In this book, Jasper Neel’s sure-to-be-controversial resituating of Aristotle centers around three questions that have been constants in his twenty-two years of teaching experience: What does it mean to teach writing? What should one know before teaching writing? And, if there is such a thing as "research in the teaching of writing," what is it?
Believing that all composition teachers are situated politically and socially, both as part of the institution in which they teach and as beings with lived histories, Neel examines his own life and the life of composition studies as a discipline in the context of Aristotle. Neel first situates the Rhetoric as a political document; he then situates the Rhetoric in the Aristotelian system and describes how professional discourse came to know itself through Aristotle’s way of studying the world; finally, he examines the operation of the Rhetoric inside itself before arguing the need to turn to Aristotle’s notion of sophistry as a way of negating his system.
By pointing out the connections among Aristotelian rhetoric, the contemporary university, and the contemporary writing teacher, Neel shows that Aristotle’s frightening social theories are as alive today as are Aristotelian notions of discourse.
Neel explains that by their very nature teachers must speak with a professional voice. It is through showing how to "hear" one’s professional voice that Neel explores the notion of professional discourse that originates with Aristotle. In maintaining that one must pay a high price in order to speak through Aristotle’s theory or to assume the role of "professional," he argues that no neutral ground exists either for pedagogy or for the analysis of pedagogy. Neel concludes this discussion by proposing that Aristotelian sophistry is both an antidote to Aristotelian racism, sexism, and bigotry and a way of allowing Aristotelian categories of discourse to remain useful.
Finally, as an Aristotelian, a teacher, and a writer, Neel responds both to Aristotle and to professionalism by rethinking the influence of the past and reviving the voice of Aristotelian sophistry.