'Risky' meditates on annals of writing

BY KATIE CLOUD
Daily Arts Writer
Published March 20, 2002

There have been magnificent debates over the canons of literature studied within higher education. The argument that classical literature has lost its scholastic importance to the genres of pulp fiction or pop culture has been greatly examined, yet notice to pedagogical literature within an academic arena is not as widely disputed. English Professor Jeffrey Berman of the University of Albany delivers such a text that explores the academic and personal process involved in writing that is beneficial in university writing courses as a mechanism of instruction, reflection and comparison to both beginning and experienced writers.

Berman's "Risky Writing" is the last of the trilogy that researches the process of personal writing. His first investigation, "Diaries of an English Professor," follows the benefits of diary writing as well as his students' responses to its therapeutic effects. The second, "Surviving Literary Suicide" delves into the effects of reading suicidal literature from a graduate student perspective. "Risky Writing" furthers Berman's research into the tools of expressing personal and/or social themes through literature by looking at how writing one's personal experience can create compelling and honest literary works. All three texts have been written from Berman's personal experiences as a teacher and all involve student responses to Berman's pedagogical style.

"Risky Writing" is not a self-motivated nor self-indulgent reflection of Berman's research or teaching. He simply maintains the vantage of an observer and a guide encouraging confidence in literary self-disclosure to his students. He never assumes the position of therapist or psychologist as he consistently reminds his audience that he isn't completely aware of the mental battles involved in personal disclosure. He attempts to minimize the "risk" in self-disclosure. In contrast, Berman does not defend the marketing of self-disclosure in such television programs as "Jerry Springer" or "Ricki Lake," labeling public tragedy as a "vulgarity circus." He follows this same standard in his classroom and excludes student entries that are written for mere shock value and personal recognition from his research.

The text's primary focus is on teaching with only a marginal study on the actual writing. In fact, it is a reflection of a long researched survey from his English 300 course: "A Research Project on the Benefits and Risks of Personal Writing and Self Disclosure in an Expository Writing Course," in which he compiled student works that were submitted voluntarily. Though the text gravitates more towards human and pedagogical research for professors and instructors, there is ample leisure and educational value for students as well. A majority of the text is his students actual writing that is provocative to writers because it is non-threatening and real - an effect often scarce in many university writing and literature classes.

Berman does not insert his own grammar, spelling or stylistic corrections, presenting the students writings in their true form. The writing reflects universal as well as individual issues that many have battled or are battling within the literary world. "Our relationship had always been religion neutral. Being inside some one else's house of worship became a frightening experience for me...I began to feel more and more uncomfortable as the day progressed. I took my sadness and projected it on his family." The text pushes its student readers to question their own personal writing style, form and process and is a positive means for comparative self-examination.

"Risky Writing" is a profitable read due to its confessional range, juxtaposing of Berman's interpretations with individual student analysis and its unconventional examination of a writer's training. Though the text may be slow and tedious to finish due to its mechanical strategy, it is a stimulating emergence from the common discourse of literary academia.