Wed, 25 May 2016
Crisis looms in ancient Rome: the uneasy triumvirate between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus rests on thin bonds that seem inevitable to break. The Senate supports Pompey, but Caesar has successfully (and illegally) conquered Gaul, winning wide-spread military support. Everything seems primed for disaster. In fact, in less than a decade, the Great Civil War, the death gasp of the Republic, will spread across the whole breadth of the empire, changing forever the political and social life of Romans. This, of course, is the best time to write a treatise on rhetoric.
Or it is if you happen to be Cicero. Cicero, a political player as well as rhetorician, saw in the dis-ease of Rome a need for leaders who could be well-informed about the issues, but also know how to effectively persuade those around them to order and peace. The risks are high and the need is pressing, both for the empire in general and for Cicero in general—he’s been exiled, his home has been destroyed by political thugs and his life is in danger for criticizing high-ranking leaders, including Ceasar. But he also knows that this isn’t the first time that the Roman world has been rocked by political instability and needed strong leaders versed in rhetoric. So when he sits down to write his rhetorical treatise, he sets it not in the current period (far, far too risky!) but back fifty years ago, just before another civil war would destroy the peace of the Roman Republic.
The dialogue is written almost dramatically as three historical figures gather together in the peace of a patrician home “during the days of the Roman Games”: Lucius Crasses, Marcus Antonius, and Scaevola. They are joined by the young men Sullpicius and Gaius Cotta. Cotta suggests that in this peace “Crassus, why do we not imitate Socrates as he appears in the Phaedrus of Plate? For your plane tree has suggested this comparison to my mind, casting as it does, with its spreading branches, as deep a shade over this pot, as that one cast whose shelter Socrates sought “ (I. vii.28). You might remember from our Pheadrus podcast that Socrates normally engages in dialogues in the city, in the market or gymnasium or private people’s houses, but in the Phaedrus, Socrates gets a little topsy-turvey by going out in nature, giving long speeches instead of dialectic and—most shockingly of all—defending rhetoric. Well, looks like Crassus and Antoius are going to be similarly inspired by the setting to break with tradition—these are powerful Roman men who take action in politics and war and the business of running an empire. They are manly men, not like the Greek philosophers—the unmanly ninny GReekling-- who unambitiously ponder the meaning of things like philosophy and rhetoric instead of taking over the known world. In fact, Crassus seems to even have to describe rhetoric in terms of what it can do in terms of political power. And he starts by telling the most important creation story of the history of rhetoric.
This story, as the legand goes and Crassus relates, starts with “brute creation” and the point that while human beings are slower, and weaker and less deadly than other animals they do have one advantage—they can discourse. So the orator created “our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens, or after the establishment of social communities, to give shape to laws, tribuals and civic rights?” (I.viii.33). Even today, Crassus says, the orator upholds his own dignity and the safety of “countless individuals and of the entire state.” Scaevola the cynical points out that orators also have caused great disaster to the state.
So the discussion quickly turns to how to educate the orator to be the best kind of person, morally and intellectually, to lead the state towards greatness. Crassus (Cicero stand-in) and Antonio (C’s brother’s stand-in) debate requirements for the good rhetor—is it art or natural ability? It’s less of a clear-cut debate than you’d think, and Antonius sort of switches positions between the first and second book. Generally, both of the agree that “Good speakers bring, as their peculiar possession, a stule that is harmonious, graceful, and marked by a certain artistry and polish. Yet this style, if the underlying subject matter be not comprehended and mastered by the speaker, must inevilably be of no account or even become the sport of universal derision” (I.xi.50). That sport, incidentally, being the fruitless apolitical sophistry of the Greeklings that these political Romans despise.That’s what Crassus calls “Greeklings who are fonder of argument than of truth” But if there’s good content to oratory, then that’s worth while—that’s something that can actually DO something.
But this education, to know everything you speak on, is hard to come by. Should orators be generalists or specialists? All of this takes a lot of “zeal and industry and study” (475), to be “he who on any matter whatever can speak with fullness and variety” (I. xiii.59) because “it is nearer the truth to say that neither can anyone be eloquent upon a subject that is unknowen to him. “ That means lots and lots of study—of Roman laws, above all else, but also on physiology, trade, astronomy grammar, all of it. Antonius, again the fly in the ointment, points out that it would be impossible to develop the kind of breadth that Crassus describes: “I cannont deny that he would be a remarkable kind of man and worth of admiration; but if such a one there should be or indeed ever has been or really ever could be, assuredly you would be that one man.” (I.vxi.) Wow. Ancient Romans had really mastered the art of the compli-insult. Okay, so what is rhetoric, then? Is it a specialized skill that only a few experts master or is it something added on to these other skills? Besides, Antonius observes “not a single writer on rhetoric has been even moderately eloquent” (I.xx.91). that’s a good burn, too, and one that you still here in rhetoric: we study this stuff all the time, so why aren’t we giving the speeches that inspire the world? How can we be so dull when we’re supposed to be experts in this stuff?
Crassus points out that he’s talking about an ideal and that ideal is hard to achieve, maybe even impossibly, but it is important to have the idea “picture to ourselves in our discourse an orator from whom every blemish has been taken away and one who moreover is rich in every merit”—what would that look like? First there would be some physical characteristics—the orator who can’t speak, and speak loudly and clearly, won’t got far. And there whould be a “natural state of looks, expression and voice” for oratory (I.xxvvii.126) and good memory.There should be natural talent, but also passion and willingness to work to improve. This passion for betterment is critical, Crassus muses “What else do you suppose young Cotta, but enthusiasm and something like the passion of love? Without which no man will ever attain anything in life that is out of the common” (I. xxix.134). And even if someone doesn’t have all of these natural abilities, their training can help them to do a little better. “those on whome these gifts have been bestowed by nature in smaller measure, can none the less acquire the power to use what they have with propriety and discernment and so as to show now lack of taste.” (I.xxvii.132). Even if you aren’t the ideal orator, you can get much better with practice.
The next day, the group is joined by Quintus Catulus and Gaius Julius Ceasar. Catulus for his part, argues that Oratorys “derives from ability, but owes little to art” in other words, it’s just a knack after all. This time Antonius fights back, kind of reversing his previous position. Antonius points out that “there are some very clever rules” that can make an audience friendly to a speaker and establish goodwill. But soon the whole conversation focuses back on the importance of being widely educated, especially in law and civil right.
So what are the takeaways from The Orator? Over all it’s a long description of the importance of eloquence.
“Eloquence is dependent upon the trained skill of highly educated men” (7) and “no one should be numbered with the orators who is not accomplished in all those arts” of the well-educated (53), because “excellence in speaking cannot be made manifest unless the speaker fully comprehends the matter” (37). Good will and delivery also emphasized. To educate, imitation comes first (265), then gradually more serious argumentation, although there are rhetorical geniuses. Performance should have genuine emotion behind it (335). There are a variety of acceptable styles (II. 23). (which we’ll talk about in a later episode) and different parts to speech and preparing a speak—and I know it sounds like we’re deferring, but we’ll talk about those in the future too. We have an entire episode prepared for talk about these parts of preparing a speech. Generally, thought, this treatise argues that over all Eloquence “is one of the supreme virtues” (II.43)
But the fact that this treatise talks so seriously about rhetoric and its philosophy is in some way worth remarking on in itself. There’s some jingoistic feelings that manly Roman empire-building is much cooler than sissy Greekling philosophizing going around the culture and De Oratore is no exception that. I always think it’s funny how the speakers in this dialogue go out of their way to insist that they aren’t really sitting around philosophizing, and if they are, it’s only because it’s a state vacation and they kind of have to. The comparison with Plato’s Phaedrus are apt: here are Roman politicians who are acting out of character because of the circumstances and talking like philosophers. But while Cicero has his characters insist that the via activa is paramount, the circumstances suggest otherwise. These politicians are all doomed—the crisis in the Republic is about to reach full swing and soon many of the participants will be dead or exiled. Their political influence will be only fleeting, but Cicero’s dialogue invoking them keeps them relevant. The same could be said for Cicero himself in his own time: a brilliant politician, he was unable to stem the tide of violence as the republic descended into autocracy. Cicero was eventually exiled and then murdered.
He wasn’t just murdered but he was also posthumously beheaded, his hands chopped off and his tongue repeated stabbed with a hairpin. Sort of an ignomous end to a great politician. But Cicero the rhetorician seemingly had no end—the impact of his treatises, including de Oratore, dominated medieval and renaissance rhetoric. So for all of the insistence that sitting around theorize isn’t as important as the work of government, it turns out that theory has the longest-lasting influence. Situating de Oretore in the real violence of the Roman republic demonstrates not only the sometimes futile work of rhetoric, but also how high the stakes are in developing rhetors who are well-educated, balanced, virtuous and eloquent.
Wed, 18 May 2016
Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke by Gregory Clark
Welcome to Mere rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, terms and movements that shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and if you’ve like to get in touch with me you can email me at mererhetroicpodcast @gmail.com or tweet out atmererhetoricked.
Today on Mere Rhetoric I have the weird experience of doing an episode on someone who isn’t just living, but someone who was my mentor. If you’ve ever had to do a book report on a book your teacher wrote, you understand the feeling. But I really do admire the work of Gregory Clark, especially his seminal work in Burkean Americana. Clark is was been the editor of the Rhetoric Society Quarterly for eight years and recently became the President Elect of the Rhetoric Society in America, which means, among other things, he’s responsible for the RSA conference, like the one I podcasted about earlier this summer. He also wrote a fantastic book called Rhetorical Landscapes inAmerica, that became the foundation for a lot of work that looks that the rhetoricality of things like museums, landscapes and even people.
In the final chapter of Gregory Clark’s Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke, he poses the question “where are we now?” (147). We’ve certainly been many wonderful places. In Rhetorical Landscapes, Clark has packed up Kenneth Burke’s identification theory of rhetoric and applied it to the national landscapes of America. Clark suggests that our identity as Americans comes, largely, from our experiences with common landmarks. To demonstrate this power of Burke’s concept of identification, Clark has taken us through more than a century of American tourism, from New York City in the early 19th century to Shaker Country to the Lincoln Memorial Highway. We’ve been convinced by Clark of the rhetorical power of these places to create a national identity. We’ve seen how mountains and parks and even people can evoke a feeling of identification. It’s been a long, lovely ramble by the time we get to Clark’s question. Reading his words, one can’t escape the image of a wanderer who, having ambled through one delightful landscape after another finds himself suddenly disoriented as to his current location. Clark himself describes his project as “a ramble” and it is this apt description that encapsulates both the dizzying strengths of the book (147).
Surely one of the most striking strengths of this ramble is the remarkable company we keep. Clark has brought the human and extremely likable specter of Kenneth Burke along for this meander through American tourism. The Burke of this book has not only provided us with the language of identification in our community of travelers to “change the identities that act and interact with common purpose;” he’s consented to come along with us (3). Clark presents Burke as one who was “himself a persistent tourist in America” (5). Burke very charmingly has written about his traveling “’go go going West, the wife and I/.../ “Go West, elderly couple”’” (qtd. Clark 7). When Burke’s theories of national identification are presented to us chapter-by-chapter, we enjoy their application in the presence of a critic who is not cynically immune to the process of identification, only acutely aware of it. Presented as accessibly and understandable, Clark has written us a Burke we can road trip with.
If Clark has presented for us a clear, insightful and accessible version of Burke through this rambleit is because of his own remarkable prowess as a teacher. He is willing to let Burke be a fellow-traveler with us and he is willing, himself, to join us personally in the ramble. We readers are fortunate to have Clark with us, just as much as we are to have his clear explanations of what Burke would say if the deceased were alongside us. Just as Burke is not immune to the seduction of American tourism, Clark gives us ample insight into how the American landscape affected his own identification as an American as a child. In the chapter on Yellowstone, Clark describes how, as a child from “a marginal place in America” he had been taught that “America was in faraway places like New York or Washington, D. C., or Chicago or California” (69). When Clark first went to Yellowstone National Park, he noticed the variety of license plates in the parking lot and could suddenly feel “at home among all those strangers in a new sort of way—at home in America” (69). While Clark gives us every possible reason to respect him as a serious, meticulous scholar of both rhetoric and American tourism history, he never lets us forget that he, like Burke, like us, is also another tourist in awe of the places we define as quintessentially American.
With knowledgeable and accessible teachers like Burke and Clark at our sides, we readers feel comfortable seeing how we, too, fit into this landscape. While the scope of the book covers the extremely formidable years of American nation-making (from the days of “these” United States to when the country is solidly coalesced into “the” United States), the institutions then established are still foremost in the psyche of Americans of all generations. Readers of Rhetorical Landscapes in America will be hard-pressed to read a chapter without immediately applying the Burkean theories to their own individual experiences with these ensigns of American identity. Have you been to NYC? Have you been told that you have to see Yellowstone? All of these places are part of how we structure our American identity.
Where are we going? Working topically, vaguely chronologically, Clark and Burke accompany us through New York City, Shaker country, Yellowstone, The Lincoln Highway, the Panama-Pacific world’s fair and the Grand Canyon. It’s almost like a car game on a long road trip: okay, what do these six things have in common? While each of these locations lead themselves to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a touring American (eg, in the chapter Shaker country we discover how guides to the region have lead to identification “not with the Shakers, but with the other touring Americans who gather to wonder at the spectacle the Shakers create” and thus objectified Shakers), (52). Including a city, a people, a park, a road, an event and a building in a park could arguably be a way to expand the definition of the “landscape.”
Why are we rambling through these American landscapes with Burke and Clark, after all? The argument appears to be, after all, to situate a Big Rhetoric theory of identification into a series of Big Rhetoric artifacts—so big, in fact, that it includes mountains and highways. Those who are resistant to wholeheartedly adopting Burke’s expansion of rhetoric to include not just persuasion, but also identification, will find Clark’s scope of artifacts as unconvincing; those who are frosty towards opening the canon of rhetoric past the spoken word, and past the written word into the very land we travel will bristle at the idea of giving something as Big Rhetoric as a city, a people, a landscape a “meaning.” These two groups of reader are by-and-large impervious to the convincing and meticulous readings that Clark provides of these locations. They’ve already made up their minds and aren’t likely to change them, despite the quality of Clark’s argument.
Clark and Burke are observant, meticulous and personable traveling companions, This is an excellent book, one that opens up rhetoric to more than just written texts, but something that can encompass views and groups of people as well. I love thinking about the implications of place on national identity and I’m not the only one: scholars from Diane Davis to Ekaterina Haskin have taken up the idea of how a tour of places and spaces and people can create an argument for national identity. So when you come back from your summer vacation this year, think about not just what you saw, but who it made you become.
Wed, 11 May 2016
What’s the difference between writing and composition? Writing, we think we know what that is: it’s maybe typing out letters on a computer screen, or maybe it’s holding a pen above a legal pad. But what if writing is bigger than that? What if it’s also the prewriting that takes place in your brain, as you drive around town or play racquetball or stare into space? And how about composition? What does that mean? It’s not just writing so could it be arranging speech, or images or even moving bodies? Is dance part of composition? Jody Shipka’s landmark text, Towards a Composition Made Whole, expands our understanding of what we mean when we say “writing and composition.” Today on Mere Rhetoric.
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like to give a shout out to our sponsors at the Univesity of Texas Humanities Media Project for their support, but today’s topic is right up their alley too--what are the limits of humanities and media?
Shipka is sick and tired of the way that two words are deeply misused in the feild of rhetoric and composition. The first is the word composition itself. Composition, Shipka argues, does not have to be text-based media. Shipka is a proponent of teaching students to compose in a broad sense--using images, music, dance and motion alongside words and letters to create meaning. Drawing on Cheryl Ball Shipka sums up resistence to non-print composition in that “texts are often labeled experimental when (or simply because) audiences are not used to recognizing their meaning-making strategies” (133).
That leads to the other term that Shipka takes issue to--technology. If composition is often view in very conservative terms as something done with pen and paper or a computer, technology is perhaps too-hot. Technology, Shipka claims, does not equal digital. The ferver for “technology” can be just as bad as a prejudice towards newfangled technology. In her words, “I am concerned that emphasis placed on ‘new’ (meaning digital) technologies has led to a tendency to equate terms like multimodal, intertextual, multi-media, or still more broadly speaking, composition with the production and consumption of computer-based, digitalized, screen-mediated texts” (8) and “we have allowed ourselves to trade in one bundle of texts and techniques for another: pro-verbal for pro-digital” (11).
Technologies are only seen as technologies as long as they are difficult and electronic, she argues, while other methods of multimodal composition can be as or more effective while employing other means. The example that Shipka leads the book with concerns an essay written by a dance student on a pair of ballet slippers. The essay was researched, ‘composed’ and transcribed in a way that uses multiple approaches, but nothing that needs a cord. She quotes Wertsch that “all activity is mediated by tools, whether by psychological tools and/or by technical tools such as hammers, nails [etc]” (43). Elsewhere she writes “when our scholarship fails to consider, and when our practices do not ask students to consider, the complex and highly distributed processes associated with the production of texts (and lives and people), we run the risk of overlooking the fundamentally multimodal aspects of all communicative practice” (13). Okay, and one more quote just to really underline her position: “ “To label a text multimodal or nonmodal based on its final appearance alone discounts, or worse yet, renders invisible the contributions made by a much wider variety of resources, supports, and tools.” This understanding of how we mediate even when we use “analogue” technology lets us expand our concept of buzzwords like “multimedia” and “multimodal.”
These two terms lay the groundwork for what she suggests in her manifesto: a composition made whole, with all processes, projects and media enveloped in the process of composition. In her words “A composition made whole recognizes that whether or not a particular classroom or group of students are wired, students may still be afforded opportunities to consider how they are continually positioned in ways that require them to read, respond to, align with… a steaming interplay of words, images, sounds, scents, and movements” (21).
Something about Shipka’s work is extremely freeing, both in our research and in our pedagogy--we can expand our work to anything. But it’s also terrifying--what do I know about document design? about video production? about dance? This same free fall feeling comes when I read about the processes Shipka describes her composers taking. Here in A Composition Made Whole she talks about the process of writing in a big way, similar to how big her definition of composition is. This part reminds me of a chapter that she co-authored with Paul Prior in another place. What Prior and Shipka did was to give their participants a piece of paper and have them draw their writing spaces and their writing practices. What they found is that people’s writing practice goes far beyond the “prewriting, writing, rewriting” steps that we often inculcate our students with. Objects like cigarettes, cats and washing machines and activities like talking over beer, walking the dog and calling a friend become part of the writing process.
Shipka describes some of these writers’ processes in a a composition made whole. For instance, when a writer goes for a run to clear her mind, “what might otherwise look like nonwork--taking a break from the task at hand--functioning as an integral part of the composer’s overall process” (60).
This creates some messy borders of a process we simplify in our research and teaching. If taking a run is part of the compositing process, what else is part? What can be excluded? I found this a difficult question to ask when I began keeping track of my time while working on my dissertation. If was I reading a text or coding data, that was definitely just as much a part of writing my dissertation as putting words on the paper. Meeting with my advisor? Yes. Talking it out with my mom? yes… Thinking about it on a run? I think. Thinking about it when I’m driving?...maybe? It can hard to say for sure what 40 hours a week of academic work looks like because it’s so dispersed. If our students say they have to clean their apartment, or walk the dog or watch six episodes of Broadchurch in a row before they can write the paper, it’s hard to say whether this is part of their writing process or a procrastination effort.
Wed, 4 May 2016
Dewey Part Deuce
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric. Or maybe welcome back, because last week we talked about John Dewey and today we’re talking about John Dewey again. You don’t have to go back and listen to the last week’s episode on Dewey and aesthetics, but if you like this, Dewey part the Deuce, then you migh want to go check out the previous episode on Dewey and the artful life. Today, today thought,we get to talk about Dewey’s political and educational contributions.
Dewey was a huge fan of democracy and of education for democracy. He said, “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous."
One scholar summarized Dewey’s politics in this way: “First, Dewey believed that democracy is an ethical ideal rather than merely a political arrangement. Second, he considered participation, not representation, the essence of democracy. Third, he insisted on the harmony between democracy and the scientific method: ever-expanding and self-critical communities of inquiry, operating on pragmatic principles and constantly revising their beliefs in light of new evidence, provided Dewey with a model for democratic decision making…Finally, Dewey called for extending democracy, conceived as an ethical project, from politics to industry and society.” Dewey was big on democracy. this idea, especially about participation in democracy instead of just representation inspired much of his writing in education. The kind of progressive education that Dewey endorsed was education for democracy, education that focused on making student empathetic and engaged citizens.
Dewey’s most articulate thinking about engaged democracy comes as most good thinking does: in response to an interlocutor whose ideas make our blood boil. For Dewey this was Walter Lippmann. the famous Lippmann-Dewer debates begne in 1922 when Walter Lippmann wrote s book called Public Opinion. In Public Opinion, Lippman says that democracy is demo-crazy--public opinion is actually shaped by adverstisers and demogogues who can manipulate the public into thinking what ever they want. The people as a whole can’t make any decision that hasn’t already been made by sleezy Madison Ave. types. So Lippman says that instead the government should be led by experts, preferably scientitic and objective types who would be immune to propaganda. Instead of democracy romantically conceived, he suggested representation and political experts.
Well this got Dewey’s goat and in The Public and its Problems, he responded to Lippmann’s view of democracy. Instead of relying on experts for democracy, Dewey recommends that “"it is not necessary that the many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns." Sure, he admitted, there could be ignorant publics swayed by propaganda, but the solution was not to toss the baby with the sludgewater--education was what the populace needed if they were to engage in participatory democracy.
The Dewey Lippmann Debate has gotten a lot of press from recent rhetoricians. Search for it on Google scholar and you’ll find over a thousand entries since 2011. In the 2008 meeting of the Rhetorical Society of America, a “lively panel” discussion took place where, according to one witness “Jean Goodwin effectively advanced journalist Walter Lippmann’s critique of the “omnicompetent” citizen against Robert Asen’s John Dewey, who represented hope for collaborative dialogue.” And in the most recent meeting of the Modern Language Association, another scholar pointed out how the Lippmann-Dewey debate relates to the current expert-laden political rhetoric. A recent collection of essays on called Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice, Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, eds. also reminds us of the perrential importance of asking ourselves “Are our citizens trained for democracy? Can they be?” The debate, so it seems, continues.
The kind of education you would need to particpate in democracy includes not just information about the value of nuclear energy or the political history of the middle east: you need to have some sense of how you fit in to a democracy, what the moral obligations you have and what the society can provide you.
For Dewey, America’s ideal model of civic engagement wasn’t a selfish, me-first mentality, but neither was it entirely collective and socialist. In Individualism Old and New, Dewey says it’s time to move past the old, rugged, wild-west homesteader kind of individualism that theAmericans he was writing to could possibly remember, or at least could remember stories of their parents and grandparents. while his audience of early 20th century Americans idealized that kind of independence, they were also increasingly aware of how to connect. The experience of world war have taught them that “Most social unifications come about in response to external pressure” (11) and “personal participation in the development of a shared culture” (17). Defining that interconnectivity against the struggles and hardships of war and poverty may seem intutive but the move from frontier rugged individualism to an individualism that recognizes our interconnectivitity is at the core of Dewey’s political philosophy.“Each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence around this garden” (82).
Now just so you know that last week’s episode on the aesthetic of Dewey wasn’t totally separated fromt his sort of thing, Dewey also talked about how that “shared sulture” happens through art, and how this art educates, cultivating the skills that are necessary for democracy: “The art which our times needs in order to create a new type of individuality is the art which, being sensitive to the technology and science that are the moving force of our time, will envisage the expansive, the social culture which they may be made to serve” (49). Or, another way, “The work of art is the truly individual thing” (81).