Hesse "Persuading as Storytelling"

The following is a series of quotations from Douglas Hesse's article, "Persuading as storying: Essays, narrative rhetoric and the college writing course." (In Richard Andrews, ed. Narrative and Argument (pp. 106-117). Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1989.) Yes, that's 1989, and I'll admit, I hadn't happened upon it until just recently. But remember that commercial NBC used one summer to advertise their reruns? "If you haven't seen it before...it's new to you!" I don't have much to add, except that I hadn't thought about narrative and argument in such a closely aligned way before. I'm seeing some similarities to Burke's theory of form from "Psychology and Form" in Counter-Statement. But mostly I'm just impressed with the way Hesse so lucidly sets forth the debates about narrative's place in composition pedagogy. I'm curious to see what the rest of you think about it. Now for the quotations; the remainder of this post consists of Hesse's words only.

"my argument does not rest on narrative as 'an easier, first mode' for young writers. It does not rest on narrative as the best means for developing 'voice.' It does not rest on narrative as the best way to teach students the importance of detail. It does not rest on narrative as a way to introduce the concept of 'thesis' through an Aesop's-Fables-like attachment of meaning to experience. Instead, my argument for narrative rests on its function as a powerful persuasive strategy, one which derives force not from hierarchical logic but from the emplotment of propositions. To put this another way, I suggest shifting our attention from narrative as a type of proof to narrative as a form of argument. To put it a third way, I argue that the best classical account of the persuasive effect of narrative in non-fictional texts is not Aristotle's Rhetorica but his De Poetica, especially the Poetics as read by Paul Ricoeur. (p. 106)

"In the ongoing pedagogical battles between teaching experiential writing and teaching expository/rhetorical writing, champions of the latter make two main arguments. The first, an economic one, assumes the scarcity of personal narrative both in other academic settings and in that golden 'real world' of work after college. Storytelling is dismissed as a largely belletristic exercise that deprives students of writing more apparently susceptible to financial reward. The second, more serious challenge, comes from a different quarter. This charge is that overemphasizing narrative inhibits intellectual growth because it privileges a simplistic mode of cognition. Narrative is 'natural' or 'unavoidable,' the argument begins. Because we narrate all of the time yet we do not naturally construct systematic analyses and syntheses of written texts, the latter activities are more significant to college writing curricula. This argument lies beyond economics, its justification the loftier one of cognitive development. [. . .] Combined, these two arguments pose a serious challenge. If classroom narratives appear to bear no resemblance to real world writing (which often means writing directly susceptible to financial reward), and if writing them appears to contribute little to developing real world skills, what place do they have in writing classes, especially when aesthetic or personal growth rationales are out of favour? (p. 107)

"narrative does not equal autobiography"

I have reviewed the conventional wisdom regarding proof through storytelling. It boils down to two tenets: first, that the highest virtue a story in an expository writing class has is to recreate reality so faithfully that readers feel like 'they were there'; second, that when readers assign a meaning to experience faithfully told, that meaning should be stated or statable as a thesis -- that the story proves the thesis. (p. 108)

"essays with stories" -- story serves to prove or illustrate a point
"stories as essays" -- narration of events (Orwell "A Hanging")
"essays as stories" --
"(Note the distinction I'm making between stories as essays and essays as stories; the latter do not strictly consist of reported events of 'things that happened' in 'the real world', the relation of experience, for example. Rather, such essays are story-like in their form; they present propositions and report and exposition in a narrative form, this 'causing' that, so that the entire essay has the shape and, as I'll argue later, the persuasive force of story.)" (p. 109)

"to the extent that essays are emplotted they persuade by appealing to their readers' sense of well-formedness, both in their familiarity with stories, nurtured by their desire for concordance." (p. 112)

"Instead of action consisting of 'physical events as they happen in the world' -- in other words, what composition textbooks mean by 'narrative' as opposed to 'non-narrative' parts of essays -- action might be seen instead as movement and narrative as the creation of plot. We would do well, then, to consider the sense in which essays can be viewed as being emplotted, their propositions as events in the essay as story. When Orwell asserts, 'When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys', he gives it a place in the essay as story. The stating of the proposition is an event caused, as it were, by prior events." (p. 113)

Coherence depends on the entailment of assertions, an orderly movement of mind reflected in a sequential interconnection of statements; readers perceive coherence when they perceive the force of a work's entailments (Knoblauch and Brannon 1984, pp. 70-2). An author, therefore, who is able to present something well-formed persuades largely by allowing the reader easily to perceive form. The power arcs between ethical appeal ('Here is someone who is able to form well, so what he says must be true') and the creation of something where there was nothing: 'Here is a constellation. Without a competing version, why should I doubt its existence?' Given the apparent primacy of narrative and story, what more compelling way to reveal form?" (p. 113)

"The power of narrative in essays comes from assertions offered in a shape that is attractive because it is so familiar. 'Story' is a form of narrative argument in the way that 'syllogism' is of logical."

"Argument by narrative draws its power from the reader's involvement in configuring a text."
"Encouraging narrativity in readers involves them in the enterprise of the essay. The result is a rhetorical advantage similar to the one that accrues with such strategies as 'showing, not telling.' Inviting, even forcing, the reader to construct a sense of order in the text makes him or her complicit with the writer. Power comes to writers when they give essays the shape of story because of a fundamental disposition we have toward stories. The rhetorical value of stories, then, is participatory, not logical." (p. 114)

"Writing teachers need to recognize the limitations of textbook depictions of narrative. In particular, we need to recognize that stressing the attachment of 'points' to stories neglects how a narrative may function less as a chunk of evidence than as a form of argument. We should discuss with students how stories can be used not only as bits of proof but also as means of transport, ways of getting readers from place to place, from idea to idea in essays." (p. 116)