Wed, 25 May 2016
Crisis looms in ancient Rome: the uneasy triumvirate between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus rests on thin bonds that seem inevitable to break. The Senate supports Pompey, but Caesar has successfully (and illegally) conquered Gaul, winning wide-spread military support. Everything seems primed for disaster. In fact, in less than a decade, the Great Civil War, the death gasp of the Republic, will spread across the whole breadth of the empire, changing forever the political and social life of Romans. This, of course, is the best time to write a treatise on rhetoric.
Or it is if you happen to be Cicero. Cicero, a political player as well as rhetorician, saw in the dis-ease of Rome a need for leaders who could be well-informed about the issues, but also know how to effectively persuade those around them to order and peace. The risks are high and the need is pressing, both for the empire in general and for Cicero in general—he’s been exiled, his home has been destroyed by political thugs and his life is in danger for criticizing high-ranking leaders, including Ceasar. But he also knows that this isn’t the first time that the Roman world has been rocked by political instability and needed strong leaders versed in rhetoric. So when he sits down to write his rhetorical treatise, he sets it not in the current period (far, far too risky!) but back fifty years ago, just before another civil war would destroy the peace of the Roman Republic.
The dialogue is written almost dramatically as three historical figures gather together in the peace of a patrician home “during the days of the Roman Games”: Lucius Crasses, Marcus Antonius, and Scaevola. They are joined by the young men Sullpicius and Gaius Cotta. Cotta suggests that in this peace “Crassus, why do we not imitate Socrates as he appears in the Phaedrus of Plate? For your plane tree has suggested this comparison to my mind, casting as it does, with its spreading branches, as deep a shade over this pot, as that one cast whose shelter Socrates sought “ (I. vii.28). You might remember from our Pheadrus podcast that Socrates normally engages in dialogues in the city, in the market or gymnasium or private people’s houses, but in the Phaedrus, Socrates gets a little topsy-turvey by going out in nature, giving long speeches instead of dialectic and—most shockingly of all—defending rhetoric. Well, looks like Crassus and Antoius are going to be similarly inspired by the setting to break with tradition—these are powerful Roman men who take action in politics and war and the business of running an empire. They are manly men, not like the Greek philosophers—the unmanly ninny GReekling-- who unambitiously ponder the meaning of things like philosophy and rhetoric instead of taking over the known world. In fact, Crassus seems to even have to describe rhetoric in terms of what it can do in terms of political power. And he starts by telling the most important creation story of the history of rhetoric.
This story, as the legand goes and Crassus relates, starts with “brute creation” and the point that while human beings are slower, and weaker and less deadly than other animals they do have one advantage—they can discourse. So the orator created “our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens, or after the establishment of social communities, to give shape to laws, tribuals and civic rights?” (I.viii.33). Even today, Crassus says, the orator upholds his own dignity and the safety of “countless individuals and of the entire state.” Scaevola the cynical points out that orators also have caused great disaster to the state.
So the discussion quickly turns to how to educate the orator to be the best kind of person, morally and intellectually, to lead the state towards greatness. Crassus (Cicero stand-in) and Antonio (C’s brother’s stand-in) debate requirements for the good rhetor—is it art or natural ability? It’s less of a clear-cut debate than you’d think, and Antonius sort of switches positions between the first and second book. Generally, both of the agree that “Good speakers bring, as their peculiar possession, a stule that is harmonious, graceful, and marked by a certain artistry and polish. Yet this style, if the underlying subject matter be not comprehended and mastered by the speaker, must inevilably be of no account or even become the sport of universal derision” (I.xi.50). That sport, incidentally, being the fruitless apolitical sophistry of the Greeklings that these political Romans despise.That’s what Crassus calls “Greeklings who are fonder of argument than of truth” But if there’s good content to oratory, then that’s worth while—that’s something that can actually DO something.
But this education, to know everything you speak on, is hard to come by. Should orators be generalists or specialists? All of this takes a lot of “zeal and industry and study” (475), to be “he who on any matter whatever can speak with fullness and variety” (I. xiii.59) because “it is nearer the truth to say that neither can anyone be eloquent upon a subject that is unknowen to him. “ That means lots and lots of study—of Roman laws, above all else, but also on physiology, trade, astronomy grammar, all of it. Antonius, again the fly in the ointment, points out that it would be impossible to develop the kind of breadth that Crassus describes: “I cannont deny that he would be a remarkable kind of man and worth of admiration; but if such a one there should be or indeed ever has been or really ever could be, assuredly you would be that one man.” (I.vxi.) Wow. Ancient Romans had really mastered the art of the compli-insult. Okay, so what is rhetoric, then? Is it a specialized skill that only a few experts master or is it something added on to these other skills? Besides, Antonius observes “not a single writer on rhetoric has been even moderately eloquent” (I.xx.91). that’s a good burn, too, and one that you still here in rhetoric: we study this stuff all the time, so why aren’t we giving the speeches that inspire the world? How can we be so dull when we’re supposed to be experts in this stuff?
Crassus points out that he’s talking about an ideal and that ideal is hard to achieve, maybe even impossibly, but it is important to have the idea “picture to ourselves in our discourse an orator from whom every blemish has been taken away and one who moreover is rich in every merit”—what would that look like? First there would be some physical characteristics—the orator who can’t speak, and speak loudly and clearly, won’t got far. And there whould be a “natural state of looks, expression and voice” for oratory (I.xxvvii.126) and good memory.There should be natural talent, but also passion and willingness to work to improve. This passion for betterment is critical, Crassus muses “What else do you suppose young Cotta, but enthusiasm and something like the passion of love? Without which no man will ever attain anything in life that is out of the common” (I. xxix.134). And even if someone doesn’t have all of these natural abilities, their training can help them to do a little better. “those on whome these gifts have been bestowed by nature in smaller measure, can none the less acquire the power to use what they have with propriety and discernment and so as to show now lack of taste.” (I.xxvii.132). Even if you aren’t the ideal orator, you can get much better with practice.
The next day, the group is joined by Quintus Catulus and Gaius Julius Ceasar. Catulus for his part, argues that Oratorys “derives from ability, but owes little to art” in other words, it’s just a knack after all. This time Antonius fights back, kind of reversing his previous position. Antonius points out that “there are some very clever rules” that can make an audience friendly to a speaker and establish goodwill. But soon the whole conversation focuses back on the importance of being widely educated, especially in law and civil right.
So what are the takeaways from The Orator? Over all it’s a long description of the importance of eloquence.
“Eloquence is dependent upon the trained skill of highly educated men” (7) and “no one should be numbered with the orators who is not accomplished in all those arts” of the well-educated (53), because “excellence in speaking cannot be made manifest unless the speaker fully comprehends the matter” (37). Good will and delivery also emphasized. To educate, imitation comes first (265), then gradually more serious argumentation, although there are rhetorical geniuses. Performance should have genuine emotion behind it (335). There are a variety of acceptable styles (II. 23). (which we’ll talk about in a later episode) and different parts to speech and preparing a speak—and I know it sounds like we’re deferring, but we’ll talk about those in the future too. We have an entire episode prepared for talk about these parts of preparing a speech. Generally, thought, this treatise argues that over all Eloquence “is one of the supreme virtues” (II.43)
But the fact that this treatise talks so seriously about rhetoric and its philosophy is in some way worth remarking on in itself. There’s some jingoistic feelings that manly Roman empire-building is much cooler than sissy Greekling philosophizing going around the culture and De Oratore is no exception that. I always think it’s funny how the speakers in this dialogue go out of their way to insist that they aren’t really sitting around philosophizing, and if they are, it’s only because it’s a state vacation and they kind of have to. The comparison with Plato’s Phaedrus are apt: here are Roman politicians who are acting out of character because of the circumstances and talking like philosophers. But while Cicero has his characters insist that the via activa is paramount, the circumstances suggest otherwise. These politicians are all doomed—the crisis in the Republic is about to reach full swing and soon many of the participants will be dead or exiled. Their political influence will be only fleeting, but Cicero’s dialogue invoking them keeps them relevant. The same could be said for Cicero himself in his own time: a brilliant politician, he was unable to stem the tide of violence as the republic descended into autocracy. Cicero was eventually exiled and then murdered.
He wasn’t just murdered but he was also posthumously beheaded, his hands chopped off and his tongue repeated stabbed with a hairpin. Sort of an ignomous end to a great politician. But Cicero the rhetorician seemingly had no end—the impact of his treatises, including de Oratore, dominated medieval and renaissance rhetoric. So for all of the insistence that sitting around theorize isn’t as important as the work of government, it turns out that theory has the longest-lasting influence. Situating de Oretore in the real violence of the Roman republic demonstrates not only the sometimes futile work of rhetoric, but also how high the stakes are in developing rhetors who are well-educated, balanced, virtuous and eloquent.
Wed, 18 May 2016
Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke by Gregory Clark
Welcome to Mere rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, terms and movements that shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and if you’ve like to get in touch with me you can email me at mererhetroicpodcast @gmail.com or tweet out atmererhetoricked.
Today on Mere Rhetoric I have the weird experience of doing an episode on someone who isn’t just living, but someone who was my mentor. If you’ve ever had to do a book report on a book your teacher wrote, you understand the feeling. But I really do admire the work of Gregory Clark, especially his seminal work in Burkean Americana. Clark is was been the editor of the Rhetoric Society Quarterly for eight years and recently became the President Elect of the Rhetoric Society in America, which means, among other things, he’s responsible for the RSA conference, like the one I podcasted about earlier this summer. He also wrote a fantastic book called Rhetorical Landscapes inAmerica, that became the foundation for a lot of work that looks that the rhetoricality of things like museums, landscapes and even people.
In the final chapter of Gregory Clark’s Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke, he poses the question “where are we now?” (147). We’ve certainly been many wonderful places. In Rhetorical Landscapes, Clark has packed up Kenneth Burke’s identification theory of rhetoric and applied it to the national landscapes of America. Clark suggests that our identity as Americans comes, largely, from our experiences with common landmarks. To demonstrate this power of Burke’s concept of identification, Clark has taken us through more than a century of American tourism, from New York City in the early 19th century to Shaker Country to the Lincoln Memorial Highway. We’ve been convinced by Clark of the rhetorical power of these places to create a national identity. We’ve seen how mountains and parks and even people can evoke a feeling of identification. It’s been a long, lovely ramble by the time we get to Clark’s question. Reading his words, one can’t escape the image of a wanderer who, having ambled through one delightful landscape after another finds himself suddenly disoriented as to his current location. Clark himself describes his project as “a ramble” and it is this apt description that encapsulates both the dizzying strengths of the book (147).
Surely one of the most striking strengths of this ramble is the remarkable company we keep. Clark has brought the human and extremely likable specter of Kenneth Burke along for this meander through American tourism. The Burke of this book has not only provided us with the language of identification in our community of travelers to “change the identities that act and interact with common purpose;” he’s consented to come along with us (3). Clark presents Burke as one who was “himself a persistent tourist in America” (5). Burke very charmingly has written about his traveling “’go go going West, the wife and I/.../ “Go West, elderly couple”’” (qtd. Clark 7). When Burke’s theories of national identification are presented to us chapter-by-chapter, we enjoy their application in the presence of a critic who is not cynically immune to the process of identification, only acutely aware of it. Presented as accessibly and understandable, Clark has written us a Burke we can road trip with.
If Clark has presented for us a clear, insightful and accessible version of Burke through this rambleit is because of his own remarkable prowess as a teacher. He is willing to let Burke be a fellow-traveler with us and he is willing, himself, to join us personally in the ramble. We readers are fortunate to have Clark with us, just as much as we are to have his clear explanations of what Burke would say if the deceased were alongside us. Just as Burke is not immune to the seduction of American tourism, Clark gives us ample insight into how the American landscape affected his own identification as an American as a child. In the chapter on Yellowstone, Clark describes how, as a child from “a marginal place in America” he had been taught that “America was in faraway places like New York or Washington, D. C., or Chicago or California” (69). When Clark first went to Yellowstone National Park, he noticed the variety of license plates in the parking lot and could suddenly feel “at home among all those strangers in a new sort of way—at home in America” (69). While Clark gives us every possible reason to respect him as a serious, meticulous scholar of both rhetoric and American tourism history, he never lets us forget that he, like Burke, like us, is also another tourist in awe of the places we define as quintessentially American.
With knowledgeable and accessible teachers like Burke and Clark at our sides, we readers feel comfortable seeing how we, too, fit into this landscape. While the scope of the book covers the extremely formidable years of American nation-making (from the days of “these” United States to when the country is solidly coalesced into “the” United States), the institutions then established are still foremost in the psyche of Americans of all generations. Readers of Rhetorical Landscapes in America will be hard-pressed to read a chapter without immediately applying the Burkean theories to their own individual experiences with these ensigns of American identity. Have you been to NYC? Have you been told that you have to see Yellowstone? All of these places are part of how we structure our American identity.
Where are we going? Working topically, vaguely chronologically, Clark and Burke accompany us through New York City, Shaker country, Yellowstone, The Lincoln Highway, the Panama-Pacific world’s fair and the Grand Canyon. It’s almost like a car game on a long road trip: okay, what do these six things have in common? While each of these locations lead themselves to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a touring American (eg, in the chapter Shaker country we discover how guides to the region have lead to identification “not with the Shakers, but with the other touring Americans who gather to wonder at the spectacle the Shakers create” and thus objectified Shakers), (52). Including a city, a people, a park, a road, an event and a building in a park could arguably be a way to expand the definition of the “landscape.”
Why are we rambling through these American landscapes with Burke and Clark, after all? The argument appears to be, after all, to situate a Big Rhetoric theory of identification into a series of Big Rhetoric artifacts—so big, in fact, that it includes mountains and highways. Those who are resistant to wholeheartedly adopting Burke’s expansion of rhetoric to include not just persuasion, but also identification, will find Clark’s scope of artifacts as unconvincing; those who are frosty towards opening the canon of rhetoric past the spoken word, and past the written word into the very land we travel will bristle at the idea of giving something as Big Rhetoric as a city, a people, a landscape a “meaning.” These two groups of reader are by-and-large impervious to the convincing and meticulous readings that Clark provides of these locations. They’ve already made up their minds and aren’t likely to change them, despite the quality of Clark’s argument.
Clark and Burke are observant, meticulous and personable traveling companions, This is an excellent book, one that opens up rhetoric to more than just written texts, but something that can encompass views and groups of people as well. I love thinking about the implications of place on national identity and I’m not the only one: scholars from Diane Davis to Ekaterina Haskin have taken up the idea of how a tour of places and spaces and people can create an argument for national identity. So when you come back from your summer vacation this year, think about not just what you saw, but who it made you become.
Wed, 11 May 2016
What’s the difference between writing and composition? Writing, we think we know what that is: it’s maybe typing out letters on a computer screen, or maybe it’s holding a pen above a legal pad. But what if writing is bigger than that? What if it’s also the prewriting that takes place in your brain, as you drive around town or play racquetball or stare into space? And how about composition? What does that mean? It’s not just writing so could it be arranging speech, or images or even moving bodies? Is dance part of composition? Jody Shipka’s landmark text, Towards a Composition Made Whole, expands our understanding of what we mean when we say “writing and composition.” Today on Mere Rhetoric.
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 I’d like to give a shout out to our sponsors at the Univesity of Texas Humanities Media Project for their support, but today’s topic is right up their alley too--what are the limits of humanities and media?
Shipka is sick and tired of the way that two words are deeply misused in the feild of rhetoric and composition. The first is the word composition itself. Composition, Shipka argues, does not have to be text-based media. Shipka is a proponent of teaching students to compose in a broad sense--using images, music, dance and motion alongside words and letters to create meaning. Drawing on Cheryl Ball Shipka sums up resistence to non-print composition in that “texts are often labeled experimental when (or simply because) audiences are not used to recognizing their meaning-making strategies” (133).
That leads to the other term that Shipka takes issue to--technology. If composition is often view in very conservative terms as something done with pen and paper or a computer, technology is perhaps too-hot. Technology, Shipka claims, does not equal digital. The ferver for “technology” can be just as bad as a prejudice towards newfangled technology. In her words, “I am concerned that emphasis placed on ‘new’ (meaning digital) technologies has led to a tendency to equate terms like multimodal, intertextual, multi-media, or still more broadly speaking, composition with the production and consumption of computer-based, digitalized, screen-mediated texts” (8) and “we have allowed ourselves to trade in one bundle of texts and techniques for another: pro-verbal for pro-digital” (11).
Technologies are only seen as technologies as long as they are difficult and electronic, she argues, while other methods of multimodal composition can be as or more effective while employing other means. The example that Shipka leads the book with concerns an essay written by a dance student on a pair of ballet slippers. The essay was researched, ‘composed’ and transcribed in a way that uses multiple approaches, but nothing that needs a cord. She quotes Wertsch that “all activity is mediated by tools, whether by psychological tools and/or by technical tools such as hammers, nails [etc]” (43). Elsewhere she writes “when our scholarship fails to consider, and when our practices do not ask students to consider, the complex and highly distributed processes associated with the production of texts (and lives and people), we run the risk of overlooking the fundamentally multimodal aspects of all communicative practice” (13). Okay, and one more quote just to really underline her position: “ “To label a text multimodal or nonmodal based on its final appearance alone discounts, or worse yet, renders invisible the contributions made by a much wider variety of resources, supports, and tools.” This understanding of how we mediate even when we use “analogue” technology lets us expand our concept of buzzwords like “multimedia” and “multimodal.”
These two terms lay the groundwork for what she suggests in her manifesto: a composition made whole, with all processes, projects and media enveloped in the process of composition. In her words “A composition made whole recognizes that whether or not a particular classroom or group of students are wired, students may still be afforded opportunities to consider how they are continually positioned in ways that require them to read, respond to, align with… a steaming interplay of words, images, sounds, scents, and movements” (21).
Something about Shipka’s work is extremely freeing, both in our research and in our pedagogy--we can expand our work to anything. But it’s also terrifying--what do I know about document design? about video production? about dance? This same free fall feeling comes when I read about the processes Shipka describes her composers taking. Here in A Composition Made Whole she talks about the process of writing in a big way, similar to how big her definition of composition is. This part reminds me of a chapter that she co-authored with Paul Prior in another place. What Prior and Shipka did was to give their participants a piece of paper and have them draw their writing spaces and their writing practices. What they found is that people’s writing practice goes far beyond the “prewriting, writing, rewriting” steps that we often inculcate our students with. Objects like cigarettes, cats and washing machines and activities like talking over beer, walking the dog and calling a friend become part of the writing process.
Shipka describes some of these writers’ processes in a a composition made whole. For instance, when a writer goes for a run to clear her mind, “what might otherwise look like nonwork--taking a break from the task at hand--functioning as an integral part of the composer’s overall process” (60).
This creates some messy borders of a process we simplify in our research and teaching. If taking a run is part of the compositing process, what else is part? What can be excluded? I found this a difficult question to ask when I began keeping track of my time while working on my dissertation. If was I reading a text or coding data, that was definitely just as much a part of writing my dissertation as putting words on the paper. Meeting with my advisor? Yes. Talking it out with my mom? yes… Thinking about it on a run? I think. Thinking about it when I’m driving?...maybe? It can hard to say for sure what 40 hours a week of academic work looks like because it’s so dispersed. If our students say they have to clean their apartment, or walk the dog or watch six episodes of Broadchurch in a row before they can write the paper, it’s hard to say whether this is part of their writing process or a procrastination effort.
Wed, 4 May 2016
Dewey Part Deuce
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).
Wed, 27 April 2016
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).
Wed, 20 April 2016
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren, Jacob is in the booth and the Humanities Media Project is making this all possible.
Quick note: this is a rebroadcast, so you might want to take the next couple of sentences with a grain of salt. That is all. Starting…now.
We’ve spent this month talking about the villains of rhetoric, but since mere rhetoric isn’t just abtout rhetoric, today we’re going to talk about one of the villains of composition. But first
Mere Rhetoric is now at your disposal for feedback! You can check us out on Twitter @mererhetoricked or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org send in suggestions, feedback, questions— and I’ll try to answer them because every question is a rhetorical question. And of course I want to shout out the University of Texas RSA student chapter for their support of this podcast. I’m, as ususal, Mary Hedengren.
Today’s villain is not one mustache-twirler, but the very most villainous type of villain: the committee. And even worse than a committee is a report written by a committee. The villans of compositions are often reports written by committee, and the first major villainous report in question goes all the way back to the 19th century Harvard Reports.
Harvard, the site of the very first frist- year composition classes, was also the place where complaints about those freshman were most acutely embattled. Because Harvard was, you know, Haaahvaaad, it pioneered an entrance exam for its applicants. Soon, preparatory schools were gleefully teaching to the test, a test which, however well it kept out the riff raff, was woefully inadequate in, well, helping students learn how to write. Soon these students entered actual classes at Harvard or any of the copycat schools that required an entrance exam, these students having learned only the minutia of grammatical correctness, pedantary and the art of the all-night cram-fest, were dismayed to discover they couldn’t in fact write.
Their instructors were the more distraught by the realization, not least because there were dreadful lot of terrible writers to be taught. The late 19th century saw a boom in educational enrollment, the likes of which are inadequately compared to increases post-WWII or in the 70s. Albert Kitzhaber reports that in 1894, more than a thousand students at Univeristy of Michage were served by a staff of 4 full time teachers and 2 part-time graduate instructors. That means not only was the writing often awful, but there was an awful lot of awful writing. So there was a crisis—Quick! To a committee!
The report that Harvard’s committee wrote compained “It is obciously absurd that the College—the institution of higher education-should be called upon to turn aside from its proper functions [those are left un specified by the way] and deovte its means ad the time of its instructors to the task of imparting elementary instruction which should be given even in ordinary grammar schools, much more in those higher academic instituions intended to prepare slect youth for a university ocourse” (44) According to Kitzhaber, it goes on in that same tone and he reports drily that “there was a good deal of sarcasm in the Report. (45).
“It is little less tha absurd to suggest ath any human being who can be taught to talk cannot likewise be taught to compose,” fumed the report “writing is merely the bait of talk with the pen instead of which the tongue!” The report grumpily pointed the finger at the lower schools for not preparing students better, and suggested raising the standard for admissions even higher. In total, three reports were issued from Harvard: 1892, 1895 and 1897. The three castigated the lower schools for “the growing illiteracy of American boys” and urged more mechanicall correctness from preparatory schools.
There’s nothing new about complaining about the awful writing of freshmen. Complaining about lazy, illiterate students is one of the oldest and most time-honored traditions of teachers, alongside wearing silly hats for official ceremonies and calling people you hate “my esteemed colleague.” What made the Harvard Reports so villainous was the immese influence they had in 19th century America.
These reports spread all over America, creating a sense of crisis in the popular press. Eventually the US government took not and in response to this crisis—wait for it—appointed a committee. This committee saught to standardize entrance exams and require more writing in the secondary schools. In the end, the Harvard reports had succeeded in creating a sense of crisis and creating action to address the crisis, lifting standards “by the hair of the head” as Fred Newton Scott said. Still, all they had done was ensure that the superficial complaints that these teachers and administrators had were the only complaints to be addressed.
A focus on mechanical correctness has dogged composition ever since. Every few decades, newspapers and magazines will find that some percentage of college graduates are dangling their participles and the education world will find itself again playing the blame game. It happened again in 1975 with NEwseeek’s incidenary article “Why Johnny can’t Write” which again highlighted “the illiuteracy of American boys” (why don’t these reports ever concern themselves with girls’ inability to diagram a sentence, I leave to the audience to deduce). “Why Johnny can’t write” led to further committes, further reports and further books all declaring a “back to bascis” curriculum, where basics meant the identification of linguistics terms. This coninutes today. While searching for a copy of the original “why Johnny can’t write” I found an article published on the nbc website in 2013 that starts with the sentence:
Can you tell a pronoun from a participle; use commas correctly in long sentences; describe the difference between its and it's?
If not, you have plenty of company in the world of job seekers. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, many employers complain that they can't find qualified candidates.
Often, the mismatch results from applicants' inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and to write clearly.
The reporter seems to have made a sudden slip—can you spot it? She’s jumped from the skills of identitying a pronoun or punctuating a possessive to the “inablitiy to speak and write clearly”. Sadly, I do not believe this will be the last article to make a similar leap and for that matter, we don’t see the end of that sort of reasoning in books or committee reports.
We can’t blame the Hardard reports of the 1890s specifically—maybe these complaints are just eh easiest writing errors to identify and castigate—but whenever an English major is confronted with a horrified acquaintance who says “I better watch my grammar in front of you” we’re dealing with some of the popular fall out from the 19th Century Harvard reports.
Wed, 13 April 2016
Jeffrey Walker’s Aesthetic/Epideictic
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movement who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, Samantha’s in the booth, Humanities Media Project is the sponsor and Jeff Walker is the subject. Jeffrey Walker is kind of my hero in life. I get weird around him, the way some people get around Natalie Portman or David Beckham. I came to the University of Texas, in part, because I so admired his work, but when I got here and saw him at parties I found that I mostly awkwardly stood four feet behind him, which—incidentally, is the exactly position the camera takes behind the protagonist in horror movies and I suspect that that didn’t help me much in meeting him. Since then I’ve taken a class from Dr. Walker, had him speak at official RSA student chapter meetings, even had a one-on-one seminar with him, where every week I would exit his office to a world where the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter. That’s how much I like Jeffrey Walker. He’s a great human being, but he’s also a darn fine scholar.
Dr. Walker’s first book in 1989, Bardic Ethos and the American Epic Poem may sound on first blush like a piece of literary criticism, but it’s actually about persuasion, the very particular kind of persuasion that demands that the listener put in as much or more work than the rhetor. In this book, Walker looked at a very specific genre—the American Epic—and a specific period and school, and inquired about what kind and amount of rhetorical work being done. The main difficulty here seems to be audience. To write an American epic that can both express and inspire the nation en masse, the poet has got to speak to those masses. But to be a high literary, post-Romantic bard, the poet has to deal in the kind of textual, allusion, and thematic obscurity that is incomprehensible to the masses. In hisconcluding paragraphs, he sums up the struggle nicely: “The bard, in short, is obliged to reject the available means for effectively communicating his historical, political, and ethical vision to the public mind insofar as he wants to succeed with his tribal audience” (240, emphasis in original).
Bardic Ethos and the American Epic Poem traces the American literary attempts at prophecy without populism from its origins in Whitman’s “moral magnetism” (30). First identifying both high poetic speech (93) and “conventions and expectations” for the audience (118), as the reasons for Pound’s failure to be a “Whitman who has learned to wear a collar” (2), the book then examines Crane’s inability to “use his mythic ideal to redeem or bless the present” (136), in part because “’the popular’ in a modernist context is generally beneath respectability” (145). While William Carlos Williams what Walker on another occasion called the “good guy of the book” (15/2/2011) in trying to write Paterson for “a public at least partly comprise of actual people” (157), he, too, fails to write a work that is accepted in both popular and literary circles. Olson’s Maximus Poems seek a similar project, but in describing the few that can transform many sometimes becomes almost eugenically elitist, even to the point of justified genocide (234). In the end, it seems as though these modernist bardic writers must chose between a literary and a popular audience (240), usually coming down on the side of the literati, ultimately described as the “tribe with whom [the author] is marooned” (243).
I’m very interested in this book’s premise of irreconcilable audiences. You might see how this concept could coordinate with Wayne Booth’s image of the author sitting around waiting for an audience. While Booth dismisses this idea, this book kind of suggests that it happens, regardless of the author’s intention; these writers sought a broad and a specific audience, but only the specific audience came to the table. I always think about the hero of Nightmare Abbey, who wrote a metaphysical tome so boring that it only sold seven copies. The hero then perks up, calling his readers, in his mind, the seven golden candle sticks. If you write obscure stuff, you probably aren’t going to reach a wide audience.
The other hugely influential book Walker wrote about the rhetoric of poetics is his 2000 Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity. The book goes way beyond Whitman and his prophetic bards to ancient Greek lyric poetry. Poetry back then was always publicially performed and that, Walker argues, means that it was always public persuasion. One of the key ways this happened what through the lyric enthymeme. The Enthymeme, to refresh, is when the audience supplies part of the argument. So [shave and a haircut]. Or, to make it poetic, when Ol Yeller is, spoiler alert, put down, the 20th century American audience things “Oh, dogs are like friends and it’s sad when they die” instead of, like 14th century Aztecs, thinking, “what’s the big deal? We kill dogs every day—and eat them.” The audience supplies part of the argument of any aesthetic piece.
It seems like the main argument Walker’s making in this book is that the epideictic isn’t derivative and secondary to the other genres of rhetoric, but actually primary and of almost “pre-rhetorical” origin. In supplying many examples of ancient poets who were able to produce the best lyric enthymemes, Walker not only builds up evidence to support his over all claim, but he creates sub-categories and conditions for this kind of lyric enthymeme.. One of the most interesting of these divisions is the “Argumentation Indoors/Argumentation Outdoors” distinction Walker illustrates with Alcaeus and Sappho’s lyric poetry. So some of the public performance weren’t big publics. If Alcaeus spoke only to his hetaireia (remember them? The geisha like prostitutes like Aspasia?) or that Sappho make have written for an intimate circle of acquaintances and devotees doesn’t have to imply that their poetry could appeal only to those small groups. In fact, Walker claims that “just the opposite is true” and the poems “offer enthymematic argumentation that engages with the discourses of a wider audience” to cement their continued influence (249).
The ideal situations for this kind of poetic influence disintegrate, though. The book is, after all, called Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity and it’s understandable that the tracing of suasive lyric has to end somewhere, so Walker seem to mark the beginning of the end, in both Greece and Rome, with the literaturaization of poetry and the Aristoltization of rhetoric. The former leads to a paradigm that literature is removed from everyday life, erudite, a “decorative display” (57) that “cannot escape the rhetorical limitations of symposiastic insider discourse” (289); the latter downplays the rhetorical nature of poetry (281) while emphasizing rhetoric’s relation to the civic responsibilities of the forum and the court.
So you can see why I have so much hero-worship for Jeffrey Walker. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced this is going to be our last podcast on his work. Yeah. If you have a reason why you love Jeff Walker, or –I guess—if you want to suggest a podcast about your own rhetorical heroes, send me an email at email@example.com. I’ll just be sitting here, dreading the possibility that Dr. Walker might hear this podcast, getting embarrassed and awkward for a while.
Wed, 6 April 2016
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 special thanks to the Humanities media project. This is a re-recording, so you might want to take the next sentence with a grain of salt
Last week we continued our conversation of deliberative rhetoric by talking about Saving Persuasion, a contemporary book about how rhetoric doesn’t have to be rhetortricky. Today we’re going to talk about one of the figures in political rhetoric who was really, really good at what he did and that made everyone around him very nervous. I’m talking about one of the most engaging political figures of ancient Athens: Demosthenes.
That name may sound vaguely familiar to those of you who are regular listeners because we mentioned Demosthenes as one of the great orators who got his start in logography. Logographers, as some of you might recall, were the pre-lawyer lawyers. They could be hired to write speeches for people going to court. They had to be savvy about what the jury would respond to and they had to write in a way that would represent their client. What they didn’t have to do, though, was deliver the speech.
We also mentioned that Demosthenes was all about delivery when we talked about the canons of rhetoric [canon boom] Really? Well, when we talked about the canons of rhetoric, one of the last ones was delivery, and Demosthenes reportedly thought delivery was the most important. He had an unnatural time at it, though, because he was allegedly born with a serious speech impediment. Plutarch says that Demosthenes had “a perplexed and indistinct utterance and a shortness of breath, which, by breaking and disjointing his sentences much obscured the sense and meaning of what he spoke.” More likely, Demosthenes said his “r”s like “l”s. I have a lot of sympathy for this, as someone who went to speech therapy herself until she was in junior high. I also had problems with my r’s and l’s and on top of it, I had a retainer. My mom, a writing teacher, thought this was fantastic, because Demosthenes learned to over come his speech impediment by way of—not a retainer—but pebbles in his mouth. As he learned to talk around the pebbles in his mouth, he became hyper aware of his diction and became a great orator. All of this is cold comfort to a twelve-year-old with orthodonty, but it worked out well for Demosthenes.
Really well. Demosthenes, who had been taking a sort of back-seat position as a logographer began to get more of a toehold in politics, by way of taking on “public” cases. You see, if you hated someone’s politics, you could sue them. Remember how some Republicans were going to sue Obama for abuse of power? It was like that. All. The. Time. So Demosthenes gets more into politics and begins writing public speeches like Against Androtion and Against Leptines and then Against Timocrates and Against Aristocrates Are you noticing a theme in these titles? Demosthenes was really taking to town all of the politicians who were allegedly corrupt and politics in ancient Athens were always personal. “Pretty much you try to paint the other guy as a villain beyond all villainy. Athens did smear campaigns better than anyone who ever put their opponent in grainy, slow-mo footage. Here’s a taste of Demosthenes’ accusations: “For on many occasions, men of Athens, the justice of the case has not been brought home to you, but a verdict has been wrested from you by the clamor, the violence and the shamelessness of the pleaders. Let not that be your case today, for that would be unworthy of you.” “In this court Leptines is contending with us, but within the conscience of each member of the jury humanity is arrayed against envy, justice against malice, and all that is good against all that is most base.” “do not think, gentlemen of the jury, that even Timocrates can lay the blame of the present prosecution upon anyone else: he has brought it on himself. Moved by desire to deprive the State of a large sum of money, he has most illegally introduced a law which is both inexpedient and iniquitous.”
These are awesome. But as anyone running a good campaign knows, it’s not enough just to slam the opponent; you also need to make a few campaign promises yourself. In 354 BC, Demosthenes outlined his policy of moderation and a scheme for financing in his first political oration, On the Navy, which is not to be confused with the Village People’s immortal classic, In the Navy. [sound bite, maybe]. With this speech, first of many, Demosthenes launched his political career in earnest. But what really drove Demosthenes’ career was a great opponent and that he had in Philip II of Macedon. As you might infer from the name, Philip II wasn’t an Athenian, but a Macedonian who was taking over other city states that were alarmingly proximate to Athens. Demosthenes saw Philip as a huge threat and warned the Athenians in his rousing First Phillipic. Unfortunately, Philip still conquered Athens.
This led to Demosthenes being able to give the second and third Phillipic, criticizing the attacker of his city and declaring it "better to die a thousand times than pay court to Philip." The Third Phillipic was his magnum opus in a lot of ways.
“But if some slave or superstitious bastard had wasted and squandered what he had no right to, heavens! how much more monstrous and exasperating all would have called it! Yet they have no such qualms about Philip and his present conduct, though he is not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honor, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave.” Ooh, that’s good.
Philip did conquer Athens. But then he died. Demosthenes loved that. After Philip’s assassination, Demosthenes put a “garland on his head and white raiment on his body, and there he stood making thank-offerings, violating all decency” according to one account. In fact, after Philip was assassinated, Demosthenes’ classy rhetoric led an uprising of Athenians to finally break the Macedon army. It wasn’t successful and Philip’s son Alexander was in charge and—big surprise—Demosthenes hated him too. It was mutal. Alexander demanded the exile ofDemosthenes.
But the Athenians still loved him and he loved the people. “A project approved by the people is going forward,” he wrote in a public speech commemorating the defeat of his political enemy. Because of the way that Demosthenes had opposed kings and led the people into riot, he became vilified by all good monarchists for centuries. Here was this sneaky demagogue who could manipulate the people into rebellion.
If political types were antsy about Demosthenes, rhetoricians adored him, especially those with a republican bent. Cicero idealized Demosthenes’ orataional and political career, and Longinus and Juvenal praised him highly. Renaissance rhetoricians who were comfortable with his anti-monarach stance loved him too—John Jewel and Thomas Wilson. John Jay, Hamilton and Madison, the American founding fathers and authors of Federalist papers, also admired Demosthenes’ style. So if you like people and rhetoric, chances are, you’ll like Demosthenes.
In some ways, Demosthenes was an orator of the people all along. His style is relative plainspoken, abrupt and built on the assumption of sincerity. As Harry Thurston Peck puts it, Demosthenes "affects no learning; he aims at no elegance; he seeks no glaring ornaments; he rarely touches the heart with a soft or melting appeal, and when he does, it is only with an effect in which a third-rate speaker would have surpassed him. He had no wit, no humour, no vivacity, in our acceptance of these terms. The secret of his power is simple, for it lies essentially in the fact that his political principles were interwoven with his very spirit.” But even though Demosthenes gave the appearance of speaking out of the conviction of his soul 100% of the time, allegedly, he refused to speak off the cuff. He put a lot of work into making his words seem artless.
And that’s what our topic for next week is going to be—Sprezzatura, the art of making what you say seem artless. It’s a prime skill for politicians in our day as well as back in the Renaissance where the term was coined. We’ll talk about why the idea of pretending that you haven’t worked on your speech is so important again in this age of sincerity. If you have things that you’re sincerely interested in, why not write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org? You can send us ideas for podcasts, feedback or stories of your own orthodonticure. And until new week, happy political season!
Wed, 30 March 2016
Hermogenes of Tarsus
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today is a rebroadcast of an old episode, thanks to the Humanities Media Project here at the University of Texas. Hope you enjoy!
Hermogenes of Tarsus was a bit of a boy genius: he wrote many important rhetorical treatises (of which we only have sections) before he was 23 years old. And when Hermogenes was fifteen years old, in 176 AD, something remarkable happened. The philosopher emperor of the Roman empire, Marcus Aurelius himself, came to listen to him speak. This is all the more impressive because Hermogenes was of Tarsus, which, if you know your ancient geography well you’ll note is pretty far east from Rome. Marcus Aurelius heard him declaim and speak extemporaneously. “You see before you, Emporer,” Hermogenes reported said, “An orator who still needs an attendant to take him to school, an orator who still looks to come of age.” The emporer was duly impressed with the boy’s rhetorical powers and showered him with gifts and prizes
From such auspicious beginnings, things quickly went downhill fast for poor Hermogenses. While still young he lost his brilliant mind. It’s impossible to know for certain what led to Hermogenes’ deterioration. Some propose that it was a psychological breakdown from the stress of being such a shooting star, and certainly that sounds reasonable—once you’d declaimed for the emporer of the world, where do you go from there? Others suggest that there was a physiological reason, like meningitis from a bout of infectious disease or early onset dementia. Ancients as well as moderns were fascinated with how someone who showed so much promise could so quickly become the butt of cruel jokes. Antiochus the sophist once mocked approach of the once-brilliant Hermogenes: “Lo, here is one who was an old man among boys and now among the old is a but a boy.” Byzantine texts, who loved a local rhetorical hero, speculated that when he died that his heart was huge and…hairy. Do you remember that JK Rowling story about the hairy heart? Every time I think of Hermogenes I think of that. But let’s talk about his ideas instead of whether his heart could be hairy.
We actually know surprisingly little of Hermogenes’ works. We know a lot of rumor about how great he was, but of the five treatise under his name, only one and a half are likely to be genuinely his work. The one is called “On Types of Style” and in it Hermogenes describes seven types of style: Clarity, Grandeur, Beauty, Rapidity, Character, Sincerity and Force. Some of you who are familiar with your Roman or medeval rhetoric are maybe scratching your heads here—seven? Seven types of style? What ever happened to high, medium and low? And what the heck is “character?” These are legitimate questions. Remember two things: first this is the period of the Second Sophistic, when there’s a heightened interest in rhetoric and in Greek rhetoric in specific, so that means that people are looking for something a little more off the beaten path. Rhetoric plus. Instead of just aping Cicero, Hermogenes comes up with these seven categories that are more specific and less immediately associated with rhetorical situation. It’s like a more byzantine approach to style. And yes, that’s a Greek empire pun.
The other thing to remember about Hermogenes’ style guide is that he was probably a teenager when he wrote it. And a celebrated prodigy at that, so that just accelerates the cocky self-assuredness. Remember those kids in high school who insisted that they were smarter than all of the teachers and were pretty certain that they could be president—if they wanted to descend to politics? Yeah, Hermogenes was probably that kid.
Wow, it’s hard not to talk about Hermogenes the person instead of his ideas. He’s just an interesting guy. Okay, so these 7 kinds of style.
Clarity comes first because clarity is most critical. But don’t think that just because clarity is important that it’s simple. Oh no, clarity consists of two parts—purity, which is sentence-level clarity, and distinctness, which is about big-picture organization. So you need to have each sentence clear as well as the organization over all.
The next style point is grandeur. Oh, don’t wory, grandeur, too, has sub parts—six of them, arranged in 3 groups: solemnity and brilliance come first. Solemnity is using abstract statements about elevated topics. “Justice comes to all.” “Honor never tarnishes” “Love is a many-splendored thing.” Solemn statements are short, bold and unqualified. Brilliance takes those abstracts down to specifics, and becomes longer: “It’s good when two friends meet around the board of fellowship.” They may sound similar because they are pretty close.
The third part of grandeur is amplification. It’s not just talking a lot, but expanding the topic to make it seem “bigger” than it would be if discussed in casual conversation. Nuff said.
The last chunk of grandeur comprises three parts: aperity, vehemence and florescence. In short, sudden strong emotion. Asperity for shart criticism, vehemence for distaine and florescence to ease back off a bit and sugar coat the strong feelings.
Having done with grandeur, Hermogenes points out that beauty is also useful, although, surprisingly, he doesn’t break this category down too much.
The next type of style is rapidity—quick short sentence, rapid replied, sudden turns of thought in antithesis. “Am I happy? No. You disappoint me. No, you destroy me.” That sort of thing.
The fifth style is that mysterious character. Strangely this is pretty muh what Aristotle calls ethos. You migh have to think a little abstractly about how character can be a style, but Hermogenes insists that this type of what we might classify as argument I actually a style. Okay. He’s the genius, not me. The subcategories of character are simplicity, sweetness, subtlety and modesty, which do sound a little more like something you can create in style.
Finally, Hermogenes recommends to us Sincerity. The speaker must let his audience know that he is “one plain-dealing man addressing another in whose judgement he has perfect confidence.” The idea is to create the illusion that the speaker is talking more or less extemporaneously. They can’t appear to be written into the speech or that ruins the whole effect. Imagine how different you feel when someone in the heat of a speech says, “Oh, I can’t stand it!” versus when you see written in the notes “Oh. I can’t stand it [with vehemence.]”
The last style is actually just the correct balance of all six of these types of style. By using these types of styles well, the speaker has force with his audience. He sums up “the ai of clarity is that the audience should understand what is said, whereas Grandeur is designed to impress them with what is said. Beutyf is designed to give pleasure. Speed to avoid boredome, ethods helps to win over the audience by allying them with the speaker’s customs and character and verity persuades them he is speaking the truth. Finally, Gravity sitrs up the audience and they are carried away by the completeness of the performance, not only to accept what they have heard, but to act upon it.”
If you’re curious about whether Hermogenes in thoughtfully preparing such a philsphy of style was adroit in it, the sad fact is that nothing in “On Style” suggests the boy rhetor who capitvated the emporer Marcus Aerlious. Translater Cecil W. Wooten says succinctly “he is a brilliant critic of style whose own style is really quite atrocious” (xvii)
In the same way that young Hermogenes took the basic divisions of style and expanded them, he did a very similar thing with the stases. We’ll talk more about the stases in a later podcast, but briefly, they’re a way of categorizing what it is you’re arguing about. Are you in conflict with your interlocutor about whether global warming exists or are you just debating what’s the correct policy to decrease warming emissions? In the stases of HermaGORAS ( who is not to be confused with our current hairy-hearted hero) and others throughout the classical world, there were four different stases: fact, definition, quality and procedure. Hundreds of years later, in the second sophistic, HermoGENES has expanded on these four. How much? Okay, fact, definition and procedure get to stay pretty much the same, but quality? Oh, quality gets blown up. Now instead of 4 stases we get—13. Yep, 13.
Hermogenes makes a big deal on whether an argument actually has issue—whether it can be argued about. Because, after all, he himself points out that “It is not the function of rhetoric to investigate what is really and universal just, honorable, etc.” but real, public issues. To have issue he set some requirements.
As the scholar Malcolm Heath has pointed out, this stuff was important for ancient rhetoric: “At the heart of ancient rhetoric in its mature form was a body of theory […] which sought to classify the different kinds of dispute […] and to develop effective strategies for handling each kind” (Heath). But classifying stases kind of lost its luster after the Renaissance. Heath’s translation and interest came as a result of work done by Kennedy (1983) and Russell (1983) opened up interest in Hermogenes again.
I think we’re primed for an increase in interest in the work Hermogenes, the boy wonder. I have to admit, though, the story of his life is especially touching to me. I can’t help but speculate what the young man would have achieved in his future if he had been able to continue to work and produce texts. Would he have expanded on other categories of ancient rhetoric? Would he have refined his definitions? It makes me remember the juvenile work of Cicero or Isocrates and wonder whether we’d honor them so highly if those were the only treatises we had from them. We’ll never know what Hermogenes could have become, what contributions he could have made in the second sophistic period, because his career was so tragically cut short before he could refine and develop his ideas.
Direct download: 16-02-18_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Hermogenes_of_Tarsus.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT
Wed, 23 March 2016
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. And today I want to talk about the pedagogical tool of making kids have an argument. And an argument doesn’t just mean bickering.
Okay, even if there’s a difference between arguing and bickering , I will say, that hen I was a kid, I bickered a lot with my brother Dave. Dave is three years older than me, which meant he was farther along in school and knew more things. This bothered me, so if he said something, I said the opposite. If he said that hippos were more dangerous than lions, then I had to prove that lions were more dangerous than hippos. If he said that indoor games were better than outside, I have to prove that outside were better than inside. Sometimes, like boxers circling each other, we would switch positions and suddenly I was arging for hippos and indoor games and Dave was arguing for lions and outdoor games. It must have driven my mother crazy, especially on a long Sunday afternoon, but it turns out that what Dave and I were do has a long tradition in rhetorical education. We just didn’t have a word for it yet—dissoi logoi.
Dissoi logoi means “contrasting arguments” in Greek. You can sort of tease that out from the root word for “dissent” and “logos.” It goes really really far back, and we don’t know who came up with the first time, but the idea is that you argue your opponent’s position to better understand your own. There are two ways to practice dissoi logoi. One is the way I did as a 7 year old, by having an interlocutor and then switching positions. This method works great for school kids all learning together and you can see this practice in speech and debate classes even today. You research and write and then argue your heart out and then after you finish, the teacher holds up their hands and says, “Okay, switch.” When I argued what Dave would said, I’d know how to respond to his arguments, because I have heard his arguments.
The other way to practice dissoi logoi is to do it all yourself. You run through all the arguments on one side and then you run through all the arguments on the other side. You’re arguing with yourself in a sense. There’s a philosophical and cynical view to the practice of dissoi logoi. If you’re cynical you might say that this is an example of the relativism of the sophists at the worst. This is what people hate about lawyers and sophists—they don’t really care about the argument, but they only care about the language and winning, so they could arguing one thing just as impassioned as the other. It looks like you are two-faced or insincere if you can switch from caring deeply about one side and then, on the turn of a dime, care just as deeply about the other side. But the philosophical perspective sees dissoi logoi as an exercise for coming at a truthier truth. In fact, another term for dissoilogoi is dialexis, and the term is related to dialectic—the opposing forces method of getting at truth espoused by Socrates, Plato and other heavy hitters of classical Athens.
The practice of Dissoi Logoi is articulated in a text called the Dissoi Logoi, which was found at then end of a much later manuscript, and wasn’t published until the renaissance. It was proably written around 425 BC, based on its references to historical figures and style of writing. The Dissoi logoi looks like student notes, which is what a lot of rhetorical tezts are, but there’s no way of saying it was one thing or another for certain, and we don’t know whose class the author was sitting in. It kicks off by saying that good and bad “are the same thing, and that the same thing is good for some but bad for others, or at one time good and at another time bad for the same person.” All of this is to say that some actions have different moral weight, depending on who you are and under what circumstances you engage in them. Then follows a series of examples—in sports, a certain outcome will be good for one team, but bad for the other; shoddy workmanship is bad for customers and good for the manufacturers, etc. The same event could be good or bad depending on who experiences it. Then there’s a list of the circumstances which are shameful in one setting and praiseworthy in another, like ow for Spartans, girls would walk around bare armed or naked while Ionians would never. You can kind of imagine a list of examples from an instructor. And some of the examples seem awfully sensational—not just regular suicide, murder, exhibitionis, and adultery, but drinking from your enemies’ skulls and eating your parents and cross dressing and incest. It’s all these off-color examples that make me think the Dissoi Logoi was an educational text—nothing gets kids’ attention like sex and violence.
And as a bit of a tangent, the question of education comes up explicitly at the end of the tract, where the question is asked whether wisdom and moral excellence can be taught. The author takes care not to claim that wisdom can be taught, but dismantles the arguments against such an education and argues for the ideal of the person who can “converse in brief questions and answers, to know the truth of things to please one’s cause correctly, to be able to speak in public, to have an understanding of argument-skills and to teach people about the nature of everything” (8.1). Oh, if that’s all an education takes… But it sounds a lot like the education which Cicero describes in the dialogs on the Orator.
It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to say that two thinkers could have independently come up with the idea that the best education would be to know everything, but there’s also a possibility that the ideas of the dissoi logoi made it over to Roman thought. But heading back the other way, there may have just been a common ideal floating around in the Greco-Roman world. So did the Dissoi Logoi influence Cicero?
Yes, I think, and no. Whatever one Dave doesn’t think.