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In Honor of Enargeia and Polysyndeton

posted: 4.27.11 by Nedra Reynolds

I’m having a blast teaching a unit on style in a 300-level course required for writing and rhetoric majors. Immersed for years in teaching general education writing courses through a workshop approach, where attention to drafting, revision, research, and peer review demand all of my attention, it is refreshing to be part of a class where amplification, catechresis, or chreia are part of our everyday discourse. Rather than completing five or six writing projects, on their way to a portfolio, students are producing copia—a stockpile of words.

UntitledAbout half of the course is devoted to invention, following a similar emphasis in the required textbook Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (Crowley and Hawhee, 4th ed., 2008).  While all five canons deserve their due, the style unit has been my favorite, in part because it has taken me back to my own undergraduate education, where a Francis Christensen textbook (or workbook?) on the sentence and the paragraph was the center of my first composition course, and I became fascinated with embedding as well as sentence-combining.  Later, a course in transformational linguistics was similarly rewarding.  Looking back, “The Erasure of the Sentence” (Connors, CCC, 2000) has definitely characterized my career in composition studies.

Thankfully, there are plenty of signs that it’s coming back!  I discovered Paul Butler’s book, Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric (Utah State, 2008) just in time to design my unit on style. Refiguring Prose Style: Possibilities for Writing Pedagogy, edited by T. R. Johnson and Tom Pace (Utah State, 2005), was also a great resource.

These resources are helping me discover ways to give style center stage in my classes—and to stop feeling old-fashioned for asking students to do some sentence-combining. Following the lead of my colleague Libby Miles who taught this course last year and the year before, I have been assigning weekly copia—an imitatio as well as a progymnasmata exercise.  Every week students have been writing, for example, a sentence using anaphora, or zeugma, or dubitatio, as well as a fable or confirmation and refutation.  Their enthusiasm for these mental gymnastics—and the delightfully clever work I’ve been reading (the encomia and the invectives!)—motivates me to join with Butler and others in helping style reclaim its place as a rich canon of rhetoric.

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Categories: Rhetorics
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