I’m working on developing my pedagogy for the final portfolio and have stalled. There is a certain notion I have about the tutor/writing relationship that runs contrary to the consensus of most other tutors: I think a tutor must distance himself from the writer. In workshop, I heard many classmates say that intrinsic to their pedagogy is developing a relationship with the writer. Scott Russell, in his essay “Clients Who Frequent Madame Barnett’s Emporium,” writes that “Tutors learn to distance themselves from emotional elements of the work” and that defenses we develop are “blanking out, retaining physical boundaries, keeping time down, hiding the self,” etc. Russell sees these maneuvers as negative qualities since it inhibits the tutor and prevents any sort of relationship from developing.
I can understand that sentiments behind wanting to develop a trusting relationship with a writer. Writing is, by its nature, an intimate and personal activity that few people wish to share with others. To discuss writing demands a level of trust to exist between the writer and tutor. It also demands that the writer feels equal to the tutor so that he is not embarrassed to share his thoughts. Such trust and equality, I have found, leads to the most successful consultations.
But I think the relationship should end there; it should end when the writer is comfortable engaging with the tutor about his writing. It should not develop into a deep, personal trust in which the tutor finds himself emotionally connected to the piece. I’m sure there are buckets full of critical theory arguing about the proper relationship between an audience and a work. But I am set in my critical approach and am only uncertain about how it applies to the writing center.
It seems that by involving himself emotionally with a piece of writing the tutor is divorcing himself from judiciousness. This can happen when he reads a personal narrative about a death in someone’s family; it can happen when he reads an argumentative essay that agrees with his opinions; it can even happen when he reads an argument opposed to his essay. Any time a tutor invests emotion into a piece he is necessarily affecting his ability as a disinterested critic. And a critic he must be if the writer is to be helped. If the tutor is sympathetic he will allow certain errors to pass; if he is livid he will be extraordinarily and irrationally harsh to the point of detriment to the writer.
I am wondering if it is possible to be emotionally withdrawn from a piece and, if not, if it is necessarily detrimental to the writer and his piece of writing.