Mere Rhetoric (education)

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.

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ancient_Rome_1.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

 

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.

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Clark_Rhetorical_Landscapes.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Dewey aesthetic

Today on Mere Rhetoric, we talk about John Dewey. John Dewey was a big ol’ deal, even back in his day. Just after his death in 1952, Hilda Neaby wrote”Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not just a philosopher, but the philosopher.”

And what does a person have to do to be compared to Aristotle? I mean to be compared in a serious way to Aristotle, because I’m like Aristotle because, you know, I enjoy olive oil on occasions, not because I’m the philosopher. I think one thing Neaby means is that Dewey was involved in everything. Just like how Aristotle had huge impact in politics, theology, science and rhetoric, John Dewey seemed to have a finger in every pie. By the time he died at age 92, he had written significantly on education, politics, art, ethics and sociology. But it’s not enough to be a big freakin’ deal a hundred years ago, but Dewey is a big deal in rhetoric today. It’s rare to search too many issues back in Rhetoric Review, Rhetoric Society Quarterly or Rhetoric  and Public Affairs without hitting on an article either directly about or draws on Dewey, and books about Dewey are popping up all over the map. John Dewey is hot real estate.

 

So because John Dewey is such an important thinker for rhetoricians today, we have to take more time than today to talk about him. That’s right-- a Mere Rhetoric two-parter. A to-be-continued. A cliffhanger. If that cliff is carefully divided, I guess and that division is this: today we’ll talk about John Dewey’s contribution to aesthetics, his book Art as Experience  and responses to that book from contemporary rhetoricans. Next week we’ll talk more about his politics, the dream of his pragmatism, what he means by Individualism Old and New  and the famous Dewey-Lippmann debate. So that’s what we’ll be doing the next two weeks. So let’s get started on the first part of this Dewey-twoey.

 

Like many great thinkers, Dewey started his career by realizing that what he thought he wanted to do, he  really, really didn’t. In Dewey’s case it was education. It’s ironic that Dewey became one of the 20th century’s most important voices in education because he did not teach secondary or primary school for longer than a couple of years each. Good thing he had a back-up plan as a major philosopher. He joined the ground floor of the University of Chicago and became one of the defining voices of the University of Chicago style of thinking, although he eventually left, somewhat acrimoniously, and taught at Columbia for the rest of his career. Somewhere along the way, though, he became president of the American philosophical association and published Art as Experience.

 

The title kind of gives away Dewey’s claim--he situates art in the experience which you have with art. As he says “the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience” (1). But he also means the opposite, that experience can be art. Instead of thinking of art as something that happens in rarified situations behind glass and velvet ropes, Dewey opens up “art” to mean popular culture, experiences with nature and even just a way of living.

 

Being in the moment is a big part of this artful living. If you’re experiencing or rather, to use the particular philosophical parlance Dewey insists on “having an experience” then you are totally being in the moment: “only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturning is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what is now is” (17). In such a view, any time we live the moment artfully, in full presence of being, we’re having an artful experience.

In having an experience, you have some sort of awareness and some kind of form.

 

As Dewey says, “art is thus prefigured in the very processes of life” (25).

 

This idea may sound radical. How can sitting in a crowded bus be art the way that the Mona Lisa is art? But Dewey is insistent. He sighs, “the hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived” (27-28).

 

That’s not to say that there can’t be objects of art that concentrate the sensation of having an experience. But it’s the whole experience. For example, “Reflections on Tintern Abbey” isn’t really about Tintern Abbey any more than it’s about Wordworth and evenings and homecomings and 1798 and that sycamore and all of it. It expresses a complete experience of Wordsworth. And that expression is always changing as times change.“the very meaning,” Dewey writes “of an important new movement in any art is that it expresses something new in human experience” (316). Meanwhile the art that remains after the moment passes and the movement becomes cliche. “Art is the great force in effecting [...] consolidation. The individuals who have minds pass away one by one. The works in which meanings have received objective expression endure. [...] every art in some manner is a medium of this transmission while its products are no inconsiderable part of the saturating matter” (340)

 

And the value of art is moral. First off, Dewey says that“The moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, perfect the power to perceive. The critic’s office is to further this work, performed by the object of art” (338).

 

Pretty cool stuff, huh? But wait, there’s more. The process of having an experience, that complete being, has its own moral value, or so argues Scott Stroud in John Dewy and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, aesthetics and morality. There he claims “I want to examine how art can be seen as a way of moral cultivation” (3) because“At various places, Dewey’s work provides us with tantalizing clues to his real project--the task of making more of life aesthetic or artful” (5) Put in other words: “art can show individuals how certain value schemes feel, how behaviors affect people, etc.--in other words, art can force the reflective instatement (creation) of moral values” (9)

 

Stroud connects the pragmatists like Dewey with mysticism in Eastern philosophy and medieval monastic Christianity. Remember how Dewey is all about having an experience, really being in the moment? So Stroud says, “The way to substantially improve our experience is not by merely waiting for the material setup of the world to change, but instead lies in the intelligent altering of our deep-seated bahits (orientations) toward activity and toward other individuals” (11).



“The important point,” writes Stroud, “is that attentiveness to the present is a vital way to cultivate the self toward the goal of progressive adjustment and it is also a vital means in the present to do so” (69)

 

For Stroud, as for Dewey“the art object [...] imbued with meaning partially by the actions of the artist, but also because of the crucial contributions of meaning that a common cultural background contributes to the activity of producing and receiving art objects” (97)--the way that the artistic object is received popularly and by critics. And for that aim “criticism does more than merely tell one what an important work of art is or what impression was had; instead, it gives one a possible orientation that is helpful in ordering and improving one’s past and future experiences” (122). And in that, criticism, or even appreciation, is also a moral act.



Stroud’s argument has immediate application of the artful life. He ponders “How can we render everyday communication, such as that experiences in mundane conversations with friends, cashiers, and so on, as aesthetic?” (170). To answer this, he draws on dewey to suggest that we avoid focusing on a remote goal, cultivate habits of attending to the demands of the present communication situation and fight against the idea of reified, separate self (186-7).


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

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

Jeffrey Walker’s Aesthetic/Epideictic

 

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movement who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, Samantha’s in the booth, Humanities Media Project is the sponsor and Jeff Walker is the subject. Jeffrey Walker is kind of my hero in life. I get weird around him, the way some people get around Natalie Portman or David Beckham. I came to the University of Texas, in part, because I so admired his work, but when I got here and saw him at parties I found that I mostly awkwardly stood four feet behind him, which—incidentally, is the exactly position the camera takes behind the protagonist in horror movies and I suspect that that didn’t help me much in meeting him. Since then I’ve taken a class from Dr. Walker, had him speak at official RSA student chapter meetings, even had a one-on-one seminar with him, where every week I would exit his office to a world where the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter. That’s how much I like Jeffrey Walker. He’s a great human being, but he’s also a darn fine scholar.

 

Dr. Walker’s first book in 1989, Bardic Ethos and the American Epic Poem may sound on first blush like a piece of literary criticism, but it’s actually about persuasion, the very particular kind of persuasion that demands that the listener put in as much or more work than the rhetor. In this book, Walker looked at a very specific genre—the American Epic—and a specific period and school, and inquired about what kind and amount of rhetorical work being done. The main difficulty here seems to be audience. To write an American epic that can both express and inspire the nation en masse, the poet has got to speak to those masses. But to be a high literary, post-Romantic bard, the poet has to deal in the kind of textual, allusion, and thematic obscurity that is incomprehensible to the masses. In hisconcluding paragraphs, he sums up the struggle nicely: “The bard, in short, is obliged to reject the available means for effectively communicating his historical, political, and ethical vision to the public mind insofar as he wants to succeed with his tribal audience” (240, emphasis in original).

Bardic Ethos and the American Epic Poem traces the American literary attempts at prophecy without populism from its origins in Whitman’s “moral magnetism” (30). First identifying both high poetic speech (93) and “conventions and expectations” for the audience (118), as the reasons for Pound’s failure to be a “Whitman who has learned to wear a collar” (2), the book then examines Crane’s inability to “use his mythic ideal to redeem or bless the present” (136), in part because “’the popular’ in a modernist context is generally beneath respectability” (145). While William Carlos Williams what Walker on another occasion called the “good guy of the book” (15/2/2011) in trying to write Paterson for “a public at least partly comprise of actual people” (157), he, too, fails to write a work that is accepted in both popular and literary circles. Olson’s Maximus Poems seek a similar project, but in describing the few that can transform many sometimes becomes almost eugenically elitist, even to the point of justified genocide (234). In the end, it seems as though these modernist bardic writers must chose between a literary and a popular audience (240), usually coming down on the side of the literati, ultimately described as the “tribe with whom [the author] is marooned” (243).

      I’m very interested in this book’s premise of irreconcilable audiences. You might see how this concept could coordinate with Wayne Booth’s image of the author sitting around waiting for an audience. While Booth dismisses this idea, this book kind of suggests that it happens, regardless of the author’s intention; these writers sought a broad and a specific audience, but only the specific audience came to the table. I always think about the hero of Nightmare Abbey, who wrote a metaphysical tome so boring that it only sold seven copies. The hero then perks up, calling his readers, in his mind, the seven golden candle sticks. If you write obscure stuff, you probably aren’t going to reach a wide audience.

 

The other hugely influential book Walker wrote about the rhetoric of poetics is his 2000 Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity. The book goes way beyond Whitman and his prophetic bards to ancient Greek lyric poetry. Poetry back then was always publicially performed and that, Walker argues, means that it was always public persuasion. One of the key ways this happened what through the lyric enthymeme. The Enthymeme, to refresh, is when the audience supplies part of the argument. So [shave and a haircut]. Or, to make it poetic, when Ol Yeller is, spoiler alert, put down, the 20th century American audience things “Oh, dogs are like friends and it’s sad when they die” instead of, like 14th century Aztecs, thinking, “what’s the big deal? We kill dogs every day—and eat them.” The audience supplies part of the argument of any aesthetic piece.

It seems like the main argument Walker’s making in this book is that the epideictic isn’t derivative and secondary to the other genres of rhetoric, but actually primary and of almost “pre-rhetorical” origin. In supplying many examples of ancient poets who were able to produce the best lyric enthymemes, Walker not only builds up evidence to support his over all claim, but he creates sub-categories and conditions for this kind of lyric enthymeme.. One of the most interesting of these divisions is the “Argumentation Indoors/Argumentation Outdoors” distinction Walker illustrates with Alcaeus and Sappho’s lyric poetry. So some of the public performance weren’t big publics. If Alcaeus spoke only to his hetaireia (remember them? The geisha like prostitutes like Aspasia?) or that Sappho make have written for an intimate circle of acquaintances and devotees doesn’t have to imply that their poetry could appeal only to those small groups. In fact, Walker claims that “just the opposite is true” and the poems “offer enthymematic argumentation that engages with the discourses of a wider audience” to cement their continued influence (249).

The ideal situations for this kind of poetic influence disintegrate, though. The book is, after all, called Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity and it’s understandable that the tracing of suasive lyric has to end somewhere, so Walker seem to mark the beginning of the end, in both Greece and Rome, with the literaturaization of poetry and the Aristoltization of rhetoric. The former leads to a paradigm that literature is removed from everyday life, erudite, a “decorative display” (57) that “cannot escape the rhetorical limitations of symposiastic insider discourse” (289); the latter downplays the rhetorical nature of poetry (281) while emphasizing rhetoric’s relation to the civic responsibilities of the forum and the court.

So you can see why I have so much hero-worship for Jeffrey Walker. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced this is going to be our last podcast on his work. Yeah. If you have a reason why you love Jeff Walker, or –I guess—if you want to suggest a podcast about your own rhetorical heroes, send me an email at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com. I’ll just be sitting here, dreading the possibility that Dr. Walker might hear this podcast, getting embarrassed and awkward for a while.

 

 

 

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

Hermogenes of Tarsus

 

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today is a rebroadcast of an old episode, thanks to the Humanities Media Project here at the University of Texas. Hope you enjoy!

 

Hermogenes of Tarsus was a bit of a boy genius: he wrote many important rhetorical treatises (of which we only have sections) before he was 23 years old. And when Hermogenes was fifteen years old, in 176 AD, something remarkable happened. The philosopher emperor of the Roman empire, Marcus Aurelius himself, came to listen to him speak. This is all the more impressive because Hermogenes was of Tarsus, which, if you know your ancient geography well you’ll note is pretty far east from Rome. Marcus Aurelius heard him declaim and speak extemporaneously. “You see before you, Emporer,” Hermogenes reported said, “An orator who still needs an attendant to take him to school, an orator who still looks to come of age.” The emporer was duly impressed with the boy’s rhetorical powers and showered him with gifts and prizes

 

From such auspicious beginnings, things quickly went downhill fast for poor Hermogenses. While still young he lost his brilliant mind. It’s impossible to know for certain what led to Hermogenes’ deterioration. Some propose that it was a psychological breakdown from the stress of being such a shooting star, and certainly that sounds reasonable—once you’d declaimed for the emporer of the world, where do you go from there? Others suggest that there was a physiological reason, like meningitis from a bout of infectious disease or early onset dementia. Ancients as well as moderns were fascinated with how someone who showed so much promise could so quickly become the butt of cruel jokes. Antiochus the sophist once mocked approach of the once-brilliant Hermogenes: “Lo, here is one who was an old man among boys and now among the old is a but a boy.” Byzantine texts, who loved a local rhetorical hero, speculated that when he died that his heart was huge and…hairy. Do you remember that JK Rowling story about the hairy heart? Every time I think of Hermogenes I think of that. But let’s talk about his ideas instead of whether his heart could be hairy.

 

We actually know surprisingly little of Hermogenes’ works. We know a lot of rumor about how great he was, but of the five treatise under his name, only one and a half are likely to be genuinely his work. The one is called “On Types of Style” and in it Hermogenes describes seven types of style: Clarity, Grandeur, Beauty, Rapidity, Character, Sincerity and Force. Some of you who are familiar with your Roman or medeval rhetoric are maybe scratching your heads here—seven? Seven types of style? What ever happened to high, medium and low? And what the heck is “character?” These are legitimate questions. Remember two things: first this is the period of the Second Sophistic, when there’s a heightened interest in rhetoric and in Greek rhetoric in specific, so that means that people are looking for something a little more off the beaten path. Rhetoric plus. Instead of just aping Cicero, Hermogenes comes up with these seven categories that are more specific and less immediately associated with rhetorical situation. It’s like a more byzantine approach to style. And yes, that’s a Greek empire pun.

 

The other thing to remember about Hermogenes’ style guide is that he was probably a teenager when he wrote it. And a celebrated prodigy at that, so that just accelerates the cocky self-assuredness. Remember those kids in high school who insisted that they were smarter than all of the teachers and were pretty certain that they could be president—if they wanted to descend to politics? Yeah, Hermogenes was probably that kid.

 

Wow, it’s hard not to talk about Hermogenes the person instead of his ideas. He’s just an interesting guy. Okay, so these 7 kinds of style.

 

Clarity comes first because clarity is most critical. But don’t think that just because clarity is important that it’s simple. Oh no, clarity consists of two parts—purity, which is sentence-level clarity, and distinctness, which is about big-picture organization. So you need to have each sentence clear as well as the organization over all.

 

The next style point is grandeur. Oh, don’t wory, grandeur, too, has sub parts—six of them, arranged in 3 groups: solemnity and brilliance come first. Solemnity is using abstract statements about elevated topics. “Justice comes to all.” “Honor never tarnishes” “Love is a many-splendored thing.” Solemn statements are short, bold and unqualified. Brilliance takes those abstracts down to specifics, and becomes longer: “It’s good when two friends meet around the board of fellowship.” They may sound similar because they are pretty close.

 

The third part of grandeur is amplification. It’s not just talking a lot, but expanding the topic to make it seem “bigger” than it would be if discussed in casual conversation. Nuff said.

 

The last chunk of grandeur comprises three parts: aperity, vehemence and florescence. In short, sudden strong emotion. Asperity for shart criticism, vehemence for distaine and florescence to ease back off a bit and sugar coat the strong feelings.

 

Having done with grandeur, Hermogenes points out that beauty is also useful, although, surprisingly, he doesn’t break this category down too much.

 

The next type of style is rapidity—quick short sentence, rapid replied, sudden turns of thought in antithesis. “Am I happy? No. You disappoint me. No, you destroy me.” That sort of thing.

The fifth style is that mysterious character. Strangely this is pretty muh what Aristotle calls ethos. You migh have to think a little abstractly about how character can be a style, but Hermogenes insists that this type of what we might classify as argument I actually a style. Okay. He’s the genius, not me. The subcategories of character are simplicity, sweetness, subtlety and modesty, which do sound a little more like something you can create in style.

 

Finally, Hermogenes recommends to us Sincerity. The speaker must let his audience know that he is “one plain-dealing man addressing another in whose judgement he has perfect confidence.” The idea is to create the illusion that the speaker is talking more or less extemporaneously. They can’t appear to be written into the speech or that ruins the whole effect. Imagine how different you feel when someone in the heat of a speech says, “Oh, I can’t stand it!” versus when you see written in the notes “Oh. I can’t stand it [with vehemence.]”

 

The last style is actually just the correct balance of all six of these types of style. By using these types of styles well, the speaker has force with his audience. He sums up “the ai of clarity is that the audience should understand what is said, whereas Grandeur is designed to impress them with what is said. Beutyf is designed to give pleasure. Speed to avoid boredome, ethods helps to win over the audience by allying them with the speaker’s customs and character and verity persuades them he is speaking the truth. Finally, Gravity sitrs up the audience and they are carried away by the completeness of the performance, not only to accept what they have heard, but to act upon it.”

 

If you’re curious about whether Hermogenes in thoughtfully preparing such a philsphy of style was adroit in it, the sad fact is that nothing in “On Style” suggests the boy rhetor who capitvated the emporer Marcus Aerlious. Translater Cecil W. Wooten says succinctly “he is a brilliant critic of style whose own style is really quite atrocious” (xvii)

 

In the same way that young Hermogenes took the basic divisions of style and expanded them, he did a very similar thing with the stases. We’ll talk more about the stases in a later podcast, but briefly, they’re a way of categorizing what it is you’re arguing about. Are you in conflict with your interlocutor about whether global warming exists or are you just debating what’s the correct policy to decrease warming emissions? In the stases of HermaGORAS ( who is not to be confused with our current hairy-hearted hero) and others throughout the classical world, there were four different stases: fact, definition, quality and procedure. Hundreds of years later, in the second sophistic, HermoGENES has expanded on these four. How much? Okay, fact, definition and procedure get to stay pretty much the same, but quality? Oh, quality gets blown up. Now instead of 4 stases we get—13. Yep, 13.

 

Hermogenes makes a big deal on whether an argument actually has issue—whether it can be argued about. Because, after all, he himself points out that “It is not the function of rhetoric to investigate what is really and universal just, honorable, etc.” but real, public issues. To have issue he set some requirements.

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

 

As the scholar Malcolm Heath has pointed out, this stuff was important for ancient rhetoric: “At the heart of ancient rhetoric in its mature form was a body of theory […] which sought to classify the different kinds of dispute […] and to develop effective strategies for handling each kind” (Heath). But classifying stases kind of lost its luster after the Renaissance. Heath’s translation and interest came as a result of work done by Kennedy (1983) and Russell (1983) opened up interest in Hermogenes again.

 

I think we’re primed for an increase in interest in the work Hermogenes, the boy wonder. I have to admit, though, the story of his life is especially touching to me. I can’t help but speculate what the young man would have achieved in his future if he had been able to continue to work and produce texts. Would he have expanded on other categories of ancient rhetoric? Would he have refined his definitions? It makes me remember the juvenile work of Cicero or Isocrates and wonder whether we’d honor them so highly if those were the only treatises we had from them. We’ll never know what Hermogenes could have become, what contributions he could have made in the second sophistic period, because his career was so tragically cut short before he could refine and develop his ideas.

 

Direct download: 16-02-18_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Hermogenes_of_Tarsus.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. And today I want to talk about the pedagogical tool of making kids have an argument. And an argument doesn’t just mean bickering.

 

 

 

Okay, even if there’s a difference between arguing and bickering , I will say, that hen I was a kid, I bickered a lot with my brother Dave. Dave is three years older than me, which meant he was farther along in school and knew more things. This bothered me, so if he said something, I said the opposite. If he said that hippos were more dangerous than lions, then I had to prove that lions were more dangerous than hippos. If he said that indoor games were better than outside, I have to prove that outside were better than inside. Sometimes, like boxers circling each other, we would switch positions and suddenly I was arging for hippos and indoor games and Dave was arguing for lions and outdoor games. It must have driven my mother crazy, especially on a long Sunday afternoon, but it turns out that what Dave and I were do has a long tradition in rhetorical education. We just didn’t have a word for it yet—dissoi logoi.

 

Dissoi logoi means “contrasting arguments” in Greek. You can sort of tease that out from the root word for “dissent” and “logos.” It goes really really far back, and we don’t know who came up with the first time, but the idea is that you argue your opponent’s position to better understand your own. There are two ways to practice dissoi logoi. One is the way I did as a 7 year old, by having an interlocutor and then switching positions. This method works great for school kids all learning together and you can see this practice in speech and debate classes even today. You research and write and then argue your heart out and then after you finish, the teacher holds up their hands and says, “Okay, switch.” When I argued what Dave would said, I’d know how to respond to his arguments, because I have heard his arguments.

 

The other way to practice dissoi logoi is to do it all yourself. You run through all the arguments on one side and then you run through all the arguments on the other side. You’re arguing with yourself in a sense. There’s a philosophical and cynical view to the practice of dissoi logoi. If you’re cynical you might say that this is an example of the relativism of the sophists at the worst. This is what people hate about lawyers and sophists—they don’t really care about the argument, but they only care about the language and winning, so they could arguing one thing just as impassioned as the other. It looks like you are two-faced or insincere if you can switch from caring deeply about one side and then, on the turn of a dime, care just as deeply about the other side. But the philosophical perspective sees dissoi logoi as an exercise for coming at a truthier truth. In fact, another term for dissoilogoi is dialexis, and the term is related to dialectic—the opposing forces method of getting at truth espoused by Socrates, Plato and other heavy hitters of classical Athens.

 

The practice of Dissoi Logoi is articulated in a text called the Dissoi Logoi, which was found at then end of a much later manuscript, and wasn’t published until the renaissance. It was proably written around 425 BC, based on its references to historical figures and style of writing. The Dissoi logoi looks like student notes, which is what a lot of rhetorical tezts are, but there’s no way of saying it was one thing or another for certain, and we don’t know whose class the author was sitting in. It kicks off by saying that good and bad “are the same thing, and that the same thing is good for some but bad for others, or at one time good and at another time bad for the same person.” All of this is to say that some actions have different moral weight, depending on who you are and under what circumstances you engage in them. Then follows a series of examples—in sports, a certain outcome will be good for one team, but bad for the other; shoddy workmanship is bad for customers and good for the manufacturers, etc. The same event could be good or bad depending on who experiences it. Then there’s a list of the circumstances which are shameful in one setting and praiseworthy in another, like ow for Spartans, girls would walk around bare armed or naked while Ionians would never. You can kind of imagine a list of examples from an instructor. And some of the examples seem awfully sensational—not just regular suicide, murder, exhibitionis, and adultery, but drinking from your enemies’ skulls and eating your parents and cross dressing and incest. It’s all these off-color examples that make me think the Dissoi Logoi was an educational text—nothing gets kids’ attention like sex and violence.

 

And as a bit of a tangent, the question of education comes up explicitly at the end of the tract, where the question is asked whether wisdom and moral excellence can be taught. The author takes care not to claim that wisdom can be taught, but dismantles the arguments against such an education and argues for the ideal of the person who can “converse in brief questions and answers, to know the truth of things to please one’s cause correctly, to be able to speak in public, to have an understanding of argument-skills and to teach people about the nature of everything” (8.1). Oh, if that’s all an education takes… But it sounds a lot like the education which Cicero describes in the dialogs on the Orator.

 

It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to say that two thinkers could have independently come up with the idea that the best education would be to know everything, but there’s also a possibility that the ideas of the dissoi logoi made it over to Roman thought. But heading back the other way, there may have just been a common ideal floating around in the Greco-Roman world. So did the Dissoi Logoi influence Cicero?

 

Yes, I think, and no. Whatever one Dave doesn’t think.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it. As they say, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intro music

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rules of criticism

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



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

 

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


outro

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

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. It’s a new year and a new semester here at the University of Texas, and it’s time for some new years resolutions. We got a lot of old episodes re-recorded last semester, and by golly I’m glad we did, but it’s time to get some fresh episodes out. So, thanks to the Humanities Media Project here at the University of Texas at Austin, we’re going to have some brand new episodes. Okay, we had like six new ones last semester, but this time I’m keeping a promise I made to a Belgian. Victor Ferry wrote in last august or something and when we talked about episodes, he said that he’d love to hear about the great Belgian rhetorician--Chiam Perleman. “Sure, Victor,” I said. “We’re doing some old episodes, but I promise, we’ll do Perleman this year.” So, in the name of keeping promises, we’re not only doing one episode on Chiam Perleman, but we’re doing two. That’s right, a Perelman two-parter. Today we’ll talk a little about Perleman’s life and his collaboration with Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca and their master work, The New Rhetoric,. Next week we’ll talk about Perleman’s solo career and the Rhelm of Rhetoric and some of the responses to the Perelman’s work.

 

Perelman almost wasn’t a Belgian rhetorician. He was born in Poland and moved to Belgium, as many Poles were wont to do in the late twenties and thirties. There, he could have been a lawyer, because he got a law degree, and then he went and got his doctorate in philosophy by looking at a mathematician. But while he thought big thoughts about law and ethics and philosophy, things really took off when he met a colleague named Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca and they set about writing the massive book, the New Rhetoric.

 

The New Rhetoric is not a modest undertaking. what Perelman and Olbrechts Tyteca were undertaking was nothing less than the complete rehabilitation of ancient rhetoric into a modern resource for making ethical decisions. In this rehabilitation, audience is key: that’s what rhetoric really does best. As they say it, “For argument to develop, there must be some attention paide to it by those to whom it is directed” (think of your audience in other words.) They go on and say,  “argumentation aims at securing the adherence of those to whom it is addressed, it is, in its entirety, relative to the audience to be influenced” (1969, p. 19). The audience, though and “the audience” may be different things. There’s an audience which is the ideal, a universal audience that is perfectly understanding and wise and then there is the audience that one gets, like the hand one is dealt. The latter is called the particular audience. This changes how we talk about argument, too. So an argument may be persuasive if it appeals successfully to a particular audience, but it won’t be convincing unless it can “gain the adherence of every rational being” (28).

 

But let’s get a little deeper in the weeds about the universal audience. The universal audience, they write “consists of the whole of mankind, or at least, of all normal, adult persons,” and since we seldom find ourselves addressing the whole of mankind or even all normal adult persons, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca point out that “Each speaker’s universal audience can, indeed, from an external viewpoint, be regarded as a particular audience, but it non the less remains true that for each speaker at each moment, there exists an audience transcending all others, which cannot easily be forced within the bounds of a particular audience” (30). So it’s an election year, let’s talk about the problems of the particular audience. Say you’re a politician running for office in a region that’s been hit hard by industrial decline. You might address a crowd of people who are depressed by the high levels of unemployment, scared about continuing layoffs and stressed about the idea of trying to find a new job that may ask them to change their careers, and their homes in the middle of their lives. It might be tempting to tell these people that you will bring back industrial jobs, that the factories will run again, that they can stay in their own homes and careers. But then you might have to go directly to address another crowd, say a group of environmentally minded people who are thrilled that the factories are closed--after all, they’re the ones who lobbied to tax pollution in their town, and they petitioned for increased regulation, which cost the factories so much money that they couldn’t stay open. what are you going to say to this audience? If you promise the factories will be back, they’ll boo you out of the room.

 

Or, as Perelman and Olbretchs Tyteca say, “Argumentation aimed exclusively at a partciular audience has the drawback that the speaker, by the very fact of adapting to the views of his listeners, might rely on arguments that are foreign or even directly opposed to what is acceptable to persons other than those he is presently addressing” (31).

 

Instead imagine what the universal audience would approve of, what both the groups you want to address care about: they want their communitity to have plenty of jobs and economic success, and they want to live in a place where the air and water are clean and pure. This is a small example of the ideal, the “agreement of the universal audience,” which may be generalizable, even hypothetical.

 

“Philosophers,” Perekman and Ol-ty say, “always claim to be adressing such an audience, not because they hope to obtain the effective assent of all men--they know very well that only a small minority will ever read their works--but because they think that all who understand the reaons they give will have to accept their conclusions,” or, in other words “The agreement of a universal audience is thus a matter, not of fact, but of right” (31).

 

But where can one hope to find a universal audience? I know where to find unemployed factory workers and environmentalists, but how do I know how the universal audience polls? Frankly, P and Olbretchs-Tyceta say, you have to make them up as you go. “Everyone constitutes the universal audience from what he knows of his fellow men, in such a way as to transcend the few oppositions he is aware of. Each individual, each culture, has thus its own conception of the universal audience. The study of these variations would be very instructive, as we would learn from it what men, at different times in history, have regarded as real, true and objectively valid” (33). So if you’re speaking to that group of unemployed factory workers, you have to think about what arguments they (and the environmentalists) would find valid. If you suggest that the community can pivot into clean industry and environmental tourism, you have to wonder whether your communities believes that it’s true that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or that anyone can change and the American spirit is about growth and adaptation. What is your culture’s conception of what is real and true? It takes some work to figure out what’s valid in your community and what’s universally accepted. the universal audience is a kind of invisible standards committee, detirmining what will fly for everyone. But the committee is hard to pin down, even for the scholars arguing for it in The New Rhetoric.



As the authors put it,  “it is the undefined universal audience that is invoked to pass judgment on what is the concept of the universal audience appropriate to such a concrete audience, to examine, simultaneously the manner in which it was composed, which are the individuals who comprise it, according to the adopted criterion, and whether this criterion is legitimate. It can be said that audiences pass judgment on one another” (35).




Agreement in the community yields a fact. Facts are not immutable and once it is no longer accepted, it becomes a conclusion, rather than a starting premise (68).  We might all agree that factories pollute, or that pollution hurts the wild life. Build enough of a web of agreement, and you come up with truth. Maybe that truth for our community is that factories as currently constituted are antithetical to a clean, healthy environment. It relates the different facts that the universal audience agrees to. Move one step over from facts and you get values like patriotism, or health. Values are arranged in hierarchies. Is health more important than patriotism? Is the environment more important than jobs? And hierarchies are arranged in loci. General loci are the most absolute. For example, the value of human life might be an absolute loci in your community. You’d do whatever it took to protect it, even if Matt Damon was from your town and you had to rescue him from the Nazis or Mars or whatever. Specific loci are more specific to the situation for example, the value of Matt Damon’s life when he’s in danger might be the specific loci, or you might say, if you have to choose between Matt Damon and an extra, choose Matt Damon’s life.



So taking all of these terms into account, the strength of the argument is (1) “intensity of the hearer/s adherence to the premises” and (2) “relevance of the arguments in the particular discussion” (461). Getting back to our politician, you might have a harder time convincing an unwilling audience of your argument, but arguments don’t need to be waterproof: “the essential thing is that they appear sufficiently secure to allow the unfolding of the argument” (261). the whole object of argumentation is “gaining the adherence of minds” within a “community of minds” (14).


That’s all the time we have for today, but The New Rhetoric is a 562 page masterpeice that set the stage for much of the philosophical discussion about rhetoric and reason. Next time we’ll talk about some of the responses to The New Rhetoric as well as Perelman’s Realm of Rhetoric. In the meantime, if you have a favorite rhetorician you’d like to hear featured on the show or if you want to extract some promises, drop me a line at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Direct download: 16-02-18_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Perelman_Pt_1.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 2:56pm CST

James Berlin

 

 

Welcome to MR. I’m Mary Hedengren, Jacob is in the Booth and we’re supported by the Humanities Media Project and UT Austin.

 

Was English in an identity crisis in the 80s and 90s? Maybe. But it’s certain that it thought it was. Interdisciplinary projects such as cultural studies and the voluntary expulsion of groups like English language and composition from English departments was inspiring a lot of ink in the PMLA and other journals and conferences between such illuminaries as Gerald Graff and Stanley Fish. And when people are anxious about who they are, they often look back to how they ended up here. How did English get so weird? What is the background behind composition’s complaints against literary studies? What led to everyone in the department being in a department together?

 

Enter Professor James Berlin. Berlin, a compositionist who had taught at U of Cinninati and Purdue. Berlin was a disciplinary historian who wrote two important books that tried to create a historical context for the current state of composition, which we’ll talk about today.

Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges. 1900-1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century American Colleges.

The earlier book, Writing Instruction in 19th-Century American Colleges published in 1984, traces the role of writing instruction in American political psyche.

“no rhetoric—not Plato’s or Aris­totle’s or Quintilian’s or Perelman’s—is permanent.”

 

 

The next major book Berlin wrote picks up where Writing Instruction in Nineteenth-Century American Colleges. Left off—at the dawn of the 20th century. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges. 1900-1985 traces the history of composition in the United States up to what was then the modern day. In going through this history, though, Berlin weaves three strands of compositional theory: current-traditional, expressivist and social constructionist. Berlin makes no secret about which of these strands he thinks is right. Current traditionalists are grammar-obsessed ninnies who sneer at students while pushing their glasses up their noses while expressivists are berkinstocked hippies singing kumbaya without teaching anything significant. Berlin is unapologetic about his perspective. In the introduction, he mentions the criticism the book has received as having a political project. James Berlin, much like the honey badger, don’t care. He has a strong interest in the project to "vindicate the position of writing instruction in the college curriculum" (1) and he feels social constructionism is the best way to do so.

He identifies several points that lead to writing instruction’s increased disciplinarity

First there was the Birth of CCCC when a 1948 paper by George S. Wykoff and ensuing conflict leads to John Gerber of U of Iowa proposing a conference to discuss composition. 500 attend April 1-2 1949 (105). "With the establishment of the CCCC and its journal [...] teachers of freshman composition took a giant step toward qualifying for full membership in the English department, with the attendant privileges" (106)

 

Then there is the Importance of pamphlet The Basic Issues in the Teaching of English published as a supplement to College English in 1959. Identify key questions for English, especially in pedagogy (such as should writing "be taught as expression or as communication") (Berlin 124).

 

Finally there was Braddock's 1961   Research in Written Communication and subsequent founding of Research in the Teaching of English (1967) is important because "Only a discipline confident of its value and its future could allow this kind of harsh scrutiny" (135). Lit studies "have appropriated as their domain all uses of langauge except the narrowly refertial and logical. What remains [...] is given to rhetoric, to the writing course" (30).

 

In the early 20th century, universities were becoming dominated by sciences and practical arts. Objective philosophies ruled. Current-traditional is the most vehement and widely accepted of the objective rhetorics, but behaviorist, semanticist and linguistic rhetorics are also put into this category (9). As Berlin puts it: "The new university invested its graduates with the authority of science and through this authority gave them an economically comfortable position in a new, prosperous middle-class culture" (36)

 

On the other extreme of things was expressionist writing "the teacher cannot even instruct the student in the principles of writing, since writing is inextricably intertwined with the discovery of truth. The student can discover truth, but truth cannot be taught; the student can learn to write, but writing cannot be taught. The only strategy left, then is to provide an environment in which the individual can learn what cannot be taught" (13).

 

Berlin describes that, "For the proponents of liberal culture, the purpose of the English teacher was to cultivate the exceptional students, the geniuses, and, at the most, to tolerate all others" (72). For expressionists "writing--all writing--is art. This means that writing can be learned by not taught" (74). How many times do we hear that? That you just need to ponder a little, get a little older and then you’ll pick up what you need to? This is still kind of the philosophy in many Eastern Hemisphere universities where writing instruction hasn’t taken off as much. And it exists here, too, even in our own departments.

 

The method of expressionist teaching will be familiar to those in creative writing :"Most important was that the students read all papers aloud to the entire class and were given immediate responses [...] the teacher did not lecture but acted instead  as an ad-[83]ditional respondant" (84).

For more about expressionism and what influence it had on rhetoric and composition, check out our previous podcast on expressivism.

Berlin’s last book Rhetorics, Poetics and Cultures was also a disciplinary project--reconciling composition (production) with literary studies (interpretation) by way of cultural studies--may seem a little dated to the 90s, which its heady enthrallment with cross-disciplinary cultural studies and post-modernity everywhere as specter and savior. He argues that English should reunite rhetoric and literary studies

around text interpretation and production-not one or the other exclusively. He doesn’t just argue in theory but sets out his own class as an example of how to integrate textual production and analysis with general cultural studies. He emphatically defends the use of popular culture in the classroom and meeting students with the knowledge the already have.

James Berlin died suddenly of a heart attack while he was still in the middle of career, but his influence is found all around the composition world. For example, the CCCC award for best dissertation is called the James Berlin award, and I think that’s fitting, considering how the establishment of a phd in composition has been such a benchmark in composition’s disciplinarity. Are we at a better place in terms of disciplinary security than we were in the 80s and 90s? I think so. I also think that part o the reason why is James Berlin’s impassioned disciplinary research and fervent argumentation. If you have impassioned discipline and fervent argumentation, feel free to email us at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_James_Berlin.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST