by Steven S. Vrooman
More than a year ago, I finished with this series of blog posts, which were excerpted from my chapter, "Reading Argument: Santa, Star Wars and Uncle Sam," published in the TLU Reader. The whole series starts here, if you are curious.
In updating the TLU Reader for its 6th edition, the chapter's gap became apparent. It is one thing to be able to look at, say, a propaganda poster and find the arguments. It is another order of complexity to see how arguments develop, connect and scaffold over an extended chapter or book.
When we teach models of argument, with little boxes for evidence, like this:
and then apply them to specific ideas, like this:
it all seems reasonably simple. But one of the difficult transformations that happens is that the claim from one argument, once supported, often goes on to become evidence or warrant for another. Or maybe one claim has a fan of evidence-warrant combinations all leading up to it in a less linear way.
So I added an example of how this all might fit together:
That kind of thing is the skeleton of a piece of writing. This class, FREX 134, wants you to be able to see all this as a way of understanding what you are reading, which is a hard task, especially if a writer is not making arguments in neat, outline-y form. Sometimes this happens because ideas interlock in complex ways. In this diagram of some arguments I might make about zombie films, things get knotty. The claim for argument 1, for example, becomes evidence for argument 5. Argument 2 has two pieces of evidence. Argument 2 and 3 both come at the same claim from different sets of evidence and warrants. That claim is used as evidence for another argument, 4. Claim 4 links with claim one as two pieces of evidence for a new argument 5, and so on.
A chapter in a book or a book itself will be filled with knotty chains of argument like this. You probably will not do visual argument breakdowns of everything in a text. But after FREX 134, you should be able to look for these chains of argument in a text without having to diagram it all out. If you were reading my fake chapter on why zombie movies were political, for example, and you disagreed, if you had broken all of this down in some messy form that looks kind of like this in your head, you might be able to argue the following:
Vrooman does a nice job showing that Night of the Living Dead is a political film. But the rest of his argument hinges on this idea that because that film is influential and important, every other film that uses zombies inspired by it will also be inspired by its politics. That seems like too big a leap. Sure, Dawn of the Dead is political, as Vrooman points out, but it is political in a different way, and none of that means Zombi 2 or 28 Days Later HAVE to be political. They might be. But shouldn’t we have to look at each film on its own merit to say that?
Hey, you! That was pretty good! Yay for FREX 134!