Response #16 – Kinneavy’s “The Basic Aims of Discourse”

A lot of Discourse in ‘Dis Course!

As I stated in my Elbow post, this week’s Cross Talk in Comp Theory reading selection jives well with Elbow’s analysis of multiple discourses. James L. Kinneavy literally illustrates the major theories of discourse throughout time in his article “The Basic Aims of Discourse.” He begins by warning the reader  of a couple of fallacies to be aware of when reading the theories. He states, “It is dangerous in literature […] to assume that what the author says he is trying to do is actually what the work really accomplishes. To determine the aim by author intent is to run the risk of the ‘intentional fallacy’” (Kinneavy 130). Kinneavy continues his warning: “A parallel danger is to assume that the reaction of a given reader is an accurate indication of purpose. This fallacy has been termed the ‘affective fallacy’ …” (130). After duly warning his readers of the fallacies that may be present in his analysis, Kinneavy goes on to describe the diverse aims of discourse according to Aristotle and Aquinas; Ernst Cassirer; C.W. Morris; George Miller; Bertrand Russell; Hans Reichenbach; Richards; Karl Buhler, Roman Jakobson, and the author of the article, Kinneavy. Kinneavy concludes the chapter by stating that composition instructors should reflect on all of the theories of discourse in their courses. He states that equal attention should be paid to both expressionism and persuasion to avoid some of the pitfalls that have been witnessed in college composition courses through the decades.

The most helpful part of this reading was Kinneavy’s break-down of the discourse theories. I completely understood the aims of the theorists as I read them. The most difficult part of this reading for me was the visual aid on page 134 and its explanation in the text. I’m generally a visual person, but I honestly did not understand the visual at all.

Is Kinneavy’s call to include all of the theories of discourse in a composition course practical or even necessary? Or, would it be more useful to do as Elbow suggests and focus more on nonacademic discourse?


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3 Responses to Response #16 – Kinneavy’s “The Basic Aims of Discourse”

  1. chrishinds says:

    Great response, Charity. I noticed the same similarities as you when reading Elbow and Kinneavy’s respective writings. I did not necessarily believe that Kinneavy’s approach was the more useful of the two. Not that nothing can come from Kinneavy’s approach, but Elbow’s approach is, in my opinion, better. Kinneavy took too much of a hard line stance. He dealt with absolutes and I was really turned off by the science analogy. Elbow leaves everything very open and makes suggestions that can help us form a more complete understanding of writing. All in all I would say Elbow wins.

  2. charityjoy says:

    Ok, got your comment finally…thanks! I agree that Elbow’s approach was much more useful this week!

  3. Dr. M says:

    Good response and question, Charity. 5

    I think Kinneavy is interested in broading the range of academic and non-academic discourse. Elbow seems less precise about what non-academic discourse would be possible. Elbow also seems more interested in non-academic discourse as a low-stakes invention or prewriting strategy. Kinneavy wants to more variety in the high-stakes discourse diet.

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