Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change
Sarah Allen, University of Northern Colorado
Pub Date: 2015
ISBN 13: 978-1-6023564-7-4
Publisher: Parlor Press
Conditions of Use
This book, designed for teachers of writing or graduate students preparing to teach, provides a lovely collection of student writing produced in read more
This book, designed for teachers of writing or graduate students preparing to teach, provides a lovely collection of student writing produced in response to the professor's assignments. The range of personal essays is relatively wide. I would have liked an index to the book, although it's easily searchable as a PDF, and I would have liked more explicit assignments for use in the classroom.
Because this book reflects the personal experiences of the author, its accuracy must be assumed. The author bases her interpretations on well-respected authorities in the field.
Although the book claims to move the conversation past the academy's focus on argumentation, it seems to dismiss this focus too quickly without enough support for why returning to the personal essay will serve students. Personal growth and authentic connection are certainly important goals; however, I am unconvinced that they can replace the goals related to effective argumentation.
The prose voice is soothing, conversational, only occasionally pedantic.
No inconsistencies noted
I was able to navigate the text relatively well; only occasionally did I lose my place or feel as though I'd read this section before.
Although the principle of chapter organization is not clear to me (easiest to most difficult? chronological?), the chapters are distinct. I would have liked "Self Writing in the Classroom" to be the first chapter.
A traditional, text-based, streamlined book that contains no images or visuals: that may be a disadvantage for many readers.
Student examples show a range of age and culture; this range could have been more reflected in the student names chosen for the student examples. (I would have liked to have seen "Juan" or "Tanika" or "Abdul" among the "Cameron" and "Holly" names.)
This text could be beneficial to graduate students or new instructors looking for ideas to expand their essay assignments. It's not a book for undergraduates, and it's not a book for seasoned professionals.
Allen's book appropriately covers the theoretical underpinnings of her essay-writing stance. She consistently moves from broad arguments (eg, the read more
Allen's book appropriately covers the theoretical underpinnings of her essay-writing stance. She consistently moves from broad arguments (eg, the schism between academics and "the real world"; essays and poststructuralism) to how those issues impact classrooms (eg, student perception of personal essays; faculty debates about curricula). She includes a wide variety of sources and cites them appropriately. This book includes a lengthy and detailed works cited list but does not have an index or glossary. Given the text's discussion of theory and departmental debates, it is clear that this book is aimed at instructors rather than students.
This book accurately describes Allen's position about personal essay writing and its potential to transform writing classrooms. She uses her sources well, summarizes discipline-wide debates well, and clearly distinguishes between her experiences and theoretical expectations. Obviously Allen is arguing for a drastic change to writing classrooms; presenting such an argument in an unbiased way would be nearly impossible. However, she grounds her argument well and uses her sources appropriately. Again, I would not recommend this text to undergraduates; Allen's argument is intricate and relies heavily on theory, making it more appropriate for pedagogy classes and established instructors.
Allen's book will likely remain relevant for a long time, sadly. It is unlikely that writing curricula are going to undergo a drastic restructuring, meaning that personal essays will remain sidelined and unpopular. However, Allen presents a compelling argument for the inclusion of personal essays, helping interested instructors to revamp their established curricula. The author cites the big names in the field and draws on well-established theory. I could only see this book becoming irrelevant if writing courses suddenly embrace personal essays; even then, her justification for personal essays and her sample assignments will remain useful. Her sample assignments chapter (Chapter 5) could be easily read in isolation; her introduction gives a thoughtful overview of the subject. The other chapters could function in isolation, if necessary.
This book is clearly written and effectively argued. She conforms to the expectations of academic argument, seamlessly weaving personal anecdote with established theory. While she avoids jargon and limits her technical terminology, it is clear that this book is aimed at academics (ie, pedagogy students and instructors), not undergrad students. This is not a writing "how-to" guide suitable for Intro to Writing courses, but a theoretical text explaining why a particular teaching philosophy is effective and useful.
Allen is consistent throughout the book. I noticed no issues with her terminology or framework.
As noted above, this book can easily be read in chapter sections. It is a short piece (approximately 140 pages of prose), making it appropriate for graduate-level pedagogy classes. It would be possible to read the chapters separately, but it would be unnecessary given its slender size. The introduction is a well-written and argued introduction to the issue and provides a clear road map for the book; Chapter 5 provides useful sample assignments. The middle chapters explain the theory and justifies the use of personal essays.
The book is clear and well-balanced. She builds to her sample assignments well and offers substantial justification throughout. Again, I feel this book's organization lends itself to graduate students and instructors; undergrad students are likely to be overwhelmed, primarily because they will not be comfortable with the variety of theorists referenced.
I noticed no interface issues.
I noticed no grammatical issues.
I noticed no culturally insensitive or offensive remarks. The subject in general (ie, personal essays) lends itself to openness and discussions of race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.
This book is an accessible introduction to utilizing personal essays in writing classrooms. I would highly recommend this book to pedagogy classes and to any instructors who are dissatisfied with thesis-based essays. My only concern about this book is its lack of suggestions for changing the general attitude in the field. I think it is possible that instructors who want to include personal essays in their classes could experience push-back from their departments, particularly if their school includes Student Learning Outcomes tied directly to thesis-driven work. I appreciate Allen's argument and hope to include some of her sample assignments in my own courses, but I wish she had been clearer about how we can change our field's emphasis on thesis-driven, academic essays.
The book thoroughly explores personal essay writing, drawing on modern philosophy and theory, including Elbow, Bartholomae, Foucault, Montaigne, read more
The book thoroughly explores personal essay writing, drawing on modern philosophy and theory, including Elbow, Bartholomae, Foucault, Montaigne, Bishop, Didion, etc. Allen divides the subject into parts relevant to her argument: real self, constructed self, cultivated self, imitation, and sample student assignments and work.
The book is certainly biased, which is just fine, transparent, and appropriate. Allen is careful and precise in her analysis and interpretation.
I consider this book relevant to the ongoing conversation of how to make college writing courses sustainable and helpful in students’ lives. There is nothing in the book’s subject that demands current, popular culture, though new works could be incorporated over time.
The book is well written, organized, and its language suitable to its audience. To clarify, this is not a textbook for undergraduate writing students, but sections of it could be used to supplement in a writing course. In that case, most of the allusions to authors and theories can be easily understood without previous study, but not entirely. The style is a bit dry and through several parts lacking passion, though it is never lacking of personality or perspective.
The framework for this book is straightforward and consistent.
Again, this book is not intended to be an undergraduate textbook, but rather for teachers of undergraduate writing and rhetoric courses. There are certainly excerpts to be used in the classroom, and the last section of the book provides assignments, sample work, and lengthy discussion of that work. The book reads like four academic essays, without the usual textbook header levels and design.
The subjects are developed logically, organically, and all contribute to the author’s argument. It is not organized like a textbook, but it does unfold in a way that mirrors what the author is trying to achieve.
Perfectly readable--no images or design to be distracting or distorted.
Absolutely no errors.
This book appropriately addresses the culture of humanities departments' focus on argument as a means of critical thinking, rather than the other way around, and the culture of academia stressing academic writing as an empowering tool in students’ lives.
It’s important to note that this is not a textbook for undergraduate students, but rather a part philosophical/part practical guide for teachers of writing and rhetoric courses. This book deals with issues of loyalty to institutions rather than loyalty to self or others, as might be expected in a writer. The author works from a premise that institutional loyalty, even to the academy, and further, to argument itself, limits the student’s perspective on the value of writing. The author challenges curriculum to transcend stagnant individual identities or social categories that so often lead to “positions” that cannot be debated. Rather than going back to classical argumentation and logic, the author uses modern philosophy to construct ways for young writers to explore the notion of subjectivity. The author suggests this exploration should happen through privileging a variety of writing types and styles, i.e. “different ways of engaging with ideas, with texts, with each other”. She uses teaching the personal essay as a means to engage and develop the writer self. The third chapter explores self writing through finding subjectivity without essentializing the subject—a byproduct of argument, or just institutionalism. The author emphasizes treating each subject in proportion to the others. The author’s hope to is to teach students to write so that engagement with the subjects is visible and unfolds during the course of the essay. Ultimately, the author tries to foster the opposite of what students have come to expect argument means: connection, negotiation, and change. She provides assignments, student samples, and reflection of those samples at the end of the book. This book will help guide teachers who are interested in normalizing and encouraging the personal essay as not just a means of exploration and practice, but also as a mode of connection to the world we live in and a tool for students to use in their futures. The theory behind Allen’s argument will help to either bolster or dissuade (depending on your tendencies) a teacher’s reasoning and explanation for pursing the personal essay aggressively in the classroom. As a writing professor, I will take Allen’s argument along with her evidence and present it to my students, use some of her assignments, and do so feeling more educated and empowered.
Table of Contents
- Front Matter
- Chapter One: Meeting the Real Self in the Essay
- Chapter Two: Meeting the Constructed Self in the Essay
- Chapter Three: Cultivating a Self in the Essay
- Chapter Four: Imitation as Meditation
- Chapter Five: Self Writing in the Classroom
- Works Cited
About the Book
Beyond Argument offers an in-depth examination of how current ways of thinking about the writer-page relation in personal essays can be reconceived according to practices in the care of the self — an ethic by which writers such as Seneca, Montaigne, and Nietzsche lived. This approach promises to reinvigorate the form and address many of the concerns expressed by essay scholars and writers regarding the lack of rigorous exploration we see in our students' personal essays — and sometimes, even, in our own. In pursuing this approach, Sarah Allen presents a version of subjectivity that enables productive debate in the essay, among essays, and beyond.
About the Contributors
Sarah Allen is Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, CO, where she serves as a Rhetoric and Composition scholar and teacher. Her work has been published in Rhetoric Review and in Educational Philosophy and Theory; she also has book chapters in Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing (Parlor Press) and in Research Writing Revisited: A Sourcebook for Teachers (Heinemann). Her scholarship generally explores the ethics of the personal essay, and this work informs her teaching, as she works to discover the most useful and effective ways of assisting students in engaging with difficult, dense material and in generating complex, rigorous writings of their own.