Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Precis and the Figurative Reading

As promised this Thursday, I am posting a brief but more detailed description of the two short 2-3pp. written assignments required for this course in addition to the longer final paper (which you don't really have to worry about yet) and the notebook and participation/attendance requirements (which you have already been doing all along -- I sincerely hope). One of the short writing assignments is to be a precis of an argument in one of our assigned texts and the other is a figurative reading of a passage in one of our assigned texts. I leave it to you which assignment you wish to do first. Although there are deadlines for the two papers -- midnight Saturday, October 7, for the first one; midnight Saturday, November 25, for the second one -- I encourage you to do these assignments when it is convenient for you from now right up to the deadline, the earlier the better.

For the purposes of this assignment, a precis is an argumentative paraphrase, it is rather like a short straightforward book report, but one in which you are recapitulating in your own words what you take to be the key argumentative moves made in a short passage of your own choosing from one of our assigned texts. Do not attempt to summarize the argument of an entire long work, choose a specific passage you can get a handle on in just two or so pages. Also, please understand, I am not asking you to make an argument about the text, I am not asking you to explain why you think an argument is effective or not, I am not asking you to argue with the author: I am asking you to identify the terms of the argument the author is making as you understand them. The simplest way to describe what the precis should involve is to say it will probably identify a thesis or claim in your chosen passage and then observe the reasons, evidence and illustrations (this might include some figurative content) that support that thesis in your view. Depending on the rhetorical skill-set you have at your command, you might also highlight key definitions of terms, anticipations and circumventions of objections, qualifications of claims, unstated warrants (stuff you may remember from studying the Toulmin schema for argument), ethos and pathos moves, implicit premises in enthymemes (stuff you may remember from studying Aristotelian rhetoric), strategies like delayed thesis, modeling listening, preemptive compromise (stuff you may remember from studying Rogerian synthesis or mediation rhetoric). All of these elements are useful in a precis, but a propositional analysis emphasizing relations of entailment between premises and conclusions and relations of empirical support between claims and evidence and data will be the bread and butter of most precises.

For the purposes of this assignment, a figurative analysis is an examination of the way figures and style produce argumentative effects (clarity, memorableness, urgency, pleasure, and so on) in the textual passage you have chosen. It is perfectly natural that a figurative reading would involve the identification and close reading or unpacking of a few key metaphors (whether treated in isolation or in relation to one another) in your passage. But it is useful to recall -- and our readings of both Aristotle and Quintilian later in the term will include foundational and still influential discussions of these topics -- that figurative language includes both tropes (from tropos, or turn, referring to turns of phrase, deviations in sense from literal language) and schemes (which call attention to the materiality of language itself and are often deviations from customary usage or form). Tropes include metaphor -- as I mentioned before -- but also metonymy, synecdoche and irony (what Kenneth Burke called, following Quintilian, the Four Master Tropes, and which every self-respecting rhetorician should know well), and many other delightful deviancies, like paradox, hyperbole, litotes, extended analogy, allegory, and so on. Schemes includes alliteration and assonance (which you may remember from the study of literature), but also onomatopoeia, chiasmus (a personal fave), auxesis, anastrophe, ellipses, and so much more. In lecture last time around I mentioned a book by Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms -- I gave it a looksee and found copies available for ten bucks or so used at Amazon for those eager for a deeper dive.

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