The Rhetoric of Intention in Writing

One of the favorite hobbyhorses I rode in my teaching of introductory literature or courses involving genre issues was to advocate the rethinking of literary theory by moving from “genre” classifications to classification by intention of the writer as found in the forms of his or her literary efforts.

As I developed this theory, I postulated that there were in the rhetoric of writing six possible “intentions” (given here in somewhat of a historical and familiar order):  (1) narrative,  (2)  descriptive (3) lyric, (4) dramatic, (5) didactic,  and (6) metalinguistic.  You probably have some understanding of the ways in which the first five of these work in our written (or spoken) expressions.  The last,  however, may need some explanation and/or illustration. I would characterize it as  expression which seeks out the semantics or the meanings of other expressions:  in short, literary interpretation and  criticism itself.

From a workshop I taught while a UNCP,  here is part of an exercise in understanding the “rhetoric of intentions.”

Each of the six of following “texts” is meant to be an example of one of the six classes of intentions identified above.  Put what you believe to be the correct label on each of these six “texts”:

1.  “Lycidas” . . . is an elegy in the pastoral convention, written to commemorate a young man named Edward King who was drowned at sea.  The origins of the pastoral are partly classical, the tradition that runs through Theocritus and Virgil, and partly Biblical, the imagery of the twenty-third Psalm, of Christ as the Good Shepherd, of the metaphors of “pastor” and “flock” in the Church.  The chief connecting lines between the traditions in Milton’s Day was the Fourth or Messianic Eclogue of Virgil.

2.  Loveliest of trees,  the cherry now                                                 Is hung with bloom along the bough,                                             And stands along the woodland ride,                                             Wearing white for Eastertide.

3.   O western wind, when wilt thou blow,                                                  The small rain down can rain?                                                 Christ, if my love were in my arms                                                       And I in my bed again!

4.   “Why duis your brand sae drap wi’ bluid,                                                                                             Edward, Edward,                        Why duis your brand sae drap wi’ bluid,                                            And why sae sad gang yee O?”                                                “O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,                                                                                                      Mither, mither,                              O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,                                                         And I had nae mair but hee O.”

5.   I like to see it lap the miles                                                              and lick the valleys up                                                                      And stop to feed itself at tanks;                                                      And then,  prodigious leap

Around a pile of mountains,                                                             And,  supercilious peer                                                                      In shanties by the sides of roads;

6.    If once right reason drives that cloud away,                                 Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.                                  Trust not yourself;  but your defects to know.                             Make use of every friend – and every foe.

Take your best shot and call me (no, write) me in the morning–or even sooner!



One Response to “The Rhetoric of Intention in Writing”

  1. payday loans Says:

    Happiness is the sense that one matters.

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