A small example. Let’s say I’m teaching the neither/nor form. I begin by producing a simple neither/nor sentence. “Neither his age nor his disability prevented him from competing.” I then ask my students to write their own sentences on that model. Most of them are able to do it, and they produce sentences with 20 different contents, but only one form. The next step is for the students to figure out what that form is. Just how does a neither/nor sentence organize items and actions in the world?
It takes a while to work that out, but in not too much time students are able to explain that the form organizes three components: two conditions (age and disability) and the resolution (to compete) in relation to which they may have presented an obstacle, but did not. The important thing students learn, in addition to being able to generate neither/nor sentences forever, is that the relationship among those components, whatever they are, is always the same: two assertions that have a relationship to each other combine to highlight the unlikeliness of an action or an attitude.
Notice that this is an abstract and purely formal account of the matter and that it will fit innumerable narratives (and a narrative is what a neither/nor sentence is). While the content is variable and abundant — as David Berman says, “content is everywhere” — the form is unvarying. It follows then that what students must learn are the forms; the content will follow. A neither/nor sentence, or an even-though sentence or a nevertheless sentence, or a thousand other forms that can be studied and mastered — these do not clothe an antecedent content; they make it possible; they are not brought in to adorn a story; they are the story.
Sigue diciendo Stanley Fish algo que puede sonar extraño: que lo que importa es la forma, no exclusivamente de lo que se escribe (el tema, digamos). Y añade dos comentarios:
“Good writing skills instill good thinking,” not the other way around.
“Young people who can’t write can’t think.”
Estamos delante de esa misteriosa relación entre la forma y el fondo, que en la escritura no se puede separar. Tampoco en la escritura de ficción.