Saturday, February 13, 2010

Composition in the Classical Tradition - 52 in 52

Whew! I finally finished with 2 days to spare... Writing is not my favorite subject so sticking this one out took some perseverance on my part.

Composition in the Classical Tradition by Frank D'Angelo is designed to be a book on persuasion using the progymnasmata. It is a deceptively small book that I originally had figured on taking two weeks to read. The information inside is packed in tight so that it reads more like a textbook. The introduction is an overview of the progymnasmata (what it is, where it comes from, different versions, etc) and classical rhetoric. The next 12 chapters take you step by step through each level of the progymnasmata explaining the purpose of the exercise and how it relates to rhetoric. Each chapter contains several examples to illustrate the skills within each level. Under the narrative section, for example, there are narratives for condensing, expanding, and slanting, lists of headings/questions to work through to invent material for writing, and suggestions how to arrange the material. There is generally a brief mention of how each section relates to literature in general, but it is not expanded. Each chapter has 2-3 sets of review questions and 1-2 sets discussion/writing exercises.

Overall, I thought it provided an excellent overview of the progymnasmata and presented a good mix of examples both from antiquity and more modern times. The definitions are straight forward. The steps within each level are clearly explained. I didn't have time to work through the discussion/writing exercises, but they seems doable and fairly straight forward as well. I wasn't thrilled with the topics for some of the more modern examples (child abuse and crazy jealous girlfriends come to min), and I thought some of the examples in the later chapters stuck so closely to the headings used in invention that they seemed formulaic. That said, they do manage to get the point across, so my personal dislike of the writing style is probably not too important. My only other gripe was that he was so focused on persuasive writing that he only touched on how the exercises might also be useful in other types of writing.

Who might benefit from this book? It would provide a means of self-study/reference for an adult wishing to understand the progymnasmata or learn to write more persuasively. I could see it being used as a teaching tool for a high school level student as well providing the parent is working through and discussing the material with the student. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in either the progymnasmata or persuasive writing, although at its steep price you may want to look for a used copy or try ILL to preview the book for yourself
before purchasing.

2 comments:

Laughing Lioness said...

excellent reveiw- thank-you!

Jean said...

I have been looking forward to your review of this book, thanks! Now, if only I could get hold of the dang thing without spending $100...