Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nature of Exposition

In the word "expose"—to lay bare, to uncover, to show the true inwardness of—we see the foundation-idea of "Exposition." It is the clear and precise setting forth of what the subject really is—it is explanation.

Exposition does not draw a picture, for that would be description. To tell in exact terms what the automobile is, to name its characteristic parts and explain their workings, would be exposition; so would an explanation of the nature of "fear." But to create a mental image of a particular automobile, with its glistening body, graceful lines, and great speed, would be description; and so would a picturing of fear acting on the emotions of a child at night. Exposition and description often intermingle and overlap, but fundamentally they are distinct. Their differences will be touched upon again in the chapter on "Description."

Exposition furthermore does not include an account of how events happened—that is narration. When Peary lectured on his polar discoveries he explained the instruments used for determining latitude and longitude—that was exposition. In picturing his equipment he used description. In telling of his adventures day by day he employed narration. In supporting some of his contentions he used argument. Yet he mingled all these forms throughout the lecture.

Neither does exposition deal with reasons and inferences—that is the field of argument. A series of connected statements intended to convince a prospective buyer that one automobile is better than another, or proofs that the appeal to fear is a wrong method of discipline, would not be exposition. The plain facts as set forth in expository speaking or writing are nearly always the basis of argument, yet the processes are not one. True, the statement of a single significant fact without the addition of one other word may be convincing, but a moment's thought will show that the inference, which completes a chain of reasoning, is made in the mind of the hearer and presupposes other facts held in consideration.

In like manner, it is obvious that the field of persuasion is not open to exposition, for exposition is entirely an intellectual process, with no emotional element.

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