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The Imaginative Argument

The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers

Frank L. Cioffi
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rrhh
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  • Book Info
    The Imaginative Argument
    Book Description:

    More than merely a writing text,The Imaginative Argumentoffers writers instruction on how to use their imaginations to improve their prose. Cioffi shows writers how they can enliven argument--the organizing rubric of all persuasive writing--by drawing on emotion, soul, and creativity, the wellsprings of imagination. While Cioffi suggests that argument should become a natural habit of mind for writers, he goes still further, inspiring writers to adopt as their gold standard theimaginativeargument: the surprising yet strikingly apt insight that organizes disparate noises into music, that makes out of chaos, chaos theory.

    Rather than offering a model of writing based on established formulas or templates, Cioffi urges writers to envision argument as an active parsing of experience that imaginatively reinvents the world. Cioffi's manifesto asserts that successful argument also requires writers to explore their own deep-seated feelings, to exploit the fuzzy but often profoundly insightful logic of the imagination.

    But expression is not all that matters: Cioffi's work anchors itself in the actual. Drawing on Louis Kahn's notion that a good architect never has all the answers to a building's problems before its physical construction, Cioffi maintains that in argument, too, answers must be forged along the way, as the writer inventively deals with emergent problems and unforeseen complexities. Indeed, discovery, imagination, and invention suffuse all stages of the process.

    The Imaginative Argumentoffers all the intellectual kindling that writers need to ignite this creativity, from insights on developing ideas to avoiding bland assertions or logical leaps. It cites exemplary nonfiction prose stylists, including William James, Ruth Benedict, and Erving Goffman, as well as literary sources to demonstrate the dynamic of persuasive writing. Provocative and lively, it will prove not only essential reading but also inspiration for all those interested in arguing more imaginatively more successfully.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2656-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xx)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
  5. 1 An Introduction to the Writing of Essays
    (pp. 1-11)

    So much writing surrounds us that the textual environment has emerged as a complex and supremely detailed subuniverse. We as readers inhabit it as we take it in. All over the place—on billboards, bottle caps, cereal boxes, the Internet; in magazines, newspapers, books—the written word proliferates. Yet the writing of short essays, “themes,” or “term papers” seems to be an activity confined to students. Poor, beleaguered students. Louis Menand, an essayist and literary historian, claims that term-paper composition is “one of those skills in life that people are obliged to master in order to be excused from ever...

  6. 2 Audience, or For Whom Are You Writing?
    (pp. 12-30)

    An audience—a group of people sitting in the room while we talk—usually listens somewhat, usually gives some indication of their response to what we say. They can applaud or laugh, hiss or whistle, chew gum, throw spitballs, have their own little side conversations, or read a newspaper. In one class I taught, a woman who was eating a jawbreaker fell asleep, and the huge piece of candy popped out of her mouth and bounced onto the desk in front of her, waking her up. For the speaker, the feedback is often immediate.

    With writing, though, the person or...

  7. 3 Prewriting and the Writing Process
    (pp. 31-42)

    As I have said earlier, good writing typically emerges as the result of a process: writing, rewriting, invention, outlining, drafting; going over that draft; revising it, rewriting it, recasting it, polishing it; then repeating this, perhaps again and again. Good writing, the theory goes, must be constructed over time, like a tennis stroke or golf swing. It finds perfection only gradually, with many small modifications and improvements made over a relatively long period.

    A book such as this one can give you a few dozen suggestions, perhaps, about writing, but at some point your success will depend on a very...

  8. 4 The Thesis
    (pp. 43-60)

    The thesis stands out as the most important sentence or sentence group in your essay. It might be helpful to think of it as the DNA of your essay, the compact, coded sentence that predicts the body. The thesis is an interpretation, an angle, an insight, an optic on, a perceptive view of, an analytical slant on, an evaluative synthesis of . . .something—a text, an issue, a conflict. It explainsthe most important issue, the one most in need of explanation. The thesis makes up the core material that would remain, if you had to boil your...

  9. 5 Saying Something New: Ways toward Creativity
    (pp. 61-71)

    "How do you actually come up with something new, though?” People ask me this all the time. I don’t actually have the secret; I also struggle to come up with something new. The plain fact is it’s not easy. I suggested above that you use certain strategies, such as looking for a moment of doubt, or running down “penumbral suspicions,” or trying to analyze your feelings with respect to a topic. But many times, while these strategies help a writer to get words on the page, they don’t do much to guarantee that those words crackle, spark, or even smolder...

  10. 6 Paragraph Design
    (pp. 72-84)

    Let’s back up a little. You have some ideas for what you want to write, but before you commit yourself to paper, you wonder, what kind of paragraphs should I use? There seem to be all kinds of paragraphs in the textual universe surrounding us. Which are best? How can I find the right kinds of paragraphs to advance my ideas?

    A kind of paper in miniature, complete with its own thesis statement, “body,” and conclusion, the paragraph is the unit that carries forward a single stage in an argument. I know some writing teachers hate this analogy, perhaps because...

  11. 7 Developing an Argument
    (pp. 85-103)

    Most argumentative essays have a similar organization, which is often called a “structure” or “shape.” While I don’t want to strait-jacket you with a fixed form, I do want to suggest that certain elements of the essay are essential:

    1. Title

    2. Introduction and thesis

    3. Body

    4. Conclusion

    Most, that is, include a title; an introduction of some kind, which includes a thesis statement (or a “claim”); support for that thesis (examples, evidence, elaboration, classification, qualification, distinction, definition, division), as well as “con” arguments that the paper addresses in some way, either refuting them or incorporating them the thesis;...

  12. 8 Different Structures, Novel Organizational Principles
    (pp. 104-115)

    One of the major problems with teaching argument has emerged only in the last few years: students do not want to argue very much. You might see argument as a bit antisocial, really, whether we are talking about actual arguments or academic ones. I received an email early this term from a student, G.M., who contends that the whole basis for argument is rebarbative—at least to his generation. Here’s an excerpt of what he writes in response to my ideas about the argumentative essay:

    In my lifetime I have not seen anything so polarizing as war and thus I...

  13. 9 The Imaginative Research Paper
    (pp. 116-134)

    Why write a research paper, other than, say, it’s been assigned to you? I want to suggest (realizing all the while that you are going to be slightly skeptical) that writing a research paper can be valuable in and of itself—that is, by its own merits—because it will help you discover things about the world, the culture, and yourself. As an undergraduate, I had several research paper assignments, and now, thirty-something years later, I can still remember the topics I wrote about, some of the sources I used, and some of the insights I gained. Herbert Aptheker, a...

  14. 10 Figures and Fallacies, or Being Forceful but Not Cheating at Argument
    (pp. 135-148)

    How you present your ideas is in many ways just as important as those ideas themselves: your argument can be furthered or diminished by the form of your expression and presentation of it. But on the other hand, you don’t want your argument to be empty, content-less—all “rhetoric” and no substance. Nor do you want to use language that substitutes for the idea you want to convey. In short, you need to strike some balance between being forceful and being logical; between saying things poetically and saying things plainly.

    Figures of speech are seldom taught in today’s schools or...

  15. 11 The Argument of Style
    (pp. 149-171)

    What makes for a good—or for that matter distinctive—writing style? What do we even mean by a “good” writing style? It seems to me that most often people define a good style through negative characteristics, that is, by suggesting that good writing usually avoids certain linguistic constructions, certain kinds of language, or even certain words. In fact, writing has all too often been taught as if page were a minefield filled with all manner of hidden explosive devices, any one of which could blow your paper to smithereens.

    I’d like to repeat here what kinds of things you...

  16. 12 Concluding a Manifesto: The Future of Writing
    (pp. 172-182)

    In his above-quoted and rightly famous essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), George Orwell contends that “the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language” (The Orwell Reader366). I wonder how right he is, how prophetic his words have really been. My suspicion is that if everyone spoke and wrote completely lucid prose, or prose even better—say, on the superb level of Orwell’s own—we would still be troubled with war, inhumanities, disease, poverty, and famine.

    Of course Orwell does not contend that political chaos caused decay of language, only that the two events are...

  17. Appendix I. Sample Essays
    (pp. 183-201)
  18. Appendix II. Writing Prompts
    (pp. 202-208)
  19. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 209-214)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 215-221)