looking for meaty Ciceronian argumentative moves in composition studies

I was thinking of doing Maxine Hairston’s “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing” (1992) for my “Ciceronian Discourses Assignment” for ENG 585 Cather & Gilman.  Her article is “important,” no doubt. But now I’m thinking its Ciceronian moves are not “difficult” enough according to Betjemann’s description in the assignment sheet.

This assignment asks you to study a chapter or the introduction from one of the field-changing books of the last few decades. The vast majority of such books went through rigorous peer-review and many drafts; their arguments are tight (often extraordinarily so), extremely nuanced, and demand much of the reader at every turn.

In a document that may be typed or produced by hand – but, in either case, need not be narrative – I ask you to trace what we might call the “Ciceronian” moves of your chosen chapter. By Ciceronian moves, I mean the classic elements of logical argument: propositions, adversatives, caveats, allowances, evidentiary passages, contextualization. (This is not a formal or restrictive list, but – hopefully – a suggestive one connoting, generically, some foundational principles of argumentation.)

Hardly any Composition Studies books are “difficult” theory-wise — at least, they don’t seem to me to be. But that’s probably because the field by definition (ideally) places equal weight on practice and theory.  So often the most tricky or difficult ideas are fleshed out by reference to or by example of everyday in-classroom practice.

Hmmm, anyway — it’s too bad, because I think I might use some of Hairston’s moves in my own thesis. I’m definitely going to incorporate her thinking into my thesis. Anyway, we’ll see…

Hmm, maybe Ann Berthoff’s “Is Teaching Still Possible? Writing, Meaning, and Higher Order Reasoning” (1984) fits the Ciceronian difficulty bill better.

Meanwhile, I want to make a note of E. Shelley Reid’s “Starting Somewhere Better: Revisiting Multiculturalism in First-Year Composition” which I want to look over later for my thesis.

Oops, gotta go!


4 thoughts on “looking for meaty Ciceronian argumentative moves in composition studies

  1. I think many of the field changing books are theoretically rigorous enough. :) It depends on how you define theory, of course, and difficult. It seems there are plenty of books that might be worth checking out. Sharon Crowley’s Toward a Civil Discourse or Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening might be worth reading a chapter of. I’d garner these as two of the field’s most influential books in the last 5 years.

    This sounds like a cool assignment!

  2. Thanks, Michael. I figured you might have something to say about this. :)

    I think what I was realizing (or thinking) was that there are a lot of theoretically-difficult works, but they aren’t the ones I thought of first when I thought of “field-changing” works. Field-changing works, e.g., Shaughnessy’s Diving In or Bartholomae’s Inventing the University or Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers — THESE are field-changing, but they are not difficult or demanding reads at all.

    I don’t know. It’s almost as if composition studies, maybe a little bit unlike other purely theoretical/critical fields?, is influenced, or changed, or re-directed as much by someone helping us see something we hadn’t seen before, but maybe deep-down we already knew or maybe we would have figured these things out on our own eventually?: Shaughnessy’s Diving In, Bartholomae’s Inventing the University, Sommers’ Between the Drafts as it is by someone making a good, often complex, theoretical argument.

    So for this assignment, I just decided to think in terms of “important” or “influential” works. “Field-changing” just put me in the realm — at least, in my mind — of really eye-opening works, but not necessarily difficult or demanding ones.

    Yes, it’s a VERY cool assignment. :)

  3. I think your choice of Berthoff (to refer to the later post) is a good one!

    I wouldn’t cut Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University” so short, though. He’s very subtle with his theory in it. It reeks (in a delightful way) of Foucault! :)

  4. You’re right. Berthoff is… well, she’s a work-out for my brain, that’s for sure. She’s great, though. Wow. Very helpful as well very profound.

    And of course you are right about Bartholomae. I was half-thinking I should probably read “Inventing the University” again with this whole Ciceronian-move thing in mind, before thinking he was “just” making a cool observation about student writers. I bet, when I go back, I’ll see how much he’s doing. I hadn’t thought of that article in terms of Foucault, though! Interesting. :)

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