Inquiry 4 by Joshua Driscol

In reflecting upon my Inquiries that I had completed over this past semester, I couldn’t help but be pleased with what I had accomplished.  As a writer, I take pride in my work.  With that, it goes without saying that it is often hard to be critical of that same work.  Be that as it may, I believe that it is often a necessary part of the process of growing and improving as a writer.  When I started English 112, there were several course goals that were set with the intent of being met over the duration of the semester.  However, there are two that help me critique my work in such a way that by pointing out my weaknesses, I can then see what aspects of my writing I need to further develop.  Those goals are:

  • Engage in critical, close reading of texts composed in a variety of genres, making arguments using textual citation as evidence.
  • Articulate and reflect critically on reading and composing practices, including rhetorical decisions about the production and delivery of writing.

Although these are not simple aims, I undertook them as best I could in trying to learn how to close read.  I believe that my biggest issue of the semester, though, was that I went about accomplishing these goals in the wrong way.

During my life, I have more or less known that I have wanted to grow up to be a lawyer.  So when I found out that the focal point of my English 111 class was rhetorical analysis, I was more than excited.  Rhetoric was and is a tool that I will have to use for the rest of my academic and professional careers.  In fact, I found the task of proving my point through rhetoric something that I both enjoyed and excelled in.  When I came to English 112, I carried over this technically analytic approach and applied it to the assignments that I would soon complete.  This was a mistake.  In what took me a semester to realize, I now know that rhetorically analyzing a text is only part of what it means to close read.

Possibly the most significant difference between rhetorically analyzing a text and close reading that same piece is focus.  In many courses that I have taken in college, it has been my objective to provide proofs for my writing.  However, there are several aspects within rhetoric, which make proving yourself a very broad task.  Although there are specific pieces that make up a rhetorical argument, namely kairos, logos, pathos, and ethos, those things tend to apply to how generally valid or invalid an argument actually is.  In effect, you are taking a very large idea such as validity, and providing smaller truths to analyze a much bigger concept.  I became almost obsessed with this way of thinking about analysis, and it shows up again and again in my various works.

In English 111, I examined Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech and its rhetorical strength.  I mechanically went through and tried to prove each point of the speech, never spending too much time on any one topic.  I would say things like, “I want to first look at this quote’s kairos.”, or, “Another piece of this speech’s rhetoric is…”, and, “Next, we have the logos.” (Driscol, A Rhetorical Analysis).  Again, in English 132, I was supposed to close read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, and prove why his use of satire was appropriate.  I did so by analyzing Swift’s whole essay, instead of closing in on a part of it that could explain its effectiveness as a whole.  “With the lack of any specificity, Swift’s argument has no real ethos making his propositions not necessarily invalid, but less acceptable.” (Driscol, An Analysis of Jonathan Swift).  This is just one of many examples of how I went about writing proofs instead of close reading.  I was so preoccupied with establishing the rhetorical presence of Swift’s argument that I forgot to look at the bigger picture.  I repeated my method of rhetorical dissection on this work, as I had done to a considerable number of assignments before it.

While this technique worked for previous assignments in other classes, I was still missing what it meant to close read.  Even in the time I was writing Inquiry 2 this semester, I struggled to stay on topic.  While analyzing Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and how it applied to the activist group Anonymous, I said, “The mask is more than a symbol of hiding one’s identity, though.  It connects V and Anonymous through their ideals, which are those of the antihero.” (Driscol, Inquiry 2).  This transition perfectly exemplifies my lack of focus.  Although I backed all of my points thoroughly, I covered a lot of ground.  I had been talking about anonymity, but then went on to talk about what it meant to be an antihero, to define anarchy, and relate all of these things back to the symbolism used in Moore’s graphic novel.  It wasn’t until having finished Inquiry 3, my graphic novel, that I started to make conclusions about what close reading was.

In Inquiry 3, the question, “Why?” came up again and again.  Why did we use particular elements such as color or the lack there of, why did we choose to use the lines or bubbles that we did, why did we elect to use words or not?  It was this kind of reverse thinking about the actual development of a text that made me realize what it meant to close read.  I stated before that the most significant difference between rhetorically analyzing a text and close reading that same text is focus.  Before, I had been asking myself the wrong question, in, “What?”  What was an author, or speaker, or artist doing that made their text rhetorical?  However, if I would have shifted my focus from “What?” to “Why?”, I would have been close reading.  Just looking at the two words themselves will tell you the difference between them.  “What” refers to something that is already there, some piece of evidence that is easily spotted on the surface of a text.  “Why”, however, hints at something more complex, some deeper reason breaking down the rhetorical choices that were made in the production of a text.  In effect, close reading is noticing some specific aspect of a rhetorical argument, and then using rhetorical analysis to narrow your scope of inquiry and delve deeper into the issue at hand.

All of these examples and explanations have a point.  Looking at the two course goals that I am using to critique my work as a writer, you will see that I have been missing only the right focus in doing close reading of texts.  While before I was engaging in showing evidence for my own claims about a text, I did not realize that rhetorical analysis is only the first part of critical reading.  Once I notice the “what”, I can then ask myself the “why”.  In asking myself why a creator of a specific text would make the rhetorical choices that they did, I can go into more depth in my future analysis of text.  Although close reading is a skill that will take a lot of practice to perfect, understanding that the choices made in production affect how the audience of a text analyzes and understands that text is a step in the right direction.  Over the course of this semester, I have formed a basis of knowledge for what it means to close read through the development of my Inquiries, and I am a much better writer for it.