Francis Christensen: Father of the Cumulative Sentence
Much of Christensen’s influence can be traced back to a single essay, “A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence,” first published in College Composition and Communication back in 1963, and then republished in Christensen’s collection of essays Notes Toward a New Rhetoric: Six Essays for Teachers, published in 1967. What so distinguished Christensen’s approach to teaching writing was first, the belief that writing should really matter, and second, that writing improves most obviously and most quickly when we add information to our sentences in free modifiers, following or surrounding a base clause.
When I say that Christensen thought that writing really mattered, I mean that he saw sentences as means to a crucial end, much more important than clarity or effectiveness. As he put it:
The end is to enhance life—to give the self (the soul) body by wedding it to the world, to give the world life by wedding it to the self. Or, more simply, to teach to see, for that, as Conrad maintained, is everything.
His second, and more instrumental, belief was that traditional writing instruction had missed the point by advocating the subordinate clause and the complex sentence, and that “we should concentrate instead on the sentence modifiers, or free modifiers.”
What the hey does the emboldened sentence mean? It looks like platidinous corporate jargon.