Thursday, July 21, 2011

Peer Editing Worksheet

A good peer edit is not an itemized list of broad impressions, problems, or compliments, but should represent a sustained and sympathetic argumentative engagement with the text you are reading. Editors, you should provide comments in the form of a short essay that clearly answers all or most of the following

1. What is your own name?

2. What is the name of the paper's author?

3. What is the title of the paper?

4. Did the paper satisfy the expectations raised in its title? **

5. In your own words, state what you think to be the thesis of the paper in one or two sentences.**

6. Was this thesis expressed clearly in the paper itself?

7. Is this a strong thesis?

8. Why or why not?

9. Can you imagine an intelligent opposition to this thesis?

10. What might this be?

11. Does the author remain true to this thesis through the paper? **

12. Were there important terms that needed stronger or clearer definitions? **

13. If yes, what were they?

14. Did the author use quotations from the text effectively to justify and illustrate their interpretations?

15. Did the author anticipate relevant objections to their various claims? **

16. Name an objection that either should have been addressed or which warranted a deeper exploration than the paper presently provides.

17. Did the author’s address of possible objections contribute to the strength of the case the paper is making, or distract from
that case as you understood it?

18. Comment on the papers line of argument (its overall clarity, the smoothness of its transitions and substantiations, the order in which it developed its points, etc.). **

19. Comment on the papers prose (style, grammar, sentence construction, punctuation, etc.).

20. What qualities did you like best about the paper? **

21. What is the single most important aspect of the paper that the author should work on before handing it in?

Things to consider as you read the comments of your editors:

1. What were the problems or concerns that most preoccupied you about your paper before beginning this peer editing process?

2. Were those concerns addressed by your editors? [If not, demand that they are.]

3. For each editor, which comments were most helpful to you?

4. Which comments would be more helpful if they were clarified or amplified somewhat? [Ask for clarifications or examples or suggestions on these issues.]

You should note that these are the questions which guide my own readings of your papers, and that my marginal comments and concluding discussion will tend to register my preoccupation with these same questions.

**These are questions you should make a habit of asking of any text at all that you are reading critically.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Writing

How are the papers going so far? Have you made recourse to the thesis workshop worksheet for your second papers? Are you finding it easier or harder to engage in a writing process that is more solitary? Are any of you working together this weekend? Is the reading of Maus providing a break in the tension or are the demands piling up? How are you doing, what are you thinking about?

Weekend Forum

Which of the three Aristotelian rhetorical registers -- logos, pathos, ethos -- seems to you the most essential one for King in making his case in the "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail"? Why do you think so? How does it change your understanding of his argument to read it against the grain of this sense, that is to say, what do you find you notice or read differently if you try instead to imagine the Letter as one that foregrounds an Aristotelian register that initially seems to you the least important or conspicuous one? Also, there are real questions about the audience for King's piece -- addressed to "fellow clergymen," but released to a readership much wider than that geographically and socially from the beginning -- to whom is King making his case, and how does he seem to anticipate multiple readerships, and what impact does this have on the consistency of his argument? Do you think that you are in any sense a member of King's intended readership? How might America's canonization and, in a real sense, our domestication of the historical figure of King both enabled and disabled our reading of this essay?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thesis Workshop Worksheet

Thesis Workshop Worksheet
A thesis is a claim. It is a statement of the thing your paper is trying to show your own readers about a text you have read. Very often, the claim will be simple enough to express in a single sentence, and it will usually appear early on in the paper to give your readers a clear sense of the project of your paper. A good thesis is a claim that is strong. For our purposes, the best way to define a strong claim is to say it is a claim for which you can imagine an intelligent opposition. It is a claim that you actually feel you need to argue for, rather than a very obvious sort of claim or a report of your own reactions to a text (which you don't have to argue for at all). Remember, when you are producing a reading about a complex literary text like a novel, a poem, or a film the object of your argument will be to illuminate the text, to draw attention to some aspect of the work you think that the text is accomplishing. Once you have determined the detail or problem or element in a text that you want to draw your reader's attention to and argue about, your opposition will likely consist of those who would focus elsewhere because they don't grasp the importance of your focus, or who would draw different conclusions than you do from your own focus. The thesis names your paper's task, its project, its object, its focus. As you write your papers, it is a very good idea to ask yourself these questions from time to time: Does this quotation, does this argument, does this paragraph directly support my thesis in some way? If it doesn't you should probably delete it, because this likely means you have gotten off track. If you are drawn repeatedly away from what you have chosen as your thesis, ask yourself whether or not this signals that you really want to argue for some different thesis.
Part A. BRAINSTORM. Take fifteen minutes or so and write down fifteen to twenty claims you can make about your chosen text. Don't worry about whether these claims are "deep" or whether they are "interesting," just write down claims that you think are true about the text and be as clear and specific as you can manage.









Thesis Workshop Worksheet (Continued)











PART B. In small groups of two to three peers:
One. EDIT! Once the time is up, take fifteen minutes or so to share your claims with one another. Determine together which, if any, of your claims are not really about the text at all. For example, eliminate claims that say the text is "good," or "correct," or "effective" -- since these are really claims about the way you react to the text rather than claims about the text demanding argumentative support. Also eliminate claims that say the text is "wrong," or "incorrect," or "ineffective" since, again, these are really claims about you, or they are claims that will lead you to discuss some more general or tangential topic rather than remaining focused on the text itself. How many claims are you left with?
Two. ORGANIZE! Now, take another fifteen minutes or so to discuss the claims that remain. Do some of the claims seem conspicuously more interesting or more important than the others? Do some of the claims really say the same thing in different ways? Do these comparisons suggest ways to re-phrase claims to capture your intentions more forcefully? Do some of the claims make or rely on observations that might function well as support for other claims? Have other, more forceful, claims occurred to you as you have engaged in this process? Do some of the claims suggest lines of argument and support that seem more promising to you than others? This process of elimination, honing, ordering should leave each of you with three or so strong claims.  
Thesis Workshop Worksheet (Continued)
PART A. You should now each have a two or three candidate claims for a thesis remaining (some of you may have similar claims by now). Now, for each of these possible thesis claims come up with the strongest or most obvious opposition to each thesis. For example, what would the opposite claim be to the one you are making? Or, might there be an element or detail in the text that initially seems to contradict the thrust of your claim? Devote ten minutes or so to this.



PART B. Read over these oppositions. Of course, you are likely to disagree with these claims since they are opposed to the ones you want to make yourself -- but can you imagine anyone actually making these oppositional claims about the text you have read? Be honest with each other about this, it is important. Take twenty minutes or so to make these determinations and discuss them.
If the opposition you have come up with seems vague or unintelligent or highly implausible this probably indicates that you need to sharpen up your own initial thesis. Is there a version of your thesis that is more focused and specific that retains the spirit of your claim but which provokes a more interesting opposition? What is it? What is its opposition?
If, on the contrary, the opposition you have written suddenly seems more compelling than the thesis itself this probably indicates that the stakes of your project, or possibly your whole take on the text itself, is different than you initially thought it was. Perhaps what you thought of as opposition to your thesis actually provides you with a stronger thesis and a new direction for your own paper. What is the strongest or most opposition to the new thesis you have adopted?

PART C. Now, quickly identify the best, strongest, most argumentatively promising thesis that results from this process for you personally, as well as what you take to be its most provocative opposition. Then in your groups, help one another identify two key details or elements in the text to which you could direct a reader's attention in an effort to support your individual theses, and also one detail or element you might use to circumvent its opposition (include page numbers). Take twenty minutes or so to do this.

1. (support)

2. (support)

3. (support)

4. (opposition)

A Time to Break Silence

Celebrating the Real King.

Complete text and audio of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s A Time to Break Silence.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Weekend Forum

How do you know what Socrates means? Does Socrates mean it when he proposes that he should be honored with a feast in punishment for his crimes? Does he mean it when he proposes Athens will suffer more from their verdict than he will? Does he mean it when he says he knows nothing? What does it even mean to know you know nothing? Does he know that the unexamined life is not worth living? How does he know that, if he does? How does he know that nobody can knowingly harm another? If a sophist accepts fees, what does it mean when Socrates accepts the contributions of his students to pay in penalty to Athens as he does? Is Socrates really even defending himself? What else might he be up to? Was Socrates wrong to withdraw from public life for fear that public life would kill him since his pedagogical practice has condemned him to death anyway, or did his pedagogical practice give the lie to his pretense that he had withdrawn from public life when all is said and done? If he corrupted the youth of Athens in conversing with them, is he corrupting the rest of Athens in defending himself as he does?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Writing a Precis and Co-Facilitating Discussion

One of the key assignments for our course will be your co-facilitation of class discussion of one of the assigned texts. This assignment also requires that you generate and post onto our blog a précis of the text you are taking responsibility for in advance of our discussion of it. Think of this precis as a basic paraphrase of the argumentative content of a text.

What follows is intended to provide a broad and informal guide for the writing of your precis, consisting of questions you should actually always be asking of any serious text as you are reading it, and usually again after you have finished reading it. I don't want you to treat this as an ironclad template, but as a rough approach to producing a precis. For one thing, a truly fine and useful précis need not necessarily ask every one of these questions, but will often rather focus in on just a few especially relevant ones.

A precis should try to answer fairly basic questions such as:

1. What, in your own words, is the basic gist of the argument?

2. To what audience is the text pitched primarily? (What makes you think so? Do you see yourself as part of that intended audience, and how does your answer impact your reading of the argument?)

3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general? To what end is the argument made?

a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending positions?

4. Does it have an explicit thesis? If not, could you provide one in your own words for it?

5. What are the reasons and evidence offered up in the argument to support what you take to be its primary end? What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural nature) does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions under closer scrutiny?

6. Does the argument explicitly anticipate any objections? Does it qualify itself in ways that suggest implicit anticipation of objections? Does it circumvent or respond to objections in a revealing, unexpected, or satisfying way, do you think? Does it miss any glaring objections in your view?

7. What, if any, kind of argumentative work is being done by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece? Do the metaphors collaborate to paint a consistent picture, or do they clash with one another? What impact does this have on their argumentative force?

8. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these angles of view might yield something like a general book report or something more like a close reading, but one that focuses on the argumentative force of a text.

For the purposes of our class, a precis succeeds if it manages

(1) to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
(2) provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Four Habits of Argumentative Writing

In this course you will be producing argumentative writing based on close textual readings. What follows are four general habits of attention and writing practice, guidelines I will want you to apply to your writing this term. These guidelines will also loom large in your peer editing practices and also in our grading of your work. If you can incorporate these four practices into your future reading and writing you will have gone a long way toward mastering the task of producing a competent argumentative paper for just about any discipline in the humanities that would ask you for one. Taking these habits truly to heart also helps foster the critical temper indispensable for good citizenship in functioning democracies in a world of diverse and contentious stakeholders with urgent shared problems.

A First Habit

An argumentative paper will have a thesis. A thesis is a claim. It is a statement of the thing your paper is trying to show. Very often, the claim will be straightforward enough to express in a single sentence or so, and it will usually appear early on in the paper to give your readers a clear sense of your paper's project. A thesis should always be a claim that is strong. A strong claim is a claim for which you can imagine an intelligent opposition. It is a claim that you feel the need to argue for. Remember, when you are producing a reading about a complex literary text like a novel, a poem, or a film the object of your argument will be to illuminate the text, to draw attention to some aspect of the work the text is accomplishing. Once you have determined the dimension or element in a text that you want to argue about, your opposition might consist of those who would focus elsewhere or who would draw different conclusions from your own focus. Your thesis is your paper's spine, your paper's task. As you write your papers, it is a good idea to ask yourself the question, from time to time, Does this quotation, does this argument, does this paragraph support my thesis in some way? If it doesn’t, delete it. If you are drawn repeatedly away from what you have chosen as your thesis, ask yourself whether or not this signals that you really want to argue for some different thesis.

A Second Habit

You should define your central terms, especially the ones you may be using in an idiosyncratic way. If a term repeatedly bears weight in your argument definitely define it. Your definitions can be casual ones, they don’t have to sound like dictionary definitions. And it is crucial that once you have defined a term you will stick to the meaning you have assigned it yourself. Even if you decide it is unnecessary to define a term explicitly, you should always be prepared to do so yourself for any term you use in your paper and you should always be able to show that your use of that term remains consistent. Never simply assume that your readers fully know what you mean or fully know what you are talking about. Never hesitate to explain yourself for fear of belaboring the obvious. Clarity never appears unintelligent.

A Third Habit

You should support your claims about the text with actual quotations from the text itself. In this course you will always be analyzing texts (broadly defined) and whatever text you are working on should probably be a major presence on nearly every page of your papers. A page without quotations is often a page that has lost track of its point, or one that is stuck in abstract generalizations. This doesn't mean that your paper should consist of mostly huge block quotes. On the contrary, a block quote is usually a quote that needs to be broken up and read more closely and carefully. If you see fit to include a lengthy quotation filled with provocative details, I will expect you to contextualize and discuss all of those details. If you are unprepared to do this, or fear that doing so will introduce digressions from your argument, this signals that you should be more selective about the quotations to which you are calling attention. In your final papers you will also be drawing on other texts. These texts should provide personal, social, historical, theoretical, topical, formal, generic contexts for your arguments, but your focus will remain on a text that you are reading closely, and these contextualizations should serve that close reading not detract from it.

A Fourth Habit

You should anticipate objections to your thesis. In some ways this is the most difficult habit to master. Remember that even the most solid case for a viewpoint is vulnerable to dismissal by the suggestion of an apparently powerful counterexample. That is why you should anticipate problems, criticisms, counterexamples, and deal with them before they arise, and deal with them on your own terms. If you cannot imagine a sensible and relevant objection to your line of argument it means either that you are not looking hard enough or that your claim is not strong enough.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Syllabus for Rhetoric 1B: "Argument Against Violence and As Violence"

University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric
Summer Session D, 2011; Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday 3-5.30pm, 79 Dwinelle, July 5-August 12

Instructor: Dale Carrico, Office Hours, before and after class.

Course Blog:

Provisional Calculation of Final Grade:

Attendance/Participation/In-Class Assignments: 15%; First (Diagnostic) Essay, 2-3pp.: 10%; Co-facilitation and Online Precis, 2-3pp: 10% ; Second Essay 5-6pp.: 20%; Peer Editing: 10%; Final Report, 2-3pp.: 5%; Final Essay, 9-10pp.: 30%

Course Description:

This is a course in critical reading and argumentative writing. More specifically, this course will teach you how to write a research essay in the form of an argument based on textual close readings. We will work on the elements of such an argument early on in the term. But from the beginning of the course to the end our efforts will not be confined to the reading and writing of arguments from a rhetorical vantage, but also to an extended meditation on rhetoric conceived as a space for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes. We will think about persuasion not only as practices that would repudiate violence, but as practices haunted by violence, complicit in violence, responsive to violence, and responsible for violence as well. The texts with which we will be grappling provide us with exemplary arguments and incite us to generate arguments of our own. We will be examining texts that range widely in form -- a Platonic dialogue, a play, a manifesto, an open letter, essays and editorials, a novel, a graphic novel, a film. Over the course of our discussions and through a series of written assignments and workshop exercises you will slowly accumulate useful strategies for reading and writing arguments. By the end of the term you will have mastered the skills it takes to produce a first-rate research paper, and to prove it to me you'll produce one.

Provisional Schedule of Meetings


Week One

5 Administrivial Introductions; Arguere; Argument Defined (a claim supported by reasons and evidence); Conviction Persuasion-Interrogation-Reconciliation

6 Personal Introductions, 2-3mins; Logos-Pathos-Ethos; Logical-Tropological-Topical; Literal-Figural

7 Plato, Apology; 2-3pp. Diagnostic Essay Due; Four Habits of Argumentative Writing

Week Two

12 Euripides, "Hecuba"; Ink-Shedding Exercise

13 Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence; Toulmin Schema, "Rising to the Occasion of Our Death," Toulmin Exercise

14 King, "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail"; Rogerian Synthesis.

Week Three

19 Spiegelman, Maus I; Thesis Workshop; Hand in Drafts of Second Paper for Peer Editors.

20 Spiegelman, Maus II.

21 Peer Editing Workshop for Second Paper; Discussion of Peer-Editing and Review of Writing Workshops and Handouts to This Point.

Week Four

26 Butler, Kindred; Second Paper Due, 5-6pp.

27 Butler, Kindred; Thesis Workshop

28 Roy, "War Is Peace"; Hedges, "Evidence of Things Not Seen"


Week Five

2 Gandhi, "Swaraj"

3 Fanon, "Concerning Violence"

4 Arendt, "On Violence," "Must Eichmann Hang?"

Week Six

9 Screening and Discussion of Cronenberg, dir. "A History of Violence," Hand in Drafts of Final Paper for Peer Editors

10 Peer Editing for Final Paper

11 Concluding Remarks on Violence, Figurative Language, and Rhetoric; Course Evaluations; Final Report Due, 2-3pp.; Final Paper Due, 9-10pp.