Tue, 25 October 2016
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and a big thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas for support for this show. Also thanks to Jacob in the booth. Today, All Hallow’s Eve is upon us and it’s been a long time since I attempted some terrible British accents, which means it’s time for the Mere Rhetoric HALLOWEEN SPECIAL [thunder sounds? Screeching cat? What have you.] But first, some background.
When you’re asked to give a description of what rhetoric is, as we did in our very first episode, What is Rhetoric?, you might say something like, “It’s the use of words to persuade someone,” and you would imagine someone in a toga standing around on a rostom shout-talking at people, but that’s not exactly all rhetoric is. Remember Kenneth Burke’s definition of rhetoric: that we can “influence each other's thinking and behavior through the strategic use of symbols.” Even Aristotle says that rhetoric is about discovering the available means of persuasion. Verbal or alphabetic rhetoric is only one of those available means of persuasion. Visual rhetoric is another.
As you might suspect, visual rhetoric focuses on other kinds of symbols than just words. Visual rhetoricians might interrogate the influence on other people of war posters, cartoons, even the layout of airport security. But visual rhetoric isn’t just about the object of study.
Sonja Foss puts it this way:
Visual rhetoric refers not only to the visual object as a communicative artifact but also to a perspective scholars take on visual imagery or visual data. In this meaning of the term, visual rhetoric constitutes a theoretical perspective that involves the analysis of the symbolic or communicative aspects of visual artifacts. It is a critical-analytical tool or a way of approaching and analyzing visual data that highlights the communicative dimensions of images or objects (305-306)
As you might imagine, visual rhetoric opens up a lot of possiblities for scholars. And those scholars will need more theories of how to approach that those artifacts. Foss herself suggests that critics look first at the elements of the object, then
Kostelnick and Roberts create canons of visual rhetoric [what do you think? The cannon sound again?] Really? As I was saying, these canons of visual rehtoric parallel the classical canons of rhetoric. these canons can be remembered by the British-inspired acronym CACE-TE, but you have to be creative with your spelling the first C stand for Clarity, or ease of understanding for the reader. A stands for arrangement, how the visual elements are laid out; the second C (I told you that you had to be creative in how you spell CACE) is for concision with nothing extraneous; the E is for emphasis. TE is also spelled poorly: T for tone--sarcastic or sincere, loving or rageful and E for ethos--demonstrating good will for the reader. Clarity, Arrangement, Concision, Emphasis Tone, Ethos: Cake and tea.
Do you know what else is british? M. R. James ghost stories. And this year’s story demonstrates the dark side of looking too deeply into visual artifacts. And so, without futher aido, M. R. James’ 1904 story, “The Mezzotint.”
Some time ago I believe I had the pleasure of telling you the story of an adventure which happened to a friend of mine by the name of Dennistoun, during his pursuit of objects of art for the museum at Cambridge.
He did not publish his experiences very widely upon his return to England; but they could not fail to become known to a good many of his friends, and among others to the gentleman who at that time presided over an art museum at another University. It was to be expected that the story should make a considerable impression on the mind of a man whose vocation lay in lines similar to Dennistoun’s, and that he should be eager to catch at any explanation of the matter which tended to make it seem improbable that he should ever be called upon to deal with so agitating an emergency. It was, indeed, somewhat consoling to him to reflect that he was not expected to acquire ancient MSS. for his institution; that was the business of the Shelburnian Library. The authorities of that institution might, if they pleased, ransack obscure corners of the Continent for such matters. He was glad to be obliged at the moment to confine his attention to enlarging the already unsurpassed collection of English topographical drawings and engravings possessed by his museum. Yet, as it turned out, even a department so homely and familiar as this may have its dark corners, and to one of these Mr Williams was unexpectedly introduced.
Those who have taken even the most limited interest in the acquisition of topographical pictures are aware that there is one London dealer whose aid is indispensable to their researches. Mr J. W. Britnell publishes at short intervals very admirable catalogues of a large and constantly changing stock of engravings, plans, and old sketches of mansions, churches, and towns in England and Wales. These catalogues were, of course, the ABC of his subject to Mr Williams: but as his museum already contained an enormous accumulation of topographical pictures, he was a regular, rather than a copious, buyer; and he rather looked to Mr Britnell to fill up gaps in the rank and file of his collection than to supply him with rarities.
Now, in February of last year there appeared upon Mr Williams’s desk at the museum a catalogue from Mr Britnell’s emporium, and accompanying it was a typewritten communication from the dealer himself. This latter ran as follows:
We beg to call your attention to No. 978 in our accompanying catalogue, which we shall be glad to send on approval.
To turn to No. 978 in the accompanying catalogue was with Mr. Williams (as he observed to himself) the work of a moment, and in the place indicated he found the following entry:
978.— Unknown. Interesting mezzotint: View of a manor-house, early part of the century. 15 by 10 inches; black frame. £2 2s.
It was not specially exciting, and the price seemed high. However, as Mr Britnell, who knew his business and his customer, seemed to set store by it, Mr Williams wrote a postcard asking for the article to be sent on approval, along with some other engravings and sketches which appeared in the same catalogue. And so he passed without much excitement of anticipation to the ordinary labours of the day.
A parcel of any kind always arrives a day later than you expect it, and that of Mr Britnell proved, as I believe the right phrase goes, no exception to the rule. It was delivered at the museum by the afternoon post of Saturday, after Mr Williams had left his work, and it was accordingly brought round to his rooms in college by the attendant, in order that he might not have to wait over Sunday before looking through it and returning such of the contents as he did not propose to keep. And here he found it when he came in to tea, with a friend.
The only item with which I am concerned was the rather large, black-framed mezzotint of which I have already quoted the short description given in Mr Britnell’s catalogue. Some more details of it will have to be given, though I cannot hope to put before you the look of the picture as clearly as it is present to my own eye. Very nearly the exact duplicate of it may be seen in a good many old inn parlours, or in the passages of undisturbed country mansions at the present moment. It was a rather indifferent mezzotint, and an indifferent mezzotint is, perhaps, the worst form of engraving known. It presented a full-face view of a not very large manor-house of the last century, with three rows of plain sashed windows with rusticated masonry about them, a parapet with balls or vases at the angles, and a small portico in the centre. On either side were trees, and in front a considerable expanse of lawn. The legend A. W. F. sculpsit was engraved on the narrow margin; and there was no further inscription. The whole thing gave the impression that it was the work of an amateur. What in the world Mr Britnell could mean by affixing the price of £2 2s. to such an object was more than Mr Williams could imagine. He turned it over with a good deal of contempt; upon the back was a paper label, the left-hand half of which had been torn off. All that remained were the ends of two lines of writing; the first had the letters — ngley Hall ; the second,— ssex .
It would, perhaps, be just worth while to identify the place represented, which he could easily do with the help of a gazetteer, and then he would send it back to Mr Britnell, with some remarks reflecting upon the judgement of that gentleman.
He lighted the candles, for it was now dark, made the tea, and supplied the friend with whom he had been playing golf (for I believe the authorities of the University I write of indulge in that pursuit by way of relaxation); and tea was taken to the accompaniment of a discussion which golfing persons can imagine for themselves, but which the conscientious writer has no right to inflict upon any non-golfing persons.
The conclusion arrived at was that certain strokes might have been better, and that in certain emergencies neither player had experienced that amount of luck which a human being has a right to expect. It was now that the friend — let us call him Professor Binks — took up the framed engraving and said:
‘What’s this place, Williams?’
‘Just what I am going to try to find out,’ said Williams, going to the shelf for a gazetteer. ‘Look at the back. Somethingley Hall, either in Sussex or Essex. Half the name’s gone, you see. You don’t happen to know it, I suppose?’
‘It’s from that man Britnell, I suppose, isn’t it?’ said Binks. ‘Is it for the museum?’
‘Well, I think I should buy it if the price was five shillings,’ said Williams; ‘but for some unearthly reason he wants two guineas for it. I can’t conceive why. It’s a wretched engraving, and there aren’t even any figures to give it life.’
‘It’s not worth two guineas, I should think,’ said Binks; ‘but I don’t think it’s so badly done. The moonlight seems rather good to me; and I should have thought there were figures, or at least a figure, just on the edge in front.’
‘Let’s look,’ said Williams. ‘Well, it’s true the light is rather cleverly given. Where’s your figure? Oh, yes! Just the head, in the very front of the picture.’
And indeed there was — hardly more than a black blot on the extreme edge of the engraving — the head of a man or woman, a good deal muffled up, the back turned to the spectator, and looking towards the house.
Williams had not noticed it before.
‘Still,’ he said, ‘though it’s a cleverer thing than I thought, I can’t spend two guineas of museum money on a picture of a place I don’t know.’
Professor Binks had his work to do, and soon went; and very nearly up to Hall time Williams was engaged in a vain attempt to identify the subject of his picture. ‘If the vowel before the ng had only been left, it would have been easy enough,’ he thought; ‘but as it is, the name may be anything from Guestingley to Langley, and there are many more names ending like this than I thought; and this rotten book has no index of terminations.’
Hall in Mr Williams’s college was at seven. It need not be dwelt upon; the less so as he met there colleagues who had been playing golf during the afternoon, and words with which we have no concern were freely bandied across the table — merely golfing words, I would hasten to explain.
I suppose an hour or more to have been spent in what is called common-room after dinner. Later in the evening some few retired to Williams’s rooms, and I have little doubt that whist was played and tobacco smoked. During a lull in these operations Williams picked up the mezzotint from the table without looking at it, and handed it to a person mildly interested in art, telling him where it had come from, and the other particulars which we already know.
The gentleman took it carelessly, looked at it, then said, in a tone of some interest:
‘It’s really a very good piece of work, Williams; it has quite a feeling of the romantic period. The light is admirably managed, it seems to me, and the figure, though it’s rather too grotesque, is somehow very impressive.’
‘Yes, isn’t it?’ said Williams, who was just then busy giving whisky and soda to others of the company, and was unable to come across the room to look at the view again.
It was by this time rather late in the evening, and the visitors were on the move. After they went Williams was obliged to write a letter or two and clear up some odd bits of work. At last, some time past midnight, he was disposed to turn in, and he put out his lamp after lighting his bedroom candle. The picture lay face upwards on the table where the last man who looked at it had put it, and it caught his eye as he turned the lamp down. What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit. But, as that did not happen, he was able to put down the light on the table and take a good look at the picture. It was indubitable — rankly impossible, no doubt, but absolutely certain. In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was crawling on all fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.
I do not know what is the ideal course to pursue in a situation of this kind, I can only tell you what Mr Williams did. He took the picture by one corner and carried it across the passage to a second set of rooms which he possessed. There he locked it up in a drawer, sported the doors of both sets of rooms, and retired to bed; but first he wrote out and signed an account of the extraordinary change which the picture had undergone since it had come into his possession.
Sleep visited him rather late; but it was consoling to reflect that the behaviour of the picture did not depend upon his own unsupported testimony. Evidently the man who had looked at it the night before had seen something of the same kind as he had, otherwise he might have been tempted to think that something gravely wrong was happening either to his eyes or his mind. This possibility being fortunately precluded, two matters awaited him on the morrow. He must take stock of the picture very carefully, and call in a witness for the purpose, and he must make a determined effort to ascertain what house it was that was represented. He would therefore ask his neighbour Nisbet to breakfast with him, and he would subsequently spend a morning over the gazetteer.
Nisbet was disengaged, and arrived about 9.20. His host was not quite dressed, I am sorry to say, even at this late hour. During breakfast nothing was said about the mezzotint by Williams, save that he had a picture on which he wished for Nisbet’s opinion. But those who are familiar with University life can picture for themselves the wide and delightful range of subjects over which the conversation of two Fellows of Canterbury College is likely to extend during a Sunday morning breakfast. Hardly a topic was left unchallenged, from golf to lawn-tennis. Yet I am bound to say that Williams was rather distraught; for his interest naturally centred in that very strange picture which was now reposing, face downwards, in the drawer in the room opposite.
The morning pipe was at last lighted, and the moment had arrived for which he looked. With very considerable — almost tremulous — excitement he ran across, unlocked the drawer, and, extracting the picture — still face downwards — ran back, and put it into Nisbet’s hands.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘Nisbet, I want you to tell me exactly what you see in that picture. Describe it, if you don’t mind, rather minutely. I’ll tell you why afterwards.’
‘Well,’ said Nisbet, ‘I have here a view of a country-house — English, I presume — by moonlight.’
‘Moonlight? You’re sure of that?’
‘Certainly. The moon appears to be on the wane, if you wish for details, and there are clouds in the sky.’
‘All right. Go on. I’ll swear,’ added Williams in an aside, ‘there was no moon when I saw it first.’
‘Well, there’s not much more to be said,’ Nisbet continued. ‘The house has one — two — three rows of windows, five in each row, except at the bottom, where there’s a porch instead of the middle one, and —’
‘But what about figures?’ said Williams, with marked interest.
‘There aren’t any,’ said Nisbet; ‘but —’
‘What! No figure on the grass in front?’
‘Not a thing.’
‘You’ll swear to that?’
‘Certainly I will. But there’s just one other thing.’
‘Why, one of the windows on the ground-floor — left of the door — is open.’
‘Is it really so? My goodness! he must have got in,’ said Williams, with great excitement; and he hurried to the back of the sofa on which Nisbet was sitting, and, catching the picture from him, verified the matter for himself.
It was quite true. There was no figure, and there was the open window. Williams, after a moment of speechless surprise, went to the writing-table and scribbled for a short time. Then he brought two papers to Nisbet, and asked him first to sign one — it was his own description of the picture, which you have just heard — and then to read the other which was Williams’s statement written the night before.
‘What can it all mean?’ said Nisbet.
‘Exactly,’ said Williams. ‘Well, one thing I must do — or three things, now I think of it. I must find out from Garwood’— this was his last night’s visitor —‘what he saw, and then I must get the thing photographed before it goes further, and then I must find out what the place is.’
‘I can do the photographing myself,’ said Nisbet, ‘and I will. But, you know, it looks very much as if we were assisting at the working out of a tragedy somewhere. The question is, has it happened already, or is it going to come off? You must find out what the place is. Yes,’ he said, looking at the picture again, ‘I expect you’re right: he has got in. And if I don’t mistake, there’ll be the devil to pay in one of the rooms upstairs.’
‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Williams: ‘I’ll take the picture across to old Green’ (this was the senior Fellow of the College, who had been Bursar for many years). ‘It’s quite likely he’ll know it. We have property in Essex and Sussex, and he must have been over the two counties a lot in his time.’
‘Quite likely he will,’ said Nisbet; ‘but just let me take my photograph first. But look here, I rather think Green isn’t up today. He wasn’t in Hall last night, and I think I heard him say he was going down for the Sunday.’
‘That’s true, too,’ said Williams; ‘I know he’s gone to Brighton. Well, if you’ll photograph it now, I’ll go across to Garwood and get his statement, and you keep an eye on it while I’m gone. I’m beginning to think two guineas is not a very exorbitant price for it now.’
In a short time he had returned, and brought Mr Garwood with him. Garwood’s statement was to the effect that the figure, when he had seen it, was clear of the edge of the picture, but had not got far across the lawn. He remembered a white mark on the back of its drapery, but could not have been sure it was a cross. A document to this effect was then drawn up and signed, and Nisbet proceeded to photograph the picture.
‘Now what do you mean to do?’ he said. ‘Are you going to sit and watch it all day?’
‘Well, no, I think not,’ said Williams. ‘I rather imagine we’re meant to see the whole thing. You see, between the time I saw it last night and this morning there was time for lots of things to happen, but the creature only got into the house. It could easily have got through its business in the time and gone to its own place again; but the fact of the window being open, I think, must mean that it’s in there now. So I feel quite easy about leaving it. And besides, I have a kind of idea that it wouldn’t change much, if at all, in the daytime. We might go out for a walk this afternoon, and come in to tea, or whenever it gets dark. I shall leave it out on the table here, and sport the door. My skip can get in, but no one else.’
The three agreed that this would be a good plan; and, further, that if they spent the afternoon together they would be less likely to talk about the business to other people; for any rumour of such a transaction as was going on would bring the whole of the Phasmatological Society about their ears.
We may give them a respite until five o’clock.
At or near that hour the three were entering Williams’s staircase. They were at first slightly annoyed to see that the door of his rooms was unsported; but in a moment it was remembered that on Sunday the skips came for orders an hour or so earlier than on weekdays. However, a surprise was awaiting them. The first thing they saw was the picture leaning up against a pile of books on the table, as it had been left, and the next thing was Williams’s skip, seated on a chair opposite, gazing at it with undisguised horror. How was this? Mr Filcher (the name is not my own invention) was a servant of considerable standing, and set the standard of etiquette to all his own college and to several neighbouring ones, and nothing could be more alien to his practice than to be found sitting on his master’s chair, or appearing to take any particular notice of his master’s furniture or pictures. Indeed, he seemed to feel this himself. He started violently when the three men were in the room, and got up with a marked effort. Then he said:
‘I ask your pardon, sir, for taking such a freedom as to set down.’
‘Not at all, Robert,’ interposed Mr Williams. ‘I was meaning to ask you some time what you thought of that picture.’
‘Well, sir, of course I don’t set up my opinion against yours, but it ain’t the pictur I should ‘ang where my little girl could see it, sir.’
‘Wouldn’t you, Robert? Why not?’
‘No, sir. Why, the pore child, I recollect once she see a Door Bible, with pictures not ‘alf what that is, and we ‘ad to set up with her three or four nights afterwards, if you’ll believe me; and if she was to ketch a sight of this skelinton here, or whatever it is, carrying off the pore baby, she would be in a taking. You know ‘ow it is with children; ‘ow nervish they git with a little thing and all. But what I should say, it don’t seem a right pictur to be laying about, sir, not where anyone that’s liable to be startled could come on it. Should you be wanting anything this evening, sir? Thank you, sir.’
With these words the excellent man went to continue the round of his masters, and you may be sure the gentlemen whom he left lost no time in gathering round the engraving. There was the house, as before under the waning moon and the drifting clouds. The window that had been open was shut, and the figure was once more on the lawn: but not this time crawling cautiously on hands and knees. Now it was erect and stepping swiftly, with long strides, towards the front of the picture. The moon was behind it, and the black drapery hung down over its face so that only hints of that could be seen, and what was visible made the spectators profoundly thankful that they could see no more than a white dome-like forehead and a few straggling hairs. The head was bent down, and the arms were tightly clasped over an object which could be dimly seen and identified as a child, whether dead or living it was not possible to say. The legs of the appearance alone could be plainly discerned, and they were horribly thin.
From five to seven the three companions sat and watched the picture by turns. But it never changed. They agreed at last that it would be safe to leave it, and that they would return after Hall and await further developments.
When they assembled again, at the earliest possible moment, the engraving was there, but the figure was gone, and the house was quiet under the moonbeams. There was nothing for it but to spend the evening over gazetteers and guide-books. Williams was the lucky one at last, and perhaps he deserved it. At 11.30 p.m. he read from Murray’s Guide to Essex the following lines:
16–1/2 miles, Anningley . The church has been an interesting building of Norman date, but was extensively classicized in the last century. It contains the tomb of the family of Francis, whose mansion, Anningley Hall, a solid Queen Anne house, stands immediately beyond the churchyard in a park of about 80 acres. The family is now extinct, the last heir having disappeared mysteriously in infancy in the year 1802. The father, Mr Arthur Francis, was locally known as a talented amateur engraver in mezzotint. After his son’s disappearance he lived in complete retirement at the Hall, and was found dead in his studio on the third anniversary of the disaster, having just completed an engraving of the house, impressions of which are of considerable rarity.
This looked like business, and, indeed, Mr Green on his return at once identified the house as Anningley Hall.
‘Is there any kind of explanation of the figure, Green?’ was the question which Williams naturally asked.
‘I don’t know, I’m sure, Williams. What used to be said in the place when I first knew it, which was before I came up here, was just this: old Francis was always very much down on these poaching fellows, and whenever he got a chance he used to get a man whom he suspected of it turned off the estate, and by degrees he got rid of them all but one. Squires could do a lot of things then that they daren’t think of now. Well, this man that was left was what you find pretty often in that country — the last remains of a very old family. I believe they were Lords of the Manor at one time. I recollect just the same thing in my own parish.’
‘What, like the man in Tess o’ the Durbervilles ?’ Williams put in.
‘Yes, I dare say; it’s not a book I could ever read myself. But this fellow could show a row of tombs in the church there that belonged to his ancestors, and all that went to sour him a bit; but Francis, they said, could never get at him — he always kept just on the right side of the law — until one night the keepers found him at it in a wood right at the end of the estate. I could show you the place now; it marches with some land that used to belong to an uncle of mine. And you can imagine there was a row; and this man Gawdy (that was the name, to be sure — Gawdy; I thought I should get it — Gawdy), he was unlucky enough, poor chap! to shoot a keeper. Well, that was what Francis wanted, and grand juries — you know what they would have been then — and poor Gawdy was strung up in double-quick time; and I’ve been shown the place he was buried in, on the north side of the church — you know the way in that part of the world: anyone that’s been hanged or made away with themselves, they bury them that side. And the idea was that some friend of Gawdy’s — not a relation, because he had none, poor devil! he was the last of his line: kind of spes ultima gentis — must have planned to get hold of Francis’s boy and put an end to his line, too. I don’t know — it’s rather an out-of-the-way thing for an Essex poacher to think of — but, you know, I should say now it looks more as if old Gawdy had managed the job himself. Booh! I hate to think of it! have some whisky, Williams!’
The facts were communicated by Williams to Dennistoun, and by him to a mixed company, of which I was one, and the Sadducean Professor of Ophiology another. I am sorry to say that the latter when asked what he thought of it, only remarked: ‘Oh, those Bridgeford people will say anything’— a sentiment which met with the reception it deserved.
I have only to add that the picture is now in the Ashleian Museum; that it has been treated with a view to discovering whether sympathetic ink has been used in it, but without effect; that Mr Britnell knew nothing of it save that he was sure it was uncommon; and that, though carefully watched, it has never been known to change again.
Wed, 31 August 2016
On Christian Teaching
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. Big thanks to the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project for supporting the podcast.
Today we get to talk about the saint who brought classical rhetoric into the realm of Christian homiletics. Augustine was a fourth century saint whose life in someways demonstrates the great sea-changes in the Mediterranean world of rhetoric, education and religion. His father was pagan, his mother was Christian and young Augustine describes himself as a bit of a genius hedonist in his Confessions. His teachers were supposedly terrible, but he mastered the standards of a Roman education—Virgil and Cicero. He eventually became a rhetoric teacher in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He taught rhetoric all told for somewhere between ten and fifteen years, before his eventual conversion to Christianity and vocation as a priest and the bishop of Hippo. He must have spent a lot of time pondering the question of how his previous career as one who taught other people how to persuade could be reconciled with his new religion’s emphasis on inspiration. If God will give the preacher exactly the words which he needs, either through scripture or through divine inspiration, is there any space for a Christian rhetoric? He started working on his definition of Christian rhetoric as early as the 390s, but On Christian Teaching wasn’t finished until 427, only three years before his death. Throughout those forty years, Augustine must have thought about the practical question of whether Christian preachers could be trained to give better sermons, much as he had spent more than a decade teaching young men in the principles secular rhetoric.
The first argument that Augustine has to make is that Christian teaching can be rhetorical. Rhetoric was seen as pagan and more than a little sneaky. Augustine argues that rhetoric may be used by Christians as a means of spoiling of Egypt to adorn the temples of Jerusalem (Green’s 64-7). The biblical allusion he’s making comes from the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt who took pagan gold with them to make their own religious items. Augustine’s metaphor implies that rhetoric, like the gold itself, is valuable, but it must be melted down and essentialized from its current pagan form. Augustine goes on to argue that Christians not only benefit from using rhetoric, but they avoid rhetoric at their own peril. Because “rhetoric is used to give conviction to both truth and falsehood” why should truth “stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood” (101)? So Augustine argues that rhetoric has both positive and defensive value, but as part of the melting down of the pagan gold idols, he recommends several key differences from classical rhetoric.
First, the similarities: there’s a lot that Augustine believes that the Christian can be taught about oratory, especially he classical idea of the three levels of speaking, high, middle and plain. He is very willing to steal the gold, also, of the three aims of the orator, to instrut, delight and move, which Augustine calls “to be listened to with understanding, with pleasure and with obedience” (87). Even the methods of instruction can be taken from the pagan rhetors. Imitation looms large, except more Paul, perhaps, and less Cicero. Augustine sees the bible as not just source material, but examplars. This is a very Classical way of teaching style. Augustine’s destinction between “things” (the content) and “signs” (the proclaimation of the content) is itself a very classical distinction. Augustine’s “Egyptian gold” seems to be of a very Platonic and Ciceronian ore, but he does melt it down to reform it into a more Christian shape through two important moves.
First, Augustine puts a heavy emphasis on the ethos of the speaker. Classical rhetoric, too, especially Cicero, who Augustine read, valued ethos, but for Augustine, the character of the preacher is important for practical as well as theological reasons. Augustine demands that the speaker live a good life and be in companionship with the inspiration of the Spirit of God. While Augustine admits that “A wise and eloquent speaker who lives a wicked life certainly educates many who are eager to learn, although he is useless to his own soul,” he believes that the speaker in front on an audience should, in the best case, be the best sort of man (142). The speaker who is a good person can teach through acts as well as through words. By living lives that were beyond reproach, the preachers who follow Augustine “benefit far more people if they practiced what they preached” (143). This follows Paul’s injunction to his own teacher-in-training, Timothy, when he says about bishops that they “must have a good report of them which are without” (1 Tim. 3:7). The people outside of the church as well as in, would be best to have a good example teaching them
But for Augustine, it’s not enough just to live a moral life—pagan Stoics and Epicureans can similarly follow rules they have made for themselves. Augustine also says that the preacher needs to pray and receive the Holy Ghost’s instruction. The preacher needs to pray in preparation “praying for himself and for those he is about to address” (121). He needs the prayer in order to be able to be an instrument of the Spirit and the audience need the prayer so they can be receptive to the message. The preacher gets the truth of the subject as well as the delivery from the prayer. As a vessel fro the truth the preacher prays so he “can utter what he had drunk in and pour out what has filled him” (121). Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121). The idea behind this is that eloquence can come as does inspiration to speak the right thing—from the inspiration of the Spirit.
Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121).
This idea that the preacher can appeal to divine eloquence instead of considering the rhetorical situation has made several 20th century scholars frustrated with Augustine. Kenneth Burke complains in Rhetoric of Motives that Augustine seeks “cajoling of an audience [not] routing of opponents.” I don’t pretend to know every Burke means, but that seems like a bit of an unfair argument because Augustine spends most of his time describing homiletics, a genre that operates on the assumption that the speaker and the audience are already in agreement on most of the key principles, if not the application and degree. Once they’ve put on the stiff suit, or itchy nylons and are sitting on the hard-backed pews at an unreasonable hour of a Sunday morning, you’ve already won a large part of the battle. Your audience is probably less diametrically opposed to you than would be, say, the senate in a legislative speech or the jury in a judicial speech. Stanley Fish objects that that Augstine’s dependence on spirit depreciates the speaker, which is actually a very old argument against Christian homiletics. In the Renaissance, rhetoric was a scary idea in general and we’ll talk about Wayne Rebhorn’s books about rhetoric debates later, but the key thing is that Augustine along with his critics had to deal with how rhetoric fits into one of the key Christian paradoxes: that men are both “little lower than the angels” and also “less than the dust of the earth.” Fish is right that Augustine’s reliance on spirit depreciates the agency of the speaker, but he neglects that for Augustine the steps necessary to receive the spirit—obedience and prayer—are responsibilities of the speaker, as necessary to a Christian canon of rhetoric as invention and arrangement. And it’s not just a Christian rhetoric that Augustine is describing here: it’s a neo-Platonic one.
Plato’s influence is seen all over On Christian Doctrine. You might not remember from our episode on the Pheadrus, but Plato believed that eternal truths about, for example, beauty could be “remembered” in this world. What we are remembering are the glimpses of truth that we were able to see in a spirit world where we were able to control our rash desires. In other words, when we were obedient to our better selves. Augustine was a big fan of Plato, but as a rhetorician, he probably liked the pro-rhetoric Plato best. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine seeks a way to reconcile his neo-Platonist philosophy, Christianity and the idea that good preaching is a skill that can be teachable and improved. In the turn of the fourth century, Augustine witnessed both the 410 sack of Rome and the 430 Vandal invasion of Hippo, his own home. He lived right on the boundary between the end of the old, Roman Mediterranean world and the rise of the Christian European one. In all of the tumultuous change that was about to begin, Augustine recommended adaption, not revolution, as Christians reused the best rhetorical practices of the pagan world to build their new era.
Wed, 3 August 2016
Welcome to MR the podcast about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today we’re going to be talking about what are perhaps some old ideas, but from a fresh angle. What if the way we thought about traditional rhetoric in a more modern context? But first, let me give a shout out to the Humanities Media Project, whose support lets us record these podcasts in such sound-proof-room splendor, and Jacob in the booth, who not only lets me know when I’ve muttered my lines, but edits it up so that it doesn’t sound like I did. Okay, back to the show.
Rhetoric is a field bound by tradition. And no tradition is more traditional than Aristotle’s original three appeals: ethos logos pathos. Often times I think that if my first year composition students learn one thing this semester, it is ethos logos pathos and if they remember one thing five years after this semester, it will be ethos, logos and pathos. But one of the problems with the appeals is that they are ethos, logos and pathos--weird Greek words that don’t exactly map onto English easily. I’m forever explaining that a pathetic appeal isn’t a terrible one, or a tragic one, or that logos doesn’t just mean computer-program logic. M. Jimmie Killingsworth set out to reform and modernise the appeals in his 2005 text titles, appropriately enough, “Appeals in Modern Rhetoric:an Ordinary-Language approach.”
Killingsworth breaks down the appeals in this way: Appeals to authority and evidence; appeals to time; appeals to place; appeals to the body; appeals to gender; appeals to race; appeals to race; appeals through tropes and the appeal of narrative.
Some of these may see straightforward and ever-lasting: appeals to authority, for instance, seem as old as time and require rhetors to judiciously determine which authorities are authoritative for them as well as for the audience. But some of the appeals restructure how we think about rhetoric. Appeals to time, for instance, is a general way to describe how Aristotle’s other division, the genres of rhetoric, relate to each other. The genres of rhetoric, you might recall, include forensic (looking at the past), epideictic (looking at the present) and deliberative (looking towards the future). Again, because these genres seem very distant to modern audiences, Killingsworth translates into contemporary business writing:” reports narrate the pass, instructions deal with actions in the present time and proposals mak arguments for future action” (38). But these genres aren’t just neutral--they may an argument to the audience. Arguing that something is modern, or urgent is an appeal in itself, as does harkening back to the halcyon days of yesteryear. Instead of thinking of genres as genres, Killingsworth encourages us to think of them as arguments.
Killingsworth also breaks down the appeal about the author into some of the key identities which modern rhetors might use: appeals to race and to gender. He also pulls a bit an Aristotle himself in classifying these appeals further. TAke, for instance, appeal to race, where he talks about the way that racial stereotypes creates an othering. Fine, we might say, we all know that racial stereotypes create a wedge between groups, and “reduce the complexity of individuals and cultural groups” (99) but how exactly does this happen? In three ways, Killingworth suggests, in true artistotlean fashion. “Diminishment of character involves the denial of key human qualities” such as assuming that a group of people don’t love their children as keenly as another or that a group doesn’t value romantic love (99-100). Dehumanization goes even further and makes the people into animals or objects. The extreme example of this is chattel slavery, which completely dehumanizes slaves. Finally, demonization is where a race is seen as superhumanly wicked. “Western devils” for instance, or Indian witches, or black devils, who only exist to perpetrate crimes against another race. (100).
Killingsworth may be straying back difficult terminology when he talks about appeal through tropes--what the heck is a trope? Well, he’s talking about the four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony, but he’s going to describe what they are and how they work as appeals in this way: you can identify one position with another, like a metaphor; you can associate one position with another, like metonymy; you can represent one position by another and you can close the distance between two positions and increase the distance from a third, like irony (121). Let’s give a few practical examples of how that might work. Metaphor, you might remember, is a little like an SAT verbal question. If I say “Cedar pollen smacked me in the face today,” I’m saying pollen is to immune system as fist is to face. In terms of an argument, you might say, like Martin Luther King Jr, that “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is cover up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed” and so make the comparison that activists are to injustice as doctors are to illness (125). Metonymy sustitutes the part for the whole, for example, when someone says they question the bible, they don’t question the existence of such a book, but the validity of the events narrated therein.Synecdoche looks at a critical part for the full. There might be a critical story that tells a fuller story.
For example, if I begin a paper about graduate student writers by telling about a student who was frustrated when her literature professors didn’t give her quizzes about the main characters in the books they read, I’m saying that something about this story relates to how all graduate students feel when they transition from undergraduate programs. Burke calls this the representative anecdote--a small story that represents a larger trend. Irony is, as Killingsworth says, “the most complex and diffitult of the four master tropes” (131). Irony is a beast, and we’ll talk more in-depth about irony this semester when we talk about Booth’s Rhetoric of Irony. Killingsworth here, though, points out that the “crucial elements of iron’ are “Tone and insider knowledge” (132). We come to identify with the rhetor when we hear irony because we’re both in the know.
So once I was describe satire and I described Swift’s a Modest Proposal as a magnificent work of ironic satire and one of my students sat bolt upright in his seat. “That was ironic?!” he said. “I just assumed Swift was some kind of sicko.” Really, Swift says we should eat babies, so how does anyone think he isn’t some kind of sicko? Well, partially because before I read a Modest Proposal, I knew Swift was a clergyman who worked with poor people in Ireland for most of his career, and I also knew that Swift loved satire--he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, after all. Because of my inside knowledge, I was able to interpret Swift’s exaggerations as irony. And then Swift and I get to stand together, winking at each other against the supporters of the Corn Tax. Irony unites the speaker and audience as we poke fun at the subjects of our irony (132-3).
So Killingsworth provides a review of many of the principles of rhetoric we’ve discussed in the podcast and well as a preview of things to come. Rhetoric, he proposes, is not just about stuffy terms and dead Greeks, but something that continues with us in all situations, even in the modern world.
Wed, 13 July 2016
Bootstraps, Victor Villanueva
What does a rhetorician look like? When you imagine a rhetorician, maybe you see some white-toga-ed Roman, crossing his legs under his seat, holding a stylus to his chin. Or maybe you imagine a tweedy early twentieth century rhetorician, shaking out a newspaper and frowning. Or maybe you even imagine a contemporary rhetorician, presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America in front of a powerpoint presentation. But here’s a question for you--did you imagine a white rhetorician?
Today on Mere Rhetoric, we talk about Victor Villanueva’s book Bootstraps: from an American Academic of Color, which interrogates our discipline’s white privilege and privileging. But before we get to that, let me start out by thanking some people. First off, much thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas at Austin for supporting the show, including letting me record in this great recording booth with great people like Jacob here to record and edit. Also, thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a review of Mere Rhetoric on iTunes. Also thanks to my fiance Krystian for always believing in me. Know how you feel when you get written comments on end of semester evaluations? That’s how I feel everytime someone leaves a review. Finally, since I just came back from a conference where I got to meet some great people who like the podcast, I’d like to give a big shout out to Clancy Ratliff for showing me a great restaurant in Lafayette and her student Nolan, who let me jabber about the connections between creative writing and composition while he showed me where my next session was. If you have strong opinions about the best place to eat in your hometown, or if you have a suggestion for the next episode, why not drop us a line at email@example.com? Okay, enough business--let’s get to it.
I first became aware of the racial imbalance in rhetoric at my first RSA conference. Sharon Crowley was giving one of the key addresses, talking about racism in our students, in our institutions, and at one point I looked around at the audience--and wondered about racism in our own field as well. There were a few black and brown faces, but almost everyone in the great hall was white. We couldn’t, I realized, talk about racism in our classrooms and our colleges without interrogating our own racial assumptions.
That’s exactly what Victor Villanueva sets out to do in Bootstraps. Villanueva is a hot shot rhetorician, by almost any standard possible. He’s received the David H Russell Award for Distinquished Research, the Exemplar Award and Scholarship in English and was Rhetorician of the Year in 1999. Side bar: I did not know there was an award for being Rhetorician of the Year. Somehow, I imagine a People Magazine spread like for Sexiest Man Alive, but with pictures of academics mid-gesture in a lecture or thoughtfully frowning at a computer. Villanueva has also published and edited over 80 books including the essential anthology Cross Talk in Composition and Rhetorics of the Americas: 3114 BCE to 2013 CE. Guy knows his stuff. When you are literally rhetorician of the year, you must be the quintessential rhetorician, confident and poised in your rhetoricianness.
You’d think so.
In Bootstraps, Puerto-Rico-born Villanueva weaves autobiography, scholarship and teacher research together into an exploration of how the academic world can seem uncomfortable and unwelcoming to academics of color. He himself, for his PhD and his 80 books, when he writes about himself in the third person “He still suffers [the fear that he isn’t as smart as he thinks] today, thirty years later, PhD, publications and all… He has seen the liberal’s fear of being honest with people of color about their abilities; the fear of being considered a bigot .. He has seen that tokenism, even when well-motivated, even though somehow necessary, makes things seem equitable when they aren’t equitable at all… he always wonders if, maybe, he isn’t as smart as people think” (13).
Little commentary here: this feeling, like you don’t belong, is called impostor syndrome and it’s pernicious among graduate students, more especially people who already feel like they don’t belong, as Villaneauva says about his own PhD “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but knew I was getting into something not intended for the likes of me” (xv). I remember when I got accepted at the University of Texas at Austin, I had nightmares that I hadn’t been, in fact, accepted, but had been allowed to complete on a reality to show to gain entrance into UT Austin. “Who Wants to Be a Longhorn?” Other graduate students, professional athletes and actors, and anyone who feels like they got into something for which they secretly might not be qualified suffers from this feeling. We’ll talk about more impostor syndrome in another podcast, but for our purposes here, the key thing to remember is that academics of color, even when they are invited into programs and departments warmly can still doubt the sincerity of the welcome. They can doubt themselves, when the culture has been insisting for their whole lives that academia is “not intended for the likes” of them.
Villanueva’s education in the 60s certainly didn’t forsee a brilliant rhetoric academic career for little Victor. His first school that assumed that “you people need to learn a trade,” in the words of one of his teachers (3) and at the next one the PE teacher shouted “Go home and get a haircut! And don’t come back until you do!” So, he didn’t (38). Yeah, that’s right--Villanueva, probably one of the most important rhetorical authors of the later 20th century didn’t graduate high school, but the high schools he would have graduated perpetually underestimated him. Only through detours in the military did he finally come to Tacoma Community college: “I wanted to try my hand at college, go beyond the GED. But college scared me. I had been told long again that college wasn’t my lot” (66).
So I started this podcast talking about Sharon Crowley’s speech at RSA, and she shows up at a crucial point in Villaneuva’s life because it was Crowley, “the first person he had ever read who had written of the sophists--a bigshot” (118) who offered him a job. It’s not a happy ending though--material conditions are hard for any young academic and more especially those who don’t have large family resources.
One of the reasons why he had been underestimated is that he was a minority in the nation. That’s a word that’s hard to pin down or used too casually, but Villanueva makes a distinction between the immigrant and the minority: “We behave as if the minority problem where the immigrant problem,” (19) and all we need is to make the minority sound or act like the majority. “The difference between the immigrant and the minority amounts to the difference between immigration and colonization” (29). He tells the story of two of his students arguing about English’s role in the composition classroom. “Both are Latinos, Spanish speakers, but Martha is Colombian; Paul is Puerto Rican. Martha, the immigrant. Paul, the minority. Martha believes in the possibilities for complete structural assimilation; Paul is more cautious” (24). “The immigrant seeks to take on the culture of the majority,” he suggests, “and the majority, given certain preconditions, not leaves of which is displaying the language and dialect of the majority, accepts the immigrant. The minority, even when accepting the culture of the majority,is never wholly accepted. There is always a distance” (23).
“The code switcher is a rhetorical power player,” he quips, pointing to how bilinguals recognize intuitively the fluid nature of language, the rhetorical nuances that comes from understanding the inexact nature of self-translation (23).Villanueva points out that we often assume that cultural shifting happens naturally, without any work, when, in fact, it’s very hard to try to keep both of your identities as an other-American. Villanueva tells of his own personal experience with assimilation when he was drilled into strict prescriptivist English as a young boy in Puerto Rico. He was criticised for speaking with an accent, but “there was no verbal deprivation at play, just a process that takes time, ‘interlanguage’ to use a sociological term” (32). Eventually he read and listened and spoke more in English until “the accent disappeared, and Spanish no longer came easily, sometimes going through French or through Latin in my head, the languages of my profession, searching for the Spanish with which to speak to my family. Assimilation” (33).
But it’s very difficult to try to be perfect at Spanish and perfect and English. “Biculturalism,” he writes, does not mean to me an equal ease with two cultures. That is an ideal. Rather, biculturalism means the tensions within, which are cause by being unable to deny the old, ot the new ...I resent the tension, that the ideal is not to be realized, that we cannot be the mosaic … nor can we be the melting pot if that were the preference” (39). Those old metaphors, the mosaic and the melting pot, don’t do enough to describe all of the cultures in the country and the complex ways those cultures relate.
The first step, it is implied, is just to make the implicit explicit and recognize that culture is necessarily complex and changing. “It is not enough to recognize and make explicit our cultures. We need to recognize cultures in the context of other cultures, since none of us can be monocultural in America. Mexican americans may have a culture in common with many Mexicans, say, but Mexican Americans also have a culture in common with fellow Americans” (57). It’s like the classic 1997 film Selena where Selena’s dad points out the frustration of trying to navigate two culture and two languages, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”
Selena’s dad is right. It’s additionally important not to essentialize. “Puerto Ricans may be ‘Hispanics.’ Yet our history in general and our history as it pertains to the United States is very different from the histories of both the Mexican American and the Mexican” (57). These differences are sometimes bluntly painted over, through terms like Hispanic or even “minority.” Villanueva tells ruefully of being asked to review an article on Mexican rhetoric, even though he isn’t Mexican, but even if had been Puerto Rican rhetoric, he’s a classicist, working on the sophists. He knows about Isocrates best, so why would he be pigeonholed in this way?
If it’s not obvious by now, Villanueva is also heavily influenced by Marxist thought. He suggests that the ultimate goal of the field of Rhetoric and Composition is to develop the “organic intellectual,” a theory from Antonio Gramsci about the combination of personal experience and academic learning--much like the book Bootstraps itself. Don’t ever say Villanueva doesn’t practice what he preaches. The organic intellectual doesn’t stay in the ivory tower, but “is involved ‘in active participation in practical life’ … an intellectual liaison between the groups seeking revolutionary change and the rest of civil society” (129).
This perspective should influence everything we do in our weird academic culture--the way we teach our classrooms and the things we research and publish, the way we structure our departments and graduate programs and admissions and graduation requirements.
Villanueva ends the book with a call that I find pretty darn stirring. I’ll give him the last word: “As our status as workers becomes more apparent and as we come more in contact with more of those who are intellectuals from non-traditional backgrounds, we find ourselves in a potentially decisive moment. The moment is right for America’s intellectuals in traditional academic roles to help organize intellectuals recognize themselves as such and to begin to fuse with them--creating Gransmi’s new intellectuals” (138)
Wed, 6 July 2016
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today or rather, the day I wrote this, I got some bad news, so to make up for it, I get to talk about Jeffrey Walker, who is one of my favorite people ever, and I get to talk about one of my favorite books, too, his Genuine Teachers of This Art, subtitled Rhetorical Education in Antiquity.
Basically Walker’s arguing that rhetoric as a field is, at its very core, pedagogical. It’s not just practice of rhetoric or analysis of rhetoric, but that both of these really come into being through the teaching of rhetoric. As he says “by defining ‘the art of the rhetor” as the art of producing a rhetor, one puts the other definitions into relation. The pedagogical project sets the agenda for the critical-rheoretic one and determines the appropriate objects of study… Its pedagogical enterprise is what ultimately makes rhetoric rhetoric and not just a version of something else” (2-3).
Walker’s title comes from a line from Cicero’s dialogs on the orator. Antonius describes Isocrates’ subsequent rhetoric teachers as the “genuine teachers of this art” and Isocrates does feature heavily in how we think about rhetoric and the teaching of rhetoric.
At the center of this text, Walker does the incredible work of reverse engineering the techne or art of rhetoric that Isocrates may have written. We think Isocrates wrote such a treatise. Zosimus’s Life of Isocrates in the the fifth century wrote “It is said that Isocrates also wrote an art of rhetoric bu in the course of time it was lost” (qtd. 57) Cicero, too, and Quintilian, seem to take it for granted that Isocrates had a complete rhetoric treatise. We might, Walker points out, not impose our own publishing tradition on what this would look like. Isocrates’ treatise on rhetoric would be, like Aritotle’s probably was “a ‘teacher’s manual’ or ‘toolbox’ containing an organized and thus memorizable and searchable, collection of ‘the things that can be taught’ and a stock of explanations and examples” (84).
Combining shorter pieces of Isocrates’ with cited fragments and other sources’ admiration, parody and allusion, Walker reconstructs what this lost document might look like. He suggests that by looking at, say, the legal arguments of Isocrates, you can see evidence of a “rudimentary stasis system”: did they do it? how bad was it? was it legal or right? if it was right was that because of advantage, honor or justice? Of course there’s a bunch of stylistic rules some of which seem uniquely suited to Greek language and culture. And, of course, imitation is paramount. Over all, it seems that Isocrates’ pedagogical philosophy “assumes an ideal student of ready which who can take the imprint of the stylistic models set before him and can quickly come to imitate and absorb them” (153).
One of the key pedagogical assignments, then, is declamation. We don’t think of performance and acting as part of rhetorical discovery, but back in Isocrates’ day,speaking was extremely important, and the old debate practice of speaking your opponents’ words was a key pedagocial practice. Not just your opponent, but just “others” with whom you may or may not agree, sort of playing a part and trying on an argument. Think of it a little as if you were doing mock trial back in high school and some peopel are given the role of defense counsil and some are prosecution and some are witnesses: you have the facts of the case, but then you play the role the best you can within that structure. It’s invention, but also acting and it can be an effective pedagogical tool. As Walker puts it “the student was(is) freed from the pressure to discover the ‘correct answer’” (198) and “because the the student is playing a role, his or her youthful ego is not at stake, and it is possible to both play with the lines or argument and to reflect on them as well” (199).
If you have a question about some of the verbs and pronouns used in those last quotes, it’s because Walker doesn’t just study this stuff--he teaches it. Since his whole argument is that rhetoric is about being a teacher, he doesn’t shy away from describing how contemporary first year composition can embrace “rhetoric [as] an art of cultivating a productive, performative capacity” and unabashedly declares that “Rhetorical scholarship that made no consequential difference to what rhetors/writers do, or to how rhetors/writers are trained, would have little point. Perhaps that is obvious. Yet it is easy to forget” (288). Man, I get chills reading those words. I should take a moment here to say that if you use rhetorical methods from the ancients, like closely imitating exemplors or trying on other arguments, why not shoot a line at Mere Rhetoricpodcast@gmail.com? I’d love to hear about it and maybe we could do an episode just on the history and benefit of, say, imitation or declamation.
Okay, here’s the last word from Dr. Walker, though “Ancient rhetorical education appealed to the desired that brought the motivated student to it and that persists today: the desire expressed by Isocrates’ students to say admirable things; or Plato’s Phaedrus’ remark that he would rather be eloquent like Lysias than rich; or Plato’s Hippocrates’ wish to learn to speak ‘awesomely’ like Protagoras … Rhetoric, as a paideia, was a ‘sweet garden’ where the young could experience and enact such things as theater, as game, and in so doing could cultivate their dunamis for wise and eloquent speech, thought and writing in practical situations as well as develop an attachment to a dream paradigm of democratic civic life” (293-4)
Wed, 15 June 2016
[acoustic guitar music]
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, terms, and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren.
If you're listening to this podcast, you're probably somebody who's interested in the power of language. You're probably an English major or a Rhetoric and Writing major, or you're at least taking a class in it.
But there are a lot of different disciplines that we've all interacted with. Whether it was a required biology class when you were an undergraduate, or a course in statistics you're taking right now. One of the things that's difficult to tease out in rhetoric and composition is how different disciplines create different types of writing genres and different forms of writing. This is one of the things that Susan Peck MacDonald encountered in the early 1990s. In her book Professional Academic Writing, she thinks about writing in these different disciplines as a spectrum. She sees these academic disciplines may be roughly ranged on a continuum by the degree to which their knowledge-making goals and practices are in the foreground. But even though she puts them around a continuum, she's not saying that there's anything wrong with having different types of knowledge-making goals, nor is it too, as she says, "deny that there may be other goals in the social sciences and humanities, but it serves as a focal point for exploring the differences among the disciplines."
So along the spectrum, she posits on one side, academic fields are arrayed more or less on a continuum, from the hard sciences to the soft humanities. And in this way, she realizes that a lot of the work that's been done by people in the humanities has been to what she calls "debunk" -- fields that are harder than the field that they're written in. So something about being in the humanities makes you want to prove that science isn't just objective. And she says that this debunking, quote, "suggests there is a strong tendency toward rearguard action, stemming from perceived loss of power, desire for enhanced status, and intellectual insecurity among social scientists and humanists." While that may be true, sometimes I do think we suffer from what she terms "science envy".
So I think it's fair to sort of re-approach this question of disciplinarity from what it would be like within that actual discipline. So that's just what she's done. She's compiled these three sort of representative groups: the humanities, the social sciences, and science. And she's put them along this continuum. So representing science, she has psychology, specifically infant attachment research. So this is, you know, how much babies are attached to their mothers and what impact that has and how to test that. The sort of stuff where you actually have people in white lab coats standing behind two-way mirrors, observing stuff happening. Then in the middle, she has social sciences, which in this group is history, which sometimes looks a little bit more like humanities and sometimes looks a little bit more social studies-ish. Then on the far end, she has humanities. And the group that she looks up is new historicists, which in the mid-90s were kind of a big rising star in the world of literary studies. So she puts these groups along the continuum, and then she tries to find, what are some of the representative articles of it? So she gets some journals that are representative in the field of these three different studies. And what she does is she begins to look at the writing styles, even down to the very level of sentences. She says that academic writing may be readily described as a vehicle for constructing and negotiating knowledge claims.
So she suggests that the different types of knowledge claims that these three groups are making is going to be represented in the type of sentences that they use. And so to be able to do this, she codes these sentences in seven different groups. The first group are the groups that she calls "phenomenological". These are things -- in the first place, particulars. Specific people, places, things. In the second place, she puts groups of things. So groups of people, places. In the third group, she talks about attributes of those things. So for example, Queen Elizabeth's desire is an attribute of a particular, Queen Elizabeth. And she suggests that these groups that are more phenomenological are probably going to be less based in really knowledge-dense disciplines. The next class are the epistemic classes, and these include reasons, research, -isms like Marxism or feminism, and appeals to the audience, like "we think this," "we think that". What she found is that literature leans heavily towards the phenomenal cases -- a lot of particulars and a lot of attributes. While psychology is a little bit more epistemic; reasons dominate, with a little bit of research as well, and some talk about groups. In between them, history focuses on groups, and then a little bit on attributes. So by looking at the distribution of the subjects of the sentences and these different disciplines, MacDonald has sort of teased out that the types of writing that they do, down to the very sentence level, may represent what the priorities are for the different disciplines. From this, she's sort of able to describe her theory that she articulates at the beginning of the book, that some disciplines are rural, and others are urban. I really like this metaphor, because it provides a really clear visual representation of what happens in the knowledge-making of these different groups. In the sciences, things are very dense. You have a lot of people working in a very small area. So you can imagine a skyscraper with thousands of scientists all working on one part of one gene, all the time.
Things move very quickly, you have to publish very fast off of your results, things are always changing. This is why perhaps in the sciences, they favor a style like APA that highlights the dates. On the other side of things, you have very rural disciplines. So you can think of these as homesteaders, people who don't like to be fenced in. And in fact, sometimes in the humanities, if anybody gets too close to you and starts doing the same sort of research you're doing, you purposely might change your focus and get a little bit farther out into the frontier. These groups are focusing on individuality and novelty in the ways that they approach their research. So once MacDonald has sort of taken a look at all of these different disciplines, the next step is to think about, well how do you learn to write in a discipline?
As she says, "Any suggestions about changing in academic writing involve understanding of the complexities of the different writings styles. So blanket condemnations of passive verbs for instance, or prescriptions for vividly concrete verbs, are largely ineffectual because they do not take into account either the historical situatedness, or the complex of knowledge-making goals and rhetorical situations represented in different kinds of academic writing," end quote. So if you worked in a writing center for example, it might be tempting to see a lab report and begin to criticize them for having passive verbs, when actually that's very appropriate in that kind of discipline. I think what MacDonald is suggesting here is that disciplines are unique from each other, and it might be worthwhile to sort of appreciate where they're coming from and just kind of accept it. If you're learning to write within a specific discipline, she suggests that you go through four stages. The first is nonacademic writing -- so casual personal writing.
Texts, blogs, things like that. Then in stage two, you learn what she calls generalized academic writing, concerned with stating claims, offering evidence, respecting other people's opinions, and learning to write with authority. Level two is kind of the stuff that we think of as happening in first year composition. In level three, she talks about novice approximations of particular disciplinary ways of making knowledge. So this would be like as you move into your discipline, you begin to write more and more lab reports, or you co-author on a paper -- things like that. Finally, you've reached level four, which is expert insider prose when you're really deep in the discipline. So MacDonald suggests that disciplines aren't all the same. And the types of writing that they do may reflect different priorities. Even though you may be solidly entrenched in the world of English and words, think about that next time you talk with somebody who identifies as an economist, or a psychologist, or a physicist, or a chemist. The way that you talk about academic writing may be very different from the way they do.
[shakers and acoustic guitar music]
Wed, 1 June 2016
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter @mererhetoricked. This is a rebroadcasted episode
And guys. Guys, today we address the last of the three traditional branches of rhetoric. This makes me sad. We had the Law and Order rush of judicial or forensic rhetoric and the pageantry of epideictic rhetoric and today we come to deliberative, or political rhetoric. And then we won’t have any more branches of rhetoric, because if there’s one thing Aristotle loved, it’s breaking things down into threes.
It is, of course, Aristotle who thought to divide rhetoric into the three genres of judicial, epideictic and deliberative and there’s nothing that says rhetoric always fits into these handy three categories, but it was convenient for Aristotle to do so. Think about it: Three branches of rhetoric. One of them, the judicial, focuses on the past—did the accused do something accuse-worthy? One of them—epideictic—focuses on the present—let’s celebrate how great this day is right now. And so one of them, deliberative rhetoric, will focus on the future. Judicial, epideictic, deliberative; past, present, future; law, community, policy.
It’s deliberative rhetoric that focuses on determining a future course to take. Traditionally, this was read strictly, as a matter of political debate by those who had authority to determine policy for a city state—should we go to war with Sparta? As Aristotle says, deliberative rhetoric "aims at establishing the expediency or the harmfulness of a proposed course of action; if he urges its acceptance, he does so on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm." Aristotle gave two pairs of criteria for practitioners of deliberative rhetoric to keep in mind as they chose their debates. First, the moral—is it good or is it unworthy? Good or unworthy includes ethical concerns, but not exclusively that. Remember that for Romans “virtue” meant “manly” and “gentleman” used to mean a rank and not a compliment, so in some ways, worthy has to do with a specific set of political and social ideals and not just some sort of kindness-first morality that seems more natural to contemporary readers. It may be “good” to go to war to avenge some perceived slight to the country’s aristocratic pride, if pride is considered a moral priority. Aristotle lists things that are “good” like good birth, bodily stature, wealth and reputation, which might seem a little shallow alongside ethical virtues like justice, courage and generosity.
The second pair of criteria are even more pragmatic: is it advantageous or disadvantageous? In this pairing, you can see these less squishy values becoming more important. The country needs money and war with Sparta will bring spoils and rewards. War with Sparta will increase our reputation as a fearsome city state. Things like that. So that’s Aristotle for you: deliberative rhetoric deals with the future, and you can argue about whether an act is good or whether it is advantageous.
But a lot has happened in the years and centuries and millennia since Aristotle. Mostly we keep going back to the divisions that Aristotle came up with, even though we have changed our ideas of democracy and deliberative rhetoric for that matter. Oh, but don’t worry—Aristotle isn’t the only person willing to divide things into three parts! G. Thomas Goodnight, a rhetoric professor at the University of Southern California, studies argumentation, especially deliberative rhetoric, and he decided that deliberative rhetoric can take place in what he calls three spheres—the public, the technical and the private. The public is the one that is most familiar to us.
We think of deliberative rhetoric as necessarily political, but that is not necessarily that case. If deliberative rhetoric just means “forward looking,” and “policy deciding” it doesn’t just have to be about whether we should go to war with Sparta—and not just because the city state of Sparta isn’t much of a threat anymore. No deliberative rhetoric can also include private arguments: from questions as trivial as “where should we go for lunch today?” To as important as “should our family accept that job in North Dakota?” and “should Billy join the marines?” These instances of deliberative rhetoric are usually informal—we have a speaker of the house, but we don’t have a speaker of the home. They are, however, no less important. Consider the impact during the 60s and 70s of a hundred thousand private deliberations over how to treat people of other races, or the family debates about moving to the city during the industrial revolution. Private sphere deliberation matters.
Technical deliberation is the deliberative rhetoric that takes place among experts who have specialized knowledge of the subject matter. For instance, you might think about a group might come up with professional standards or expectations like the rules of conduct for lawyers or teachers. They set rules of their own group. Technical deliberation might also result in suggests or recommendations for other groups. A group of climatologists, for example, might write a brief on climate change, or a congress of feminist scholars might make a declaration on pornography, something that everyone argues over until they can agree on a common stance. These experts can debate in a very technical and in-depth register.
When private and technical deliberation can’t get the job done, it’s time for public sphere deliberation. Goodnight classifies the public sphere as the "argument sphere that exists to handle disagreements transcending personal and technical disputes." Once things enter the public sphere of deliberation, Goodnight says it’s time to focus on the common good—not just what’s right for individuals or families, and not just for groups of experts, but for everyone in the public.
And that’s the general gist of deliberative rhetoric.
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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, 27 April 2016
Today on Mere Rhetoric, we talk about John Dewey. John Dewey was a big ol’ deal, even back in his day. Just after his death in 1952, Hilda Neaby wrote”Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not just a philosopher, but the philosopher.”
And what does a person have to do to be compared to Aristotle? I mean to be compared in a serious way to Aristotle, because I’m like Aristotle because, you know, I enjoy olive oil on occasions, not because I’m the philosopher. I think one thing Neaby means is that Dewey was involved in everything. Just like how Aristotle had huge impact in politics, theology, science and rhetoric, John Dewey seemed to have a finger in every pie. By the time he died at age 92, he had written significantly on education, politics, art, ethics and sociology. But it’s not enough to be a big freakin’ deal a hundred years ago, but Dewey is a big deal in rhetoric today. It’s rare to search too many issues back in Rhetoric Review, Rhetoric Society Quarterly or Rhetoric and Public Affairs without hitting on an article either directly about or draws on Dewey, and books about Dewey are popping up all over the map. John Dewey is hot real estate.
So because John Dewey is such an important thinker for rhetoricians today, we have to take more time than today to talk about him. That’s right-- a Mere Rhetoric two-parter. A to-be-continued. A cliffhanger. If that cliff is carefully divided, I guess and that division is this: today we’ll talk about John Dewey’s contribution to aesthetics, his book Art as Experience and responses to that book from contemporary rhetoricans. Next week we’ll talk more about his politics, the dream of his pragmatism, what he means by Individualism Old and New and the famous Dewey-Lippmann debate. So that’s what we’ll be doing the next two weeks. So let’s get started on the first part of this Dewey-twoey.
Like many great thinkers, Dewey started his career by realizing that what he thought he wanted to do, he really, really didn’t. In Dewey’s case it was education. It’s ironic that Dewey became one of the 20th century’s most important voices in education because he did not teach secondary or primary school for longer than a couple of years each. Good thing he had a back-up plan as a major philosopher. He joined the ground floor of the University of Chicago and became one of the defining voices of the University of Chicago style of thinking, although he eventually left, somewhat acrimoniously, and taught at Columbia for the rest of his career. Somewhere along the way, though, he became president of the American philosophical association and published Art as Experience.
The title kind of gives away Dewey’s claim--he situates art in the experience which you have with art. As he says “the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience” (1). But he also means the opposite, that experience can be art. Instead of thinking of art as something that happens in rarified situations behind glass and velvet ropes, Dewey opens up “art” to mean popular culture, experiences with nature and even just a way of living.
Being in the moment is a big part of this artful living. If you’re experiencing or rather, to use the particular philosophical parlance Dewey insists on “having an experience” then you are totally being in the moment: “only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturning is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what is now is” (17). In such a view, any time we live the moment artfully, in full presence of being, we’re having an artful experience.
In having an experience, you have some sort of awareness and some kind of form.
As Dewey says, “art is thus prefigured in the very processes of life” (25).
This idea may sound radical. How can sitting in a crowded bus be art the way that the Mona Lisa is art? But Dewey is insistent. He sighs, “the hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived” (27-28).
That’s not to say that there can’t be objects of art that concentrate the sensation of having an experience. But it’s the whole experience. For example, “Reflections on Tintern Abbey” isn’t really about Tintern Abbey any more than it’s about Wordworth and evenings and homecomings and 1798 and that sycamore and all of it. It expresses a complete experience of Wordsworth. And that expression is always changing as times change.“the very meaning,” Dewey writes “of an important new movement in any art is that it expresses something new in human experience” (316). Meanwhile the art that remains after the moment passes and the movement becomes cliche. “Art is the great force in effecting [...] consolidation. The individuals who have minds pass away one by one. The works in which meanings have received objective expression endure. [...] every art in some manner is a medium of this transmission while its products are no inconsiderable part of the saturating matter” (340)
And the value of art is moral. First off, Dewey says that“The moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, perfect the power to perceive. The critic’s office is to further this work, performed by the object of art” (338).
Pretty cool stuff, huh? But wait, there’s more. The process of having an experience, that complete being, has its own moral value, or so argues Scott Stroud in John Dewy and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, aesthetics and morality. There he claims “I want to examine how art can be seen as a way of moral cultivation” (3) because“At various places, Dewey’s work provides us with tantalizing clues to his real project--the task of making more of life aesthetic or artful” (5) Put in other words: “art can show individuals how certain value schemes feel, how behaviors affect people, etc.--in other words, art can force the reflective instatement (creation) of moral values” (9)
Stroud connects the pragmatists like Dewey with mysticism in Eastern philosophy and medieval monastic Christianity. Remember how Dewey is all about having an experience, really being in the moment? So Stroud says, “The way to substantially improve our experience is not by merely waiting for the material setup of the world to change, but instead lies in the intelligent altering of our deep-seated bahits (orientations) toward activity and toward other individuals” (11).
“The important point,” writes Stroud, “is that attentiveness to the present is a vital way to cultivate the self toward the goal of progressive adjustment and it is also a vital means in the present to do so” (69)
For Stroud, as for Dewey“the art object [...] imbued with meaning partially by the actions of the artist, but also because of the crucial contributions of meaning that a common cultural background contributes to the activity of producing and receiving art objects” (97)--the way that the artistic object is received popularly and by critics. And for that aim “criticism does more than merely tell one what an important work of art is or what impression was had; instead, it gives one a possible orientation that is helpful in ordering and improving one’s past and future experiences” (122). And in that, criticism, or even appreciation, is also a moral act.
Stroud’s argument has immediate application of the artful life. He ponders “How can we render everyday communication, such as that experiences in mundane conversations with friends, cashiers, and so on, as aesthetic?” (170). To answer this, he draws on dewey to suggest that we avoid focusing on a remote goal, cultivate habits of attending to the demands of the present communication situation and fight against the idea of reified, separate self (186-7).