Saturday, December 19, 2009

Polysyndeton and Parataxis

In a brief search to see if I could find a copy of Joan Didion's "Goodbye to all that" online (I didn't, at least not yet), Google offered me a reference to an article about Didion's essay: "Place and Polysyndeton in Didion's "Goodbye to All That"By ,which of course piqued my interest and which turns out not to be an article as far as I can tell so much as just an excerpt (but with links to other excerpts and the tantalizing topic of "participial phrases in Momaday" , and so I looked up polysyndeton itself and found not only a definition but more interestingly, some examples from Hemingway and others, and which, in the way that grammar and sentences have of going on and on, led to parataxis and some examples of parataxis in Steinbeck's piece on the American Dream (which I could use for WR 222 Argumentation and WR 323 Writing with Style), and interestingly, it would seem that both styles were popular in the 1930's to 1950's especially, and would be a natural for me, fond as I am of more. However, Noah Lukeman's book A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation seems not to mention either as far as I can tell and without an index - imagine, no index. So, anyone teaching WR 330 Grammar could have lots of fun with this. What got me to thinking of Didion was reading Zinsser's On Writing Well, in which he calls Richard Burton's sentence about rugby the longest he (Zinsser) had read, at 183 words, but that's nothing compared to the famous "when" sentence in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" at 302 words, built in a series of when clauses, or hypotaxis. Well, it's fun, isn't it.
Didion photo from

Sunday, December 13, 2009

After months of neglect - a post on the death of Toulmin

It's just plain been too hectic to think long enough to put something worth reading up here - and thank goodness for Facebook - but today, with grades finished and the break ahead (not exactly a vacation, but working at home) I want to note the passing of British philosopher Stephen Toulmin, whose rhetorical schema I first learned about when I started teaching comp at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass. His claim-support-warrant structure has been widely accepted as a useful lens for understanding arguments in the public realm, though not without some controversy. Pairing his schema with stasis theory helps students think more critically. Prodding them to try to articulate the warrants and assumptions they make about their audiences is challenging. Thanks, Toulmin.