018-19). Here, the two are not merely participating in hospitality; they are pairing off and following desires. Furthermore, the Gawain-poet mentions that Gawain and the lady
Found such enjoyment in each other's company,
Through a playful exchange of private remarks,
And well-mannered small-talk, unsullied by sin,
That their pleasure surpassed every princely amusement,
for sure. (1011-15, italics added)
The Gawain-poet, for some reason, deems it necessary to distinguish that the two speak in a non-sinful way; the implication is that they have spoken, or will speak, in a sinful way. At the very least, the Gawain-poet does not consider speaking a purely benign activity. If Gawain is evaluating Lady Bertilak’s beauty, making a conscious effort to be near her, and fulfilling desires with her, then he is not a passive recipient of Lady Bertilak’s advances. While we will later discuss whether or not Gawain’s actual seduction was conscious, the fact remains that Gawain-in a seemingly subtle combination of thought and judgment hidden in propriety-has begun to consider Lady Bertilak as much more than the host’s wife.
MAGIC, PHYSIOLOGY, AND PSYCHOLOGY IN GAWAIN’S SEDUCTION
Gawain’s seduction is a complex concoction of words, images, and rhetoric-all components of a magical recipe for love. Before modern times, love was possibly more physiological than emotional and therefore something that could be controlled, inflicted, and diluted at will. In his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, loan P. Couliano writes of the physiology expounded in Bruno‘s De vinculis in genere [“Of Bonds in General”], “the goal of Bruno’s erotic magic is to enable a manipulator to control both individuals and crowds” (91). This magic “occurs through indirect contact (virtualem seu potentialem), through sounds and images which exert their power over the senses of sight and hearing” (Couliano 91). Erotic magic, or the magic of love, is essentially a tool of manipulation; the magic spell works through indirect contact through sounds and images-either seeing or hearing a specific thing or combination of things can magically induce love in the one who sees or hears.
The ancient Greek schools of medicine likewise considered the infliction of love to consist of the interaction of the pneuma and hegemonikon of two people. Members of Empedocles school believed the pneuma to be a blood vapor chat circulated in the arteries, distinct from the blood, which circulated in the veins (Couliano 7). According to Aristotle, the hegemonikon, or “cardiac synthesizer,” “receives all the pneumatic currents transmitted to it by the sensory organs and produced by the ‘comprehensible phantasms’ [phantasia kataieptike] apprehended by the intellect” (9)-a phantasm being a sensory image transformed into, for example, a unit of currency that the intellect can accept. Marsilio Ficino’s explanation of the act of initiating romantic feelings is chis: the pneuma brings to the eyes “thin blood”; love-arrows are later equipped with pneumatic tips and fired, through the eyes, at a target. These arrows will enter the eye and travel down to the heart, or hegemonikon, where severe damage is done. Whether the man is the target or the archer, he is the one injured by the transmission of pneuma in such a manner (29-30).
Gawain’s seduction of Lady Bercilak employs these aforementioned tactics and physiological principles. The Gawain-poet describes the first formal meeting of the two lovers in terms of images and sounds: first, Gawain greets the elderly companion with a deep bow (thus imparting an image of his chivalric virtues), and then he verbally offers himself as a servant (972-76). Specifically, the Gawain-poet speaks of the hero in terms of his speech: “I chink that those who hear him, / Will learn what love-talk is” (926-27)-it is talk, or the verbal organization of sounds, that defines Gawain’s prowess as a lover. Likewise, Gawain employs Ficino’s physiology of love: the Gawain-poet’s first descriptive phrase of the introduction mentions eyes: “Gawain glanced at chat beauty, who favoured him with a look” (970). That they were exchanging pneumatic glances is undoubtable, since later Lady Bertilak confesses being “wounded in her heart” (1781); the arrows had already entered her eye and registered in the hegemonikon. Furthermore, the Gawain-poet chooses to juxtapose the temptation scenes with scenes of Lord Bertilak’s hunt; in the first two hunt scenes (in accordance with the first two temptation scenes) the hunters use arrows to gather in their prey. The juxtaposition suggests that arrows are also flying between Gawain and Lady Bercilak. In the third hunt, however, the Gawain-poet does not mention archery. Why?
The third temptation scene is the only time that the Gawain-poet mentions that Gawain is beginning to experience “hot passionate feeling” (1762) in his heart (again, the hegemonikon -Lady Bertilak has also been firing arrows at him). Before this time, the Gawain-poet goes to great lengths to show that their conversations were unsullied by sin, and that Gawain had no interest at all in love due to his impending trial. If Ficino’s physiology is indeed factual, then Gawain must have been physiologically seducing Lady Bertilak, but the possibility exists that, up until this point, it has been inadvertent. Couliano notes that, in the use of magic-manipulation, there is a need to “take account of the subject’s personality for, though there are some people easily influenced there are others who react in an unexpected way to the magic of sound” (91). Gawain’s absence of romantic feeling indicates that he might not have accurately assessed Lady Bertilak’s personality, making his seduction of her accidental. Likewise, his behavior is the same in all three temptation scenes, with the exception of receiving the green girdle, but he confesses only after the third temptation. The girdle, however, cannot possibly be the motivation of the confession in the Green Chapel because, at this point, Gawain has not yet withheld it. The third temptation scene-in the bedroom with Lady Bertilak-must be the scene in which Gawain realizes his inadvertent seduction of Lady Bertilak and instead of suppressing those feelings, accepts them. At this point, rhetorically, the arrows have ceased flying because the damage has already been done; “capture” has already taken place. By not rejecting the passion he feels, Gawain’s inadvertent actions become dangerously purposeful.
GAWAIN’S CHIVALRIC BARRIERS
Gawain’s seduction is not unusual behavior for a knight, who was, because of his office, expected to be romantically aggressive. The language Lady Bertilak employs in her seductions is tinged with allusions to the romantic responsibilities of a knight-an aspect of an ideal of the code of chivalry. Just before leaving Gawain after her first round of temptation, Lady Bertilak taunts Gawain by questioning his identity: if he really were the renowned Gawain, he would have asked her for a kiss (1293-1301). In a subsequent visit, Lady Bertilak asks Gawain why someone “So courteous and chivalrous as you are known far and wide– / And of all the aspects of chivalry, the thing most praised / Is the true practice of love, knighthood’s very lore” never utters “a solitary word / Referring to love” (1511-13, 1523-24).’ In these questions, the Gawain-poet introduces the notion of chivalry, with all its implications and responsibilities (it is implied that Gawain might feel social pressure to comply with the lady’s requests), into the relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak.
By mentioning chivalry, Lady Bertilak colors all her dealings with Gawain. Chivalric love is eternally platonic; to consummate it would end it. Obstacles, then, are inherent in chivalry. Denis de Rougemont explains chivalry in the context of the story of Tristan and lseult: the two lovers part repeatedly, yet “not one of the barriers to the fulfillment of their love is insuperable…When there is no obstruction, they invent one” (37). The story is about the parting of the lovers “in the name of passion, and for love of the very love that agitates them, in order that this love may be intensified and transfigured-at the cost of their happiness and even of their lives” (de Rougemont 37). It is in this aspect that love is often described as a painful business and is illustrated in the relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak. At one point, the two discuss “Love’s misery and bliss”(l507); Lady Bertilak’s wounded heart indicates the pain she feels at Gawain’s rebuffs.
We have shown thoroughly that medieval love physiology manifests itself in much of the diction of the poem, but in order to show that the physiological notions, which considerably postdate Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, constitute a relevant interpretation, it is necessary to demonstrate its link to the chivalric attitudes also present in the poem. Bruno’s vinculum, according to Couliano, are bonds that link one person to another; however, “to maintain the strength of a bond, it must not be enjoyed.” Couliano further observes that Bruno recommends that one be both continent and intensely desirous of the other (101). These notions of unfulfilled desire, in all their possible explicit manifestations, are strongly reminiscent of the courtly love just discussed. In both cases, barriers are erected to intensify and preserve affection, at least in an erotic sense. Thus when we refer to courtly love and Renaissance physiology, we are, at least by my definition, referring to the same thing; both therefore serve as a useful heuristic in evaluating the events of the third temptation scene, in spite of differences in date.
De Rougemont’s comments on chivalry illustrate an important, yet subtle, point: the barriers to love serve to intensify and transfigure the passion. The relationship between Gawain and Lady Bertilak is already fraught with barriers-Gawain’s impending reunion with the Green Knight, Gawain’s knightly code that forbids him to consummate the relationship, and Lady Bertilak’s marriage (though that doesn‘t seem to stop her much)-but the addition of obstacle to obstacle actually serves to augment the passion. Since it is clear that Gawain purposefully rejects Lady Bertilak, his intention is not to quell the lady’s passionate overtures, but to nourish them. His complete acceptance of Lady Bertilak comes at the end of the third temptation scene when, realizing his passion for her, Gawain acts to augment the passion rather than resist it. His sin, then, is sexual: by acting to augment the passion he feels for Lady Bertilak, Gawain “covets his neighbor‘s wife” and violates the trust placed in him by Lord Bertilak.
It must be borne in mind that it is only after the third temptation the temptation in which passion finally wells up in his heart-that Gawain begins to fear for the state of his soul: he goes to confession to learn
How his soul could be saved when he leaves this world.
There he confessed himself honestly and admitted his sins,
Both the great and the small, and forgiveness begs,
And calls on the priest for absolution. (1879-82)
As previously mentioned, Gawain at this point has not yet withheld the green girdle from Lord Bertilak, so the withholding cannot be the sin of which Gawain here tries to repent. Though for different reasons, Robert Goltra notes that “Gawain is obviously in a state of sin” at the end of the third temptation scene, and “The fact that he has not yet physically withheld the girdle from Bertilak nor lied by omission concerning his possession of it does not alter his situation”; Gawain’s “disposition” pre vents his confession in the green chapel from being valid, Goltra’s concept of “sins,” “dispositions,” and their results differs slightly from my interpretation, but the idea is the same: Gawain’s sin lies in his heart, as he has turned it over to another lover.
Although at first an accident, Gawain uses the psychology and physiology of love to seduce Lady Bertilak; by rejecting her advances, Gawain actually augments the passion between them by erecting a barrier to their love. The fact that Gawain’s greatest sin lies with him in the bedroom illustrates a new direction in Gawain studies.
¹James Winny observes that the Gawain-poet is “unusually cultivated and well acquainted with the literature of courtly manners and ideals” (xi); he likewise notes that the French romance is a likely source of the temptation plot (xiii). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, therefore, fits into a specific chivalric context, influenced by the French (de Rougemonr 75– 91).
Couliano, loan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Trans. Margaret Cook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
De Rougemont, Denis. Love in the Western World. Trans. Montgomery Belgion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Goltra, Robert. “The Confession in the Green Chapel: Gawain‘s True Absolution.” Emporia State Research Studies 32.4 (1984): 11.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. and trans. James Winny. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992.
Winny, James. “Introduction” to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. and trans. James Winny. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992.
I am indebted to Richard Duerden, whose English 495 class furnished me with ample material on courtly love and Renaissance physiological ideas (and for whose class chis paper was written), and to Paul Thomas, whose introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as his helpful comments at the symposium, molded the paper into what it is today and hopefully will carry it to what it might become.
by Lisa Eastmond Peabody
As of mid-September, 1999, there were 278 online writing centers linked to the National Writing Centers Association Website,” and the number is growing (Leander 3). With such swift advances in the world of technology, American universities feel the pressure to be on the cutting edge, which often means giving in to the pressure to go online before thoroughly considering options. Karen Rowan, writing center director at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, suggests that the excitement surrounding online tutoring “is best served as an appetizer to a substantial entree of research and scholarship” (10). Yet online tutorials are taking place at an alarming rate, considering the lack of research and scholarship dealing not only with how the service is being accepted by student writers and peer tutors, but how the tutoring process itself has been altered by the Internet as a medium. With an understanding of writing center theory, it is clear that although the prevailing trend is toward Online Writing Labs (OWLs), a rhetorical shift has taken place that alters dialectic, discussion-based tutoring and often omits the holistic approach by eliminating handouts, reference sources, and forums for specific questions.
Writing centers ought to provide a variety of resources, but they also ought to center around peer tutoring to accomplish their goals. Speaking of the ideal function of a writing center, Stephen North states, “Our job is to produce better writers and not just better papers” (qtd. in Gillespie and Lerner 30). Part of this goal is accomplished by keeping the tutorial student centered. In theory, tutorials should be student owned. The tutor merely acts as a sounding board and facilitator of discussion. However, no matter what the student’s desires for revision include, a tutorial should never turn into a proofreading, editing session, for as Mary M. Dossin of SUNY Plattsburg points out, “Tutoring is valid only when it is part of the learning process” (16). Clearly, tutoring is challenging as it strives to adhere to these goals of writing center theory.
Ideally, face-to-face writing center tutors work one-on-one with student writers for approximately twenty minutes to an hour, depending on the program, focusing first on the broad issues of organization and content, and second on sentence-level revision issues, keeping in focus the task of creating better writers and not simply better papers. In the Harcourt Brace Guide to Peer Tutoring, Toni-Lee Capossela outlines the broad-co-narrow focus that tutorials ideally use, starting with appropriate ness for assignment, then topical focus, followed by organization and development, introduction and conclusion, and finally, the surface features of grammar, usage, and style (12). This approach allows the tutorial to remain process based as opposed to product based. In addition to the global-co-local, process-based approach, in these face-to-face tutorials, tutors are able to clarify the roles of student and tutor, rely heavily on methods of questioning and reader response to facilitate discussion, redefine and clarify words and phrases as well as read the silences, facial expressions, and body movements of the writer, all part of a dialectical approach. Sarah Kimball, writing center director at the University of Texas, maintains that
in the face-to-face session the questions are viewed as un-problematically ephemeral. Baker claims that because nothing is written down, “the terms and concepts which they denote remain slippery, somewhat indeterminate; the tutor has not defined anything for the student; the tutor has simply attempted to help the student come to a workable definition for herself.” (33)
In face-to-face tutorials, the dialectical tutoring process defines the roles of student as owner and tutor as facilitator in the learning process and demands interaction and recognition of nonverbal social cues in order to better the writer and not only the text.
Depending on a tutor’s training, a tutor may facilitate this discussion and learning process in a number of ways. Many tutors make use of the Socratic method by leading the writer to conclusions about or solutions for revising the paper, through questioning. Both learning how and when to use indirect and direct forms of questioning is a key component of most tutor training in an attempt to draw student writers into interactive discussion. Additionally, tutors often use the reader response approach to engage the writer in thinking about the audience’s needs, thus clarifying and organizing the paper or arguments presented by the writer. Often tutors use a combination of these types of comments and questions, and because of the dialectical nature of the face-to-face tutorial, students have a chance to thoroughly defend or explain their reasoning or presentation of the paper, or express confusion at the tutor’s examples or questions, allowing the dialogue to be transmitted through both verbal discussion and nonverbal communication.
Unlike face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials tend toward a local, product-based focus, void of vital discussion; in such tutorials, individual roles are often misunderstood, and questions or calls for interaction go unheeded. Online tutorials based in Online Writing Labs and email postings generally have students post their papers to the tutor with a brief overview of the assignment and, in ideal situations, two or three specific questions. Tutors then access the text and respond within a 24-48 hour period. If the purpose of a writing center is to allow student writers to improve basic writing skills through peer interaction, then the online tutoring process and the dialectical structure of OWL postings and email exchange tutorials should also maintain this function. However, Kimball suggests that “in working with student writers online, we are not merely transporting what we do in face-to-face conversation in our real-life writing center into cyberspace” (30). Jackson agrees that there may be rhetorical shifts in the peer tutoring process, saying that “the face-to-face … tutorial cannot be processed through fiber-optics, for both the writer and the tutor are real individuals, with real writing needs; it is an ongoing dialogue and indirect questioning, and the writer’s response.” Clearly then, if the dialectical tutoring methods of “on-going dialogue and indirect questioning, and the writer‘s response” cannot be used in online tutoring practices, especially those based in email exchange or OWL postings, then the rhetorical structure of online tutoring must be different (1-2).
Though posting via email or OWLs is convenient, it does not adhere to writing center theory and goals. David Coogan, an online tutoring program coordinator at SUNY Albany, says he has
learned that if e-mail tutorials “work,” they change the meaning of tutorial work by challenging the rhetorical constraints of face-to face conferencing. In other words, by replacing talk with asynchronous writing, e-mail disrupts the most familiar boundaries in the writing center: shared space and limited time. fu a result, e-mail changes the conference‘s discipline by slowing it down (from 30 minutes to several days), and by collapsing the self into text where it becomes a rhetorical construct, not a social given. Interpreting student text, rather than the student, becomes e-mail tutoring‘s centerpiece. (1)
OWL postings and email tutorials simply do not allow for both student and tutor to be simultaneously present in time and space. The online version of the peer tutoring process potentially omits the “peer” and makes what in physical writing centers is a discussion-based, dialectical activity, into an endeavor in which the peer becomes the expert, in a drawn-out dialectical endeavor, or one in which the writer is left with only “corrected text.”
One problem that comes with the rhetorical shift of putting tutorials online is the misunderstanding about both the peer and the student’s role within the tutorial. Some writing center directors see this posting of papers as equal to the student who comes into the center, unfamiliar with the peer tutoring process, and asks to drop off a paper and pick it up again in a few hours after it has been “corrected.” Clearly, these students do not recognize their role in the process of revising their own papers. Joan Hawthorne of University of North Dakota’s Writing Center stresses that “‘our rationale [for not permitting such a process] has to do with wanting to work with rather than for the writer”‘ (qtd. in Moe 15). Tutors and writing center directors acknowledge that current online tutoring systems, especially OWL postings and email exchange, have the potential for such limited discussion, rhetorically changing the peer tutoring process dramatically.
In online tutorials, unlike face-to-face tutorials, tutors are not able to read the student without an opening discussion or visual social cue, though many try to simulate it in a brief survey, to be completed before sending a paper in for a tutorial. Kimball notes that “this lack of information about participants’ attitudes and intentions makes a difference in a medium that seems like conversation” (5). That difference is what prevents dispelling the myth that students can simply drop off papers to be “fixed.” Often, then, the lack of dialectic discussion in online tutoring may simply exist because the students do not understand their role within the tutorial.
When expectations are unclear not only are tutors left with only a guessing game, but the writer is often left with disappointment. Holly Moe, a peer tutor at Modesto Junior College in California, offers her experience with Smarthinking.com, a commercial online tutoring program, as a perfect example. Though enthusiastic about the possibilities of peer tutoring online, Moe found that the online tutor, when looking at Moe‘s writing, “misread the prompt and offered me all the wrong solutions. Furthermore, he or she edited my sentences, changing my voice and meaning” (14). In this case, the rhetoric shifts from dialectical discussion to disconnected expert advice where the tutor owns and “corrects” the paper and then emails or posts the product to the waiting author, disrupting the bounds of peer tutoring practice and falling out of line with writing center goals.
Unfortunately, this local, product-based approach to tutoring is not uncommon when time and space are not shared by both student and tutor. Undoubtedly, it is easier for the tutor to fall into the role of editor when the student is not present. This tendency toward the product-based approach has many writing center directors and peer tutors worried because it is not in harmony of the goals of a writing center. J. A. Jackson of Purdue’s Online Writing Center relates this fear: “The most frightening prospect of the online tutorial is that all one is left with is the writing and not the writer, the product and not the process” (2). This shift to editing rather than tutoring is especially easy because writing centers serve students from across the disciplines, and tutors certainly do not and cannot comprehend the content of such a wide range of texts. For this reason alone, tutors may assume that the student authors “know what they are talking about,” and revert to looking at formulaic concepts of structure, style, and grammar and usage, all part of a local focus.
However, many tutors recognize this tendency to move an online tutorial toward a local, product-based focus, and attempt to interact with the writer by the familiar methods of questioning. Tutors may try to ask questions, both direct and indirect, to essentially help students engage in the learning process. Jackson admits, though, that unfortunately the tutor’s questions often go unanswered and there is hardly ever “follow-up feedback” from the writer (6). Again the rhetorical shift is evident as online tutorials move farther and farther away from the dialectic, discussion-based approach.
However, online tutoring is not completely destined for failure. While it is clear that there are rhetorical differences between face-to-face peer tutoring and current online tutoring practices, overcoming some of these obstacles may be easily done, by shifting from postings on OWL and email, to more chat-based programs. Currently several universities are experimenting with programs such as chatrooms, Multiple User Dialogue or Dimension (MUD), and MUD, Object Oriented (MOO). All of these programs allow students and tutors to share virtual time and space, making way for conversation—questioning methods, reader response, clarification of roles, and so on. Working with programs such as MOO in conjunction with email or OWL postings also allows for the text to be present for both the student writer and the peer tutor. These simple changes begin to preserve the familiar dialectical tutoring approach of traditional tutoring as the practice is taken online.
But even if they maintain the rhetorical nature of peer tutoring, online writing centers are not complete in their practice and goals without additional resources for student writers. Most offline writing centers offer many resources for students visiting their physical space such as reference books, handbooks, handouts, and knowledgeable tutors who can provide quick answers to specific questions. In response to the contrast between current practices in most online writing centers and the proposed holistic practice, Eric H. Hobson in the introduction to Wiring the Writing Center suggests that
in their first forays online, many writing centers are creating themselves in the form of their antithesis, that nemesis writing lab. Put bluntly, many OWLs consist primarily of the contents of old filing cabinets and handbooks—worksheets, drill activities, guides to form—pulled out of the mothballs, dusted off and digitized…in addition to a reliance on these types of materials, by allowing—even encouraging—writers to make use of these online resources, many of these writers write in isolation. (xvii)
If writing in isolation is the end product of these online programs based in OWL and email exchange and supported only by online versions of handbooks, then these virtual spaces fail as writing centers, which champion collaborative learning based on peer tutoring. Clearly, there is a need to preserve the rhetorical nature of peer tutoring as interactive, placing peer tutoring at the heart of online writing centers, but not offering it as the sole service, for there again would we be falsely presenting the concept of a writing center.
Although peer tutoring is the main activity of a writing center, students also come in for the quick fixes offered by handouts, handbooks, reference books, and by asking tutors a few specific questions about a specific assignment, and these resources must also be preserved as part of a complete and complex writing center. Instead of tucking these resources away online, they should play an integral role in the service provided by an online writing center. Undoubtedly, students who have a question on common punctuation or even need to know where to start when writing about critical theory could use online handouts as a jumping off point for their writing. Additionally, if students have questions that go beyond what handouts cover, especially those dealing with style, online writing centers should offer links to the APA, MLA, and Turabian homepages, so that students can troubleshoot their own questions just as they would if handed a manual in the physical space of a writing center. Likewise, online writing centers need to offer access to dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, handbooks, and other such references. While interaction between student and tutor should attempt to remain discussion based in tutorials, much of the time student writers have a few specific questions that the tutor can answer directly or refer the student to a resource that contains the answers to those specific questions. These quick exchanges can take place via email or OWL in contrast to the more extensive chat programs where peer tutors and student writers can focus on discussion based tutoring.
Empire State College, in Saratoga Springs, New York, has created a Writer’s Complex as part of their virtual library or “cybrary” that offers more of a holistic approach to putting writing center services online. Not only is this online writing center visually appealing (http://www.esc.edu/writer), but it offers a variety of resources besides just student tutor interaction. A student writer needs only to identify the type of help he or she needs and then click on that portion of the Writer’s Complex to access the support needed. Empire State College’s Online Writing Center, the Writer’s Complex, offers everything from the basics of essay writing to ESL resources, in addition to their Tutor’s Mailbox, which allows student writers to ask specific questions and/or submit their papers for review (unfortunately, not discussion-based review).
Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah, also offers a varied approach and achieves a more complete transfer of their writing center online as they keep peer tutoring at the heart of their services with additional resources provided to further support student writers. Though there are no handouts or links for students to access, Salt Lake Community College offers three styles of online tutoring—email advising, web board advising, and real-time advising. Each has a clearly defined purpose that attempts to meet an individual writer’s various needs, whether that be a full tutorial, an answer to a quick question, or peer feedback for several students (http://www.slcc.edu/wc/student/etutoring.htm).
Finally, despite all the work that writing centers are employing to get their services online, the possibilities that accompany the internet as a medium for teaching composition are endless as new hardware and software are continually emerging, and undoubtedly, online practices will change with the ever-advancing medium. However, writing centers can not simply avoid experimentation and wait for someone else to figure out how to preserve the rhetorical nature of peer tutoring online while augmenting it with other resources. It is through experimentation that writing centers will discover the previously unknown pathways for transmitting writing center services online. Indisputably, we must admit as does Eric Hobson in quoting Diana George that
the technology is here. We cannot ignore it. Furthermore, we already know that computer technology-the communication revolution-is more powerful than skills–and-drills work books on screen. What we don‘t know, I am convinced, is how this ‘New World‘ really will configure our teaching and our tutoring. (ix)
Although the current trend in online writing centers is toward OWL and email posting tutorials, we have not seen the end of interactive, dialectic peer tutoring at the heart of writing center practice, and in fact, we will continue to see advances that help secure the rhetorical nature of peer tutoring as we are willing to work with computer microphones, web cameras, and so on. Michael D. McMaster, a social theorist, claims that “to make the shift in thinking [into the information age], we need the willingness to unlearn the old and the courage to grapple with the new and unfamiliar” (Murphey and Law 190). In essence, the near future of writing centers online is full of experimentation and offers plenty of room for research in both that which is currently being done in online writing centers and the many possibilities that are to come that will keep the rhetorical nature of peer tutoring, the holistic approach to writing center services, and the goals of writing center theory intact.
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