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Environmental Rhetoric: Counterargument

October 28, 2016

The second writing project challenges you to engage with the ways that Annie Dillard’s thought and vision moves: has specific elements and particles, particular focal points; however, those particles move, like the waves she refers to, yielding a larger field of vision that is often hard to pin down. That’s what will make your essay, your reading of Dillard, worth writing and arguing.

We can think of this element of her writing and vision in terms of the rhetorical principle of counterargument. As a strategy, a counterargument is when the writer/speaker deliberately engages in discussion of views that are opposed to her argument, and even further, limitations of her own argument. In this way, she anticipates where readers will object to the argument. Left alone, this would be contradiction, logically problematic. However, by answering the objections, or at least qualifying them, admitting that she has taken them into account (added them to the picture), the writer turns back to her argument having strengthened it.

Does this not sound like Dillard, a strategy she uses in “Fecundity.” The vernacular term for this, one that appeals to her: devil’s advocate. And might this strategy also be compared to the ways Purpura sets up the “argument” or at least the purpose of her book of essays in the opening lines of the “Buzzard” essay: the problem of paying more attention to this strangeness, of finding and understanding its rough likenesses?

Understood in this way, we see that counterargument can go beyond a rhetorical strategy deployed in one place in an essay. It is that: and for more guidelines, consult this useful description from Harvard’s Writing Center. But think through this, as Dillard and Purpura do. The very idea of an argument, of a thesis–the very purpose of an essay–involves the countering and complicating of an existing argument. So, every good argument has a counterargument built into it.

The light by which we see–as Thoreau, Dillard, and Purpura might put it collectively–is both particle and wave.

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