The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers

The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers

The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers

The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers


More than merely a writing text, The Imaginative Argument offers writers instruction on how to use their imaginations to improve their prose. Cioffi shows writers how they can enliven argument--the organizing rubric of all persuasive writing--by drawing on emotion, soul, and creativity, the wellsprings of imagination. While Cioffi suggests that argument should become a natural habit of mind for writers, he goes still further, inspiring writers to adopt as their gold standard the imaginative argument: the surprising yet strikingly apt insight that organizes disparate noises into music, that makes out of chaos, chaos theory.

Rather than offering a model of writing based on established formulas or templates, Cioffi urges writers to envision argument as an active parsing of experience that imaginatively reinvents the world. Cioffi's manifesto asserts that successful argument also requires writers to explore their own deep-seated feelings, to exploit the fuzzy but often profoundly insightful logic of the imagination.

But expression is not all that matters: Cioffi's work anchors itself in the actual. Drawing on Louis Kahn's notion that a good architect never has all the answers to a building's problems before its physical construction, Cioffi maintains that in argument, too, answers must be forged along the way, as the writer inventively deals with emergent problems and unforeseen complexities. Indeed, discovery, imagination, and invention suffuse all stages of the process.

The Imaginative Argument offers all the intellectual kindling that writers need to ignite this creativity, from insights on developing ideas to avoiding bland assertions or logical leaps. It cites exemplary nonfiction prose stylists, including William James, Ruth Benedict, and Erving Goffman, as well as literary sources to demonstrate the dynamic of persuasive writing. Provocative and lively, it will prove not only essential reading but also inspiration for all those interested in arguing more imaginatively more successfully.


Written argument, which logically explains and defends a controversial idea, seems to be disappearing as a form of discourse. Here I offer a manifesto for the protection, for the nurturance, of this endangered species. Why? Because argument deserves to survive and flourish. It should be taught more rigorously in schools, in colleges and universities. It should enter the public conversation, informing and being informed by ordinary human feelings and actions. An essential part of a complex web of culture, argument shares an environment with analysis, evaluation, understanding, knowledge. Yet it’s too often shackled and bound by the immuring vocabulary of Greek words, life-sentenced to the dustiness of classrooms, relegated to the aerie-like confines of the Ivory Tower or cinderblock facsimiles thereof: the mad-discipline in the attic—or on the very edge of campus, anyway!

This manifesto calls not so much for revolution, as for evolution, or at least reform: a reenvisioning of what writers and scholars, producers of ideas and creators of new knowledge, ought to be doing and ought to be teaching others. It also calls for you, the writer, to do something perhaps a little different from what you’ve previously been taught.

“Argument” and “imagination” are not typically (or at least not traditionally) conjoined, but doing so infuses written argument with value. You need not only to imagine an audience but to imagine what kinds of questions that audience might raise. You also need to imagine what does not at present exist: a response that truly emerges from within yourself, and that would therefore be different from anything else yet written or thought, as different as each individual is from every other. And further, if such a process takes place, you will acknowledge and take into account the viewpoints of others. This process, I’m arguing here, will advance knowledge as it pro-

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