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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lazy Arguments

I know a little something about laziness. Here are some habits to avoid:

"X is inseparable from Y..." Ok, but what is the actual connection? What are you really saying about the connection between X and Y? Only that they belong in the same conversation?

"It is no coincidence that X and Y arise at the same time..." Once again, you are arguing that X and Y belong together. You are asserting that their co-incidence (occurring at the same time) is no accident. But, once again, what is actual link? Language poetry and Reaganism both occur in the 1980s. Could it be an accident? Yes, it could. Or LP is a reaction against Reagan, or the two could have a third, shared cause, etc...

"Z is no exception..." You state a general trend, and then introduce your own topic with a phrase like this. No problem, except that you aren't stating a very interesting connection between the general trend and your own topic, are you? (You are also using a cliché.) How about situating your topic in relation to the trend by saying that it is a particularly relevant example because it seems to illustrate the trend but really doesn't? Or call into question the relevance of the trend?

Instead of saying: "Avant-garde movements spread through the entire world. Latin America was no exception." You could say, "When Latin American artists became engaged with the avant-garde, they introduced a fundamental element absent from European movements: ..." You can see how much stronger that is. The reader wants to know what the element is.

So a strong argument argues for a relation between two elements that is not simply inseparability, coincidence (or the lack thereof), or the exemplification of a general trend. Weak arguments tend to point to potentially exciting juxtapositions without really articulating what kind of relation there is.

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