Peter Elbow in “Closing My Eyes As I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience” gives a different view on the issue of the importance of audience in writing. Elbow warns that teaching students to be aware of the audience can have detrimental effects on their writing. For example, it can block writing altogether. He therefore aims to “celebrate the benefits of ignoring audience.” He gives many reasons why ignoring audience in fact helps students write better. First, thinking too much about the audience can lead to mediocre writing which lacks originality. Second, it makes student writing sound unnatural and forced: “There is something too staged or planned or self-aware about such writing.” He also disagrees with the way the emphasis on audience leads to the categorization of writing into “writer-based,” “reader-based,” and “text-based,” because for him those terms themselves are slippery and escape single definition and the process of writing is more complex than what is defined by those terms. Elbow also points out that because the topic of the developmental process is complicated in itself, the current emphasis on audience awareness which derives from only one model of cognitive development must also be questioned. Objecting to the view that “all discourse is social” of the emphasis on audience in writing pedagogy, Elbow ends the essay by pointing out the fluidity of the binary opposition between the self and the social: “If we are trying to advance contraries, we must be prepared for paradoxes.” No matter which dimension is emphasized, the private or the public, the other is always present.
It may seem at first that Elbow argues for the writer-centered kind of writing, but then he questions that category as well. He makes many good points about the weaknesses of the theoretical framework on which the current emphasis on audience awareness is based as well as the problems of some of its underlying concepts. But it is still hard for me to see how we can put his approach into practice. For example, when he suggests that “we must help students learn not only to ‘try harder’ but also to ‘just relax,’” what kind of writing does he have in mind?