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Rhetorical Narrative Theory: Methods and Debates

When researching rhetorical narrative theory, it seemed at first that most scholarship began with some sort of defense of its efficacy among critics. Narrative theory as a field involves generating knowledge and lending value to literary texts as they intermingle with culture, politics, ethics, and social systems. James Phelan defines the rhetorical methodological approach as,

[S]omebody telling somebody else on some occasion and for some purposes that something happened, and the definition seeks to account for narrative as having a textual dynamics (the telling of something that happened) and a readerly dynamics (the developing responses of the somebody who receives that telling). (“Rhetorical Aesthetics,” 88)

This definition includes the concepts of narrative progression and judgment, which are interested in the “synthesis of textual dynamics and readerly dynamics” because they “directly links textual and readerly dynamics: judgments are communicated by the telling but they are activities of a reader” (89), or as Sheldon Sacks asked, “Do we read the same books?” (qtd. In Phelan Experiencing, ix).


Aside from James Phelan and Dan Shen, few scholars seem to believe that methodologies can live side-by-side in the field.

Now, rhetorical narrative theory lies alongside a range of theoretical lenses[1] that can be applied to the study of literary texts, though its scholars seem to belong a rather narrow field within the broader discipline. Examining the application of rhetorical narrative theory includes not just understanding how it is applied to narrative texts, but also its finer points of study within the field as they continue to be debated, and so, most articles do begin by addressing criticisms. Dan Shen argues that the rhetorical approach “has been shedding significant light on the relation among the implied author, narrator, character, and audience” as it takes its place in narrative theory among other prominent approaches, including feminist, Marxist, formalist, and cognitive (576). And as a major critical theory, one of its most published scholars, James Phelan, argues that, “The rhetorical approach has no a priori commitments to such things as the nature of literary language or the relations between ideology and literature, history and literature, or politics and literature. Indeed, the approach’s only major initial commitment is to the idea that authors design texts as purposive communicative actions” (227). As an object of study within the field itself, the how’s and what’s that question its methods keeps the field fresh and the dialogue lively among its scholars.

The New Criticism, widely adopted throughout the mid-twentieth century, applied a rigorous objectivity to critical theory to literary texts (Yagelski, 300), and New Criticism scholars generally question the legitimacy of critical theory that moves outside “the text itself,” and the instead strive for generating meaning by a close reading of the language, style, and aesthetics of particular texts. Even those scholars who embrace the rhetorical approach to analyzing narrative engage in a vibrant debate of the role and relevancy of the “implied author,” defined as the “author’s second self,” or more fully, “the implied author’s image is one “implied by the text” for readers to infer, an image “the IA wanted them to find,”[2] (Shen “Neo-Aristotelian Criticism,” 583). Though there is much more complexity to the role of the implied author – such as its variable invocations and relationship to the real author, narrator reliability, even a debate about the historical-I of the real author, the narrated-I, the narrating-I, and the ideological-I and the role of the implied author,[3] and the complexity of the depth of analysis when applying rhetorical theory – the debate itself remains an active object of study among rhetorical narrative theorists. Finally, rhetorical narrative theory seems to be combating an ongoing deconstructionalist argument that “seeking to identify an implied author (indeed, the implied author^) of a literary work can surely only appear as a dubious endeavor to reduce the multiplicity of a text’s meanings to the totalizing unity of authorial intention” (Stefanescu 49). Deconstruction is mistrustful of rhetorical theory because it often includes the study of authorial intent, which has raised many criticisms about “intentional fallacy” and whether we can really know intention and whether authorial intention even matters to the reader. Dan Shen attempts to clear up what she terms “decades of misinterpretation” of who the implied author is by offering this definition and clarification: The difference between the “implied author” (second self) and the “real author” (first self) is the difference between the person assuming a certain air or a particular stance when writing the text and the same person in daily life out of the writing process. (“Implied” 142). She further argues that the real author and their historical, cultural, and political contexts, while not primary, enrich the rhetorical study of texts because they “do often exert influence on one’s stance in composing a fictional narrative” and Shen demonstrates this through three studies of a real authors whose historical, biographical, and socio-cultural contexts deepend our understanding of the texts (“Neo-Aristotelian,” 585).

Within rhetorical narrative theory rests the rising influence of affect: the readerly response to texts, the judgments and ethics we apply, and this concept also addresses the question of “Do we read the same books?” Dr. Dana Heller, Chairperson of the Department of English at Old Dominion University, agrees that the understanding the rhetorical effect of certain texts, “[W]ould be appropriate and I think it is appropriate.   But I think we need to look just as closely at the rhetorical effect of cultures on texts. This is a two-way street” (“Personal Interview”). Continuing, she points out the growing field of affect study across the disciplines, exemplified in such works as the omnibus reader The Affect Theory Reader (Duke U. Press 2010), which surveys the “enormous body of work” being performed in affective theory (Heller). Understanding how texts work on us as readers and how we can analyze texts by constructing critical approaches that include the concept that “an author…guides us to experience [the text] one way or another” underpins rhetorical narrative theory (Phelan Experiencing, x). As it is applied to texts of any genre, it addresses the question: can we experience, or read, the same texts the same way?

Approaching literature as a point of study for its rhetorical effect allows scholars to be liberated from strictly genre, language, or historical study, and instead blend narrative literature through its affect over time, in its historical period, and for its place among other texts that resonated emotionally in culture. Studying both the texts under scrutiny for its affective nature and the debates within the field of rhetorical theory as they are waged, allows the rhetoric scholar a very broad field of study as well as the opportunity to participate in relevant and important dialogue in critical theory.


Works Cited

Copland, Sarah. “To Be Continued: The Story of Short Story Theory and Other Narrative Theory.” Narrative 22.1 (Jan.

2014): 132-149. Print.

Heller, Dana. “Personal Interview.” October 3 & 14, 2014. Email.

Phelan, James. Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio

State University Press, 2007. Print.

——– “The Implied Author, Deficient Narration, and Nonfiction Narrative: Or, What’s Off-Kilter in The Year of Magical Thinking and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?” Style 45.1 (Spring 2011): 119-137. Print.

Shen, Dan. “Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Narrative Study: Need for Integrating Style, Context, and Intertext.” Style 45.4

(Winter 2011): 576-597. Print.

——–“Implied Author, Authorial Audience, and Context: Form and History in Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Theory.” Narrative 21.2 (May 2013): 140-158. Print.

Stefanescu, Maria. “Revisiting the Implied Author Yet Again: Why (Still) Bother? Style 45.1 (Spring 2011): 48-66. Print.

Yagelski, Robert P. “English Education.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Ed. Bruce McComisky.

Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. 275-319. Print.

[1] James Phelan notes in his essay “Rhetorical Aesthetics and Other Issues in the Study of Literary Narrative” that these approaches include: formalist, feminist, cognitive, rhetorical, psychoanalytic, Marxist, and others (86). He also discusses the interplay between these approaches and the issues now current in the field of literary narrative: nonmimetic narrative; digital narrative; the fact/fiction distinction; narrative space; and rhetorical aesthetics (86).

[2] See Dan Shen’s article “Neo-Aristotelian Criticism” for a fuller discussion and definition of the “implied author.” See also Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (U. of Chicago Press 1983) and James Phelan’s Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative (Ohio State Press 2007).

[3] These are the four autobiographical “I’s” as defined by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson in Reading Autobiography (2001).


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In Defense of the Implied Author, Intentionality: The Case of the Nonfiction Narrative

Phelan, James. “The Implied Author, Deficient Narration, and Nonfiction Narrative: Or, What’s Off-Kilter in The Year of Magical Thinking and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?” Style 45.1 (Spring 2011): 119-137. Print.

Barthes contention of "the death of the author" was introduced alongside "The Intentional Fallacy" and New Criticism's concerns with "the text itself." See footnote #1.

Barthes contention of “the death of the author” was introduced alongside “The Intentional Fallacy” and New Criticism’s concerns with “the text itself.” See footnote #1.

A discussion of rhetorical narrative theory must include an examination of its place within a large body of historical and modern literary theory. In so doing, it is appropriate to recognize the curious position of rhetorical narrative theory, which historically builds upon neo-Aristotelian and the Chicago School of literary criticism, as one that seems to invite equal parts passionate advocacy and critical questioning of its legitimacy. The position and application of rhetorical narrative theory includes discussion and debates around the implied author, the function of the narrator, and calls into question issues of intertextuality and intentionality, sometimes referred to as “the Intentional Fallacy.[1]

In large part, this article addresses many of the arguments against rhetorical narrative theory, and offers mainly the hypothesis that rhet-narrative theory should exist alongside these other theories because it adds a certain value that enriches our understanding of literary texts, including nonfiction texts. Phelan specifically addresses not only arguments that favor theories such as that our readings of texts are “mediated by our interpretive frameworks” with the view that “texts have an existence independent of those frameworks” (123). In addition, Phelan addresses the value of deconstruction as a theory that essentially rules out authorial intention because “language always undoes itself,” and again insists that rhetorical theory analysis of a text allows us to understand deeper contexts like irony and cultural contexts[2] (124).

Discussion is given to the relationship between Phelan’s argument for the legitimacy in analyzing intention and the theoretical analysis of the implied author, which argues that the implied author better positions intentionality because it considers authorial choice of “technique, subject matter, narrative sequence, ethical values, and so on;” considers differences in “ideological or ethical positions in texts by the same biological author;” illuminates differences between the real author’s discussion of her own text and the implied author’s “purposeful design governing the text;” and “our sense that we know an author through reading his or her text and that the author has a life independent of the identity projected in the text” (128). This gives the implied author an agency within the text that counters theory that treats the implied author as passively produced by the text or by reader interpretation.

Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, is used by Phelan as an example of the deficiency of the narrating-I, the experiencing-I, and the implied author when considering reliability.

Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, is used by Phelan as an example of the deficiency of the narrating-I, the experiencing-I, and the implied author when considering reliability.

In the final pages of this article, Phelan turns his analytical eye to applying rhetorical narrative theory to nonfiction, specifically Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking and Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Phelan outlines five proposals to argue that his analyses of both texts reveal off-kilter narration between the narrating-I, the experiencing-I, and the implied author. The main theme of these five proposals build on Phelan’s argument that, rather than the unreliability of the narrator, these examples show the deficiency of some narration, most revealed in analyses of the nonfiction memoir, because of the “factual status of the narrative” (133).


[1] James Phelan describes the emergence of the “Intentional Fallacy” in 1946, forwarded by scholars on theory established by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley in the essay “The Intentional Fallacy,” which deliberately marginalizes and ignores the real author’s purpose and influence on any interpretation of her text. Phelan also summarizes subsequent work which coincided and endured with the rise and fall of New Criticism, including Barthes “death of the author,” and Stanley Fish’s argument that “the interpretive strategies of interpretive communities dictate the meaning of texts, then interpretive authority rests entirely with those communities — authors are essentially irrelevant” (122).

[2] Phelan uses Jane Austen’s famous first line in Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” to illustrate how a simple deconstructive reading of this line would only cause us to question language, when intention would reveal the deliberate irony caused by “he movement of the sentence from its initial signaling of some grand wisdom (not just “A universally acknowledged truth is” but “It is a truth universally acknowledged that”) to its final delivery of a dubious proposition” (124).

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Rhetorical Narrative Theory and Short Story Theory, Together At Last?

Copland, Sarah. “To Be Continued: The Story of Short Story Theory and Other Narrative Theory.” Narrative 22.1 (Jan. 2014): 132-149. Print.

A discussion of theory seems hollow without a sense of how it’s applied, and what artifacts are chosen for application. Rhetorical narrative theory seeks to interpret texts for their aesthetic, ethical, and affective elements, especially considering the role of the implied author, author-audience communication, and the contexts that inform the writing and reading of narrative texts. Sarah Copland, as a rhetorical narrative theorist, seeks to apply rhet-narrative theory to the short story form, and questions the relationship between short story theory and other narrative theories, querying why they have mostly been distinct.

Copland contextualizes her question by merging her rhet-narrative analysis of Alice Munro’s “Passion,” with that of five short story theorist’s[1]. Her intent is to explore answers to her question of what separates short story theory from other narrative theory, with the clarification that, as a rhet-narrative theorist, her methodology is “rooted in attention to facets of narrative that are shared by narratives across genres” which means applying,

[E]ffects of focalization on relationships among the author, narrator, characters, and reader; the progression of the narrative in terms of scripts, frames, and gaps; the interactions between the frame narrative and the main narrative and between the time of the telling and the time of the told; and questions about affective responses and narrative ethics. (135)


It’s on.

Before exploring the application of short story theory, and its relationship to other narrative theory, Copland identifies the premises that others have argued prohibits other narrative theory as legitimate for short story analysis. These include the arguments that other narrative theory is “overrun with jargon;” that “[w]ork informed by other narrative is somehow different from and inferior to ‘good old-fashioned close reading;” that it “tends to overlook some of the distinctive facets of specific short stories,” and that narrative theory will monopolize and overrun short story theory that will threaten the distinctive form and analysis of short stories (133). With this definition of her methodology and an exploration of the arguments against applying other narrative theory to short stories, Copland then engages in both an explication of the five theorists analyses of “Passion,” and then highlights the following claims that unfold within their analyses that define short story theory: “that the short story may be unique on account of its high concentration of gaps, scant characterization, and lack of closure” and particularly how these claims are applied to Munro’s “Passion” (145-46).

Copland then juxtapositions her analysis of “Passion” through examining the short story theorists interpretation of the reliability of the narrator and protagonist, Grace, and assumptions made by the theorists of the narrative gaps, assumed premises of Neil’s death as a suicide through the unreliable dialogue of the cook, and the interpretive depth of the narration’s internal focalization. She argues that they overlook the reliability of Grace’s narration because they do not consider that,

[T]he story’s characterization of Grace: when it comes to reading other people, Grace has, to put it simply, too much certainty based on insufficient evidence. She tends to believe that she knows people fully, deeply, and instantaneously… .By rendering the internal focalization in a way that consistently emphasizes Grace’s absolute certainty, Munro invites us to question that certainty. (136-37)

In this view, the narration of Neil’s nihilistic character through Grace’s judgment of his character is both understood and unreliable, especially because it sets up a reading that does not question that Neil committed suicide, when the text, Copland argues, never explicitly reveals that. Instead, Copland argues that Munro as the implied author leaves that assumed certainty to be ambiguous.

Copland differentiates between her analysis of “Passion” and those of the short story theorists by its a posterei position that does not pre-suppose that certain genres must share certain elements, which Copland acknowledges are “trends in the short story, often historically rooted, that are nonetheless only trends and not universals” (146). Copland agrees to a point that these trends in short story analysis are useful, when applying rhetorical narrative theory, because it allows us to analyze a short story for its “productive uncertainty, ambiguity, and conscious gap-awareness,” which leads to “more significant interpretive, affective, and ethical challenges” (145, 146). However, she doesn’t believe that a priori conceptions of a short story’s characteristics should always inform the reading and analysis of all other short stories because they would confirm the theorist’s biases. This is the main premise of her argument that short story analysis can benefit by applying other narrative theory and methodologies in relationship with genre-specific theory.


[1] Susan Lohafer, Charles E. May, Michael Toolan, Michael Trussler, and Per Winther. Their analyses of Munro’s “Passion” also seek to demonstrate unique elements of short story theory and compare it to other narrative theory. See the May 2012 issue of Narrative.

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Aristotle, Redux: Defending and Expanding Neo-Aristotelian Critical Theory

Shen, Dan. “Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Narrative Study: Need for Integrating Style, Context, and Intertext. Style 45:4 (Winter 2011): 576-597. Print.


Author-Audience Communication is a central component of neo-Aristotelian critical theory.

Author-Audience Communication is a central component of neo-Aristotelian critical theory.

Second generation neo-Aristotelian critical theory arose in the early sixties as an extension of the Chicago School of Criticism, led by prominent scholar Wayne C. Booth in his seminal work, The Rhetoric of Fiction (U. of Chicago Press, 1961, 1983). Booth’s work extended first generation work by Robert S. Crane, which offered literary scholars a critical lens that considered the poetics of a text (how it functioned as a narrative structure within its genre, marginalizing language or “the text itself”) to the rhetorical nature of narrative fiction, with its “implied author” and author-audience communication.

Shen distinguishes the three generations of Chicago School, briefly outlining the Aristotelian premise of the first-generation and then focusing his argument on the second and third generation of neo-Aristotelian critics. His work here is mostly a defense and a definition of what Neo-Aristotelian criticism is, differentiating between rhetorical criticism’s focus on the “narratological distinction between story and discourse” (577), which distinguishes between “what” is written (structure) and “how” an author conveys the story (verbal) (578). This is essentially an argument about the function of character, event, discourse, and style, and how these choices create a norm for the “implied author;” that is, the “second self” of the writer that is revealed by an analysis of the narrator-author within the text (583). This gives us an opportunity to study the rhetorical relationship between the audience and the author, which further reveals the cognitive and affective elements of a text. The author-audience communication “investigates the communication between the implied author and her ideal, hypothetical addressee” (579). Indeed, much of third-generation rhetorical critics are using Booth as their central unifying force to argue for an how this approach enables scholars to understand how texts act upon the reader and what “means the author uses to persuade a reader” (583). This is important because it moves us beyond New Criticism’s focus on language out of context, but invites in those contexts by allowing a “communication between the author and the reader” as well as an investigation into how “flesh-and-blood readers’ different experiences, knowledge, and sociohistorical positioning lead to divergent readings” (583, 584). As an approach to analyze texts for their rhetorical impact on readers as well as how texts fit contextually within a genre, neo-Aristotelian criticism would seem to bridge many of the theoretical divides confronting literary studies.

Shen is able to give both a historical perspective as well as a current definition of this field of literary criticism, and offers as objects of study a critical approach that goes beyond “the text itself,” in that it argues for a more holistic look at the production and effect of fictional narratives. He draws not only upon the seminal work of R.S. Crane and Booth (first and second generation Chicago School critics), but synthesizes the current third generation work of scholars such as James Phelan. Shen spends a good amount of time with real examples of how this theory is applied to texts, such as Katherine Mansfield’s “Revelations” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” (581-582). His argument here is to question the exclusion of the “real author,” because generally, no biographical data on the real author is used in rhetorical criticism, only the implied author. Instead, he argues that understanding the biography of the real author, such as knowing Kate Chopin’s biographical background when writing “Desiree’s Baby,” helps readers and scholars to understand the racial implication and the “mythologization of Southern racist culture” in this story[1], which, without that knowledge, would be obscured. Despite this argument, Shen emphatically goes on to assert the primacy of the text in any rhetorical analysis.

Finally, Shen discusses genre, noting Aristotle’s emphasis on genre and Booth’s argument that even the “least conventional story” will bring with a set of generic expectations on the part of the scholar/reader (588). This, Shen argues, “intertextual comparison” allows scholars to deepen their rhetorical analysis of texts even further, by comparing the “structure-style features between the text under investigation and other related texts” (588). Once again, this is to further understand the norms of the implied author, especially as we trace authorial movements between texts.


[1] Shen also discusses how using the real author’s biographical data can help us understand narratological events and characters such as the narrator in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this example, he notes that analysis of this short story often tries to explain why the narrator “continuously insists on his sanity, a textual phenomenon that has received various interpretations but none appear convincing” (586). Shen observes that at this time there was a contemporary legal defense beginning to take hold in the United States: the “insanity defense.” This lends an even higher ironic element to the story that may not have been understood without this background knowledge (587).

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A (Very Brief) History of Rhetoric and Composition Studies

Bust of Aristotle.


The study of rhetoric can be traced back to Aristotle’s treatise Rhetoric, developed over several years in the 4th century BC. Wayne Booth notes that Aristotle’s inaugural work on rhetorical discourse first confirmed the multi-disciplinary application of rhetoric within education; it has “no specific territory or subject matter of its own,” but instead can be found everywhere (3). Now primarily living within the parent discipline of English Studies, rhetoric, and its marriage with composition as “the written branch of rhetoric,” is a field that has been historically fraught with a fight for legitimacy and for aligned and coherent methodologies (Lauer 20).

The core strategies of rhetorical discourse have lived through to today, despite its turbulent history throughout the ages. Critics often derided rhetoric for its emphasis on persuasion over truth, and indeed, Plato, transcribing Socrates’s attack on rhetorical oratory in Gorgias (380 BC) both somewhat defines the function of early rhetorical oratory but most pointedly condemns its moral and ethical uses in public speech. Francis Bacon defined rhetoric as “the application of reason to imagination for the better moving of the will. It is not solid reasoning of the kind science exhibits” (Booth 5). As scientific reasoning and knowledge blossomed in the Enlightenment, rhetorical studies and practice became a lesser area of study, regarded as artificial knowledge that is informed only by the work in other fields. John Locke, writing in 1690, reduced rhetoric to a deceptive art that promoted “wrong ideas,” and was performed by “perfect cheats,” whose only goal was to misdirect and misinform men (7). He allows that rhetorical arts are only effective because “men find pleasure to be deceived” (7). It is against this backdrop that we consider the standing of rhetoric and composition today in modern higher education institutions.

Faigley, Lester. “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal.” College  English, 48.6 (October 1986): 527-542. Print.

ref. Lester Faigley

Modern first-year composition courses in American higher education institutions emerged at Harvard in 1885, after a long period of neglect in American higher education[1] (Bamberg 7). Scholars Sharon Crowley, James Berlin, and others who studied its entrance into colleges across the U.S. argue that its adoption was borne more from institutional goals to increase enrollments and reach new populations of students than from meeting specific learning goals (Skinnell 95). Thomas Miller observes that institutional imperatives drove much of the adoption of more pragmatic programmatic moves that “emerge at junctures where expanding disciplinary trends connect with social and technological shifts in literacy,” and where a focus on addressing the “literacy crisis” became an institutional duty (6). Due to a perceived lack of both rigor and clear and unified methodology, English studies, and composition studies in particular, was scorned from within the academy, because of its reputation of being “un-disciplined” (McComisky 10). With a renewed focus on first-year composition in the 1960’s, rhetoric and composition studies gained some ground because of accreditation requirements and its ability to “pay the bills” (19). Beyond simply addressing larger social and institutional needs, the early sixties ushered in new areas of study for composition scholars, as they considered the wealth of pedagogical literature, but lamented rhet/comp’s dearth of theoretical studies (Faigley 527). Theory became a legitimate research area in composition studies, especially theory that moved it beyond instruction in “grammar and usage” and into sound pedagogical processes (529). These early debates about the theory and practice underpinning rhetoric and composition studies have roiled at critical points throughout time, most notably in the seventies and eighties, [2] and bring us now to considering what remains as critical questions within the discipline.

Janice Lauer poses several concerns troubling modern day rhet/comp studies, pointing out that primary and secondary audiences serve two different functions within the field. She notes that the primary audience is scholars forwarding new theories and who have a rhetorical purpose; they are the “epistemic field of experts” (24). However, the secondary audience of writing instructors, who do not necessarily contribute new theory or research in the field, problematize current debates because “very little consensus can be attributed to” new claims in the field (24). This means that instructors are unified in teaching rhet/com, nor knowledgeable about the same composition theories, thus, are not acting as an epistemic body of experts who can determine value. Lauer further notes that there can be validation of discourse theory when new knowledge is widely adopted in the classroom, while other scholarly theories, however critical to the field, may disappear without much notice if they never influence instructional methods (24). This exchange between theorists and instructors is both beneficial to composition studies as we agree to processes and ideas that have merit, as well as potentially detrimental because some theory becomes gospel in writing instruction, despite the fallibility of its effect or truth.

Pull out quote - practice as lore. What’s compelling today about the continuing debate in rhetoric and composition, as well as English Studies as its parent discipline, is that, over time, little seems to have been resolved, but more conflict has arisen. These debates happen in the theoretical space, and thus, what gets adopted would be what gets more broad attention and becomes “lore,”[3] (Lauer 24, 26). It is unclear from the scholarship whether classroom instructors, many of them not elbow deep in research in the field, have access to emerging theories and experimental processes other than what is passed down as lore. Bamberg, studying the historical arguments against first-year composition,[4] presents the debate as having moved from external criticisms to internal issues, such as what gets taught (content) and how knowledge is transferred. More positively, studying the debates in composition as well as in English studies has brought about a new disciplinary focus, one that is based on historical analysis and comparative discourse that informs research and instruction today (Mclemee). And unlike English Studies, which continues to contest its position as an ever-alienated collection of language and communication fields, over time composition studies has enjoyed a more positive sense of community and aligned pedagogical goals (Lauer 27).

Works Cited:

Bamberg, Betty. “Alternative Models of First-Year Composition: Possibilities and Problems.” Writing Program Administrators, 21:1 (Fall 1997):

7-18. Print.

Booth, Wayne C. “How Many ‘Rhetorics’?” The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. Print.

Faigley, Lester. “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal.” College English, 48.6 (October 1986): 527-542. Print.

Lauer, Janice M. “Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline.” Rhetoric Review, 3.1 (1984): 20-29. Print.

McComiskey, Bruce, Ed. “Introduction.” English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Print.

Mclemee, Scott. “Deconstructing Composition.” Chronicle Of Higher Education 49.28 (2003): A16. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.

Miller, Thomas P. “Introduction.” The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the Postmoderns, Pittsburgh: U. of

Pittsburgh Press, 2010. Print.

Skinnell, Ryan. “Harvard, Again: Considering Articulation and Accreditation in Rhetoric and Composition’s History.” Rhetoric Review, 33.2 (2014): 95-112. Print.


[1] There is growing debate about whether rhetoric truly suffered at the hands of the Romantics. See Christopher Diller’s article “The Art of Rhetoric: Aesthetics and Rhetoric in the American Renaissance, or Ryan Skinnell’s “Harvard, Again: Considering Articulation and Accreditation in Rhetoric and Composition’s History.”

[2] See Lester Faigley’s article “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal,” as well as Richard Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Century,” for two comprehensive analyses of the theoretical debates in composition studies during the seventies and eighties.

[3] Mclemee defines “lore” as “a body of methods and rules of thumb passed down by generations of writing instructors.” See also Louise Wetherbee Phelps’s article “Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition,” (College English 53:8, Dec. 1991) and her discussion of practical wisdom and community sharing in composition studies.

[4] She references Sharon Crowley’s call to eliminate first-year composition in her 1991 Pretext article, as well as many responses to Crowley. Bamberg also cites Robert J. Connors as quoted by Charles Schuster as calling first-year composition the “Third World of English Studies” (8).


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Some fun

While I work on getting my pages and posts set up and formatted, please enjoy these animated .gif’s.

It turns out:


You have to:


Click on the images to roll the gifs (the next one contains language):


I don’t know why; they should just run (is it me?):


Anyway, you will have noticed, I am a dedicated Doctor Who fan:


And, Kermit the Frog. So:


I imagine your response:


Of course, that one works.

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September 4, 2014 · 1:57 pm