Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change
Sarah Allen, University of Northern Colorado
Copyright Year: 2015
ISBN 13: 9781602356474
Publisher: WAC Clearinghouse
Conditions of Use
I was drawn to this book because I believe that students flourish when they begin to see that writing is a process, one that can be used as a vehicle to explore their own thinking. Like Allen, I believe that there is no other form that models... read more
I was drawn to this book because I believe that students flourish when they begin to see that writing is a process, one that can be used as a vehicle to explore their own thinking. Like Allen, I believe that there is no other form that models this way of writing better than the personal essay. I turned to this book with the hopes of finding readings about the form and/or new essay models to share with my students. What I found instead was a clearly articulated, well-argued defense of the essay as a viable form. As an adjunct professor with a background in creative writing, I have never been embroiled in the kind of academic debates about the value of the personal essay that Sarah Allen describes. I have, however, occasionally questioned my own practice and worried that as someone on the outskirts of academia, my approach was not “rigorous” enough. So, while this book did not offer what I was looking for, it helped contextualize my practice, and it certainly emboldened me to keep using the personal essay with my students.
Allen’s defense of essaying as an essential practice to help move us past the “everything’s an argument” way of teaching writing, and her call for writing teachers to incorporate this form into their curricula goes beyond anecdotal evidence. So, while she clearly has a strong stance – one she is upfront about from the start – and while she does offer some personal stories from her own teaching, she mostly relies on other well-respected scholars and theorists to help bolster her claims.
It is clear from the text that the essay has long been a controversial, and often misunderstood form. In writing this book, Allen calls upon scholars such as Foucault, Seneca, Elbow, and Nietzsche to strengthen her claim about the genre's potential to move us beyond argument and to help us connect. The very fact that she reaches so far back to include these voices in her conversation illustrates the longevity of this debate. In this age of division and outrage, this call to include this form in our curricula has a particular urgency, but the need to teach students to converse and discuss, rather than argue and debate will always be relevant and worthy of discussion.
Fluid prose and well crafted chapters that feed into each other smoothly. This is clearly an academic text intended for other scholars in the field. Were it intended for undergraduate students, many of the concepts and some of the terminology would be difficult to grasp.
The text is extremely consistent. The academic terminology Allen uses in her discussion of essaying remains the same throughout.
This book seems to be written for other scholars and teachers in the field. As such, it should be read in its entirety. The final chapter, with the two student essays could be used on its own. I could see using those essays as models of the form, and using Allen's commentary on her students' writing as a tangible way of showing students how to read and comment upon each other's work.
Allen clearly lays out the blueprint for the entire text in the introduction, and follows it to a tee, which makes it very easy to follow. She also consistently echos back to concepts explored in past chapters, revisits the theories of other scholars in the field, builds upon them as each chapter progresses, and smoothly weaves these concepts and theories into her own narrative prose.
No problems that I noticed.
The text seems to be well edited. I saw no errors.
I did not find to be this book offensive or culturally offensive in any way. It is however rather exclusive, as it is intended for other academics rather than your average reader.
This is a great book for scholars and instructors who are questioning and reflecting upon their own teaching practice. For those of us who already see the value in this form, and who are already using it with our students, this book gives us the confidence to continue with our work. While I appreciate Allen's discussion of the theories set forth by great thinkers like Seneca and Nietzsche, I would have liked to have seen her incorporate more modern practitioners like Brenda Miller or Brian Doyle - writers who are more accessible to undergraduates - into her discussion.
I love the focus of this book on reclaiming the personal essay in first year composition, on discourse communities, voice, and contact zones. I agree that a return to more personal essays will help us to meet our goals for our students. But as... read more
I love the focus of this book on reclaiming the personal essay in first year composition, on discourse communities, voice, and contact zones. I agree that a return to more personal essays will help us to meet our goals for our students. But as the outcomes for first year composition currently stand, this does not adequately cover all of the bases I need covered for my students. It is useful grounding for the instructor and hopefully a valuable tool as we move slowly back in the right direction.
I noticed no inaccuracies
The content is up to date, and indeed, slightly ahead of the composition curve. I feel like it will be timely and relevant well into the future, and it couches its practice in theory that provides adequate support for its claims
polished and profressional
The text is internally consistent in terms of its framework and terminology
The text downloads as one pdf, but it is divided into Chapters that modularity easy
Effective organization. The concepts build well on one another, and are recursive in nature which adequately scaffolds difficult concepts
I noticed no interface issues
Style is polished and professional: I noticed no grammatical errors
this text is extremely culturally sensitive and inclusive
I selected this book because at a recent professional development event a colleague and I were talking about using essays as the primary reading content for an introductory college writing class. Sarah Allen’s text went above and beyond what I... read more
I selected this book because at a recent professional development event a colleague and I were talking about using essays as the primary reading content for an introductory college writing class. Sarah Allen’s text went above and beyond what I expected from reading the title and glancing at the chapters. An extremely comprehensive book, this one draws on various rhetoricians and research, from start to finish.
In this book, Allen confronts her own perspective on the current prevailing view in many college and university departments on writing as argument, and teaching students to hammer out that view in their own writing. At the same time, she admits that while she is uncomfortable with the “everything’s an argument” stance, her own book IS an argument in itself. Allen’s book is a fair and in-depth look at essaying as practice.
Allen’s book will remain relevant as long as Writing and Rhetoric departments continue to look down on personal essays and look up at the idea of “everything’s an argument.” Additionally, even if perspectives shift more in favor of personal essays, Allen’s text offers tried and true advice on getting students to engage in the kind of essaying she discusses.
This text is not for the casual reader, nor was it intended for that audience. For graduate students seeking to be teachers, or for those already within the teaching profession, this book will satisfy those who want to see research, evidence, and explanation. While the text is easy to follow, and Allen provides context for all outside evidence, the heavy-handedness of the quotes, passage selections, etc. will occasionally bog even the most interested reader down.
From start to finish, Allen gives us a very consistent and detailed look at essaying, from masters’ of the past to current rhetoricians and more.
This book would be hard to read in sections. The only place I see this somewhat working would be in the last chapter, where Allen provides some of her own essay prompts and a few student samples she found particularly compelling. The content page of the book is actually a bit misleading, just breaking the text into five main chapters. In all actuality, however, each chapter is chock full of sections. Having these called out at the beginning might make some of those sections more accessible as “stand alone” readings.
The text reads well, and I particularly liked how Allen concluded each chapter with ways to apply what was learned in each chapter within the classroom.
No problems here.
This text draws on much research and references many names, including but not limited to, Focault, Montaigne, Fish, Berry, Elbow, and Crowley and Hawhee. Those referenced are central to the points Allen is trying to convey, and the same goes for her examples. While we can bemoan the fact that we still need much more diversity in academia, Allen’s book does not offend or exclude.
This is an academic book, best suited for graduate student instruction and discussion, or for already experienced teachers seeking to know the research and theories behind essaying and how practicing this form of writing might change their minds about its value. I appreciate Allen's ability to take on a current departmental trend in an an informative, exploratory, and professional way.
I don't really see this book being a textbook for too many courses. Its purview is very narrow. I imagine this being used for a graduate course in composition theory. Theoretically, it is very comprehensive, but graduate students would also be... read more
I don't really see this book being a textbook for too many courses. Its purview is very narrow. I imagine this being used for a graduate course in composition theory. Theoretically, it is very comprehensive, but graduate students would also be interested in specific pedagogical approaches. There was a promise of teaching materials that I didn't see in the textbook.
I examined this book because I'll be teaching an Environmental Writing class soon, and I was looking for some material on writing essays. Though this book has informed my approach to teaching essays and may add to my scholarship, none of the chapters were useful for my class. I may be able to take small sections from chapters or lecture on some of the ideas, but having students read any entire chapter would not likely be productive.
Dealing with the tired old dichotomy between expressivism and social constructivism may seem outdated, but that is probably our field's fault! There is certainly some thinking in comparative rhetoric that could inform this perspective beyond "contact zones." That said, I still think this is an issue in composition theory and practice.
This is a great example of how to interweave heavy theory with narrative, using accessible prose. Graduate students would probably gain considerable understanding of Michel Focault and Peter Elbow by reading how this author works with their ideas.
The author builds her terminology in the first chapter and develops her ideas from there. Very effective!
It may be possible to assign a single chapter with some introduction from the instructor, but the chapters are too dependent on each other to easily be assigned in blocks or individually.
The organization is clear from the beginning and will demonstrate to graduate students one effective strategy for organizing an academic book. Early chapters deal with assumptions in the field. Middle chapters rearticulate or reenvision these assumptions. And the final chapter gives some practical applications.
It is a high-quality PDF. Not much more to say.
Thinking about this in the context of rising digital and social media is actually quite interesting, but only addressed by bits ... probably because it was written before 2016. It could use an update in that respect.
This would make a great textbook integrated among other texts in a composition theory class for graduate students. The author grapples with difficult ideas and theories with grace and ease and provides practical examples and narratives to illustrate her argument. Graduate students would see how one scholar makes use of important theorists in the field to re-imagine how she teaches essays in the classroom.
The book is fairly comprehensive in covering the topic. It especially focuses on voice, how to cultivate that and to reach others, which is so important in crafting any essay that involves the personal. It especially focuses on what students tend... read more
The book is fairly comprehensive in covering the topic. It especially focuses on voice, how to cultivate that and to reach others, which is so important in crafting any essay that involves the personal. It especially focuses on what students tend to resonate with, and how they can imitate what they are taught. I do wish, however, that the table of contents was slightly more extensive, and showed what was within the sub-headers. While the chapter titles are useful, they only give a broader picture. I do wish, also, that the book included how research played in more. Instead, it constantly refers back to the known modern rhetoricians.
The book is fairly accurate. I do wonder about the audience, though; most rhetoric teachers would be familiar with a lot of what is in here; creative writing teachers would be as well. It is useful to know where a lot of this stems from, however, I wonder what would happen if this book was directed to students.
The content is fairly up-to-date, referencing the 2008 election. With the events in the 2016 election, though, I wonder what would happen in the author updated that portion. I also wonder, again, what would happen if this book was directed to students, if it talked more about what they could do in order to emulate what is discussed. Sure, it's useful for a teacher, but, again, I feel like it's more affirmation.
The clarity is fine, but there are a lot of quotes from rhetoricians. I wonder what would happen if the author relied less on those direct quotes, and gave more room to flesh out her own points, provide more examples from what has happened with students. That said, each line of thought that is brought in from a scholar is addressed quite poignantly.
The text is extremely consistent, never loses focus.
Again, my concern is that I wouldn't use this in a course; it's directed more towards teachers. That said, it is divided extremely well. I would just say that the divisions should be more apparent in the table of contents.
The organization is apt. Each section has sub-headers that really give a feel for what is going to be discussed. The text flows well with examples from former students, though I will say that one is repeated multiple times, with the same phrasing, which becomes a bit redundant. ("When I first met with the student to talk about the content in his essays, he was hostile: 'But this is who I really am!' he exclaimed. 'I have a twisted sense of humor!')
All of this is fine, except, again, that the table of contents could be more specific.
I did not notice any grammatical errors.
The text has great cultural relevance, and even addresses how authors should keep in mind how they might impact readers, how they might be perceived.
Again, I really wonder what would happen if this text were directed to students, instead. Teachers already are aware of much of what is in here; it's more validating. But what would happen if, instead, this text taught students how to employ voice, how to take everything here into consideration?
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... 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.
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,... 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.
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... 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.
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.