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Queens College Writers at Work: Murphy Halliburton

Queens College Writers at Work is a program sponsored by the Office of College Writing Programs. Every semester, we feature Queens College faculty at events where we discuss writing practices. Our flyer illustrates some of the more commonly addressed topics: ¡§How does a writer imagine a subject, gather information and find the right language and form? What are a writer's habits and practices? Where and when does she or he write? How does she or he draft, revise and edit?"

Above: Dr. Hugh English (left) interviews Dr. Murphy Halliburton (right) about his writing practices. Photography courtesy of Queens College Writers at Work, 2004.

By Maddalena Romano

On 26 February 2004, Writers at Work featured guest speaker Dr. Murphy Halliburton. Murphy Halliburton (Ph.D. CUNY 2000) joined the Anthropology Department in Fall 2000. His specializations include Medical Anthropology, South Asian ethnography, and cross-cultural psychiatry. He was awarded a Queens College Faculty Writing Fellowship for Fall 2001 to develop the course Anthropology 208: Peoples of South Asia as a Writing-Intensive Course. More recently, he received a PSC-CUNY Research Award for "¡§Regimes of Innovation and Ownership: Ayurvedic Medicine, Intellectual Property and the World Trade Organization."

After a short introduction by Anthropology Department Chair James A. Moore, Murphy Halliburton took the podium and began by first reading from his recent article ¡§The Importance of a Pleasant Process of Treatment: Lessons on Healing from South India" (Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 27: 161-186, 2003). In this work, he discusses the positive and negative aesthetic qualities of undergoing allopathic psychiatric treatments (commonly referred to as ¡§western medicine"), ayurvedic psychiatric treatments (part of the medical system called ayurveda, indigenous to South Asia), and religious healing. He closes the discussion of this article by asking for a reconsideration of the concept of the ¡§cure" for describing the accomplishments of therapeutic healing. This discussion was intriguing, and did inspire commentary from the audience, which Halliburton gladly entertained.

Following this reading was a more anecdotal piece written about a friend named Aachan, who had passed away a few years back. He admitted to a change in his accustomed writing style, but was willing to share this ¡§work in progress." This piece, noticeably different in tone, attempts to explain his close friendship: ¡§Subtle and wise, a ¡¥philosopher' despite himself, I think he liked to think of himself as pragmatic and down-to-earth, which he was, though he was at the same time disarmingly original and comfortingly familiar, all this without trying, it seemed."

When the applause settled, it was then time for the discussion of his writing practices. This began by some word association, lead by Dr. Hugh English, Director of College Writing Programs. Halliburton discussed his reactions to such words and phrases as ¡§revision" (which he found both intimidating as well as comforting, and a process which he found computers now aid), ¡§run-on sentences" (where he commented that, ironically, good writers break the rules that students are told to follow¡Xand which he admitted to doing more often in his anecdotal piece than in his journal article) and ¡§student writing" (where he finds¡Xfrom conversations with students¡Xthat there exists a worry about ¡§getting it right" even when students are told to take ownership of the knowledge and interpret it for themselves).

It was at this point that the floor was opened for questions on his writing process, and where the discussion became more intricate. Questions followed by English, as well as by Writing Fellows Roberto Abadie and Wasi Mekuria (both doctoral students in the Department of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, CUNY). These questions delved more deeply into the discussion of how, where, and when Halliburton writes, as well as the topics of procrastination, writing rituals, audience, the ¡§purpose" of revising, anthropological writing as a genre, how writing is ¡§taught," translation in writing, originality of thought in writing.

In considering an audience for one's writing, Halliburton finds that he writes more to the preference of specific individuals than to a large group, but also points out that writing is a negotiation¡Xmeaning that there is an implicit understanding in the post-critique writing process that not all of the suggested changes can be incorporated into the next revision. He finds that students sometimes find this a difficult concept to grasp, and attributes this to the student focus on the teacher and the grading process as the audience. Also of note were his comments on the purpose of revision in academia. It is thought to be an exercise in polishing one's writing, but he commented that it also establishes a certain homogeneity in the writing styles of authors in a particular field. This process, then, functions as a sieve, but he also mentioned that ¡§original" writing need not necessarily be sacrificed just because there exists a need to adhere to a more conforming style in the early stages of academic life.

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Volume 1, Spring 2004 ( Download pdf file, 1,620 KB)

From the Editors
Teaching Writing in a Multilingual Environment
Queens College Writers at Work: Murphy Halliburton
Queens College Writers at Work, Rikki Asher and David Gerwin
Simplifying Writing Across the Curriculum: A Review of Art Young's Teaching Wring Across the Curriculum