Tue, 24 February 2015
Transcript on request.
Tue, 17 February 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric. Or maybe welcome back, because last week we talked about John Dewey and today we’re talking about John Dewey again. You don’t have to go back and listen to the last week’s episode on Dewey and aesthetics, but if you like this, Dewey part the Deuce, then you migh want to go check out the previous episode on Dewey and the artful life. Today, today thought,we get to talk about Dewey’s political and educational contributions.
Dewey was a huge fan of democracy and of education for democracy. He said, “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous."
One scholar summarized Dewey’s politics in this way: “First, Dewey believed that democracy is an ethical ideal rather than merely a political arrangement. Second, he considered participation, not representation, the essence of democracy. Third, he insisted on the harmony between democracy and the scientific method: ever-expanding and self-critical communities of inquiry, operating on pragmatic principles and constantly revising their beliefs in light of new evidence, provided Dewey with a model for democratic decision making…Finally, Dewey called for extending democracy, conceived as an ethical project, from politics to industry and society.” Dewey was big on democracy. this idea, especially about participation in democracy instead of just representation inspired much of his writing in education. The kind of progressive education that Dewey endorsed was education for democracy, education that focused on making student empathetic and engaged citizens.
Dewey’s most articulate thinking about engaged democracy comes as most good thinking does: in response to an interlocutor whose ideas make our blood boil. For Dewey this was Walter Lippmann. the famous Lippmann-Dewer debates begne in 1922 when Walter Lippmann wrote s book called Public Opinion. In Public Opinion, Lippman says that democracy is demo-crazy--public opinion is actually shaped by adverstisers and demogogues who can manipulate the public into thinking what ever they want. The people as a whole can’t make any decision that hasn’t already been made by sleezy Madison Ave. types. So Lippman says that instead the government should be led by experts, preferably scientitic and objective types who would be immune to propaganda. Instead of democracy romantically conceived, he suggested representation and political experts.
Well this got Dewey’s goat and in The Public and its Problems, he responded to Lippmann’s view of democracy. Instead of relying on experts for democracy, Dewey recommends that “"it is not necessary that the many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns." Sure, he admitted, there could be ignorant publics swayed by propaganda, but the solution was not to toss the baby with the sludgewater--education was what the populace needed if they were to engage in participatory democracy.
The Dewey Lippmann Debate has gotten a lot of press from recent rhetoricians. Search for it on Google scholar and you’ll find over a thousand entries since 2011. In the 2008 meeting of the Rhetorical Society of America, a “lively panel” discussion took place where, according to one witness “Jean Goodwin effectively advanced journalist Walter Lippmann’s critique of the “omnicompetent” citizen against Robert Asen’s John Dewey, who represented hope for collaborative dialogue.” And in the most recent meeting of the Modern Language Association, another scholar pointed out how the Lippmann-Dewey debate relates to the current expert-laden political rhetoric. A recent collection of essays on called Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice, Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, eds. also reminds us of the perrential importance of asking ourselves “Are our citizens trained for democracy? Can they be?” The debate, so it seems, continues.
The kind of education you would need to particpate in democracy includes not just information about the value of nuclear energy or the political history of the middle east: you need to have some sense of how you fit in to a democracy, what the moral obligations you have and what the society can provide you.
For Dewey, America’s ideal model of civic engagement wasn’t a selfish, me-first mentality, but neither was it entirely collective and socialist. In Individualism Old and New, Dewey says it’s time to move past the old, rugged, wild-west homesteader kind of individualism that theAmericans he was writing to could possibly remember, or at least could remember stories of their parents and grandparents. while his audience of early 20th century Americans idealized that kind of independence, they were also increasingly aware of how to connect. The experience of world war have taught them that “Most social unifications come about in response to external pressure” (11) and “personal participation in the development of a shared culture” (17). Defining that interconnectivity against the struggles and hardships of war and poverty may seem intutive but the move from frontier rugged individualism to an individualism that recognizes our interconnectivitity is at the core of Dewey’s political philosophy.“Each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence around this garden” (82).
Now just so you know that last week’s episode on the aesthetic of Dewey wasn’t totally separated fromt his sort of thing, Dewey also talked about how that “shared sulture” happens through art, and how this art educates, cultivating the skills that are necessary for democracy: “The art which our times needs in order to create a new type of individuality is the art which, being sensitive to the technology and science that are the moving force of our time, will envisage the expansive, the social culture which they may be made to serve” (49). Or, another way, “The work of art is the truly individual thing” (81).
Sat, 7 February 2015
Today on Mere Rhetoric, we talk about John Dewey. John Dewey was a big ol’ deal, even back in his day. Just after his death in 1952, Hilda Neaby wrote”Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not just a philosopher, but the philosopher.”
And what does a person have to do to be compared to Aristotle? I mean to be compared in a serious way to Aristotle, because I’m like Aristotle because, you know, I enjoy olive oil on occasions, not because I’m the philosopher. I think one thing Neaby means is that Dewey was involved in everything. Just like how Aristotle had huge impact in politics, theology, science and rhetoric, John Dewey seemed to have a finger in every pie. By the time he died at age 92, he had written significantly on education, politics, art, ethics and sociology. But it’s not enough to be a big freakin’ deal a hundred years ago, but Dewey is a big deal in rhetoric today. It’s rare to search too many issues back in Rhetoric Review, Rhetoric Society Quarterly or Rhetoric and Public Affairs without hitting on an article either directly about or draws on Dewey, and books about Dewey are popping up all over the map. John Dewey is hot real estate.
So because John Dewey is such an important thinker for rhetoricians today, we have to take more time than today to talk about him. That’s right-- a Mere Rhetoric two-parter. A to-be-continued. A cliffhanger. If that cliff is carefully divided, I guess and that division is this: today we’ll talk about John Dewey’s contribution to aesthetics, his book Art as Experience and responses to that book from contemporary rhetoricans. Next week we’ll talk more about his politics, the dream of his pragmatism, what he means by Individualism Old and New and the famous Dewey-Lippmann debate. So that’s what we’ll be doing the next two weeks. So let’s get started on the first part of this Dewey-twoey.
Like many great thinkers, Dewey started his career by realizing that what he thought he wanted to do, he really, really didn’t. In Dewey’s case it was education. It’s ironic that Dewey became one of the 20th century’s most important voices in education because he did not teach secondary or primary school for longer than a couple of years each. Good thing he had a back-up plan as a major philosopher. He joined the ground floor of the University of Chicago and became one of the defining voices of the University of Chicago style of thinking, although he eventually left, somewhat acrimoniously, and taught at Columbia for the rest of his career. Somewhere along the way, though, he became president of the American philosophical association and published Art as Experience.
The title kind of gives away Dewey’s claim--he situates art in the experience which you have with art. As he says “the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience” (1). But he also means the opposite, that experience can be art. Instead of thinking of art as something that happens in rarified situations behind glass and velvet ropes, Dewey opens up “art” to mean popular culture, experiences with nature and even just a way of living.
Being in the moment is a big part of this artful living. If you’re experiencing or rather, to use the particular philosophical parlance Dewey insists on “having an experience” then you are totally being in the moment: “only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturning is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what is now is” (17). In such a view, any time we live the moment artfully, in full presence of being, we’re having an artful experience.
In having an experience, you have some sort of awareness and some kind of form.
As Dewey says, “art is thus prefigured in the very processes of life” (25).
This idea may sound radical. How can sitting in a crowded bus be art the way that the Mona Lisa is art? But Dewey is insistent. He sighs, “the hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived” (27-28).
That’s not to say that there can’t be objects of art that concentrate the sensation of having an experience. But it’s the whole experience. For example, “Reflections on Tintern Abbey” isn’t really about Tintern Abbey any more than it’s about Wordworth and evenings and homecomings and 1798 and that sycamore and all of it. It expresses a complete experience of Wordsworth. And that expression is always changing as times change.“the very meaning,” Dewey writes “of an important new movement in any art is that it expresses something new in human experience” (316). Meanwhile the art that remains after the moment passes and the movement becomes cliche. “Art is the great force in effecting [...] consolidation. The individuals who have minds pass away one by one. The works in which meanings have received objective expression endure. [...] every art in some manner is a medium of this transmission while its products are no inconsiderable part of the saturating matter” (340)
And the value of art is moral. First off, Dewey says that“The moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, perfect the power to perceive. The critic’s office is to further this work, performed by the object of art” (338).
Pretty cool stuff, huh? But wait, there’s more. The process of having an experience, that complete being, has its own moral value, or so argues Scott Stroud in John Dewy and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, aesthetics and morality. There he claims “I want to examine how art can be seen as a way of moral cultivation” (3) because“At various places, Dewey’s work provides us with tantalizing clues to his real project--the task of making more of life aesthetic or artful” (5) Put in other words: “art can show individuals how certain value schemes feel, how behaviors affect people, etc.--in other words, art can force the reflective instatement (creation) of moral values” (9)
Stroud connects the pragmatists like Dewey with mysticism in Eastern philosophy and medieval monastic Christianity. Remember how Dewey is all about having an experience, really being in the moment? So Stroud says, “The way to substantially improve our experience is not by merely waiting for the material setup of the world to change, but instead lies in the intelligent altering of our deep-seated bahits (orientations) toward activity and toward other individuals” (11).
“The important point,” writes Stroud, “is that attentiveness to the present is a vital way to cultivate the self toward the goal of progressive adjustment and it is also a vital means in the present to do so” (69)
For Stroud, as for Dewey“the art object [...] imbued with meaning partially by the actions of the artist, but also because of the crucial contributions of meaning that a common cultural background contributes to the activity of producing and receiving art objects” (97)--the way that the artistic object is received popularly and by critics. And for that aim “criticism does more than merely tell one what an important work of art is or what impression was had; instead, it gives one a possible orientation that is helpful in ordering and improving one’s past and future experiences” (122). And in that, criticism, or even appreciation, is also a moral act.
Stroud’s argument has immediate application of the artful life. He ponders “How can we render everyday communication, such as that experiences in mundane conversations with friends, cashiers, and so on, as aesthetic?” (170). To answer this, he draws on dewey to suggest that we avoid focusing on a remote goal, cultivate habits of attending to the demands of the present communication situation and fight against the idea of reified, separate self (186-7).
Mon, 2 February 2015
I want you to do a little experiment for me. Think back to what you were writing five years ago. If you happen to be at your computer or the scrapbook of everything you’ve ever written, you can even pull up your writing. If not, just go ahead and meditate. Do you need a moment? It’s okay, I’ll wait. Now then—has your writing gotten better? Have you become a better writer?
If you’re like me, you probably look at the things you were writing five years, or even a year ago, you might say, “yes” in very enthusiastic tones. If you’re like me, you might, in fact, have a hard time reading the work you did five years ago. How could I have been so stupid? How was I such a bad writer?
Lee Ann Carroll, in her book Rehearsing New Roles has a shocking proposition for you: maybe you weren’t a bad writer, maybe you were just inexpert in writing the sort of things you write today. Carroll gathered up some college students and performed a longitudinal study, which means that she followed the same subjects around through their entire time at school and beyond. She had them sit down in interviews with her and fill out time logs detailing how much studying they do outside of class (in case you’re curious, the amount ranged from five hours a week to forty). They brought in their writing assignments, and their outside writing to talk about. It was very thorough. And do you want to know her take away?
First off that “students in college do not necessarily learn to write ‘better,’ but that they learn to write differently—to produce new more complicated forms addressing challenging topics with greater depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication” (xiv) “Wait a moment,” you might say, “great depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication? Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “better writing?” Maybe it is, but it’s not that they’re getting better at this vague genre of “academic writing. As Carroll puts it “Their writing gets better in that they do learn to write differently but the do not fulfill the fantasy of mastering one kind of literacy, an idealized version of academic writing” (60).
This is the real-life writing changes of writing in the disciplines. A student gets into one class, learns the genres and expectations of that class and then, right when she gets the hang of it, heads into another class. “Students’ literacy develops because students must take on new and difficult roles that challenge their abilities as writers. In fact, student writing may sometimes need to get ‘worse’ befor it can become ‘better.’ Because many college writing tasks are essentially new to students, they will need repeated practice to become proficient.” (9). How much do professors take this into consideration? Not very much.
The writing assignments that Carroll’s participants navigated were complex and sophisticated, but also, very, very different from each other. She claims that “Faculty are likely to underestimate how much writing tasks differ from course to course, from discipline to discipline, and from professor to professor” (9) Put another way, “students must learn to write differently but have few opportunities to develop one particular type of writng over any extended period of time” (55).
And where does this leave first year composition? Carroll writes that we should take the work of first year composition seriously, but not “too seriously. A first-year composition course can serve students by helping them make connections between what they have already learned about writing in their k-12 education and ways they might learn to write differently both in the academy and as citizens of the larger society. On the other hand, first-year composition cannot succed as a source that will teach students how to write for contexts they have no yet encountered A one-semester writing course is bet viewed as ust one step in a long process of development that extends from children’s first encounters with literacy on through their adult lives” (27-28).
Carroll does have some practical recommendations. She suggests that first year composition focus on metacognitive awareness and students own writing as much as possible. You know asking students things like “what do you do when you get an assignment prompt?” and discussing their own writing practice. She also recommends focusing on portfolios—in classes as well as in departments and programs. As much as possible, those portfolios should provide opportunities to return to similar genres as well as challendging students to try new things—remembering that the results will be less than perfect and that students will need plenty of specific feedback.
I find Carroll’s argument very persuasive, and as I’ve written and recorded more of these podcasts, I’ve noticed that this weird literary genre is becoming more comfortable for me. But it’s been more than a year! How many literacy projects do average undergraduates get to revisit over and over again? Is there a project you’ve mastered or a project you thought you mastered (like the so called reading response) only to discover that a different teacher had a different expectation? If so drop us a line at email@example.com I’d love to hear about it. Now go back and check out your writing from five years again, because if it’s anything like mine, it’s pretty darn amusing and well worth a reread
Wed, 21 January 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and, ah, here I am in my newly redecorated research cube. I’ve taped grey and yellow chevron wrapping paper over the old horrific 90s wallpaper and the books that completely fill my bookshelf are organized—somewhat. The tiny red and green Loeb editions look like Christmas decorations among the others and one whole shelf of books is tattooed with library barcodes. My door is propped open by the extra hard wood chair and is scrubbed clean—you almost can’t see the faint traces of pen from all of the strange graffiti, including one sloppy invitation for a previous occupant to get sushi. I’ve hung an orange-and-white abstract painting on the outside of the door and you can just see the corner of it from my seat. Why am I telling you about my cube in such detail? Because today we’re talking about Ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is the Greek term for description, a rich description that makes you see a scene before you in such detail that you feel like you’re actually there. Did it work? Did you imagine yourself in my cozy little cube?
Last week I talked about a how there was a sculpture of kairos that someone had written a poem about and I called it ekphrasis, but I may have given a very short definition of just what ekphrasis is. I’ve been thinking about ekphrasis for a long time, largely because of a 2009 book called Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice. In this book, Ruth Webb seeks to rehabilitate ekphrasis from its long misuse. We think of ekphrasis as a describing a subject matter—art—in poetic practice rather than a method—bringing something “vividly before the eyes”—used for a variety of rhetorical purposes (1). When I first learned of ekphrasis, it was in a poetry class. The teacher showed us several poems that were written to describe pictures and then challenged us to find works of art that we could transfer into words. There are several famous poems that are ekphrasis. For example, do you remember Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn? Or William Carlos Williams’ poem about Landscape with Fall of Icarus ? Perhaps one of the most famous examples of ekphrasis, for ancient and modern students, is the description of the achilles’ shield in Homer. In fact, Webb figures that shield led to this confusion of describing an artifact rather than just describing something.
Webb doesn’t just tell us what ekphrasis is not; she describes how Progymnasmata series of educational practices and other student handbooks influenced use and understanding of this tool that permeated rhetorical life from the arts (168) to the law courts (89) to the forum (131). Ekphrasis, then, isn’t just an ornament or a figure of speech—Webb claims that it is a “quality of language” (105), something that allows listeners and readers to become what she calls “virtual witnesses” of people, places, and events (95). You can imagine how it would be useful to bring your listeners in to become “virtual witnesses” if you were, say, a lawyer painting a picture of the crime, or if you were a politician petitioning for more military spending by describing a pitiful defeat. Through ekphrasis, your listeners become shared participants in an experience. You recreate an experience so we’re all together for a moment, seeing the same thing, feeling—maybe—the same way. Ekphrasis brings people in with you.
Because ekphrasis is more than just an occasional strategy, Webb has to cover a lot of ground in her book. She begins by describing the context in which ekphrasis was named, admired and taught, back in ancient Greece where memory was always connected with imagery (25). “Seeing” something was critically connecting with how you think and remember. For example, do you remember in a previous episode on canons, where we talked about how classical rhetors would create a place, say a palace, and then place facts around that palace so that they could visualize walking around to encounter the facts? It’s the same practice that popped up recently in an episode of the BBC series Sherlock. When you have a clear visual reminder of a place, an object, you can better remember the abstract principles or facts. Another reason why ekphrasis was central to the Greeks was because of the way people encountered composition: whether or not a speech was written down, it was almost always spoken aloud (26). When you’re listening rather than reading, it can be difficult to pay attention to long abstracts, but being invited into a visual scene is refreshing and entertaining. No TV, remember? This understanding of literacy may seem alien to modern readers, so Webb has to explain them explicitly
Then she introduces ekphrasis to us the same way it was introduced to Greeks and Romans: through the Progymnasmata and other handbooks of instruction. In the pedagogical explanation, Webb emphasized that ekphrasis was seen as formative for young learners, a tool to advance socially, and as an absolutely transferable skill (47-51). Remember when we talked about the progymnasmata? The exercises that young Greek students went through? Well, ephrasis was part of the progymnasmata exercises and Webb sais it was “the exercise which taught students how to use vivid evocation and imagery in their speeches” as “an effect which transcents categories and normal expectations oflangauge” (53). She then gives readers a complete chapter discussing the subjects of ekphrasis that go beyond just descriptions of works of art, and, in fact, often focus on narrative aspects (68-70). She really has to define the term because we have several hundred years of misdefinition of the term as only associated with art.
Webb also introduces us to two versions of ekphrasis: Enargia which makes “absent things present” and Phantasia which she links to “memory, imagination and the gallery of the mind” (v). Here’s an example of enargia from Theon: “When I am lamenting a murdered man will I not have before my eyes all the things which might believably have happened in the case under consideration? […] Will I not see the blow and the citicm falling to the ground? Will his blood, his pallor, his dying groans not be impressed on my mind. This gives rise to eneragia,[…] by which we seem to show what happened rather than to tell it and this gives rise to the same emotions as if we were present at the event itself” (qtd 94). Phantaias on the other hand, is creation, which might include “mythical and fantastic beats […] imagines through a process of synthesis, putting together man dna horse” (119) for example, or it might just be creatively expanding on the details of what we aren’t told. Quintilian describes this in terms of a quote from Cicero: “Is there anyone so incapable of forming images of things that, when he read the passace in [Cicero’s] Verrines ‘the praetor of the Roman people stood on the shoes dressed in slippers, wearing a purple cloak and long tunic, leaning on this worthless woman’ he does not only seem to see them, the place [..] but even imagines for himself some of those things which are not mentioned. I for my part certainly seem to see his face, his eyes, the unseemly caresses of both” (qtd 108). So there you have it. Ekphrasis can be about things that were or things that can be imagined To use an example, enargia would describe a scene that was distant, like a visit to Disneyland, while Phantaisa would create a scene that was fictional, like developing a new Disney movie adaption.
Webb’s book is certainly readable and her argument is very thorough, taking in a very large range of Classical civilization, spanning several hundred years and including both Eastern and Western Roman Empires. She’s also made the convincing argument that ekphrasis was a little bit of the sublime that could be made an effective argument in almost any situation. Many texts that talk about rhetoric of poetics make the “audacious” claim that poetics can be rhetorical; Webb’s book seems to be claim that the rhetorical was often, poetic.
I’m especially interested in this ancient idea that one thing a rhetor needs to do is make the audience see it, to be there and experience the event or object—existing, historical, hypothetical, or fantastic—to be “virtual witnesses” of it for themselves. This seems to be an interesting link between a logos-centered viewpoint that admits only one clear interpretation of objective facts and the obvious realization that the audience was being brought into “worlds […] not real” (169). The audience readily give themselves up to the “willing suspension of disbelief” to order to feel, and experience, the fictive ( and no matter its veracity, the ekphrasis is always fictive, even when the object is before the audience) world the rhetor carefully creates through word choice and selective description. There’s something potentially deceptive about ekphrasis. And to make a clean breast of it, I’ve bamboozled you, because when I’m writing this, I’m not actually in my cube—I’m flying in a window seat with an orange sunset lighting up the cabin from over the north Pacific Ocean. Even worse, I haven’t even redecorated my research cube—yet. And I’m not sure where I’ll be when I actually record this episode. Right now, the scene I described so convincingly was a bald-faced…phantasia. But I made you a witness with me. Ekphrasis is so immersive that it can be hard to challenge it It’s too bad that we don’t know more about how audiences were trained to read these ekphrasis: the handbook information is wonderful for describing the theory and practice from the rhetor’s side, but what might be the equivalent for readers? How does an audience respond to ekphrasis? Should they be skeptical or allow themselves to be swept away in the description and become willing witnesses? Hey, I don’t have the answer to this question. If you have thoughts on the proper way to respond to the ways that words create worlds, drop us a line a firstname.lastname@example.org? Until then, I’ll be enjoying my nicely redecorated research cube. Maybe.
Wed, 14 January 2015
Remember back when we talked about kairos? Just to remind you, here’s a poem, a Greek poem, translated by Jeffrey Walker, explain. This poem is ekphersis, a piece of writing that describes a piece of art, in this case a sculpture of Kairos done by Lysippos of Sicyon. The rest explains itself.
From where is your sculptor? Sicyon. What is his name?
Lysippos. And who are you? Kairos the all-subduer.
Why do you go on tiptoes? I’m always running. Why do you have
Double wings on your feet? I fly like the wind.
Why do you have a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men
That I’m sharper than any razor’s edge.
Why does your hair hang down in front? For him that meets me to grab,
By God. Why is the back part bald?
None that I have once passed by on my winged feet
May seize me, even if he wishes to.
Thus the artist fashioned me, for your sake,
Stranger, and placed me at the entrance as a lesson.
So here we have this figure of kairos, with a haircut that is party in the front and business in the back ad if you don’t grab him, too bad. It’s done. Game over, chance lost.
But then what? when you’ve missed your chance, what’s even left? Are you all alone as Kairos flits away?
Not really. The ancient Greeks created another figure, named Metanoia to describe the deep regret that comes when there’s something you could have done and you missed the chance. MEtanoia literally means after thought, or after mind, I guess if you want to get picky about it. It’s similar to regret. As Kelly A Myers put it in her rhetoric society quarterly article, Metanoia was a figure that “resides in the wake of opportunity, sowing regret and inspiring repentance in the missed moment” (1). It is “a reflective act in which a person returns to a past event in order to see it anew” (8)
In Roman poetry, metanoia accompanies the god of opportunity in Ausonius’s epigrams. The first part of the epigram sounds very similar to the ekphrasis of kairos poem “who are you” “I’m opportunity” “why do you look so weird?” “seize the moment” etc. etc. but then the questioner turns to metanoia “please tell me who you are.” “I am a goddess to whom even Cicero himself did not give a name. I am the goddess who exacts punishment for what has and has not been done, so that people regret it. Hence my name is Metanoea.”
There’s something weirdly compensatory in this accusation against Cicero. Metanoia is a such an important concept, Ausonius seems to say, that Cicero must have known, must have felt, but neglected to name. Metanoia is out there, but under studied and ignored.
But we’ve all felt that regret, haven’t we? Me, personally, I get that feeling in the shower, when dumb things I’ve said, or witty comebacks I should have said come sweeping in on me. I’ve also heard people getting hit with metanoia when they’re trying to sleep or when they’re driving or when they’re staring into a beautiful tropical sunset. It makes you want to stab your eyes out.
So what was the purpose of metanoia? What did it accomplish to feel such crippling regret? Hopefully such reflection and regret means that next time around you doing something different. Hopefully you change. This became a big deal as Christianity burst onto the scene. Metanoia became associated as a step of repentance, reflecting on the mistake you made before you can move forward. The New Testament uses matanoia as an “act of repentance that lead to spiritual conversion.” (9).
As kittel et al describe it “affects the whole man,” not just the brain.
It’s important that this emotional aspect of metanoia exists. Some sources point out that metanoia is always emotional as well as mental it is a “change of mind ad heart” (Liddell and Scott 1115) a “profound transformation of the epistemic orientation of the whole person” (Torrance 10). Myers points out that “metanoia ia the affective dimension of kairos” (2)
Metanoia as a rhetorical figure really hit its stride in the middle ages and beyond. Visual representations of metanoia became as common as kairos. Metanoia stuck with kairos, showing up in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, sometimes as a beautiful young woman and sometimes as a vengeful hag. Here’s the thing: there’s a moment of indecision, a Schrödinger's Cat moment where you don’t know whether you will seize the moment or live to regret it.As Myers says ‘once a descion has been made or missed, the two part ways, but before that crucial moment they stand together” (4).
So when you think of kairos, think of the inverse as well, the potential for deep abiding regret that makes you want to burn your high school yearbook. But remember metamoia in the moment that comes, not just regretting what is past, but looking at where you are now and making sure you make the right choice right now, so that you don’t have to regret it later.
Wed, 7 January 2015
Happy one-year anniversary!
Sun, 4 January 2015
A rebroadcast of my favorite rhetorician.
Mon, 22 December 2014
Wed, 17 December 2014
Mary: Welcome to mayor rhetoric a podcast for beginners and inspirers that got ideas of people and movement who shape historical history today we have two great surprises one is the topic. We’re going to start our new series on people you didn’t know were rhetoricians, and were going to talk about Adam Smith in particular who was actually a rhetorician despite most people knowing him as an economist and because of that we have a second surprise which is our guest today, which is my own brother my favorite economist, Dave Hedengren.
Dave Hedengren: Hi Mary thanks for letting me be on the podcast, I’m a big fan.
Mary: Oh shucks, your just saying that because you’re my brother
Dave Hedengren: Well I’m listening to the podcast because I’m your brother, I’m saying that because I’m a big fan... anyway so I was shocked when you said Adam Smith worked in rhetoric.
Mary: Yea he did in fact it was his first job coming out of college was his equivalent of a star buck’s job in many ways,
Dave Hedengren: So what did they ask? so you told me he worked at rhetoric but I was like yea but it is like he had to teach fresh men writing his first year as a professor, like what do you mean he worked at rhetoric?
Mary: Well it was actually pretty prestigious, he was a lecturer, because back in the eighteen century they didn’t have Xbox so they didn’t have much to do, so they would have these societies where people would study things and they would hire somebody to come in and teach them about something Adam Smith was actually they hired to come and teach them about rhetoric.
Dave Hedengren: That’s cool, what kind of gig is that is it like a single off speaking fee where you like come in and you get to have some refreshments with some interested locals or is it like every week your there and people like keep talking to you.
Mary: The ladder they were societies and in fact the society that we think sponsored, Adam Smith was originally a medical society it was called the philosophical society of embrown. Which doesn’t really sound like it would be a medical society, but it was it started as a group of medical people learning more about medicine, doctors and then it eventually expanded to include science and literature and all of those things and they needed somebody to in and talk about rhetoric so they got Adam Smith to be the one to do it.
Dave Hedengren: That’s cool so he’s kind of younger guy's starting out his career and he does that.
Mary: Yea fresh out of college.
Dave Hedengren: And it’ the expectation that you’re expecting new ideas in these seminars, or you just kind of re-hashing, are you teaching that’s already known or are you expressing your original opinion on the topic.
Mary: Well what happens when a professor teaches a class.
Dave Hedengren: For undergrads I just assume they just teach what they already know what to read upon and then when you’re talking to lawmen, I assume it would be even more of the case you just get to the real basics of what the discipline teaches.
Mary: Well it’s kind of your interpretation of it right, so you start with what is generally accepted but you give sort of your commentary in your interpretation which is actually what Adam Smith has in these lectures so you will hear things like his opinion on the classics, so you can think about a long time to classics were a really big deal and people would go back and sort of extol especially Cicero and Adam Smith he does think highly of Earald Stotle and Cicero and Quintilian, but he wasn’t married to their ideas so he was willing to accept they had good ideas but only as much as it could be backed up with things that could be found, deductively from first principles that were important to him, propriety and what was the other one I was thinking about,[Dave Hedengren: Sympathy]yea propriety and sympathy.
Dave Hedengren: Yea so in your lecture notes, I feel like you’re going to go all stirred up, but the lecture notes you sent me he describes the classics as a very silly set of books and not of all instructive, I feel like you’re kind of soft pedaling it when you say it like Quintilian and Cicero, but you called the rest silly like was that.
Mary: But yea he did he thought it was silly and not instructive because it didn’t seem to match up with what he saw as the basic principle and in fact his ideas of what those basic principles were, were a little bit different from how we interpret the classics, so we’re use to thinking of Earald Stotle and Cicero and especially Quintilian as being really heavily invested in invention and spending a lot of time talking about how do you find topics that’s one of the common places things like that, but Sniff doesn’t really interpret it that way, so he does this quote where he says Cicero, Quintilian and all the best authors of rhetorical composition, treat the invention of arguments or topics and the composition or arrangement of them as very slight matters and of no great difficulty and never seem to be in earnest, unless they give directions concerning the ornaments of language and expression so you listen to the podcast [Dave Hedengren: Yea] does that sound like there classics
Dave Hedengren: No, it doesn’t sound like the classics.
Mary: Because that sounds like, I don’t know Petrous Raymous.
Dave Hedengren: That silly Petrous Raymous, oh my goodness, Petrous Raymous is a time traveler. [Mary: No] well if you’ll explain it
Mary: It could just mean that Adam Smith just had a misinterpretation of the classics because that’s certainly not how we see it is a little bit fuddling to hear that [Dave Hedengren: Yea] it’s possible that no... he probably.
Dave Hedengren: But so now okay let’s take a step back here, because we’re talking about what Adam Smith said about rhetoric but his final wish he was reaching out with his dying breath and said "You know those lectures I did on rhetoric ".
Mary: Don’t give away the end Dave
Dave Hedengren: Let’s talk about sympathy and propriety
Mary: So what did you actually did pick , so he was skeptical of some of the what he saw, classical emphasis on forms, instead of what we think of as rhetorical flourishes the kind that makes people mad when you’re talking about rhetoric he was very focused on clarity, and conciseness and a lot of the things we really see as a part of the angle American style and so he would say that the perfection of style consist in expressing in the most concise, proper and precise manner the thought of the author and not the manner which best convey is the sentiment passions or affection with which it affects him in which he design to communicate to his reader. So you have, it sounds a lot like common sense right, listen to this, this is another part that Smith says: When the sentiment of the speaker is expressed in a neat, plain and clever manner and the passion or affection he is possessed of and intended by sympathy to communicate to his hearer is plainly and cleverly hid off, then and only then the expressions have all the force and beauty that language can give it.
Dave Hedengren: Yea, which I totally dig, I think that’s a nice way to, I mean maybe this is just my simplistic not of the tradition reading of it, but it seems like yea that’s exactly what rhetoric should be going for say what you want to say but make it said.
Mary: Would you say that its common sense.
Dave Hedengren: it is common sense, did he create did Adam Smith invented common sense.
Mary: Well let’s not get carried away, I mean there was a whole social mehu here of common sense the Scottish philosophers were really digging this idea [Dave Hedengren: yea] so yea this was capital c capital s common sense and it sounds a lot like Hugh Blair who was actually one of the people who listen to these lectures.
Dave Hedengren: Hey speaking of Hugh Blair another part of Adam Smith’s kind of two ideas of rhetoric propriety and sympathy and I wanted to read the sympathy quote that you sent me over in the show notes that says the man that keep sympathy keep time with to my grief cannot but admit the reasonableness, or propriety of my sorrow he who admires the same poem or same picture or admires them exactly as I do must surely allow the justness of my admiration. He who laughs at the same joke and laughs along with me cannot well deny me the propriety of my laughter and that also struck me as a very Hugh Blarian idea. Is that right?
Mary: Yea, sure. It also reminds me a lot about how your one of the only people who laugh at my jokes.
Dave Hedengren: Also true, but that’s because we share a brotherly, a sibling sympathy, right.
Mary: Yea, so sympathy is sort of the idea that you can trace back to Cicero as a matter of fact as this idea that I feel something and you with me start to feel the same thing, and me as a writer its my responsibility to make sure were on the same page emotionally, so you can see in both proprietary and in sympathy, this real, all these threads that come from the general philosophical view of the Scottish enlightenment period.
Dave Hedengren: Yea, so now sympathy is also come in and you can decide whether or not to add this part in the rhetoric podcast, but sympathy comes up a lot in the theory of moral sentiments. Talking about the way we need to relate to one and other, and it’s kind of his idea of the basic fundamental motivating enterprise of humanity is that we have sympathy towards one and other and towards ourselves.
Mary: Yea absolutely and you can trace some of the threads from his early work into his later work and then there’s going to be some continuity there.
Dave Hedengren: Which we can see, that it seems like he didn’t want us to see can we go there now.
Mary: Not yet.
Dave Hedengren: We should have written an outline.
Mary: No this is going great, what are you talking about.[Dave Hedengren: Okay] well because what your describing talking about sympathy emotions is not something that a lot of our rhetoric viewers really associate with Adam Smith, so a lot of people they think about Adam Smith as they think sort of like social Darwinism and they think sort of like, I think about what’s important for me, you think about what’s important for you, we hate watch other, were sort of strictly hughtilyterian, that kind of stuff, and that might be an unfair stereo type.
Dave Hedengren: No that’s a hundred percent of an unfair sterio type and I’m shock is that what people really think, I’ve been in the disciplin so long I forgot people really feel that way about Adam Smith. Like we think of him as a heartless calculating hughlilaterian.
Mary: Yea some people might think that Adam Smith was a little heartless and you can sort of think about these characters like, Grad Grind in hard times, sort of like strictly hughlilaterian, who cares about beauty and art but actually Adam Smith did care about beauty and art.
Dave Hedengren: Hugely, so this is something that really bothers me about the interpretation of Adam Smith in the modern era so I've heard of a German expression and as soon as its brought up in intro philosophy classes that they call, Adam Smith problems, I don’t know why they don’t translate the rest of it, but that’s what the intro teacher say they say how could the same man who wrote the theory of moral sentiments with all of its inclinations towards beauty and art and the soul of man also write the wealth of nation which is so cold and calculating. That drives me nuts, because there’s no contradiction there if you read either or both of them you see that their both talking about the same ideas they both have the same underlying view of humanity in fact the wealth of nations was written in between the theory of moral sentiments that he wrote he did one edition of the theory of moral sentiments, then wrote the wealth of nations, then the revised theory of moral sentiment and there all part of the sentimental prize of trying to understand how humans behave and why.
Mary: Yea and Adam Smith at least in his early rhetoric lectures he kind of has that same thread the sort of continuity and connections between all types of beauty and in his rhetoric lectures he talks about the important of beauty everywhere including the beauty of moral act a liter scholar will put out that he speaks of ethical judgment in hysteric terms and he like his contemporaries relate to beauty so in some ways Adam Smith is sort of prefiguring the arch romantics like, keets in the idea of truth is beauty and beauty truth.
Dave Hedengren: I totally agree with that it’s a great line in the moral sentiments that says that it is the objective the object of man is to be loved and to be lovely and I don’t really thinks that captures a lot about what I’m about and I think humans are about.
Mary: Oh well I think you’re a lovely human.
Dave Hedengren: Oh thanks Mary I think that you’re a lovely too.
Mary: So you want to talk about berthing
Dave Hedengren: So much, oh my gosh I've even chopped up the bit they call podcast so okay we’ve been talking about this continuity of thought that you can kind of see in choate ideas that pop up later in the moral sentiments in these early rhetoric lectures but it seems like Adam Smith doesn’t want us to see that view his dying wish is that they burnt sixteen volumes of his work that he’s just, that other stuff besides the theory of world sentiments the moral of a nation, burn it to the ground and it seems like he felt like he must it seems like, and I can't speak for him because he's dead and I’ve never met him but it sounds like he's doing what I somewhat of wish I could do with some of my freshmen papers and I'm like so embarrassed and its like high school papers and that left poem is clearly about so and so, boy I'm embarrassed that I wrote that and he wanted to burn them and you think that’s he was going for was he embarrassed by him did he think that these were simplifications of his ideas that he didn’t want propagating.
Mary: Well I can kind of speak for him, because he did tell two of his friends sort of what he wanted and he was worried that they would detract from his other works that people would sort of [Dave Hedengren: Okay] either they were stupid they did not want people to know about it or it wouldn’t be as important as the stuff that he did multiple revisions on over and over again I just wanted to get rid of them these rhetoric lectures, they were important to his early career i always thought and he did the lectures first as sort of this, community group kind of thing and later he had a share in Glasscock as a rhetoric professor and he thought there too so even though he burnt it he thought a lot of students. You see a lot of Adam Smith ideas from these lectures showing up in Hugh Blair and George Campbell too. You can sort of say his proprietary on these ideas because it was sort of in the air in Edin Berough at the time, but there pretty important ideas and it would have been lost to us if it had been burnt as Adam Smith wanted.
Dave Hedengren: So how do we get a copy of these things.
Mary: Well, sometimes when teachers teach students take notes [Dave Hedengren: I've heard of that] yea and it wasn’t until 1957. That there was a professor that was going through and old country house library and he finds this manuscript like literally manuscript in two volumes with notes and it turns out it was students notes from when Adam smith was teaching in Glasco, and it was like people took notes then like its sort of hard for us to remember but the professor would stand up there and sort of talk out of book and students would write it down so you could assume to write it down so if you remember how episode how we talked about Hugh Blair it was a similar thing he didn’t write the lectures on bell lectures to be like a book he wrote them because students were taking notes and then selling those notes that they had it copied so he sort of had to make sure that they were fixed and under his name. Well Adam Smith had sort of a opposite thing happen where he was trying to destroy everything and here was somebody who verbatim what his notes were from his lecture, so he would talk it and people would write it and.
Dave Hedengren: none of my students write down what i say people just faster writer, slower speakers had better things to things to say back then.
Mary: Yea, I mean like it wasn’t now a days you take notes of whatever you think is going to be on the test some short snippets the main idea, back then it was really about capturing full sentences and complete ideas and the professor would stand up there and essentially read a book out loud slowly and clearly and the students would take notes and write them all down. So that’s how we ended up with it and again that being said there’s plenty of room for human error it’s possible that this student, got something’s wrong or didn’t show up for class one day or something like that but it’s impossible no, because again Adam Smith burnt them.
Dave Hedengren: No oh Adam and let this be a lesson to all of us don’t erase those freshmen papers they might be embarrassing to you but don’t worry we won’t read them until your dead.
Mary: Yea let us be the ones to decide what’s important and what’s not important, because I don’t think this detracts from Adam Smith for me it opens him up as a rhetorician as a guy who's interested in writing
and thoughts and beauty a lot of things that we don’t associate with Adam Smith generally, so if you have a story about things that you burnt and wish you didn’t or things that you wished you burnt, why not drop us a line at email@example.com thanks about coming Dave.
Dave Hedengren: Great to be here I’m going to stick around to the ending music.