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, ah, here I am in my newly redecorated research cube. I’ve taped grey and yellow chevron wrapping paper over the old horrific 90s wallpaper and the books that completely fill my bookshelf are organized—somewhat. The tiny red and green Loeb editions look like Christmas decorations among the others and one whole shelf of books is tattooed with library barcodes. My door is propped open by the extra hard wood chair and is scrubbed clean—you almost can’t see the faint traces of pen from all of the strange graffiti, including one sloppy invitation for a previous occupant to get sushi. I’ve hung an orange-and-white abstract painting on the outside of the door and you can just see the corner of it from my seat. Why am I telling you about my cube in such detail? Because today we’re talking about Ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is the Greek term for description, a rich description that makes you see a scene before you in such detail that you feel like you’re actually there. Did it work? Did you imagine yourself in my cozy little cube?

 

Last week I talked about a how there was a sculpture of kairos that someone had written a poem about and I called it ekphrasis, but I may have given a very short definition of just what ekphrasis is. I’ve been thinking about ekphrasis for a long time, largely because of a 2009 book called Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice. In this book, Ruth Webb seeks to rehabilitate ekphrasis from its long misuse. We think of ekphrasis as a describing a subject matter—art—in poetic practice rather than a method—bringing something “vividly before the eyes”—used for a variety of rhetorical purposes (1). When I first learned of ekphrasis, it was in a poetry class. The teacher showed us several poems that were written to describe pictures and then challenged us to find works of art that we could transfer into words. There are several famous poems that are ekphrasis. For example, do you remember Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn? Or William Carlos Williams’ poem about Landscape with Fall of Icarus ? Perhaps one of the most famous examples of ekphrasis, for ancient and modern students, is the description of the achilles’ shield in Homer. In fact, Webb figures that shield led to this confusion of describing an artifact rather than just describing something.

 

Webb doesn’t just tell us what ekphrasis is not; she describes how Progymnasmata  series of educational practices and other student handbooks influenced use and understanding of this tool that permeated rhetorical life from the arts (168) to the law courts (89) to the forum (131). Ekphrasis, then, isn’t just an ornament or a figure of speech—Webb claims that it is a “quality of language” (105), something that allows listeners and readers to become what she calls “virtual witnesses” of people, places, and events (95). You can imagine how it would be useful to bring your listeners in to become “virtual witnesses” if you were, say, a lawyer painting a picture of the crime, or if you were a politician petitioning for more military spending by describing a pitiful defeat. Through ekphrasis, your listeners become shared participants in an experience. You recreate an experience so we’re all together for a moment, seeing the same thing, feeling—maybe—the same way. Ekphrasis brings people in with you.

 

Because ekphrasis is more than just an occasional strategy, Webb has to cover a lot of ground in her book. She begins by describing the context in which ekphrasis was named, admired and taught, back in ancient Greece where memory was always connected with imagery (25). “Seeing” something was critically connecting with how you think and remember. For example, do you remember in a previous episode on canons, where we talked about how classical rhetors would create a place, say a palace, and then place facts around that palace so that they could visualize walking around to encounter the facts? It’s the same practice that popped up recently in an episode of the BBC series Sherlock. When you have a clear visual reminder of a place, an object, you can better remember the abstract principles or facts.  Another reason why ekphrasis was central to the Greeks was because of the way people encountered composition: whether or not a speech was written down, it was almost always spoken aloud (26). When you’re listening rather than reading, it can be difficult to pay attention to long abstracts, but being invited into a visual scene is refreshing and entertaining. No TV, remember? This understanding of literacy may seem alien to modern readers, so Webb has to explain them explicitly

 

 Then she introduces ekphrasis to us the same way it was introduced to Greeks and Romans: through the Progymnasmata and other handbooks of instruction. In the pedagogical explanation, Webb emphasized that ekphrasis was seen as formative for young learners, a tool to advance socially, and as an absolutely transferable skill (47-51).   Remember when we talked about the progymnasmata? The exercises that young Greek students went through? Well, ephrasis was part of the progymnasmata exercises and Webb sais it was “the exercise which taught students how to use vivid evocation and imagery in their speeches” as “an effect which transcents categories and normal expectations oflangauge” (53). She then gives readers a complete chapter discussing the subjects of ekphrasis that go beyond just descriptions of works of art, and, in fact, often focus on narrative aspects (68-70). She really has to define the term because we have several hundred years of misdefinition of the term as only associated with art.

 

Webb also introduces us to two versions of ekphrasis: Enargia which makes “absent things present” and Phantasia which she links to “memory, imagination and the gallery of the mind” (v). Here’s an example of enargia  from Theon: “When I am lamenting a murdered man will I not have before my eyes all the things which might believably have happened in the case under consideration? […] Will I not see the blow and the citicm falling to the ground? Will his blood, his pallor, his dying groans not be impressed on my mind. This gives rise to eneragia,[…] by which we seem to show what happened rather than to tell it and this gives rise to the same emotions as if we were present at the event itself” (qtd 94). Phantaias on the other hand, is creation, which might include “mythical and fantastic beats […] imagines through a process of synthesis, putting together man dna horse” (119) for example, or it might just be creatively expanding on the details of what we aren’t told. Quintilian describes this in terms of a quote from Cicero: “Is there anyone so incapable of forming images of things that, when he read the passace in [Cicero’s] Verrines ‘the praetor of the Roman people stood on the shoes dressed in slippers, wearing a purple cloak and long tunic, leaning on this worthless woman’ he does not only seem to see them, the place [..] but even imagines for himself some of those things which are not mentioned. I for my part certainly seem to see his face, his eyes, the unseemly caresses of both” (qtd 108). So there you have it. Ekphrasis can be about things that were or things that can be imagined To use an example, enargia would describe a scene that was distant, like a visit to Disneyland, while Phantaisa would create a scene that was fictional, like developing a new Disney movie adaption.

 

 

 

            Webb’s book is certainly readable and her argument is very thorough, taking in a very large range of Classical civilization, spanning several hundred years and including both Eastern and Western Roman Empires. She’s also made the convincing argument that ekphrasis was a little bit of the sublime that could be made an effective argument in almost any situation. Many texts that talk about rhetoric of poetics make the “audacious” claim that poetics can be rhetorical; Webb’s book seems to be claim that the rhetorical was often, poetic.

 

            I’m especially interested in this ancient idea that one thing a rhetor needs to do is make the audience see it, to be there and experience the event or object—existing, historical, hypothetical, or fantastic—to be “virtual witnesses” of it for themselves. This seems to be an interesting link between a logos-centered viewpoint that admits only one clear interpretation of objective facts and the obvious realization that the audience was being brought into “worlds […] not real” (169). The audience readily give themselves up to the “willing suspension of disbelief” to order to feel, and experience, the fictive ( and no matter its veracity, the ekphrasis is always fictive, even when the object is before the audience) world the rhetor carefully creates through word choice and selective description. There’s something potentially deceptive about ekphrasis. And to make a clean breast of it, I’ve bamboozled you, because when I’m writing this, I’m not actually in my cube—I’m flying in a window seat with an orange sunset lighting up the cabin from over the north Pacific Ocean. Even worse, I haven’t even redecorated my research cube—yet.  And I’m not sure where I’ll be when I actually record this episode. Right now, the scene I described so convincingly was a bald-faced…phantasia. But I made you a witness with me. Ekphrasis is so immersive that it can be hard to challenge it It’s too bad that we don’t know more about how audiences were trained to read these ekphrasis: the handbook information is wonderful for describing the theory and practice from the rhetor’s side, but what might be the equivalent for readers? How does an audience respond to ekphrasis? Should they be skeptical or allow themselves to be swept away in the description and become willing witnesses? Hey, I don’t have the answer to this question. If you have thoughts on the proper way to respond to the ways that words create worlds, drop us a line a mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com? Until then, I’ll be enjoying my nicely redecorated research cube. Maybe.

 

 

 

Direct download: Ekphrasis.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 9:56am CDT

Metanoia

 

 

 

Remember back when we talked about kairos? Just to remind you, here’s a poem, a Greek poem, translated by Jeffrey Walker,  explain. This poem is ekphersis, a piece of writing that describes a piece of art, in this case a sculpture of Kairos done by Lysippos of Sicyon. The rest explains itself.

 

 

 

From where is your sculptor? Sicyon. What is his name?

 

Lysippos. And who are you? Kairos the all-subduer.

 

Why do you go on tiptoes? I’m always running. Why do you have

 

Double wings on your feet? I fly like the wind.

 

Why do you have a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men

 

That I’m sharper than any razor’s edge.

 

Why does your hair hang down in front? For him that meets me to grab,

 

By God. Why is the back part bald?

 

None that I have once passed by on my winged feet

 

May seize me, even if he wishes to.

 

Thus the artist fashioned me, for your sake,

 

Stranger, and placed me at the entrance as a lesson.

 

 

 

So here we have this figure of kairos, with a haircut that is party in the front and business in the back ad if you don’t grab him, too bad. It’s done. Game over, chance lost.

 

 

 

But then what? when you’ve missed your chance, what’s even left? Are you all alone as Kairos flits away?

 

 

 

Not really. The ancient Greeks created another figure, named Metanoia to describe the deep regret that comes when there’s something you could have done and you missed the chance.  MEtanoia literally means after thought, or after mind, I guess if you want to get picky about it. It’s similar to regret. As Kelly A Myers put it in her rhetoric society quarterly article, Metanoia was a figure that “resides in the wake of opportunity, sowing regret and inspiring repentance in the missed moment” (1).  It is “a reflective act in which a person returns to a past event in order to see it anew” (8)

 

 

 

In Roman poetry, metanoia accompanies the god of opportunity in Ausonius’s epigrams. The first part of the epigram sounds very similar to the ekphrasis of kairos poem “who are you” “I’m opportunity” “why do you look so weird?” “seize the moment” etc. etc. but then the questioner turns to metanoia “please tell me who you are.” “I am a goddess to whom even Cicero himself did not give a name. I am the goddess who exacts punishment for what has and has not been done, so that people regret it. Hence my name is Metanoea.”

 

 

 

There’s something weirdly compensatory in this accusation against Cicero. Metanoia is a such an important concept, Ausonius seems to say, that Cicero must have known, must have felt, but neglected to name. Metanoia is out there, but under studied and ignored.

 

 

 

But we’ve all felt that regret, haven’t we? Me, personally, I get that feeling in the shower, when dumb things I’ve said, or witty comebacks I should have said come sweeping in on me. I’ve also heard people getting hit with metanoia when they’re trying to sleep or when they’re driving or when they’re staring into a beautiful tropical sunset. It makes you want to stab your eyes out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what was the purpose of metanoia? What did it accomplish to feel such crippling regret? Hopefully such reflection and regret means that next time around you doing something different. Hopefully you change. This became a big deal as Christianity burst onto the scene. Metanoia became associated as a step of repentance, reflecting on the mistake you made before you can move forward. The New Testament uses matanoia as an “act of repentance that lead to spiritual conversion.” (9).

 

As kittel et al describe it “affects the whole man,” not just the brain.

 

 

 

It’s important that this emotional aspect of metanoia exists. Some sources point out that metanoia is always emotional as well as mental it is a “change of mind ad heart” (Liddell and Scott 1115) a “profound transformation of the epistemic orientation of the whole person” (Torrance 10). Myers points out that “metanoia ia the affective dimension of kairos” (2)

 

 

 

 

 

Metanoia as a rhetorical figure really hit its stride in the middle ages and beyond. Visual representations of metanoia became as common as kairos. Metanoia stuck with kairos, showing up in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, sometimes as a beautiful young woman and sometimes as a vengeful hag. Here’s the thing: there’s a moment of indecision, a Schrödinger's Cat  moment where you don’t know whether you will seize the moment or live to regret it.As Myers says ‘once a descion has been made or missed, the two part ways, but before that crucial moment they stand together” (4).

 

 

 

So when you think of kairos, think of the inverse as well, the potential for deep abiding regret that makes you want to burn your high school yearbook. But remember metamoia in the moment that comes, not just regretting what is past, but looking at where you are now and making sure you make the right choice right now, so that you don’t have to regret it later.

 

 

 

Direct download: metanoia.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:02pm CDT

Happy one-year anniversary!

 


  Welcome to mere rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insighters about the people, terms, and movement that have defined the history of rhetoric. Sponsored by the University of Texas Student Chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America. I'm Mary Hedengren at the University of Texas Austin and thank your for joining us on our inaugural podcast. Today we are going to talk a little bit about what is rhetoric? No more rhetoric says a politician or lets stop the empty rhetoric, it is time to cut the rhetoric and get to action. These are expressions that we hear all the time, rhetoric is one of the only fields that is consistently used as a pejorative. We know better than that though, we know that rhetoric is a dynamic field with really important thinkers and a lot of contributions to a lot of other disciplines, but do we actually know what rhetoric is? It is hard for us to define what rhetoric is when everybody seems to think that it is something like rhetricory to use Wayne Booth's term. So what is it? How do we explain to our potential fathers in law, aunts at family reunions, or hairdressers, what it is that we are doing with our time and our money? Well actually the history of defining rhetoric, is the history of rhetoric. This is a question that has been plaguing people for a really long time and trying to figure out what it is that we are doing and how to describe it becomes an obsession of a lot of the greatest thinkers. Today we are going to talk a little bit about some of these thinkers some of the ways that rhetoric has been defined historically and some things that might be useful for us now as we seek to find an answer to that pesky question, what is it that your doing? One of the biggest ways to sort of think about rhetoric is through metaphors and we will talk more about metaphors and the powers that they have in a later podcast. We might think about some of the ones that Plato brings up when he is talking about in the Gorgias. Is rhetoric sugar for medicine? Spoon full of sugar that makes medicine go down, that its able to sort of lighten the load of the hard truths of philosophical or scientific inquiry? Is rhetoric like fighting and boxing, and when we teach people rhetoric we are only giving them a neutral skill that can be used for positive purposes or negative purposes? These are the few of the many metaphors that come up to sort of try to describe what it is that rhetoric is about. Now some of the different definitions that have come up have been sort of through the western tradition. Plato for example called rhetoric, the art of winning the soul by discourse and we sort of think of plato as being sort of back and forth on how he felt about rhetoric. Sometimes he seems to think that rhetoric is a really bad idea, other times he is more concerned about how it can be done well and defining rhetoric in something that can be useful. So when he says winning the soul through discourse, he is really concerned a lot about how you can talk to somebody who you really love, and care for, and know a lot about them, and sort of have responsible good rhetoric. Aristotle on the other hand, instead of thinking about winning the soul by discourse, is more about finding the available means of persuasion. This is kind of a different switch from Plato were instead of rhetoric being something you use as an instrument, you have what could really be called defensive rhetoric. Just discovering its an act of invention, you sort of see what could be possible. This is going to be important for a lot of rhetorical history especially with pedagogs where people are starting to think about well how do we do exercises where people try to find all of the available means of persuasion? What could be done, what could be effective? Instead of thinking as purely its something that is practical. You may get this a lot when you are talking to people at parties, is rhetoric something that you just teach people so that they can use, so that they can give a good speech or give a good presentation or is rhetoric also something that you want to study so that people aren't taken in by huxtors, or are able to weigh an argument and be more balanced about it. This is a pretty big definition and it bears more conversation then we have time for here, but we'll probably talk about that in a later podcast and if not I encourage you to go through and sort of think about how that definition is going to impact the way that you give an answer and the way that you direct your own work. Now Cicero did a lot of different definitions of rhetoric and he is one of the guys who is most famous for sort of breaking up this one big art, rhetoric, into these several different sort of sub purposes or canons. So we have things like invention as being part of rhetoric and all the way back to memorizing the speech and giving a good delivery pronunciating the words that you say. All of these things Cicero says are part of rhetoric. These distinctions can be important for us as we try to define our own definition of what rhetoric is, are we going to say that rhetoric is about finding the information? Does it include the research that we go through? Does it include the things that impact the way that we do the research we do? What kinds of inquiry are appropriate for the kind of product that we want to produce? On the other side of things how much of rhetoric is delivery, the performace of it? In recent times we have sort of stepped away from thinking about performance to much as apposed to sort of what Cicero was thinking about where it was actually an oral performance where you stand up and entertain people and sort of get at many different sort of public speaking elements that you can to sort of hold their interest. This becomes something that we can really think about, especially this one with whether invention is part of rhetoric. Again back in history this is going to be a big question to sort of define what our field is some people are going to put Peter Ramos as sort of the bad guy in this story as somebody who says maybe rhetoric doesn't have to do with invention. Maybe rhetoric is just this other half, this delivery, how you polish it up, is rhetoric just a pretty face that we put on a good piece of philosophy. This definition may remind you a little bit about Plato idea that this is the spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down, but in another sense it is really taking out any sort of invention and putting that more in sort of the business of science as apposed to philosophy which I think is where some of these other Bacon and Ramos where sort of taking it. Now this starts to become a little bit more upended at mostly in the 18th century. We have people like George Campbell who all say that rhetoric is an art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end. The four ends of discourse are; enlightening the understanding, pleasing the imagination, moving the passion, and influencing the will. These four ends of discourse become really important and they sort of trickle down a lot through textbooks during this period, is rhetoric something that is going to be involved with literature, and fiction in pleasing the imagination? Is it going to be something that moves our passions, changes our emotions, like a passionate appeal for a political change? Is it going to be something that enlightens the understanding? Do textbooks have rhetoric? These are some questions that sort of Campbell, his definition, are really going to influence with us. Now lets move finally to the 20th century and some of the definitions here. Kenneth Burk sort of changes our idea of what is rhetoric, he sort of says rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself. A function that is holey realistic and continually born a new the use of language as a symbolic means of injected, inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols. This is kind of a step away from some of the things that even George Campbell was saying, what if rhetoric isn't just about persuasion? What if it isn't just about getting people to think the way you do? What if it has to do with any sort of cooperation based on symbols? This is a huge break it sort of breaks away from this idea that it has to be linguistic, or that it have to be about achieving some end, like George Campbell said. Its an exciting development and we will talk a lot more probably in an upcoming podcast about Kenneth Burk. This is a really cool place to sort of push rhetoric in another direction. Now we are finally moving into people who live today, this is not like we've settled the question of what is rhetoric. There are still a lot people who are trying to figure this out and put different definitions of it, the great leader and composition Andrea Lunsford says that rhetoric is the art, practice, and study of human communication. This is an interesting definition that might come up when you are talking with people, this is really hard problem because sometimes we are really good at the study of human communication but as rhetoricians are we responsible to think about the practice of human communications? How well does rhetorician do standing up in front of an audience, talking about their research. This is something that is making me super self-conscious, as somebody who is putting together a podcast, but how much of what we do is sort of divorced from this level where Cicero is talking about it as a performance, a practice, something that sort of happens out there as delivery. Another major trend that seems to pop up with a lot of these modern definitions of rhetoric is thinking about what the goal is for example Charles Chuck Bazerman talks about how rhetoric is the study of how people use language and other symbols to realize human goals and carry our human activities. There is something about getting it done, another definition that sort of focuses on this is, Gerald or Gerry Hosier's definition where he says rhetoric is an instrumental use of language. One person engages another person in an exchange of symbols to accomplish some goal, it is not communication for communication sake. Rhetoric is communication that attempts to coordinate social action, for this reason rhetorical communication is explicitly pragmatic. Its goal is to influence human choices on specific matters that require immediate attention. This is a really interesting idea and its one that Bears thinking about when your defining rhetoric for your friends and for yourself. Do you see rhetoric as something that accomplishes goals? Can good rhetoric be ineffective? A lot of times people think about this in terms of Edmund Burke, who was this great thinker and a fantastic writer. Someday we will talk about him I would like to think so and if not go online and check out some of his speeches because this guy is on fire, he is like one of the best speakers to ever come out of England and he gave one of his crem de la crem speeches, really strong one, saying hey England lets not go to war with America. Wooh! But what happened right? So here is a guy who is really good at what he does and really one of the top retorts, but when he speaks he doesn't bring about change. So was that good rhetoric or bad rhetoric? Does rhetoric depend on its efficiency with audience? Is it all about the ends or can there be good rhetoric that does everything that rhetoric should do, and is a shining beckon, but non the less fails to convince its audience? Another way to sort of think about this, one of my favorite examples is Eminem's song Mosh. Do you remember that? This was from the election, the second election, of George W. Bush, it was this awesome impassioned rap song that sort of tells people to go out and lets not re-elect Bush, and lets show him how angry we are, and its such an awesome piece of music, but you know what Bush didn't win and me I still think Eminem's a great rapper. So in some we have talked about a lot of good questions that you can think about in making your own definition of rhetoric. Is rhetoric something that you practice or is it something that is studied? Does it include invention and coming up with ideas? Does it include delivery and how those ideas are actually presented? Is rhetoric dependent on being language or does it work with any symbol? Does rhetoric always have to involve persuasion and if so does it depend on whether or not the goal is achieved? Whether or not that was good rhetoric? Well, as we continue to define, find sort of a definition of rhetoric the purpose of this podcast is going to be to sort of expand on some of these questions about what rhetoric is doing. We are going to talk about some of the most important ideas, some of the most important figures and some of the most important theories and movements that have shaped the rhetorical field. Decide for yourself what is rhetoric? Why is rhetoric important to you? What sort of advances in rhetoric are going to be the ones that you want to contribute? You can think for yourself, but one sort of one liney piffy definition of what rhetoric is may be coming from some of these theorists. Practice it for yourself a few times and that way next time when somebody at a party asks you what it is your study, you can have a good comeback, instead of just staring at your punch glass for a few more minutes. Well thank your for joining me today. Our first episode of mere rhetoric and if you have any questions or suggestions or things that you really would like to hear more about, feel free to email me. My email is mary.hedengren@gmail.com and I will try to take listener questions sometimes, thanks for joining us and remember rhetoric is not just a pejorative.   

Direct download: what_is_rhetoric_rebroadcast.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 11:59am CDT

A rebroadcast of my favorite rhetorician.

Direct download: rebroadcast_isocrates.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 8:15am CDT

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