What struck me the most about Beth Daniell’s argument in “Diossoi Logoi” was how similar it was, in essence, to Scarry’s and Miller’s essays that we read for last week’s class. Of course, the authors all used different rhetorical and methodological approaches, but their argument shared a central core: that some of the traditional elements of the composition classroom—the academic essay, for example, along with other pedagogical practices—do not foster the sort of creativity, critical thinking, and inquisitiveness that we wish to produce in our students. Scarry and Miller posited this issue in terms of its limitation on student—we might even say human—creativity and intellectual development: the closed, circular structure of the standard college essay, with its emphasis on arguing one definitive viewpoint, prevents students from making mistakes, experimenting with forms and ideas, and challenging closely-held beliefs. Daniell does not directly take on the academic essay per se, but she does echo many of Scarry and Miller’s sentiments regarding discursive writing and intellectual experimentation:
“Our anonymous sophist plays with words—and play is the operative word—to trick, surprise, confuse, and amuse…Over the last few years I’ve found this notion to be more and more significant in my classroom practice, calling into question, as it does, received opinion and challenging old assumptions…Consciously and intentionally inviting diverse propositions can contribute to a feminist pedagogy that helps students write and speak and so acquire and create knowledge” (83).
Like Miller, Daniell wants to challenge and question her students’ assumptions and beliefs; and like Scarry, Daniell seeks a new mode of writing that prioritizes exploration over classification.
However, Daniell differs from Miller and Scarry in that her primary interest in reinventing (or at least restructuring) the writing classroom is to encourage marginalized voices to participate more fully in the learning experience. Although Scarry does insist that the teaching of literature is the teaching of social justice (and therefore would most likely be sympathetic to Daniell’s argument) her essay feels less grounded (for lack of a better word) than Daniell’s. Incorporating diossoi logoi in the classroom allows for students, particularly marginalized ones, to consider, propose, and explore contrarian positions without fear of being penalized for doing things the “wrong” way—Scarry’s essay, in contrast, did not address the ways in which discursive writing can provide a way in for minority or non-traditional students.
I say this less to criticize and more to point out the many different ways in which the traditional argumentative essay can stifle or otherwise suppress certain voices, viewpoints, and modes of experimentation. It is for these reasons that I’ve been reconsidering my students’ final research paper—I’m not sure exactly what I would do in its place (and I know that I’m quickly running out of time to decide), but I want to assign them something that will encourage them to think in unique ways.