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Dewey aesthetic

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).


Next week we’ll continue our Dewey Twoey by talking about Dewey’s political and educational contributes and Individualism Old and New and modern responses to it. Between then and now, I hope you have the chance to enjoy some great art, even if that great art is popular art, or even just this moment you’re in ...right ...now.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_John_Dewey.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com 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.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_Harvard.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com. I’ll just be sitting here, dreading the possibility that Dr. Walker might hear this podcast, getting embarrassed and awkward for a while.

 

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Jeffrey_Walker.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Demosthenes

 

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com? You can send us ideas for podcasts, feedback or stories of your own orthodonticure. And until new week, happy political season!

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_Demosthenes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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.

  • All parties have persuasion that are
    • (1) different and
    • (2) have force.
    • This means you can’t have straw men you’re fighting against
  • The verdict is
    • (1) not self-evident but
    • (2) in principle can be reached .
    • this means you can’t really argue whether chocolate or vanilla are better.

 

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

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.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Dissoi_Logoi.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

When last we left our intrepid hero, Chaim Perelman was describing universal audiences with his collaborater Lucie Obretch-Tycteta and setting up what he called the new Rhetoric. Today, we’ll talk about his solo text, The Realm of Rhetoric and critical responses to his philosophies.

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Realm of Rhetoric is that is it around a fourth of the size of the New Rhetoric. I think that’s probably a function of having writing a ground-breaking magnum opus and then following it up.

 

Let’s start with the spoilers. What is the realm of rhetoric? It is“communication tr[ying] to influence one or more person, to orient their thinking, to excite or calm their emotions, to guide their actions” of which dialectic is one part (162). In another place, Perelman says “Argumentation is intended to act upon an audience to modify an audience’s convictions or dispositions through discourse, and it tries to gain a meeting of minds instead of imposing its will through constraint or conditioning” (11). Some of this sounds a little Burke-y, doesn’t it? All this talk about how talk isn’t about force, even psychological force.

 

Perelman’s words here state that, “the new rhetoric is concerned with discourse addressed to any sort of audience” (5) not just a specific group of people hanging out in the marketplace listening to speakers.

 

The presence of controversy means that dialectical reasoning always involves audiences, and always involved received opinion. For instance, if I try to tell you that we should visit Italy for vacation this year, I’m relying on opinions that say that Italy is a good place for vacations, that traveling for vacation is a good idea, etc. Perelman says that dialectical reasoning is about justifiable opinion and it isn’t invalid because it deals with opinion, but just different. And different disciplines require different types of argument: “It is as inappropriate,” he writes “to be satisfied with merely reasonable arguments from a mathematician as it would be to require scientific proofs from an orator” (3).

 

So the realm of rhetoric is different: “A argument is never capable of procuring self-evidence, and there is no way of arguing against what is self-evident… argumentation… can intervene only where self-evidence is contested” (6).

 

That isn’t to say that there are constraints in this realm of rhetoric. Even if you decide to make every argument to support a proposition, so that it can reach all audiences, there are “psychological, social and economic limits that prevent a thoughtless amplification of the discourse” (139). And if we have to limit the arguments we make, we have to think about making the best ones, the ones that have efficacy and validity in various forms. Efficacy is mercenary: does it work for that audience? Does it, to use PErelman’s term, persuade?The other option is validity, which is linked to convincing, to the universal audience “above and beyond reference to the audience to which it is presented” (140).

 

Perelman ultimately accepts a big version of rhetoric “As soon as a communication tries to influence one or more persons, to orient their thinking, to excite or calm their emotions, to guide their actions, it belongs to the realm of rhetoric” and get this “Dialectic, the technique of controversy, is included as one part of this larger realm” (162).


Dialectical reasoning needs to get off its high horse, Perelman suggests because “We can immediately see that dialectical reasoning begins from theses that are generally accepted, with the purpose of gaining the acceptance of other theses which could be or are controversial” in other words “it aims either to persuade or convince” (2). So yeah, what’s the realm of rhetoric? Everything.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_PerlemanPt2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:47am CDT

 

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people, and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren, and this last week, I had the fantastic experience of meeting one of you. That's right, an actual listener in the actual flesh. Somebody who wasn't just one of my colleagues, or one of my friends, or my mom, who listens to this podcast. It was a really cool experience. And she was very nice and very enthusiastic, and I'm really grateful that I got the chance to meet her. But it made me think a little bit about who I think you guys are when I make these podcasts, how much I create who you are in my mind, and how much you respond to the way that I've created you.

This made me think of a really important article that came out back before I was born in May of 1984. The article is called "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy." And it was written by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, who are kind of the dynamic duo of composition theory. They co-authored a lot of articles together, and kind of became synonymous with each other. 

In this groundbreaking article, they summarize a debate that's taking place at the time -- a debate with sort of two sides. On one side, audience is concrete and should be appeased. You think about the audience that is out there, and you respond to their own needs. On the other side is audience invoked: an audience that is invented -- that comes from the imagination of the writer. In describing the audience addressed, Ede and Lunsford sort of pull to this new movement -- this writing in the disciplines idea where in some ways the degree to which the audience is real or imagined and the ways it differs from the speaker's audience are generally either ignored or subordinated to a sense of the audience's powerfulness. Audience, in this situation, is everything. And writers should respond to the needs of the audience. 

This is the stuff that you will often get in a first year composition class, where you're asked to go read the newspaper that you want to publish in, you might go to a website like Wikipedia or Quantcast to find out information about who subscribes to that newspaper, and sort of do everything you can to respond to that audience that is sort of out there. In some ways, this is a great way. Especially to teach young college students who might have a hard time thinking outside of their own lives. But in another sense, this model puts more emphasis on the role of the audience than it does on the writer itself. As they say, one way to pinpoint the source of the imbalance in this formulation is to note that they emphasize the role of readers, but are wrong in failing to recognize the equally essential role that writers play throughout the composing process, not only as creators, but as readers of their own writing as well.

Instead, this perspective says in a typical writing in the disciplines way, "we defend only the right of audiences to set their own standards and we repudiate the ambitions of English departments to monopolize that standard-setting. If bureaucrats and scientists are happy with the way they write, then no one should interfere."

There's sort of a "you do you" theme going on here that, in some ways aeems a little unethical. Listen to this example that they give.

"The toothpaste ad that promises improved personality, for instance, knows too well how to address the audience."

But such ads, they say, “ignore ethical questions completely." After all, as they cite Burke, "we're in the art of discovering good reasons. There's an imbalance that has ethical consequences. For rhetoric has traditionally been concerned not only with the effectiveness of rhetoric, but been concerned also with truthfulness."

Another concern that they have is that envisioning audience as addressed, something out there, suggests an overly simplified view of language. Discourse isn't just something that we put on our words and our ideas. You need to have some sort of unifying, balancing understanding of language use, and not overemphasize just one aspect of discourse.

Now on the other hand, they're not entirely off the hook on those who are on the audience invoked side. These audience invoked sorts believe that the audience is a created fiction. The best example that they have is Walter Ong's study, which is -- appropriately enough -- titled "The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction". In this, Ong says -- and they quote him –

"What do we mean by saying the audience is a fiction? Two things at least. First, that the writer must always construct in his imagination, clearly or vaguely, an audience cast in some sort of role... Second, we mean that the audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself."

In this sense, the writer is creative. They're able to project and alter audiences. But Ede and Lunford do take issue with Ong's idea that you can do whatever you can to create a reader, but there are still "constraints on the writer and the potential sources of and possibilities for the reader's role. And they're more complex and diverse than this perspective might imagine." Ede and Lunsford point out that the reader is willing to accept another role, but also perhaps may actually yearn for it. They may be willing to accept some roles and not others. In this sense, there are constraints what the writer can do. The writer can't make her audience into something that they don't want to be. In accepting a certain role, her readers do not have to play the game of being a member of an audience that does not really exist, but they do have to recognize in themselves the strengths and the characteristics that the writer describes, and accept the writer's implicit [inaudible] of these strengths and characteristics to what the writer hopes that the audience's response will be to any proposal. This is because a reader's role "has already been established and formalized in a series of other conventions. If a writer is successful, they will effectively internalize some of these conventions and present the material in a way that will be effective for the audience."

So the answer that Ede and Lunsford give is that both are appropriate. At times, the reader may establish the role for a reader that indeed does not coincide with the role in the rest of their life. At other times, one of the writer's primary tasks may be analyzing the real life audience, and adapting discourse to it. As they say, 

"One of the factors that makes writing so difficult is that we have no recipes. Each rhetorical situation is unique, and thus requires the writer, catalyzed and guided by a strong sense of purpose, to reanalyze and reinvent solutions." 

Think about it. As they say, 

"All of the audience roles we specify -- friend, self, colleague, critic, mass audience and future audience -- may be invoked or addressed. It is the writer who, as writer and reader of her own text, one guided with a sense of purpose and with the particularities of a specific rhetorical situation, establishes the range of potential roles an audience may play. There needs to be, in some sense, a synthesis of the perspectives we have termed 'audience addressed' with its focus on the reader, and 'audience invoked' with its focus on the writer. 

One last quote, I promise. Ede and Lunsford finally say,

"A fully elaborated view of audience then must balance the creativity of the writer with the different, but equally important creativity of the reader, and must account for a wide and shifting range of roles for both addressed and invoked audiences. Finally, it must relate the matrix created by the intricate relationship of writer and audience to all of the elements in the rhetorical situation."

I think this is a really useful model to think about the ways that we deal with audience. In some ways, any sort of writer needs to know what her audience is like, what are some of their characteristics and constraints? What are they willing to see themselves as, and what seems beyond the pale? This sort of audience analysis is really useful in a lot of situations. Additionally though, the writer can invoke the audience -- talk to them in a certain way that encourages them to respond.

This is something I thought about in meeting this listener of the podcast earlier this week. In some ways, I thought about who she was. An advanced and graduate student, somebody who is going to go to graduate school soon, who is interested in rhetorical history in some way. And I thought about what her needs might be in terms of a podcast for something like this. To keep it interesting, keep it relevant, keep it focused on rhetoric. But in another way, I invoke her and the rest of you when I make a podcast. I talk to you as if you are interested in rhetoric. As if this is something important to you. And you somehow willingly fill the role. Well, thanks for doing that. Thanks for being the audience.

If you want to show me how real you are, or invoke me right back at you, please feel free to send me an email. My email address is mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com. And until then, thanks for being real and addressed, and thanks for being imagined and invoked. 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Audience_Addressed_Audience_Invoked.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Sometimes I make a podcast and I think, “Golly I hope I did justice by that idea, person and movement that shaped rhetorical history.” Sometimes I make a podcast on the work of someone living, like Scott Stroud’s book about John Dewey, and sometimes I make a podcast on someone dead, like Kant. If I misrepresent a dead person, who will stop me? A living one. today, on Mere rhetoric, not exactly a retraction, but a revision of a previous episode on Immanual Kant, the philosopher who has been long-identified, including by me, as diametrically opposed to the field of rhetoric. Scott Stroud’s Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric, today on Mere Rhetoric.

 

Intro music

 

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, specially thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas for their support in making these new episodes both possible and awesome. Also thanks to Jacob in the booth, and Scott Stroud, also of the University of Texas. I emailed Dr. Stroud when I talked about his book in the Dewey episodes, and he told me he was working on a book on Kant that may change my opinion on him. Alright, I thought, let’s hear it.

 

And I did. Stroud wrote a few articles about Kant’s views of education which suggested that there may be a rhetoric of Kant after all, and they piqued my interest to the point when I was ready to jump on this book when it released.

 

Essentially Stroud argues that Kant didn’t hate rhetoric as much as we think so, which is pretty high because Kant says things like, “Man, I hate rhetoric.” Stroud even points out that Kant turned down a position as professor of poetry even though he wanted “academic advancement and funds” (4), just because he seemed to dislike linguistic fla-dee-la. But it’s possible that some of Kant’s antipathy towards rhetoric is just antipathy towards a certain kind of rhetoric.

 

Kant’s frienemy, Christian Garves, was a loud-and-proud Ciceronian, which criticized Kant openly and behind anonymity. “Kant rejected this way of doing philosophy,” Stroud writes “and in doing so, rejected the notion of rhetoric that appeared connected to it in practice” (23). He hated the idea of all the self-interest inherent in Garves’ understanding of rhetoric, felt like it was categorically opposed to the categorical imperative: that any action you undertake could be a universal law. Remember when your mom would catch you littering or picking the neighbors’ flowers and ask, “What if everyone did that? What would happen then?” That’s essentially the mom version of the categorial imperative.

 

But rhetoric isn’t about universals. It’s not about telling people to do things that are applicable to everyone in every situation--it’s hopelessly conditional. Garston in Saving Persausion, another book we’ve talked about on the podcast, banishes Kant from the world of rhetoric because he loved universals so much. Stroud responds to GArston’s complaints. “Rhetorical message are primarily not universal, since few things relevant to pressing decisions in the present are of such general scope,” he admits “Yet Kant’s philosophy seems to demand that practices be universalizable.” (187) The detachment usually described as a condition of scholarly logic is actually “an orientational or dispositional feature as as such is applicable to all forms of communicative activity” (189)  There are things that are universalizable in how we do rhetoric, even if each instance of rhetoric may be specific to its moment of kairos. As Stroud says, “Kant did not insist that a reason be a reason for every potential listener; he does seem to insist, however, that it be a reason for everyone in a comparable situation” (190).

 

Okay, that’s all well and good, but what about the fact that Kant pretty much straight out says, “Do you know what I hate? rhetoric. I really hate that field. Ugh.”? Well, first off, that’s paraphrase, but secondly, it’s also translation. There are multiple words that could be translated as rhetoric. Even in English, we have rhetoric and eloquence and persausion and all sorts of words that fan out like a Vann diagram with overlapping meanings. Some of the terms are manipulative, but not all. “clearly, the larger genus of ‘skilled speaking’ or elequence is re (42)levent to Kant’s moral project.” stroud says, but “If one honors the complexity of the phenomena of human communication and the range of terms being used by Kant, one can conceptualize rhetoric simply as the persuasive use of language in community with others “ (43). And that’s something that Kant can get behind



Okay, so if we accept that Kant doesn’t have a deep abiding hatred for all things communication, what would a Kantian rhetoric look like? Building fromKant’s philosophy, what if he had taken that poetry job? what would he have said to the writers in his class? That’s the second task that Stroud takes, after his resuscitation of Kant into the field of rhetoric. Or as he himself puts it: “what sense of such rhetorical action are enjoined by Kant’s complex thought on morality, religion, politics, aesthetics, and education? Taking ‘rhetoric’ not as a simple term but as a complex concept, what uses or forms of rhetorical activity fit into Kant’s mature thought, especially the important topic of moral and the formation of the ideal sort of human community?” (7).

 

There are two venues where Kant’s ideal human community really comes out: education and religion. Both are troublesome to the fundamental question of rhetoric for Kant: how can you honor someone’s autonomy and their freedom and still try to change them? Kant hated manipulation, but you wouldn’t necessarily say that fourth-graders and manipulated into learning long division or state capitals, and you don’t even need to say that they’re manipulated in learning how to share, cooperate and treat others with respect.

 

Stroud points out that “Kant is notably hostile to rhetoric, but only one version of it--that of persuasive speech used with an orientation toward selfish and manipulative use of one’s social skill. Avoiding such an orientation is the primary aim of education” (106). Part of Kant’s ideal community is that people learn to do the right thing for the right reason. Maybe they can be constrained in the kingdom of right, but in the ideal kingdom of ends, people all do the right thing collectively because they are committed to it individually. Learning how to commit is the object of education.

 

The most moral way to teach people--especially young people--how to develop the internal discipline to choose the right thing instead of the selfish thing is to present them with lots of good examples. Examples don’t threaten or bully, but present themselves to autonomous agents who can decide for themselves how to interpret the actions and consequences. But since the internal state is key for Kantian ethics, the internal state of the example has to be part of the story. Using examples, especially as a way to teach, uses hypothetical about internal motives for making the choice. “They are, in an important sense, unreal and fictional” (116), even when actual and historical. Take the story of Washington at Valley Forge. If you tell kids that Washington persisted because he believed in the promise of our country, you will forge patriots. If you tell them that he endured because he thought he would wind up on people’s currency you create mercenaries. So in this sense, examples are always fictions of the people who tell them.

 

Let’s lay aside education and stories for a moment and turn to religion. Religion, too, involves a lot of stories and examples, but it also lets people participate in self-denying actions like prayer, especially traditional, public, set prayers.  When you’re reciting along with other people, you can’t express your inter state as much as alter it to match up with everyone else and the traditional prayer. Praying “forgive us our debts as we forgive our tresspassers” reminds you to be forgiving, even if your inclination is otherwise. Devotees who all gather together, in person or world wide, to say “as we forgive our trespassers” form an “invisible church”: a group of people who all have accepted the same internal conditions together. As Stroud explains it: “the invisible church is the ideal ethical community that we ought to aspire to form--a community that encompasses all agents who are members of it by virtue of their willing of the moral law over the incentives of inclination” (144). As opposed to a nation or a family, these community members opted in because of something they all agreed to believe internally together.

 

finally Stroud turns to the hardest sell: Kant as political rhetorician. He describes how rhetorical critics (those listening to rhetoric) and critical rhetors (those producing rhetoric) can do so most ethically. there are a lot of lists here, so get out your pens and paper.

 

So manipulative rhetoric has three characteristics: For Kant, manipulative rhetoric can be seen to have 3 characteristics 1-inequality of knowledge, between speaker and audience 2- this sort of rhetoric exerts a causal force on its listeners. “How rhetoric can treat humans as inherently valuable rational beings, or as machines with causality” (44), 3- idiosyncrasy of the goals of this rhetoric--private own goals. (44)

 

Non manipulative rhetorics have their own list of four characterstics 1- domain-specific concepts and knowledge--somthing to talk about 2- uses what Kant calls “lively presentations” especially through examples (44-5) 3- nonmanipulative rhetoic doesn’t violate respectability in language and “respect for the various parties in the interaction” (45) 4- public goals or transitive across agents (45)

 

Above all, you are to treat your audience as though it were comprised of autonomous individuals, not elements of the environment that can be manipulated. The best critical rhetors, “ should see the process of public testing as a way to optimize beliefs,” says Stroud, “including their own views. This quest implicates them in using second-personal reasons in an effort to con (214) vince others that the grounds for their views are sufficient subjectively and objectively. Seeing one’s audience as mere causal objects, however, inclines one to find the right utterances to say to move them as causal objects” (215) “Seeing people as part of the natural world is a vital step in using or manipulating them as a mere means, since this conceptualization of a person as an object with predictable causal interaction with other natural objects is a vital starting point to intelligently using them for some contingent purpose” (218).

 

And when you’re taking in the rhetoric, you similarly must abide by a set of standards:

 

Rules of criticism

  1. always treat the rhetor being studied or listened to as an equal
  2. always consider the utterance or object of study as at least a bearer of truth claims and second-person reasons. Do not make casual explanations exclusionary of attributions of dignity to a rhetor
  3. Do not believe that your criticism of such utterances is certain or exclusive of alternative readings (229)



All of this is pretty life-affirming, and I have to admit that I was moved by Stroud’s (and Kant’s) description of the ideal world of rhetoric, just as I was at the end of his text on Dewey. In fact, I’m going to let Stroud have the last word because he puts the ideal in such a clear way.

 

“thus, Kant answers the ‘Q question’ [need the rhetor be moral] with a nuance reply--a moral agent may not necessarily be eloquent, but the most complete agent is perfected in pragmatic and moral ways. The complete agent is both a morally good person and person who possess the capacity to speak well” (234).


outro

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Kant_and_the_Promise_of_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 1:51pm CDT

                                                                     
                                                                     
                                                                     
                                             
Audio: Modern_Dogma_and_the_Rhetoric_of_Assent.mp3
In 1969 in Chicago, Illinois, a group calling themselves The Committee of 5000 Plus Against Disciplinary Procedures issued demands. They demanded that the issue of discipline would be seen in context that expulsions would be rescinded, that cases against protesting students be dropped. At the end of the list of the demands, they demanded that the failure of the Committee of the council, which is to say, the council of the University of Chicago, to respond satisfactorily to these demands by Tuesday noon March fourth will in and of itself constitute grounds for further militant action.
The University had a series of different ways to try to respond to this. There were a lot of faculty discussions about what to say, but officially in February 26, 1969, the faculty spokesman for the executive committee of the elected faculty council addressed the faculty and students of the University of Chicago as follows: and in which spot they responded with the exact same list of demands that the students had made, ending with failure to respond so within the time specified will automatically result in expulsion. How had such a breakdown of rhetoric happened, that one group was unable to respond at all to the demands of another, simply dismissing them? And believing that reprinting the exact words in almost the exact language would demonstrate the apparent ridiculousness of such a position. How had rhetoric broken down?
Well that's the question today on Mere Rhetoric where we get to talk about weighing boots, modern dogma, and the rhetoric of a cent where he as a member of the University of Chicago faculty at this time and one of the great founders of the 20th century tradition of rhetoric had a chance to respond to this as it was going on and a little bit in retrospect as he did revisions of the lectures that he gave that eventually became modern dogma and the rhetoric of assent. Wayne Booth is sometimes grouped among the neo-Aristoteleans which means that he likes to categorize things and he's pretty classical in some senses. He's very interested in how rhetoric could possibly break down and for him there's been a loss of faith in the idea of good reasons by the 1960's. The idea that we can indeed persuade each other to change minds. That we can change minds at all.
The reason why this loss of rhetoric has happened, he argues, has been the creeping approach of modern dogmas, these modernist ideas that are either scientist or romantic. Both of these positions, even though they seem antithetical, are opposed to the idea of rhetoric. They assert that the purpose of offering reasons cannot be to change men's minds in the sense of showing that one view is genuinely superior to another, but it all must be trickery. Because of the dogmas of modernism, what had once been a domain with many grades of dubiety and credulity now becomes simply the dubious for scientism or the arena of conflicting faiths for irrationalism. 
For Booth, the poster boy for all of these conflicting positions is Bertrand Russel, or rather, Bertrand Russels'. Booth asserts that Bertrand Russel is sort of the hero of the modernist age and claims that he sees a lot of students with posters of Bertrand Russel up in the dorms which maybe was a big deal in the 60's because I've never met anybody with a poster of any philosopher, even Bertrand Russel, but maybe back in the 60's things were different. So he says that Bertrand Russel has become sort of the hero of both of these positions -- scientist and romanticism. Booth splits his work into three parts.
Russel one, the quote, genius of mathematical logic, unquote, who was all into proof and facts. Russel, too, who tried to disestablish certain past beliefs and establish the more adequate beliefs of science, and Russel, three, who was the man of action and passion, the poet and mystic -- both the completely sterilely irrational and impassioned romantic are part of this modernist perspective that can undermine rhetoric. Either things can be factually argued down to the very last point as a matter of the absolute motives. This motivism is a dogma not as Booth says, because I think all or most valued choices are made on the basis of fully conscious scientific cognate reasoning, but because I find that many people, assuming without argument that none of them ever can be, look for the secret motive where in practice motivism often leads to a cutting down of man's aspirations and capacities to the nearly animal or in a natural further step, to the chemical or physical. Getting down to the chemical or physical seems like a really blunt way of trying to discover truth, one that doesn't allow for any dialogue. You just cut down to why people are saying what they're saying in a chemical sense. The opposite of this is a sort of mysticism that insists that my idea is always correct even though as Booth says, truth is not always on the side of the rebel. To simply say no when everyone else is saying no is just another form of group compliance, a disguise and therefore and feeble yes. And therefore some of these student protesters who are so insistent that their way is correct because it was a new way was behaving in sort of a romantic, or to be less charitable about it, irrational way, insisting that the faculty could simply not understand their position at all and had to be given a list of demands to comply or not comply with instead of engaging in dialogue.
[00:06:40] 
Well the opposite of this is of course rhetoric. The supreme purpose of persuasion is to engage in mutually inquiring and exploring and that rhetoricians learn to be committed to learn whatever conditions make such mutual inquiry possible. What leads to such failures as the Chicago demands and what can prevent such failures? The remarkable thing about rhetoric for Booth is that we successfully infer another human being's states of minds from symbolic clues but also -- and this is very important -- that in all societies we build each other's minds, that we contribute to each other. If there is no rhetorical inquiry, we can't do that anymore. Rhetoric is a supremely self-justifying activity, Booth says, for man only when those engaged in it fully respect the rules and steps of the inquiry. The way to do this, surprise, is through thoughtful dialogue. 
As I do, when I know that justice of my action is determined by whether what looks like good reasons are in fact good reasons. In this sense, Booth asserts that we must somehow constitute society as a rhetorical field. Ultimately this rhetorical field of society is not a comfortable community nor a stable one. Even those who join it consciously and systematically as we almost do by talking together here -- here being the lecturers that he's presenting -- cannot provide a convenient list of gods and devils, friends and enemies. But at the same time he can give us some ease into whatever sub community we have already assented to. We have to find space for a rhetorical field. For conversation, not just breaking things down to the scientific or insisting my way or the highway.  In this realm of rhetorical inquiry, Booth says we can add value fields that modernism would exclude. In love by lovers. In astronomy, by [inaudible]. In whatever kind of value those who have some knowledge of a good reason from a bad. In short, what some people might call untenable claims can join into the part of rhetoric. 
Also, there's an excellent part of this book that talks about the rhetoric of poetics and of narrative. If we can convince each other that lovers know something about love, then maybe there can be something to be taught from literature as well. He calls this section the story as reasons and he claims every kind of argument that anyone could ever use in real life might be used in a narrative work and it could presumably carry as much force from one place as another. If there are good reasons for confidence and the values of discoursing together, then we can get about our business importantly, whatever that may be. 
This becomes the key point. We have to go about discoursing together and then we can do whatever our business is -- arguing about business or politics or religion --, but not unless we have confidence for the value of discussing together. 
This book, written even back in the 70's, paves the way for the listening rhetoric that Booth will eventually develop in the 90's and 2000's. Not that we learn to argue less, but that we learn to argue better.
Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Modern_Dogma.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT