Wed, 18 October 2017
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 every semester, I feel like it’s New Year’s Day. “This semester,” I say, “everything’s going to be different.” I revise my classes, everything from switching two minor assignments to rehauling the entire curriculum. I try to create assignments that will catch my students’ attention, prepare them for their other classes, and, because I teach dozens of students, be interesting to grade.
But how do I know if the assignments I find interesting are effective? Or even that the students will think they are interesting? In Engaging Writers and Dynamic Disciplines, Chris Thaiss and Terry Zawacki explore how students learn to write in their majors, and how instructors write in their disciplines. These two things are not synonyms. Disciplines are dynamic, even before you account for all of the interdisciplinary work that goes on between them. Thaiss and Zawacki interviewed scholars from across a wide variety of disciplines and found that “many of our informants describe changes in their disciplines that allow scholars to work in alternative ways--ways that might formerly have been closed to them” some of these scholars are hesitant about these new ways of writing, but many embrace them (44).
I remember the first time I wrote an article that was truly alternative. It was an article for Harlot about the biopower of zombies and I referenced everything from Foucault to World War Z to Joshua Gunn. I wrote about my personal experience dressing up like a zombie for a “capture the flag” 5k and about buying a shirt off Etsy. And the whole thing was littered with hyperlinks and quirky footnotes and a half dozen pictures, which cost the journal nothing because the whole thing was exclusively online. This was a far cry from the time I literally sent three copies of an article in a manila folder, through the mail, to England for a more traditional journal. I’m not the only one who has had such exhilarating experiences encountering disciplinary writing in new ways.
Because we remember the heady rush of talking about scholarly topics in slightly less than scholarly ways and the sheer joy of doing something new and “fun,” we might be tempted to assign these new forms of writing to our students, to show them the great diversity of our discipline. If I was able to write the first draft of “The Biopower of Zombies” in one sitting, chuckling to myself in an airport terminal in Ohio, certainly my students would also delight in such open forms of scholarship, right?
According to Thaiss and Zawacki’s research, “the undergraduate students we interviewed and surveyed from across majors showed much less desire to experiment with format and method in their disciplinary classes than to conform to their professors’ expectations” (92). It’s maybe not surprising that scholars who are already pretty familiar with their field would have an easier time adapting to the variations than students who are just learning the ropes for the first time. But not all “alternatives” are equal.
Experimenting with new ideas (eg “Is our obsession with zombies a result of increased non-state organizations?”) is different than having to learn a new format (e.g. casual academic tone with generous hyperlinks). Over all, Thais and Zawacki suggest, that students crave structure and predictability, knowing what the professor is looking for, even more than the wide-open freedom of many disciplines. Think about it: the seasoned professor knows not just what’s appropriate in biology or economics writing, but they also know what kinds of articles can be written by post-docs and what can be written by old-timers, they know what kind of writing different journals prefer. So professors, thinking about “good writing” can actually be combining academic, disciplinary, subdisciplinary and personal writing preferences in ways that baffle students. Sometimes they over generalize and assume that one class taught them “science writing” and sometimes they over patictularize, thinking that one teacher was just “picky.” Students do the best they can with the limited expereince they have.
This is especially evident at the beginning of the semester. One of Thaiss and Zawacki’s student informants pointed out that the first couple of assignments provide a lot of experience in what the class is supposed to be (125), and getting graded feedback provides a sense of not just what that professor is looking for, but what “counts” in the field. While “the mature writer in a field has encountered a sufficient range of course environments to develop an over all sense of disciplinary goals and methods” while novices “have not yet encountered the array of exigencies and therefor genres that typify it” (109). Following Perry’s developmental stages, Thaiss and Zawacki suggest three stages in disciplinary writing:
Over all, it’s not surprising that Thaiss and Zawacki conclude that students need both frequent writing in a variety of teachers and courses (in order to encounter that variety of a discipline) and the change to reflect on the choices they’ve made and why to begin to process how those differences occur (121). Other prescriptions are include frequent and detailed feedback on writing, and explicitly teaching what are the “generic academic” principles of writing and what are discipline specific. None of these are radical sounding to those of us in composition, but they do remind me of all the things I need to change next semester. Next semester. Next semester everything’s going to be different.
If you ever had a book inspire a change in your teaching, feel free to drop us a line at email@example.com I’d love to hear it. Until next week!
Wed, 11 October 2017
Do you remember in the 90s when there was this huge “thug life” thing going on? Shady types getting money doing shady things. Andocides, the 5th century BCE rhetor, would have fit fell into that world. Even though he may have been acquainted with Socrates, he was more interested in roving with his friends of rabble-rousers. He was born to wealth and lived as what one editor called “a hot-headed young man-about-town with more money than sense” (321).
His carefree life came to a hard stop after a significant act of vandalism. Andocides was accused of multition of the Herms right before an Athenian expedition against Sicily--exactly not the time that you want to get the gods mad at you. Everyone was shocked. The act was seditious and blasphemous. Athens could forgive some offences, but not parodying the most intimate religious beliefs on the eve of war. The act was seen as an affront against democracy from exactly the kind of rich snobs who would want to consolidate power. Numbers of the stone images of Hermes were mutated across Athens in one night. Just as quickly, informers sprang up to place the blame. Forty two members of the riotous party were named. Andocides was one of the accused.
But when they threw Andocides into prison, he did what all those 90s gangsters warned about--he turned snitch. He revealed the names of everyone who was involved, and, although he was an accomplice, he was still exiled from Athens and had his citizenship stripped from him. It turned out worse for the four men that he snitched on--they were all put to death.
But if you’re a young man of wealth, a little thing like state-defying vandalism and sending four people to their deaths doesn’t get you down. He traveled the city states of Greece, making friends with powerful people. Powerful and shady, but powerful. Andocides came back to Athens during the oligarchy and it didn’t go well--he narrowly missed being sentenced to death and was imprisoned. Later, he was set free, or maybe he escaped. The historical record is hazy on that detail.
So you can see the kind of life that he lived. And it reflects in his greatest speeches. On His Return was written as an attempt to get back into the city’s good graces. The reasons for his exile was fresh in their minds, and he openly admits his guilt. He claims to be a changed man: “my behavior today,” he says “is much more in keeping with my character than my behavior then” (26). He had been foolish and he had been unlucky--dreadfully unlucky. “No one came near suffering the sorrows which I suffered” (9). However, he points out, he is rich. That wealth can bring in a lot of corn to prevent famine. It also buys a lot of naval support. And he is willing to use his wealth to help Athens. “I have been reckless of both life and goods when called up” in an effort ”to render this city such a service as would sipose you to let me at last resume my rights as your fellow” (10).
Unfortunately, Andocides’ bad luck continued. Before he even began his speech, people were muttering against him. It might not help that he smugly referred to his accusors as “either the most stupid of mankind or the worst of public enemies” (1) and preemptively said that he would forgive the people all the wrongs he suffered (27). He still comes across as a rich snot weasling his way back.
Andocides did finally get back to Athens under a general amnesty after yet another political overthrow. For 3 years, everything was coming up Andocides. He held important roles in political cultural life. His influence was growing and everyone was forgetting his youthful indescretions.
And then enemies old and new began to circle. Callias II, along with some others, created a legal case against him, arguing that the amnesty shouldn’t have applied to Andocides and that he should be kept out of the assembly and, oh yeah, how about put to death for rebellion? While he again had to confront the ghosts of his past,Andocides had some advantages this time.
For one thing, time had passed. People had moved on and forgotten much of the outrage they felt in the several political upheavals they had been suffering since then. Also, Andocides had become a productive member of society, totally supporting the city in many facets. It seems that Andocides had also learned to temper his rhetoric. “On the Mysteries” was a plea for his life, but it’s also a thrilling piece of legal rhetoric. He refutes claims that he was involved in other acts of blasphemy and sedition and recalls his very minor role in the destruction of the herms. He also changes tactic from deigning to absolve Athens of the wrongs they had done him to emphasizing Athen’s positive qualities. “The whole of Greece,” he says “thinks that you have shown the greatest generosity and wisdom in devoting yourselves, not to revenge, but to the preservation of your city and the reuniting of its citizens...do not change your ways” (140). He calls on his family heritage “Our house is the oldest in Athens,” he says, “and has always been the first to open its doors to those in need” (147). He even makes the people of Athens his family: “It is you who must act as my father and my brothers and my children. It is with you that I seek refuge. It is to you that I turn with my entreaties and my prayers. You must plead with yourselves for my life, and save it” (149). Wow--you see what he did there? He recruited the jury to be his advocates. It’s powerful stuff and it went a lot better than “On the Return”--maybe time and circumstances have changed, but I think Andocides also became a more savvy speaker. “On the Mysteries” is a whole lot less cocky and more compelling than on the return. The verdict was in his favor and after that no one dragged up Andocides’ youthful thug life.
If you have a favorite ancient rhetorician gangster, why not tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org ? I love hearing from listeners, even if they’re snitching on ancient Greek thinkers.
Wed, 4 October 2017
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Uh, I guess including recent history, because today we’re going to talk about the February 2017 issue of College Composition and Communication as our “journal of the month” summary. This issue, as editor Jonathan Alexander points out, “takes up the notion of the ‘personal’ in a variety of ways” (436), departing from what we might think of as “composition as usual.” The articles in it include thinking about students who are full-time workers, students who have disablities, and indigenous methodology.
College Composition and Communication, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is one of the grand old dames of composition journals. It came about way back in the 50s as a summary of the conference on college composition and communication and many of the early issues were just summaries of what happened in the conference, so that you could follow along at home. The conference itself was an outgrowth of the rise of college writing classes. Many of these early composition classes were taught by people trained in literature, and they were eager to have their own place to share ideas about teaching and come up with theories that would apply as well in Tampa as in Toledo. CCC, or “the cs” as it is sometimes called, is still a great resource for composition instructors and researchers looking for theory as well as practice for their own classrooms.
In that spirit, let me take you through a whirlwind summary of all of the articles in this issue. Maybe you don’t subscribe to it. Maybe you just haven’t had time to sit down and read it. Maybe you haven’t thought that reading a journal could be fun. Okay, let’s dig in.
The first article called “Don’t Call it Expressivism” is Eli Goldblatt’s cautionary response to the emphasis in composition studies on job-readiness and college sucess. If, as Goldblatt worries, “the discussion about writing instruction [is] too narrowly around school success and professional preparation” (441), we lose sight of other important goals of writing. Writing, he suggests, can have real personal and political power beyond the instrumental ways that learning to write well makes someone a better student or worker. He gives examples like Tiffany Rousculp’s community writing center in Salt Lake City and Sondra Perl’s work in Austria with student whose parents had been complicit with Nazi atrocities. Over all, he “hope[s] to link [students’] acts of writing to purposes more compelling to them than passing the next class or getting a job” (462).
Rebecca Brittenham wants to not just talk about student’s next job, but their current ones. She points out that often universities see student’s “dead-end jobs” as competition to focusing on school. They downplay what students learn through working and expect them to approach school like some idealized fully funded 18-year-old. “The multidimensional realities of students’ actual work experiences are often rendered invisible or obsured through a narrative of interference,” she writes (527). She created a research instrument to discover what kind of work students do and how it actually affects their education in a wider sense. Some students indeed report being time strapped, but they know that they must work several jobs to make rent. Other student report pride in their time management skills through their work experience. Brittenham makes some great suggestions for universities, like encouraging advisors to discuss skills on the job and how they align with course work or even creating a database of student-friendly employers in the area. Such accommodations would benefit all students, whether they work 3 hours a week or 30.
Accommodations are also the theme of Anne-Marie Womack’s article “Teaching is Accommodation,” where she focuses on how universal design, the use of design principles to include students with physical and learning disabilities. These designs often help everyone. The “classic example is the curb cut,” which benefits people in wheelchairs and also people with carts or, like rollerblades. Applying this principle to our clases, and especially documents like syllabi and course descriptions, Womack gives practical suggestions on colors, fonts and design that can help all students get the information they need. I was fascinated, for example, that there’s a font called Dyslexie that’s especially reader-friendly for folks with dyslexia, and that creating a submission window of several days rather than a hard deadline can help a variety of students succeed.
Chris Mays discusses complexity theory in relation to writing. After all, we rhetoricians understand that writing always takes place in a context and both impacts and is impacted by the systems in which it participates. He gives students two visual examples to illustrate the fractal complexity--the top of a pine tree looks very much like the top half of a tree looks very much like a whole pine tree. Similarly, the outline of a formal school paper has several main points, nestled under each of which there are many supporting point and their own supporting evidence (578-580). “By making and comparing different cuts” Mays writes, “we reveal how the writing works independently at each level and works in relation to form a complex text” (574).
Research should also be complex, argue Katja Thieme and Shurli Makmillen, as they introduce a research stance they call “principled uncertainty” (466). Because “researchers make method choices by considering how a method is valued in their research community,” communities with different knowledge values will contribute to a different accepted method. Indigenous research methos like “commuity-based or tribal centered research, collaborative participatory research, storytelling or “storywork” “yarning” or conversational method (471) all expand method because “method is situated, interpellative and dialogic” and indigenous conversational method is linked to a “particular tribal epistemology” (484).
There you have it. Each of this articles could be a podcast in themselves, but when you have them all sitting side-by-side it certainly gives you a feel for the variety and connection across one regular issue of College Composition and Communication. If you teach college writing classes, I recommend joining the National Council of Teachers of English, despite their awkward name, and I recommend subscribing the CCC.
Wed, 20 September 2017
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 today I want to start with a walk down memory lane
Remember laser discs? You might not be old enough to, but I do. I remember my seventh grade science classroom had a laserdisc player and we watched just a couple of films, brilliantly bright documentaries about butterflies or some other medium-appropriate topic. I don’t remember the topic, only that it was beauitlful. But I do remember that we only had the two laserdiscs, partially because they were expensive, but partially because in just a couple of years, DVDs would become widespread and accessible.
How about mini-discs? I definitely had boxes of minidiscs I had recorded from cds--I could get a cd and a half onto only one mini-disc!--and I could listen to seemingly endless music at my college early morning janitorial job. It seemed very impressive--until I bought my first iPod.
This is fun. But why am I talking about technological non-starters? Because it’s so hard to guess what kind of technology will be pivotal when you’re doing research on the role of technology in our society. Things are guarenteed to change as fast as you get your book to press.
Cynthia L. Selfe wrote Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-first Century in 1999 as a forward thinking volume. In 1999, mini-discs and laserdiscs were soon to fade into history, andsome of the terms she uses, like the Web to name the internet, seem almost quaint. But when technology changes all the time, the best tact, and the one Selfe takes, is to discuss principles of the technology rather than the technology itself.
Selfe’s foremost claim is straightforward and applicable today as when it was written: “Literacy professionals and the organizations that represent them need to commit to understanding the complex relationship between literacy and technology and to intervening in the national project to expand technological literacy. We must also realistically appraise the multiple roles that literacy educators are already playing in support of this project” (160).
The word “realistically” is key for Selfe. Technology, she points out, has always attracted boosters and boycotters. Somebody introduces, say, a wiki assignment into a composition classroom and assumes that the students will now learn collaboration and concision perfectly, while another teacher rolls their eyes, believing that such an assignment is, at best, an interesting distraction. As Selfe points out “By describing computer technology as either beneficial or detrimental, either good or bad, they limit our understanding” (36) and instead she aims for us to “understand the complex ways in which technology has become inked with our conception of literacy and, possibly, to shape the relationship between these two phenomena in increasingly productive ways” (37).
So what does this word “literacy” mean anyway? We’ve talked about literacy before on the show, especially in the Deborah Brandt episode. Remember how we talked about how literacy has meant, in different times, everything from cursive to memorizing vast tracts of poetry to understanding chunks of French or Latin in the middle of a text? Cursive might not be useful at all for you now. Well, now, Selfe says, we need to think about technological literacy. She defines technological literacy as “a complex set of socialy and culturally situated values, practices and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments” (11). Whew. So what does that include? According to Selfe, it include reading and writing and communicating. It includes the “social and cultural contexts for discourse and communication” and it includes “print, still graphics, moving images” and “such tools as databases...e-mail, listserv software, bulletin boards, and graphics and line-art packages” (11-12).
If you’re like me the first thing...well, the first thing I thought was “heh! Bulletin boards. Clip art! That’s as old-fashioned as laserdiscs and minidiscs!” and we’ll get back to that thought in a moment, but the second thing I thought was “how?! How on earth am I supposed to teach visual rhetoric and how to use emerging technology and I might not even be that good at on top of all the other literacy practices that my students need?” It seems like too much for us, and too complicated.
And in many ways it is too much. For that reason, it can be tempting to buy a package of projects and assignments, or to subscribe to every new technology that comes out in the hope of covering all the basis. One of the complex relationships that Selfe emphasizes is that whereever there is change, there are people wanting you to buy stuff. The companies who make the technology--in Selfe’s day it’s all “word processing” and “home PCs”--advertise to schools and, especially, parents, that children will fall behind unless they own this or another type of technology, and if they fall behind, the number one consequence is that they won’t make as much money. Selfe says that we need to be cautious of accepting the premise of technology as a purely economic investment--buy a computer now and it will pay off one hundredfold! Other voices, too, will make them, in Brandt’s words “sponsors of literacy,” such as the government and your school’s administration. There are complex and sometimes conflicted voices in how our students are introduced to technology literacy. Okay, now that you know to be skeptical of some of the many voices with vested interests, how do you know how to proceed?
Well, let’s get back to that first thought we had--reading Selfe’s book, it’s remarkable to think that less than 20 years ago there were still teachers who didn’t like their students to type up their first draft of assignments and there wasn’t a computer with projector in practically every classroom. There was also relatively little “non-computer digital technology”--she talks a lot about the PC and chatrooms and listservs, not foreseeing the way smartphones, Reddit, and Facebook will transform literacy in the first decade of the 21st century. She couldn’t have, and no one can. So this is maybe a hint about how to incorporate technology literacy into your own pedagogy--things are going to change so quickly that perhaps what you can best do is to encourage students to develop the general skills that will help them to adapt to new forms of technology. You can encourage conversations about privacy and anonymity, audience and permanence with their application to whatever technology is blooming and dying--FourSquare, Twitter, Pokeman Go. You can teach students about the way we talk about technology--how those vested interests like corporations and governments talk about how technology is to be used and the limits of both the optimists and the Luddites. You can also teach them the tools that will make them successful when they encounter new kinds of technology. Maybe you teach them how to use a peer review software that they will NEVER AGAIN use in their lives, as I had to do once. My students HATED it and, to be honest, I hated making them use it. We struggled over and over again, spending precious time in class explaining how to upload their papers, how to make comments. But what I should have done instead is emphasize how this experience taught them certain abstract technology skills--how to fiddle around with something without thinking you’re going to break it, how to search for FAQs online when you need to troubleshoot, how to read instructions and intuit from the interface what the program “wants” you to do. These are skills that will outlast listservs and laserdiscs and their progeny.
In short, we need to realize, to quote Selfe’s subtitle “the importance of paying attention” and help students to identify the ideological, political, economic, and spiritual implications of the the technology they can ignore or embrace.
Wed, 13 September 2017
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 I’ve had a hard time getting started on this one.
Sometimes I procrastinate an episode because I don’t want to get into an idea or movement that is potentially stupidfaced. Other times, I’m nervous about doing a great work a disservice in doing a stupidfaced episode. This is one of those times.
Patricia Roberts-Miller was one of my mentors at the University of Texas, and I always knew that she was doing work on demagoguery. She’s one of those wonderful rare people who let you in on the secrets of their research revision and editing process, letting you behind the curtain of producing academic work. But until I read Demagoguery and Democracy, I had no idea how important that work could be. I am not exaggerating when I say this is the most important book I’ve read this year.
First off, let me give you the caveat that the small, portable, ultimately very readable Demagogury and Democracy is not, strictly speaking, the academic version of her research. That’s forthcoming. But Demagoguery and Democracy is compact and makes a handy gift for friends and relatives this holiday season. Perhaps you can think of someone who needs it.
The fact is we all need it. Roberts-Miller argues that when we think of demagoguery, we usually think of demagogues-- silver tongued seducers who memorize their audience into doing stupid things they would normally never do. These lying liars know what they’re saying is false, but they know it will manipulate the sheeple follow them. But that’s not the direction it goes. “We don’t have demagoguery in our culture because a demagogue came to power,” she argues, “when demagoguery becomes the normal way of participating in public discourse, then it’s just a question of time until a demagogue arises” (2). So if we should be focusing less on individual demagogues and more on the practice of engaging in demagoguery, if it’s something you and I could be doing, how do we know if we’re doing it?
“Demagoguery,” Roberts-Miller says “is about identity. It says that complicated policy issues can be reduced to a binary of us (good) versus them (bad). It says that good people recognize there is a bad situation, and bad people don’t; therefore, to determine what policy agenda is the best, it says we should think entirely in terms of who is like us and who isn’t” (8). In other words “demagoguery says that only we should be included in deliberation because they are the problem” (20 emphasis in original).
I shouldn’t have to say that if you’ve been following American politics for the past, oh, especially year and a half, all of this is going to sound familiar, but again, remember that demagoguery isn’t about one powerful individual--it’s about a range of discourses that gives power to an individual. When compromise is out of the picture and persuasion is about being the right kind of person rather than having a good idea, democracy withers.
Roberts-Miller gives the example of Earl Warren as someone who go burned by participating the demagoguery. Warren, if the name doesn’t ring a bell, was the WWII-era attorney general for the state of California, and he advocated strongly for Japanese internment. He made spurious claims, like that people of Japanese descent were living disproportionately close to areas like factories, ports, railroads, highways etc. without considering that PEOPLE live disproportionately close to factories, port, railroads, etc. because that’s part of living in civilization. Years later, in his 1977 memoirs, Warren himself said he deeply regretted his role in advocating in Japanese-American internment. Warren wasn’t an evil mustache-twirler, even though he participated in some pretty wicked demagoguery. Later, Warren was the supreme court justice who, among other things, managed to bring about the pivotal Brown vs. Board ruling, hastening racial desegregation. So if this generally good dude could engaged in bad demagoguery, we’re all at risk of falling into it. I like to think that he might have had fewer regrets iif one of Warren’s friends had been all, “Hey Earl, seems like you’re getting carried away. Let’s take a couple steps back and talk about your reasoning.”
And that, Roberts-Miller suggests, is one of the keys to fighting demagoguery whereever we find it--with others or with our friends or even ourselves. She gives us some key todos:
I’ve given you the quick summary and takeaways of this book, but I really do recommend checking it out yourself, and recommending it to others who are concerned about the increasingly bifurcated social and political world we inhabit. I don’t know about you, but I hate always having to wonder if I’m the “right kind of person.” It’s much more freeing to think, “Am I having the right kind of conversations?”
If you have a favorite strategy for more productive deliberation, why not send us an email at email@example.com? I’m thinking we’re probably going to be talking a lot more about this sort of thing in the future, so probably an episode on listening rhetorics? Maybe something on protest rhetoric? What would you like?
Wed, 6 September 2017
Don’t you love those group adventure movies? You know, the ones with a ragtag group of misfits who each have their special skill--Ocean’s 11, the Great Escape, Power Rangers? Rhetoric had that too and they were called the Canon of Ten of the Ten Attic Orators. Like most canonical lists, they weren’t clumped together until they well and dead. Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace compiled what’s called the Alexandrian Canon including these ten hotshots of the 5th and 4th century BCE. Later, a scholar who was probably not Plutarch, called the Psuedo-Plutarch, wrote “The Lives of the Ten Orators” to chronicle the Rat Pack of Classical Greek rhetoric. A couple of these ten will be familiar to you--Demosthenes and Isocrates. Demosthenes and Isocrates are like the George Clooney and Brad Pitt of the Ten Attic Orators, getting most of the screen time and most of the glory. We’ve have individual episodes on each of them as well as individual episodes on some of the works they’ve written. Mere Rhetoric isn’t alone in emphasizing these super stars of the Canon of Ten: the Psuedo Plutarch spends almost 3500 words on Demosthenes and a paltry 392 on Aeschines. So, to make it up to them, we’re going to dedicate eight episodes of Mere Rhetoric to the other members of the Canon of Ten, the Bernie Macs and Casey Afflecks of Classical Greek Rhetoric.
And today we’re going to start with the anti-Demosthenes, Aeschines.
Aeschines hated Demosthenes. The most famous peice he ever wrote was a legal argument called Against Ctetisphon (k’tes-i-fawn), which really could have been “Against Demosthenes and His Stinkin’ Friend.”
First, some background. Aeschines came from a modest background. He wasn’t destitute, certainly but it is “generally doubted that his father could have afforded to provide him with an education in rhetoric” and he had to marry up to enter a public career (9). The Pseudo Plutarch describes him as “neither nobly born nor rich.” Demosthenes, on the other hand, was born to privilege and had a first-rate education. Demosthenes was educated at the schools os Isocrates and maybe Plato; Aeschines was taught by someone named Leodamas, whose reputation in history is partially that he was a mathematician and partially that Plato may have taught him math. Not a particularly impressive training for a future political rhetor.
Aeschines was a good performer and did a stint as an actor, and while this wasn’t as shameful as it would become in later centuries, Demosthenes accuses Aeschines of being a bad actor, which is pretty shameful (10). Unlike Demosthenes, he never was a professional speechwriter--every speech we have is about his own political concerns, and all three of them may be all that there is to have--nothing seems to have been lost (12). The best of these three, “Against Ctetisphone,” requires a little political history.
Demosthenes, as we’ve discussed in our earlier episode, was a rabble rouser against King Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and the aggressor of the Hellenistic cities like Athens. He defeated them and then ruled over them in something called the League of Corinth, sort of a loose confederation of vassal states. Demosthenes did not like that and called for activism, which was pretty popular. Aeschines on the other hand favored peace and capitulatoin with Macadonia and King Philip. He was badly let down, though, as were the rest of the pragmatists because they received no gains or special treatment from the partnership. Defiant Demosthenes gained all the cultural capital and Aeschines looked like a collaborator.
Demosthenes’ friend, Ctetisphon, seeks to give a public award to Demosthenes, kind of a lifetime acheivement award from the state, with some real money attached. This “Golden Crown” was a civic and almost religious honor : As Thomas Leland points out, “To give this transaction the greater solemnity, it was moved that the ceremony should be performed in the theatre of Bacchus during the festival held in honor of that god, when not only the Athenians, but other Greeks from all parts of the nation were assembled to see the tragedies exhibited in that festival.” So everyone would be fawning over Demosthenes, not just the Athenians. Aeschines just can not. Ctesiphon gives public crown to Demosthenes, Aeschines brings suit against him, and, like an animal to a trap, Demosthenes shows up in person as a “speaker for Ctesiphon.”
So there you have it, head-to-head, Aeschines and Demosthenes in the courtroom arguing about whether Demosthenes is a public hero or an extravagant wastrel and war profiteer. Opposition political parties, opposite managerial styles, opposite backgrounds. You can kind of feel Aeschines boiling over in this oration. One scholar points out that “Against Ctesiphon” disorganized, uneven, although powerful in some places.”
But Aeschines makes three main claims that range from the reasonable to the vitriolic.
First off, there is the location. The law specifically says that the award is presented in assembly and nowhere else, certainly not at the theater! How humiliating, Aescheines says if “He confers this honor, not while the people are assembled, but while the new tragedies are exhibiting; not in the presence of the people, but of the Greeks; that they too may know on what kind of man our honors are conferred.” Okay, I could see that.
Also, that the award being given to Demosthenes is a little preemptive. Aeschines complains about giving Demosthenes the crown--there hadn’t been a full investigation into his full character.
But finally, Aeschines says, the award is supposed to be for people who have excellent character and Demosthenes, he argues, is the opposite of excellent. He is not shy about it: “Say, then, Ctesiphon, when the most heinous instances of this man's baseness are so incontestably evident that his accuser exposes himself to the censure, not of advancing falsehoods, but of recurring to facts so long acknowledged and notorious, is he to be publicly honored, or to be branded with infamy? ”Demosthenes, as a senator, doesn’t acknowledge diplomats, and he led a lot of soldiers to their certain death in an ill-fated military campaign. Aeschines even attacks Demosthenes’ private life because “He who acts wickedly in private life cannot prove excellent in his public conduct: he who is base at home can never acquit himself with honor when sent to a strange country in a public character.”
At the beginning, he says,“An examination of Demosthenes’ life would be too long a speech, why should I tell it all now…” then he does, tells tale of primary, nepotism, violence, heart of it though “the worst of the crimes” was his greed for a cut of the peace with Philip, benefitted from war profiteering and perjury, sacrificing the lives of the young soldiers “as yourselves whether the relatives of the dead will shed more teachers over the tragedies and sufferings of the heros that will be staged after this or at the city’s insensitivity” (152). He holds, even, his bad luck against him, because in ancient Greece, bad luck in a leader was as indefensible as stupidity.
Look, I’m team Demosthenes and fighting for independence is always going to sound better than capitulating to an occupying force and this speech is so venomous and spiteful that it’s hard not to just dismiss it because it is so angry, but Aeschines does make a lot of good points, and he’s mostly pointing out that we don’t make exceptions for Demosthenes, which could also be interpreted as “no one is above the law,” which I find quite reassuring. The law is a big deal for Aeschines--makes sense, this is a legal case, and he praises it throughout the speech. Aeschines proclaims how excellent the law is, how excellent the assembly is: “A noble institution this a truly noble institution, Athenians!” he declares.
I’m also sympathetic when Aeschines alleges the Demosthenes just wants to shut him up. “He compares me to the Sirens, whose purpose is not to delight their hearers, but to destroy them. Even so, if we are to believe him, my abilities in speaking, whether acquired by exercise or given by nature, all tend to the detriment of those who grant me their attention. I am bold to say that no man has a right to urge an allegation of this nature against me; for it is shameful in an accuser not to be able to establish his assertions with full proof.” You shouldn’t want to shut up your opposition--that leads to all kinds of tyrany.
But then again, Aeschines dishes it out again back at Demosthenes, “But when a man composed entirely of words, and these the bitterest and most pompously labored when he recurs to simplicity, to artless facts, who can endure it? He who is but an instrument, take away his tongue, and he is nothing.”
In the end, I think the jurors had the same unpleasant taste in their mouths that we do reading it--Aeschines comes across and a squirming, angry little man trying whatever he can to stop his wildly popular rival from getting praise. In the result of the trial, Ctesiphon was acquitted and Aeschines failed to get ⅕ of the votes. Aeschines was humiliated for having brought the lawsuit to the courts, and, because of the unsuccessful suit, he was slapped with a “fine of 1000 drachmas and (probably) loss of the right to bring similar action again” to the court. Aeschines left Athens in shame, and ending up as a rhetoric teacher in Rhodes. As a rhetoric teacher myself, I don’t think of this as that much of a crushing ignobility, and, really, history has looked fondly on him, including him, with his bitter enemy, on the list of the Ten Attic Orators.
Wed, 30 August 2017
This last year I adopted a dog, a scruffy grey schnauzer mix. I call him Pip. I talk to Pip all the time. But I don’t expect Pip to talk back to me, and I don’t think about what Pip calls himself. Maybe I should. The rhetorical power of non-human animals, this week on Mere Rhetoric.
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginner and indisers about the people, ideas and movements who have shaped rhetprical history. I’m Mary Hedengren
Today we start a new type of episode of Mere Rhetoric. In the past, I’ve given you the low-down on books and movements, scholars and terms, and now I’m going to expand on that to give you the heads-up on some of the most recent issues of major journals in the field. Consider it a sort of Reading Rainbow, a teaser-taster of what’s showing up in rhetorical scholarship today.
Reading journals is one of those activities that I was encouraged to do when I first became a grad student in rhetoric and I’m always surprised how useful what I read ends up being: sometimes I find scholarship that relates directly to what I’m working on, sometimes I find stuff that comes up in conversation, but it’s rare that I regret reading an issue. I recommend reading them to everyone interested in the field, partially because it gives a good sense of what our field actually is these days.
The first issue I’m going to feature, I’m willing to admit though, is a little weird. It’s a the special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly that came out this summer, and special issue usually means that there’s a theme that all of the articles are about, but even this special issue is special--it’s a Quote rhetorical bestiary unquote. A bestiary is a sort of encyclopedia of the animals, usually loose on the science and loaded on moralizing for a human world, but this rhetorical bestiary is specifically trying to break away from a human-centric orientation towards entering with animals more on their terms.
Within the bestiary, there are mini-essays on children raised by wolves, salmon spawning, a town full of roosting vultures and the cunning of snakes. These essays are an unusual lot for a scholarly journal: rich, imaginative, personal and poetic. They are grounded in theory, but are also beholden to activism, creative writing, and --as might be expected--animal behaviorism. One impetus for this collection is the 25th anniversary of George A. Kennedy’s “A Hoot in the Dark” article in Philosophy and Rhetoric.
Kennedy’s “Hoot in the Dark” isn’t included here, but it’s worth checking out on its own merits. George Kennedy was a tweedy classical rhetorician, translating, for example, the definite edition of Aristotle’s rhetoric. So it was a bit of surprise in 1992, when he argued that rhetoric is not an exclusively human endeavour, but that rhetoric “is manifest in all animal life and [that] existed long before the evolution of human beings” (4)... for instance “A rattlesnake’s rhetoric consists of coiling or uncoiling itself, threatening to strike and rattling its tail, which other creatures hear, even though a rattle-snake [sic] is itself deaf” (13). Pretty wild stuff. And the response, as Diane Davis writes in her afterward for the bestiary, “was to basically wonder what Kennedy had been smoking” (277).
But even if Kennedy’s work was out of character, some rhetorical scholars embraced the non-human animal turn. For instance Debra Hawhee, who also writes an afterword for the issue, has written such works like Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw and Moving Bodies, which explores “the places in rhetorical theory that are infested with nonhuman animals” (“towards a bestial rhetoric” 86). Looking at non-human animal rhetoric is a humbling practice that opens up our field and colors our received rhetorical traditions.
That being said,I was most impressed by the foreword by Alex C. Parrish and the afterwards by Hawhee and Diane Davis. Davis’ afterward is espeically illuminating in highlighting that “there is no single, indivisible line between ‘the human’ and ‘the animal’” (278). She also provides a useful dichotomy between two threads in researching non-human animals in rhetoric. One is “studying human discourses about other animal species” --the way we use non-human animals in our human rhetoric--while the other involved “engaging the specific rhetorical practices of other species” (279). This latter area of research is particularly interesting to me.
When Pip barks at a strange dog, or drops his ears backwards, or lulls his tongue out in a squinty-eyed smile, he is using symbols just as effectively as Burke’s “symbol using (symbol making and symbol misusing)” human agent. I mean, I can testify that he symbol misuses all the time, especially in his clumsy attempts to make friends at the dog park. Dogs are especially interesting because they are attuned to cross species communication: for millenia, they’ve been learning to read our weird symbols, like me pointing to Pip’s crate, and respond with their own communication, like Pip’s resulting “hangdog” expression. It’s almost like he’s telling me “I don’t want to go to my room.” But sometimes when you discuss communication with, or among, animals, you’ll be accused of anthropomorphism. Certain, I don’t think Pip communicates the same things in the same ways as he would if he were another human, but, as Davis points out, instead of throwing around accusations of anthropomorphism, we would be better served by recognizing that communication is beyond the “anthro” and rather something inherent in creatures that live in proximity with other creatures.
If you have a great dog story, or other kind of animal communication story, why not drop us a line at Mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com? Also, let me know what kind of journals you’d like me to be checking in with. I can’t promise I’ll read every issue of every rhetoric journal for you because there’s a lot out there--and you don’t have to take my word for it.
Tue, 1 August 2017
Just checking in to let you know that new episodes of Mere Rhetoric are just around the corner. I've moved to a new institution and we've been figuring out how to set up a recording studio, but I think it's time to just get started making episodes the old fashioned way--in my office with a blanket over my head to muffle the sound.