kitchen table math, the sequel: wrong turn

Sunday, November 6, 2011

wrong turn

from the Instructor's Notes to The Everyday Writer by Andrea Lunsford, Alyssa O'Brien, and Lisa Dresdner:
In his essay “Structure and Form in Non-Narrative Prose,” Richard Larson explains what he sees as the three categories of paragraph theory: paragraphs (1) as expanded sentences, governed by comparable syntactical forces; (2) as self-contained units of writing with their own unique principles; and (3) as parts of the overall discourse, informed by the strategies a writer chooses for the overall piece. 
Reading this passage, my reaction is: Interesting!

And: Help is on its way.

Any one of these theories of the paragraph sounds as if it might be very useful to me in teaching college freshmen how to write a 5-paragraph English paper.

Unfortunately, Larson is not findable on Google, and there's no more to be learned from Lunsford, who buries Larson and his ilk in her next paragraph:
Today, partially as a result of the poststructuralist and feminist critique, scholars are challenging conventional paragraph norms. In Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, V. N. Volosinov notes that “to say that a paragraph is supposed to consist of a complete thought amounts to absolutely nothing.” Beginning with this provocative insight, Kay Halasek’s book A Pedagogy of Possibility [the Amazon results, not the book] shows the ways in which composition textbooks have traditionally taught the paragraph in strictly traditional ways, as unified, coherent, and tightly linear. But Halasek works to redefine the paragraph as dialogic, as a negotiation among writer, audience, subject, and other textual elements that surround it. Most important, Halasek insists, is for instructors of writing to understand that the process of producing “unified,” “cohesive” paragraphs calls for ignoring, erasing, or otherwise smoothing out a diversity of discourses and voices. Thus teaching students to be aware of this process not only illuminates a great deal about how “good” paragraphs get constructed but also introduces them to a philosophy of language that is not based on current traditional positivism or objectivism.
Even if I agreed with the sentiments expressed in this paragraph, which I don't, the words "to say that a paragraph is supposed to consist of a complete thought amounts to absolutely nothing" tells me absolutely nothing about what to do in class next Tuesday.

Then there's this:
Today theorists are questioning the ideologies surrounding practices of quotation. An early critique of such practices appears in the work of Bakhtin and Volosinov, who question the ways in which quotation perpetuates a view of language as the property of a radically unique individual rather than as a set of socially constructed systems.
and this:
Volosinov, Valentin N. “Exposition of the Problem of Reported Speech.” Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973. Here Volosinov mounts a powerful critique of quotation practices, revealing the ways they are inevitably embedded in ideology.
The Everyday Writer costs $57.99 on Amazon.


Anonymous said...

A quick search with Google books reveals the essay at

Amazon has the book
where you can get it used for $4 including shipping.

Allison said...

libraries have access to good db searches too

Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographical Essays. Revised and Enlarged Edition.
Tate, Gary, Ed.
434 pp.
Peer Reviewed:
Publication Date:
Computer Uses in Education, Content Area Writing, Discourse Modes, Linguistics, Literary Criticism, Literary Styles, Persuasive Discourse, Reading Writing Relationship, Remedial Instruction, Rhetorical Invention, Teaching Methods, Theory Practice Relationship, Writing Evaluation, Writing Instruction, Writing Processes, Writing Research, Writing Skills
Basic Writing, Writing to Learn
Intended for teachers of composition courses, this book provides twelve bibliographic essays covering various aspects of composition studies. The list of essays are as follows: (1) "Recent Developments in Rhetorical Invention" (Richard Young); (2) "Structure and Form in Non-Narrative Prose" (Richard L. Larson); (3) "Approaches to the Study of Style" (Edward P. J. Corbett); (4) "Aims, Modes, and Forms of Discourse" (Frank J. D'Angelo); (5) "Tests of Writing Ability" (Richard Lloyd-Jones); (6) "Basic Writing" (Mina P. Shaughnessy); (7) "Basic Writing Update" (Andrea Lunsford); (8) "Language Varieties and Composition" (Jenefer M. Giannasi); (9) "Literacy, Linguistics, and Rhetoric" (W. Ross Winterowd); (10) "Literary Theory and Composition" (Joseph J. Comprone); (11) "Studying Rhetoric and Literature" (Jim W. Corder); (12) "Writing across the Curriculum" (James L. Kinneavy); and (13) "Computers and Composition" (Hugh Burns). Indexes of names, subjects, and titles are included. (JC)

Glen said...

The contributions of Marxist theorists to English composition are as valuable as their contributions to agriculture.

Allison said...


that was a much more diplomatic way to say what I wanted to say!

and for those interested in how well it worked out for the farmers, may I suggest Harvest of Sorrow,

le radical galoisien said...

I mean I can kind of agree with the scholars. paragraphs are definitely flexible structural elements that are "easy to recognise but hard to define". It seems useful to be postmodern about it.

Catherine Johnson said...

The contributions of Marxist theorists to English composition are as valuable as their contributions to agriculture.

I just saw this!

I'm laughing -----

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm laughing in four modes:

* as a person with a Ph.D. in film studies (beaucoup Marxism there)
* as a writer
* as a person who teaches freshman composition
* as a person who grew up on a farm

Catherine Johnson said...

definitely flexible structural elements that are "easy to recognise but hard to define"

Actually, I believe it turns out they're not easy to recognize (not when you read out loud).

On the page, obviously, the white space tells you where the paragraph begins and ends.

Paragraphs have been getting much, much shorter over the years (I believe) --- I wonder why that is.