Sat, 5 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. We have Samantha in the booth and I’m Mary Hedengren. Today
I want you to do a little experiment for me. Think back to what you were writing five years ago. If you happen to be at your computer or the scrapbook of everything you’ve ever written, you can even pull up your writing. If not, just go ahead and meditate. Do you need a moment? It’s okay, I’ll wait. Now then—has your writing gotten better? Have you become a better writer?
If you’re like me, you probably look at the things you were writing five years, or even a year ago, you might say, “yes” in very enthusiastic tones. If you’re like me, you might, in fact, have a hard time reading the work you did five years ago. How could I have been so stupid? How was I such a bad writer?
Lee Ann Carroll, in her book Rehearsing New Roles has a shocking proposition for you: maybe you weren’t a bad writer, maybe you were just inexpert in writing the sort of things you write today. Carroll gathered up some college students and performed a longitudinal study, which means that she followed the same subjects around through their entire time at school and beyond. She had them sit down in interviews with her and fill out time logs detailing how much studying they do outside of class (in case you’re curious, the amount ranged from five hours a week to forty). They brought in their writing assignments, and their outside writing to talk about. It was very thorough. And do you want to know her take away?
First off that “students in college do not necessarily learn to write ‘better,’ but that they learn to write differently—to produce new more complicated forms addressing challenging topics with greater depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication” (xiv) “Wait a moment,” you might say, “great depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication? Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “better writing?” Maybe it is, but it’s not that they’re getting better at this vague genre of “academic writing. As Carroll puts it “Their writing gets better in that they do learn to write differently but the do not fulfill the fantasy of mastering one kind of literacy, an idealized version of academic writing” (60).
This is the real-life writing changes of writing in the disciplines. A student gets into one class, learns the genres and expectations of that class and then, right when she gets the hang of it, heads into another class. “Students’ literacy develops because students must take on new and difficult roles that challenge their abilities as writers. In fact, student writing may sometimes need to get ‘worse’ befor it can become ‘better.’ Because many college writing tasks are essentially new to students, they will need repeated practice to become proficient.” (9). How much do professors take this into consideration? Not very much.
The writing assignments that Carroll’s participants navigated were complex and sophisticated, but also, very, very different from each other. She claims that “Faculty are likely to underestimate how much writing tasks differ from course to course, from discipline to discipline, and from professor to professor” (9) Put another way, “students must learn to write differently but have few opportunities to develop one particular type of writng over any extended period of time” (55).
And where does this leave first year composition? Carroll writes that we should take the work of first year composition seriously, but not “too seriously. A first-year composition course can serve students by helping them make connections between what they have already learned about writing in their k-12 education and ways they might learn to write differently both in the academy and as citizens of the larger society. On the other hand, first-year composition cannot succed as a source that will teach students how to write for contexts they have no yet encountered A one-semester writing course is bet viewed as ust one step in a long process of development that extends from children’s first encounters with literacy on through their adult lives” (27-28).
Carroll does have some practical recommendations. She suggests that first year composition focus on metacognitive awareness and students own writing as much as possible. You know asking students things like “what do you do when you get an assignment prompt?” and discussing their own writing practice. She also recommends focusing on portfolios—in classes as well as in departments and programs. As much as possible, those portfolios should provide opportunities to return to similar genres as well as challendging students to try new things—remembering that the results will be less than perfect and that students will need plenty of specific feedback.
I find Carroll’s argument very persuasive, and as I’ve written and recorded more of these podcasts, I’ve noticed that this weird literary genre is becoming more comfortable for me. But it’s been more than a year! How many literacy projects do average undergraduates get to revisit over and over again? Is there a project you’ve mastered or a project you thought you mastered (like the so called reading response) only to discover that a different teacher had a different expectation? If so drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear about it. Now go back and check out your writing from five years again, because if it’s anything like mine, it’s pretty darn amusing and well worth a reread
Sat, 28 November 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengre and I’m grateful for the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project for supporting the podcast.
MOST mornings, I wake up, put on some stretchy pants and very bright t-shirt and strap on my phone for a run, because for some reason you need a phone to go running. Why do I do that? Is it because I am a master of my fate, and I choose my fate to be sweaty and singing along to Shakira through the wilderness trails near my home? Or is it because I am being influenced by the institutions of the beauty industry, the fitness industry, the nature industry and the Spandex industry to conform to a certain predictable type, which happens to include skipping over rocks and dirt while a GPS tracks my every step?
Pierre Broudieu—not to be confused with bourdoux—is convinced that it’s not about just my free will nor entirely just society structures that makes me go for a run, but continuous give-and-take between them. What I think I want to do are shaped by past events and institutions that in turn are influenced by what I choose to do. Because choosing to wake up and run, I get feedback from structures that reinforce what I think of as my choice to wake up and run. This combination of choice and society stricture, Bourdieu calls habitus and it’s his most famous contribution to rhetoric and to sociology.
Habitus is a combination of deep-rooted, even unconscious, desires and what we choose to desire, which has been formed from childhood. It is, as Bourdieu often described it, “the feel for the game.” I don’t know how to articulate how and why I run, but I know it’s something I do, because it’s also something that my society does.
Sometimes it’s hard to see how institutions support a habitus unless you see the opposite, something that happened to my sister when she was doing medical surveys in a very remote village in Tanzania. She woke up one morning and went for a run—and flummoxed the villagers. “What are you running from?” said one person, huffing up beside her. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m just running.” “Why?” “I don’t know—to burn calories maybe?” The villager, who had been working with her on, among other things, questions of nutrition, paused a moment and then asked incredulously, “You want to burn calories?”
The feel for the game that my sister had was for a totally different game than the one that made sense in a small fishing village struggling to get and keep calories rather than burn them. The feel for the game wasn’t something that my sister conscious set out to learn, and it was somewhat only when she bumped against a different rule that she noticed that she was doing something wrong. Habitus is created and reproduced unconsciously, ‘without any deliberate pursuit of coherence,” as Bourdieu says “without any conscious concentration’ (ibid: 170).
Although our habitus can cause embarrassing mismatches when we’re in a different culture, it adept at taking us through our native environments, as we play the game around us like insiders.
Playing the game like an insider was a really important thing for young Pierre Bourdieu, who came from a working class family in southern France. Southern France is like, the sticks, for French people, and his family had a strong accent, both in the lilt to their speech and the things that they believed were important. Going to study in Paris certainly would have highlighted the differences between his home culture and the elite intellectual world. The Elite intellectual world became a sociological phenom to Bourdieu as exotic and interesting as the Algerian tribes he did his field work with. The ways that elite intellectual used language, used taste, used culture became the basis of his landmark book Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste, which was published in 1979. Distinction highlights the way that the elite create an insider habitus. As B says, “symbolic goods, especially those regarded as the attributes of excellence, [are] the ideal weapon in strategies of distinction.” If you do or don’t like opera, if you do or don’t see running as recreation, if you do or don’t value certain food, cultures, presentation or any other type of distinction, creates the social class fracture that distinguishes the upper class from the middle, or the very upper. Are snails a pest or a delicacy? That sort of thing. People don’t even ask why they think opera is just good music or snails are just plain tastey, because it’s deeply engrained in their lives since almost birth.
This so-called social capital is learned from a very young age as part of your habitus, and if you grow up thinking that You don't kick a dressage horse after a failed pas de deux, you live in a very different world than where you don’t kick a man when he’s done.
But none of this is to say that once you’re in (or out) you’re stuck. According to one commentator on Bourdieu, habitus “is not fixed or permanent, and can be changed under unexpected situations or over a long historical period” (Navarro). Somewhere along the way, for example, the elite picked up jazz as the preferred music to opera, and snails gave way to craft beer and high end cupcakes and—going for runs? Not only can the cultures and institutions switch, but people can switch, too—Bourdieu, for all of his criticism of the elite, ended up in the in-group of often cited scholars in rhetoric, philosophy and sociology. And I used to hate running. But here I am, waking up most mornings to put on some stretchy pants and very bright t-shirt and strap on my phone for a run, because for some reason you need a phone to go running.
If you have a deeply engrained habitus, why not tell us about it at email@example.com? We’d love to hear from you and any other comments or ideas you may have, including distance running tips, because there seem to be a disproportionate number of distance runners in higher education. Must be something about the habitus…
Fri, 27 November 2015
Mere rhetoric a podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movements that have shaped the rhetorical world.
Erasmus was born in Holland, probably in 1466, and was orphaned by the time he was twenty. This meant that instead of getting to go to university, he was shuttled off to monk school, which, while he was ordained, was really not his cup of tea. Instead, he became a “wandering scholar” eventually wandering to England where he became chummy with the likes of Thomas More and the other humanists.
Wandering through Italy, France, the Low Countries and England, he tried to replace medieval learning with a Greek and Latin style, called New Learning, all the while engaging and inspiring some of the most important thinkers of his age. It’s only natural that Erasmus would have been involved in rhetoric because rhetoric was a controversial topic in the Renaissance, as we’ll discuss in depth later.
In Praise of Folly set out to criticize what Erasmus saw a excesses and hypocrisy within in the church, but it’s also just good language fun. For one thing, the Latin title,” Morias Encomium" may have been a pun on his friend Thomas More’s name. the tone is always a little hard to read, as Erasmus says “toys are not without their serious matter” The whole book is written in the voice of Folly, who is depicted as a goddess who keeps a court of vices like self-love, laziness and flattery. Sometimes Folly’s virtues seem sincere, like when she points out that children are happier than grown adults and that so-called folly is behind good nature, altruism and true love, but elsewhere in the book, the satire more directly castigates priests and scholars, especially rhetoricians. Folly complains that “we have as many grammars as grammarians” (41) and that they only write to each other in an echo chamber “more prattling than an echo” (43) and their works lack “the least coherence with the rest of the argument, that the admiring audience may in the meanwhile whisper to themselves, ‘what will he be at now?’” (52)
De copia was one of Erasmus’ greatest successes. In his lifetime it was published more than 85 times by publishers all over the Western world. By the end of the century it had been published more than 150 times, and worked its way into many other textbooks and handbooks.
Copia means simply abundance, and the Romans were so fond of it that there was even a goddess named Copia—so take that, Folly. Quintilian wrote a chapter where he touches on the idea of the abundant style, and that’s where Erasmus really takes off. He suggests that abundance doesn’t have to mean you drag on and on, but that abundance comes in what we might call the pre-writing stage. Erasmus says “who could speak more tersely than he who has ready at hand an extensive array or words and figure from which he can immediately select what is most suitable for conciseness?” Erasmus proposes a copia of ideas and of words, which will prepare the student for extemporaneous speaking under any circumstance. And then, to show off, Erasmus demonstrates how very, very many ways he can say “thank you for your letter”—if you have a chance to see this in print, I recommend you pick it up, because it’s dizzying. Here are some examples:
[we go back and forth]
In the second part of De copia, Erasmus talks about copia of thought, which includes embellishment through describing the thing in depth, its circumstances, its causes, its consequences and other ways to go in more depth on a topic. The amplification of what you can say about any topic is similarly dizzying, but again Erasmus emphasizes that copia is useful for even concise speech because “Let the lover of brevity see to it that he not only say few things, but let him say the best possible things in the fewest words” granted that “in our zeal for brevity we do no omit thins that should be said” (105).
De copia is remarkable for me as a compositionist for two reasons. First because it represents the way that thinking about language leads to thinking about ideas. Sometimes students want to add “fluff” to a paper to get it to a page limit, but Erasmus demonstrates that coming up with a lot of ways of discussing a topic—its past and its present and its characteristics—can add substance as well. Second, I love de copia because it acknowledges that there’s a difference between the prewriting phase of brainstorming and coming up with dozens—or hundreds—of ideas and the final, polished piece. Copia is based on the concept that many or most of your ideas are going out the window anyway, but the process of coming up with ideas is itself a valuable step in the writing process.
Mon, 23 November 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren. This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, which is a time for food, family and remembering that this land was forcibly occupied from a variety of disenfranchised indigenous people. So in honor of that tradition, today we’ll be talking about a book called American Indian Rhetorics of Survivance, edited by Ernest Stromberg.
First off, we might have to define a couple of the words in the title, which is actually the same step that Stromberg makes in his introduction. He acknowledges that “American Indian” is a pretty broad title to encompass a spectrum of people whose boundaries were and are constantly shifting as questions of heritage, culture, genetics and geography are redefined over and over again. Similarly, the title makes use of ‘rhetorics’ instead of ‘rhetoric’ because there is no singular, Western European-influence rhetoric, but a variety of methods to create symbolic understanding. And now for the kicker--what does “survivance” mean? Survivance, a term coined by Gerald Vizenor, “goes beyond mere survival to acknowledge the dynamic and creative nature of Indigenous rhetoric” (1). Vizenor himself defines it as “Survivance is an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry.” This means that instead of hanging on white knuckled, you thrive, turning your position of oppression into one of resistance.
Over all, the chapters in the book all highlight the way that native american rhetors were able to reappropriate the tropes and stereotypes of their different eras into strategies of persuasion. This includes what Stromberg calls an “acute awareness of [an] audience” (6)that frequently includes white people who may hold their own preconceptions about a Native American speaker. Karen A Redfield provides a term for this when she says “The attempt to find ways to commynicate with non-Native people taht I am calling external rhetoric” (151). External rhetoric is important for rhetors who are “astute enough to tell stories so that white people can hear them” (154).
Let me give you a couple of examples from the book.In Matthew Dennis’ chapter on the 18th century diplomat Red Jacket, he points out that “Red Jacket was capable of deploying to good effect teh conventions of the Vanishing Indian, a white discourse taht imagined various individual Indians as the ‘last of their race.’ In 1797 in Hartford, Connecticut, the Seneca orator says: ‘we stand on a small island in the bosom of the great waters. We are encircles--we are encompassed. The evil spirit rides upon the blast and the waters are disturbed. They rise, they press upon us, and the waves once settled over us, we disappear forever. Who then lives to mourn us? None. What marks our extinction? Nothing. We are mingled with the common elements’” (23). Whoo. Chills. One of the great things about this book is the recovery of such rhetoric, which presents powerful arguments which are also acutely aware of the conventions in which they are made. Another rhetor who played off of white expectations is Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, who Malea D. Powell describes as creating a “deliberate performance of the kind of Indianness that would have appealed to her late nineteenth-century reformist audiences” (69) as she fashioned herself as the ‘nobel Indian princess’ who could speak in behalf of her people.
These native american orators blend the rhetorics of their borderlands together in what Patrica Bizzell in this volume calls “mixed blood rhetoric” (41). These borderlands can be boarding schools where Native Americans were stripped of their cultural heritage, as the authors Ernest Stromberg studies describe, or the fringes of American and indigenous legal cultures as Janna Knittel and Peter d’Errico describe. These borderlands have existed since Western Europe met the Western Hemisphere, for sure, but they are not a thing of the cowboys-and-indians past. Anthony G. Murphy describes how the documentaries made for PBS in the 1990s about cowboys-and-indians--or rather, about Custer and the battle of little bighorn--highlights how questions about the past, and whose sources of the past we use, are under continual debate. Murphy’s historiography of the battle and the ways that “assumptions of historical authenticity [have been] long held by the imperial center of American society that has until now attempted to maintain hegemonic control over the Custer Myth” (204). The past keeps meaning new things.
This text also encompasses a variety of genres. Contemporary Native American author Leslie Marmon Silko is the focus of Ellen L. Arnold’s literary analysis, while Holly L Baumgartner examines an anthology of Native American autobiographies. Karen A Redfield looks at newspapers and Others like Angela Pully Hudson look at political speeches. The last peice in the antholgoy, is piece of ficto-criticism by Richard Clark Eckert, which begins with the question “Who symbolizes a ‘real Indian?”’”
This is a great book to open up a lot of new rhetorical study about native american rhetoric in many time periods and genres, but, as any anthology, it’s more generative than exhaustive. As Ernest Stromberg points out, “the purpose of this text is not aimed at achieving the closure of a conclusion; rather, it suggests future directions for the study of American Indian rhetoric.”
If you’d like to suggest future directions for the podcast or have feedback, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving, and remind your friends and loved ones of the words of Red Jacket “At the treates held for the purchase of our lands, the white man with sweet voices and smiling faces told us they loved us and theat they would not cheat us [...] these things puzzle our heads and we beleive that the Indians must take care of themselves and not trust either in your people or in the king’s children” (qtd pg 28).
Fri, 20 November 2015
Courtly political rhetoric
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements that have shaped rhetorical history. Today we continue our month-long celebration of deliberative rhetoric by looking back half a millennium to the European Renaissance.
Back in the European Renaissance, politics looked different. There were no brightly colored billboards along the side of the freeway on-ramp, no official newspaper endorsements of candidates, no candidate debates. There were, in fact, no candidates. That is not to say that there was no politics. Instead of working to get the vote of the average Joe, those who aspired to political power had to work another angle—they had to work the court.
Royal courts were the nexis of political life in the Renaissance. There were smaller courts for smaller authorities, but the courts of say, the king of France or the Queen of England might include thousands of people. Courtiers, these court members, could have their fortunes made because of the favorable impressions they made at court. There were offices of the court, including such fantastic positions as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Doorward, and Groom of the Stool, which did, in fact, mean “stool” in two senses of the word. These were important positions that could secure your family’s influence for generations. Everyone was competing for these positions, so it became brutally important to make the right impression. You didn’t want to lose your chance to be Groom of the Stool. On the other hand, say or do the wrong thing and you could be exiled from court or from the country or worse. Many of the monarchs who were insecure had reasons to distrust the insubordinate at court and could punish absolutely anyone who undermined their authority at court. You don’t want to make a major social gaffe when you could literally lose your head for it.
In the context of the high stakes of court living, handbooks of behavior began to appear so that social climbers could politic their way to the top without doing anything stupid. These handbooks could be subtitled “How to Win Friends and Ingratiate People.” Giovanni Della Casa’s courtusie book, for example, gives the gentle reader the advice that it’s an “unmannerly part, for a man to lay his nose upon the cup where another must drink, or upon the meate another must eate, to the end to smell unto it” because, in a horrifying gaffe, “it may chance there might fall some droppe from his nose, that would make a man loath to it.” (qtd Richards 479). Ew. That would be so embarrassing.
But the master of masters of the hunt, the main man of gentle men was Baldassare Castiglione. Besides having an embarrassing first name, Castiglione was a courtier at the court of the Duke of Urbino, in Italy, where he was a poet, religious leader, soldier and all-around man around court. He wrote the most famous handbook of the Renaissance “The Courtier.” The Courtier is a dialogue, like the other text that it most resembles, Cicero’s De Oratore. It addresses the question of what makes the ideal Renaissance gentleman and the dialogues in it take place over several days, with multiple figures putting in their two cents, changing their minds and coining new terms to describe how to best do polite politics at court.
One of the most important of these terms was Sprezzatura. Sprezztura refers to making something difficult seem easy. As Castiglione’s character puts it, “I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all other, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”
This idea, to make whatever is done or said to appear as if it took no effort and no thought is one that has been valued in rhetoric for years. Cicero, in De Oratore, points out the values of “orations [that] were composed very simply” as if they sprang up from “nature and truth [rather] than from study and art.” (1.26).
For Castiglione and his fellow courtiers, sprezzatura, or nonchalance, was able to conceal
the art, the work that went into appearing witty, or poetic. One translation describes it as “an art without art, a negligent diligence, an inattentive attention” (Saccone 57). It’s the rhetorical equivalent of “oh this old thing?” Daniel Javitch, a 20th century scholar, defines Sprezzatura as “at once artifice made to seem natural and a seemingly effortless resolution of difficult. (56). If your excellent speech looks like it took a lot of time and effort, then you look like someone who takes a lot of time and effort, but if your excellent speech looks like you took no time at all, then you look like a genius.
One figure in the Courtier, Canossa, describes how this nonchalance can improve the practice of rhetoric: “I remember having read of some excellent orators … who endeavored to make everyone believe that they were ignorant of letters and, dissembling their knowledge, gave the impression that their speeches were made very simply, as if they had been prompted by nature and truth rather than study or artifice” (53).
Junior high kids get this. Remember the archetype of the slacker genius? We all knew one, or aspired to be one. The kid who sits in the back of class, playing tetris on her phone, until the most difficult math problem stumps the whole class and she’s the only one who solves it, or the guy who cuts class every day, but then turns in a final paper that wows the teacher into giving him an A. There’s something mystical about the idea that some people can skip all the work and still succeed.
This idea was all the more important in rhetoric, because if you labored over your work, not only did it look like you were not just naturally brilliant, but it might look like you weren’t sincere. We still kind of dislike the idea of the speechwriter in politics, who is crafting just the right words to make the voters feel outrage or sympathy on behalf of the politician. But if the politician appears to be speaking words that flow out naturally from the power of the moment filtered through a great and sensitive mind, we feel inspired rather than manipulated.
There is, perhaps, something dishonest in the idea of sprezzatura, but the figure of Canossa insists that it’s something that can’t be taught. Much like in De Oratore, there is a question in the courtier about how much any of this can be taught and how much is just something that you’re born with, a natural grace that accompanies everything you do.
The book of the courtier itself seemed to be charmed with natural grace. It was translated widely, most notably for English speakers, by Thomas Hoby, where it came to define manners and ideals in the age of Elizabeth and Shakespeare.
In fact, you can find traces of Castiglione in several of Shakespeare’s plays, especially those that take place in court, like Pericles who was, himself, a remarkable example of a courtier who sings, jousts, writes love poetry, and negotiates treacherous courts. Pericles’ daughter, Marina, is even more so the naturally talented courtier: she almost can’t help it how artistic, beautiful and smart she is, and though it gets her into trouble, it gets her out again. The talent that saves Marina, actually, is her rhetorical prowess. When she is sold to a brothel, She financially ruins the pimps when time and time again, she persuades the men who would take advantage of her to choose virtue over vice. This includes, as it would for a true courtier, when she must gently persuade those in positions of power. “Let not authority, which teaches you to govern others, be the means to make you misgovern much yourself,” she says to a lusty governor named Lysimachus, “If you were born to honor, show it now; If put upon you, make the judgment good that thought you worthy of it.”
Whether skill of the courtier comes from training or from inborn ability, it is crucial for courtiers like Pericles and Marina. This is the politics of the royal court, which seeks to cajole and charm those in power, so that they will say as Lysimachus did to Marina, “Thou art a piece of virtue, the best wrought up that ever nature made and I doubt not thy training hath been noble […] Hold, here’s more gold. If thou dost hear from me, it shall be for thy good.”
If you hear from me, in the future, I hope that it’s for your good as well. I’d love to hear from you. Contact us through our email mererhetoricpodcast, or check out on Twitter at mererhetoricked to make comments or suggestions for future podcasts. As a matter of fact, today’s podcast was the suggestion of an old friend Vincent Robert-Nicoud, who is not only a heck of a great Renaissance scholar, but he also always opened the door for me, which is an awful gentlemanly thing to do. He can have any office at my court that he wants—Grand Squire, Master of the Hunt. Only not the Gentleman of the Stool.
Tue, 17 November 2015
Remember when you were a freshman and you took first year critical reasoning? Or in high school, when you took the AP thinking exam?
Of course not, because we don’t really teach philosophy or critical thinking. What we do teach is writing.
Welcome to MR the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements and people who have shaped rhetorical history. today we’ll be talking about the mid nineties text “Rhetoric of Reason,” winner of the 1997 MLA Mina Shannassy book prize.
Titles one chapter “The end of Philosophy and the Resurgence of Rhetoric” Provocative idea. but can rhetoric and writing classes take over the millenia of philosophy and logic instruction that have long been cornerstones of a liberal education?
Crosswhite conceives his own book to be “a challenge to teachers of writing… to become much more philosophical about the teaching and theory of argumentation” (8).Motivated by “a social hope that people will be able to reason together” (17) in a civil responsibly taught in FYC classes the nation over. Because “The teaching of writing is nothing less than the teaching of reasoning” (4). Purpose of university education is to write reasoned argumentation, “about conflicts that are matters of concerns to many different kinds of people, to fellow citizens who may not share their specialized knowledge” (296).
Rhetoric is philosophy without absolutes (“including negative absolutism”) (35). If there is an end of philosophy in the 1990s as the influence of deconstructionists like Derrida is splashing over departments of English, can writing and rhetoric fill the gap in teaching the new good reasoning?As one review put it, “Crosswhite clearly moves away from the static view of formal logic in which propositions are measured against internally consistent rules rather than the more complex and shifty criteria articulated by live audiences” (Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Reed Way Dasenbrock, Andreea Deciu, Christopher Diller & Colleen Connolly).
In this, he is highly indebted to the work of new rhetorics like the kind you’ll find in Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric, which I promise we’ll talk about one of these days. For our purposes the key thing Crosswhite adopts is the idea of a universal audience. The term “universal” can be misleading. Crosswhite points out that “Unviersiality … depvelops along different lines; there are different and sometimes incompatiable ways of achieveing more universal standpoints. Universality is an achievement of particular people at particular times for particular purposes” (215). But another way, he says “Even if argumentation is a relatively universal practice, the occasions on which one argues, what one argues about, the requency with which one argues, the people with whom one argues, how explicitly one argues, how far one carries and argument--all these things may vary strongly from culture to culture” (218). It sounds a lot like rhetoric, doesn’t it, all this considering the audience and kairos and stases? Rhetorically specific communities, though, all will detirmine what is good reasoning and reflect that back to their interlocutors.Reasoning “is dependant on a background of deep competences, moods, abilities, assumptions, beliefs, ways of being and understanding” (254). “Argumentation is a “relatively universal practice” but how, where, why and for what of argumentation “may vary strongly from culture to culture” (218). Fundamentally, “People can argue only concerning those things about which they are willing to learn, and change their minds” (283).
Imagine an audience that is broadly conceived yet culturally dependant. An audience of good reasoners.With such an audience, good reasoning is “a matter not simply of what is true, but of the measure of the truth yielded by argumentation" (153). Audiences are crucial, because “there are those occasion on which an audience repsonds in ways we had not anticipated and in fact goes beyond our own reasoning and our own ideas. sometimes, and audience evaluates our reasoning and in ways we could not have foreseen--but which we nevertheless recognize as legitimate” (152). Contradiction is important, becoming “powerful enablers of discovery” (263) and as such “contradictions should be cherished, nurtured developed” (264)
Other key influences come from philosophy, notably Levinas and Cavell, because the ordinary, the acknowledgement of other people are important, builds”mutual trust and respect [to] make possible rather extraordinary uses of the ordinary possibilities of communication” (31).
Mutual respect does not, though, mean consensus. In fact, Crosswhite is bullish on dissent in general "Where there is no conflict of any kind,” he says, “there is no reason" (72). “We don’t need courses in ‘critical thinking’ nearly as much as we need course in suspending critical thought in order to read deeper understandings” (201), focusing more on questions than consensus (199). This proves a problem when looking at a significant third of traditoinal rhetoric: the epideictic. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and co-authors observe, this “view, however, forces Crosswhite to quickly pass over how both aesthetic discourse (he cites fiction, poetry, and plays) and, less quickly, how epideictic rhetoric complicate the way that rationality and argumentation be- come embodied and therefore persuasive.” Instead, the epideictic for crosswhite “seems to lack the connectio with social conflict and looks more like a struggle with nature” (104) and the only way is to “try to show how epideictic, too, is a form of social conflict” (105)--a proposition he invokes but doesn’t develop.
But let’s get back to what he does get to, which is surprisingly pragmatic for a book that cites so much Gadamer and Heidegger. He says That students simply “need more familiaryt with more diverse and more universal audience, with audiences which demand more explicit reasoning” (273) Crosswhite gives an extended example of what this looks like in his own classes.
Here’s the useful, wheels-on-the-road stuff: “ writing courses and textbooks often lack focus and purpose; they simply try to cover too much” (189); and he recommends more workshops with student-to-student audiences because “writers need real interlocutors and audiences—a real rhetorical community” (281). Crosswhite’s writtena pretty brainy and philosophical text here, but he’s also made an argument for bringing questions of reasoning and philosophy into the writing class as key to what we do and key to what philosophy should do. What do you think? Should we be responsible for teaching reasoning in the university? How do we fit it in when we have so much to cover? Drop us a line at email@example.com and let me know. Should first year composition be retitled first-year reasoning and writing?
Thu, 12 November 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and, ah, here I am in my newly redecorated research cube. I’ve taped grey and yellow chevron wrapping paper over the old horrific 90s wallpaper and the books that completely fill my bookshelf are organized—somewhat. The tiny red and green Loeb editions look like Christmas decorations among the others and one whole shelf of books is tattooed with library barcodes. My door is propped open by the extra hard wood chair and is scrubbed clean—you almost can’t see the faint traces of pen from all of the strange graffiti, including one sloppy invitation for a previous occupant to get sushi. I’ve hung an orange-and-white abstract painting on the outside of the door and you can just see the corner of it from my seat. Why am I telling you about my cube in such detail? Because today we’re talking about Ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is the Greek term for description, a rich description that makes you see a scene before you in such detail that you feel like you’re actually there. Did it work? Did you imagine yourself in my cozy little cube?
Last week I talked about a how there was a sculpture of kairos that someone had written a poem about and I called it ekphrasis, but I may have given a very short definition of just what ekphrasis is. I’ve been thinking about ekphrasis for a long time, largely because of a 2009 book called Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice. In this book, Ruth Webb seeks to rehabilitate ekphrasis from its long misuse. We think of ekphrasis as a describing a subject matter—art—in poetic practice rather than a method—bringing something “vividly before the eyes”—used for a variety of rhetorical purposes (1). When I first learned of ekphrasis, it was in a poetry class. The teacher showed us several poems that were written to describe pictures and then challenged us to find works of art that we could transfer into words. There are several famous poems that are ekphrasis. For example, do you remember Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn? Or William Carlos Williams’ poem about Landscape with Fall of Icarus ? Perhaps one of the most famous examples of ekphrasis, for ancient and modern students, is the description of the achilles’ shield in Homer. In fact, Webb figures that shield led to this confusion of describing an artifact rather than just describing something.
Webb doesn’t just tell us what ekphrasis is not; she describes how Progymnasmata series of educational practices and other student handbooks influenced use and understanding of this tool that permeated rhetorical life from the arts (168) to the law courts (89) to the forum (131). Ekphrasis, then, isn’t just an ornament or a figure of speech—Webb claims that it is a “quality of language” (105), something that allows listeners and readers to become what she calls “virtual witnesses” of people, places, and events (95). You can imagine how it would be useful to bring your listeners in to become “virtual witnesses” if you were, say, a lawyer painting a picture of the crime, or if you were a politician petitioning for more military spending by describing a pitiful defeat. Through ekphrasis, your listeners become shared participants in an experience. You recreate an experience so we’re all together for a moment, seeing the same thing, feeling—maybe—the same way. Ekphrasis brings people in with you.
Because ekphrasis is more than just an occasional strategy, Webb has to cover a lot of ground in her book. She begins by describing the context in which ekphrasis was named, admired and taught, back in ancient Greece where memory was always connected with imagery (25). “Seeing” something was critically connecting with how you think and remember. For example, do you remember in a previous episode on canons, where we talked about how classical rhetors would create a place, say a palace, and then place facts around that palace so that they could visualize walking around to encounter the facts? It’s the same practice that popped up recently in an episode of the BBC series Sherlock. When you have a clear visual reminder of a place, an object, you can better remember the abstract principles or facts. Another reason why ekphrasis was central to the Greeks was because of the way people encountered composition: whether or not a speech was written down, it was almost always spoken aloud (26). When you’re listening rather than reading, it can be difficult to pay attention to long abstracts, but being invited into a visual scene is refreshing and entertaining. No TV, remember? This understanding of literacy may seem alien to modern readers, so Webb has to explain them explicitly
Then she introduces ekphrasis to us the same way it was introduced to Greeks and Romans: through the Progymnasmata and other handbooks of instruction. In the pedagogical explanation, Webb emphasized that ekphrasis was seen as formative for young learners, a tool to advance socially, and as an absolutely transferable skill (47-51). Remember when we talked about the progymnasmata? The exercises that young Greek students went through? Well, ephrasis was part of the progymnasmata exercises and Webb sais it was “the exercise which taught students how to use vivid evocation and imagery in their speeches” as “an effect which transcents categories and normal expectations oflangauge” (53). She then gives readers a complete chapter discussing the subjects of ekphrasis that go beyond just descriptions of works of art, and, in fact, often focus on narrative aspects (68-70). She really has to define the term because we have several hundred years of misdefinition of the term as only associated with art.
Webb also introduces us to two versions of ekphrasis: Enargia which makes “absent things present” and Phantasia which she links to “memory, imagination and the gallery of the mind” (v). Here’s an example of enargia from Theon: “When I am lamenting a murdered man will I not have before my eyes all the things which might believably have happened in the case under consideration? […] Will I not see the blow and the citicm falling to the ground? Will his blood, his pallor, his dying groans not be impressed on my mind. This gives rise to eneragia,[…] by which we seem to show what happened rather than to tell it and this gives rise to the same emotions as if we were present at the event itself” (qtd 94). Phantaias on the other hand, is creation, which might include “mythical and fantastic beats […] imagines through a process of synthesis, putting together man dna horse” (119) for example, or it might just be creatively expanding on the details of what we aren’t told. Quintilian describes this in terms of a quote from Cicero: “Is there anyone so incapable of forming images of things that, when he read the passace in [Cicero’s] Verrines ‘the praetor of the Roman people stood on the shoes dressed in slippers, wearing a purple cloak and long tunic, leaning on this worthless woman’ he does not only seem to see them, the place [..] but even imagines for himself some of those things which are not mentioned. I for my part certainly seem to see his face, his eyes, the unseemly caresses of both” (qtd 108). So there you have it. Ekphrasis can be about things that were or things that can be imagined To use an example, enargia would describe a scene that was distant, like a visit to Disneyland, while Phantaisa would create a scene that was fictional, like developing a new Disney movie adaption.
Webb’s book is certainly readable and her argument is very thorough, taking in a very large range of Classical civilization, spanning several hundred years and including both Eastern and Western Roman Empires. She’s also made the convincing argument that ekphrasis was a little bit of the sublime that could be made an effective argument in almost any situation. Many texts that talk about rhetoric of poetics make the “audacious” claim that poetics can be rhetorical; Webb’s book seems to be claim that the rhetorical was often, poetic.
I’m especially interested in this ancient idea that one thing a rhetor needs to do is make the audience see it, to be there and experience the event or object—existing, historical, hypothetical, or fantastic—to be “virtual witnesses” of it for themselves. This seems to be an interesting link between a logos-centered viewpoint that admits only one clear interpretation of objective facts and the obvious realization that the audience was being brought into “worlds […] not real” (169). The audience readily give themselves up to the “willing suspension of disbelief” to order to feel, and experience, the fictive ( and no matter its veracity, the ekphrasis is always fictive, even when the object is before the audience) world the rhetor carefully creates through word choice and selective description. There’s something potentially deceptive about ekphrasis. And to make a clean breast of it, I’ve bamboozled you, because when I’m writing this, I’m not actually in my cube—I’m flying in a window seat with an orange sunset lighting up the cabin from over the north Pacific Ocean. Even worse, I haven’t even redecorated my research cube—yet. And I’m not sure where I’ll be when I actually record this episode. Right now, the scene I described so convincingly was a bald-faced…phantasia. But I made you a witness with me. Ekphrasis is so immersive that it can be hard to challenge it It’s too bad that we don’t know more about how audiences were trained to read these ekphrasis: the handbook information is wonderful for describing the theory and practice from the rhetor’s side, but what might be the equivalent for readers? How does an audience respond to ekphrasis? Should they be skeptical or allow themselves to be swept away in the description and become willing witnesses? Hey, I don’t have the answer to this question. If you have thoughts on the proper way to respond to the ways that words create worlds, drop us a line a firstname.lastname@example.org? Until then, I’ll be enjoying my nicely redecorated research cube. Maybe.
Tue, 10 November 2015
Welcome to MR. Rebroadcast note
Today in honor of Scotland voting to stick with the rest of the United Kingdom, we’re going to talk about Hugh Blair. That’s right-- a Scottish rhetorician to honor the Scottish referendum. Hugh Blair was a bit of a rising star. He was a Presbyterian clergyman, but the top of the top of Scottish clergymen, eventually getting the High Church of St. Giles: the highest honor for the men of the cloth in Scotland. Once you’ve peaked out in divinity, what do you do? Well, if you’re Hugh Blair, you begin teaching about literature and writing. Originally, he taught pro bono, as a way to stave off the boredom of dominating Presbyterian clergy, but his classes became increasingly popular and the king gave him the Regius Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres.
Which King? King George the III, the same one who lost the Colonies. So when you think about Hugh Blair, put him in context with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
So King George lost a hemisphere and gained a rhetoric professor, and what a rhetoric professor he gained. Think of the title. Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Rhetoric, as listeners of this podcast, you know, but what’s Belles Lettres? Belles Lettres means beautiful or fine writing, so all of literature—poetry, drama, fiction. These were considered similar enough to rhetoric so that one chair might have both responsibilities. Blair’s classes were so popular that anyone who was lucky enough to sit in on them could take notes and then redistribute or sell them to others. But if you’ve ever gotten notes from someone in class, then you know that there can be a big different between what the teacher said and what got written down. This bothered Hugh Blair, so he decided to set his lectures down on paper and compile them into a book. This book was given the incredibly clever title Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. The lectures are not particularly novel: Blair draws a lot on Quintilian, whom he loved, as well as contemporary theorists about writing, like the newspaperman Joseph Addison. A lot of what Blair sounds really familiar to us, for reasons I’ll discuss in a minute.
Blair states that “to be truly eloquent, is to speak to the purpose” and “whatever […] the subject be, there is room for eloquence” (234). That means that you don’t have to wait for a noble subject to speak noble words. It’s more important, Blair suggests, that you pay attention to why you are speaking, to the rhetorical situation and then adapt what you say to fit the situation. It’s also important to be sincere: “Nature teaches every man to be eloquent, when he is much in earnest” (235). Language should be simple (naïve) in construction, seemingly natural, avoiding ornament and unaffected (184). This straightforward style is often what Anglo Americans expect when reading everything from newspapers to academic reports.Blair thought that national languages were best for expressing ideas. These means that instead of dropping in tons of Latin or French, you should use good old English, and instead of using the English of Shakespeare or Milton, you should use contemporary English. In short, language should be current and national He defines purity not as referring back to some long-gone golden age, but purity is “use of such words […] as belong to idiom of the language which we speak” (33) propriety depends on relation between the word and “express[ing] the idea which he intends” and “express[ed] fully” (34). So eloquence depends on language that is current and national, natural and sincere.
Still, style, according to Blair, “is a field that admits of great latitude [..] Room must be left here for genius” (190). So there’s room for individuality within the boundaries of “good style.” Individuality matters an awful lot in delivery, too: “Let your manner, whatever it is, be your own; neither imitated from another, nor assumed upon some imaginary model, which is unnatural to you” (336).
Like many of his time, Blair believed that Invention is beyond the scope of rhetoric—“beyond the power of art to give any real assistance” and “to manage these reason with the most advantage […] is all that rhetoric can pretend to” (316). So the first step for, in Blair’s example, a preacher, is to do research and the first step of research isn’t to go imitate someone else’s ideas but to actually start with “pondering the subject in his own thoughts” (291). Blair also made a distinction between conviction of the brain and persuasion of the will (235). So if I get you to agree that smoking is bad and unhealthily, I can convince you through charts and statistics to the point where you admit smoking is bad, but unless you persuade you in your will to take the steps necessary, you might continue to light up. Convincing gets you to know while persuasion gets you to do. This is, as you might imagine, an important distinction for a preacher.
In sum, Blair’s over all argument was that “True eloquence is the art of placing truth in the most advantageous light for conviction and persuasion” (281). None of this sounds revolutionary, does it? Partially this is because Blair pretty much just updated classical sources for contemporary genres of writing, but this is also because Blair’s text was hugely successful. The Lectures on Rhetoric were the most reproduced, imitated and distributed text of its era, and even into the next century…and the next. But it wouldn’t be until the Victorian age that other theorists like Whatley would challenge Blair’s dominance in rhetoric in general and preacher-training in specific.
Blair’s Lectures went through over a 130 editions in the next century and its ideas filtered down through textbooks for college students, high school students, even into elementary school readers!. Sound like the upperclass and you’ll be able to smoothly move into the upper class. All that stuff about current & national language? Turns out that there’s a “correct” type of current and national language.
They were especially influential in America, where Hugh Blair’s texts were seen as a way that you could rise above your station. So around the same time that America gained its independence from England, Blair was writing his rhetoric that would encourage Americans to unite in a “current and national” language. Even though Scotland voted to remain with the rest of the United Kingdom, Blair helped them, too, to recognize the potential of their own current language.
If you want to rise above your station, send us an email. We might not be able to help you but we could take a request for an episode. Email me at email@example.com and I’ll do my darnest. Until next time
Thu, 5 November 2015
Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks
I’m Mary Hedengren, Samantha and Morgan are in the booth and this is Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. But what does that even mean?
When we talk about the rhetorical tradition on this podcast, we actually don’t mean the rhetorical tradition. We mean the tradition of a very small group of people living mostly in one city in one corner of the Mediterranean. We mean Athenian rhetorical tradition, which, no doubt, has had a long and extensive influence in Western culture from the Romans to the Victorians to this podcast. But while many views of rhetoric focus on the Athenian theories, rhetoric has a far larger reach. After all, what could be more universal than using words to convince other people, to make them better understand you, to create a connection? If we define rhetoric, as Burke does, as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents”—why everyone does that! There have been so many human agents on the world, all over the world, and how have they thought about forming attitudes or actions with words?
This is one of the questions that Carol D. Lipson and Roberta A Brinkley seek to answer in their edited anthology Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. The book looks at 3 major regions, as well as a few “bonus” sections, to find alternative views of rhetoric in the ancient world. The three main areas are Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Chinese rhetoric.
William W Hallo does a quick survey of ancient Mesopotamia and finds rhetorical genres like diatribes and proverbs and disputations as rich ground for a foundation of rhetoric, not to mention the value of looking at epic poetry like Gilgamesh for examples of the kind of rhetoric that sets up such poetic words. Think of the Exordia that calls all the people around to listen to a tale and promises them the relative merits of doing so. Roberta Brinkley, too, looks at the Mesopotamian epics as an early rhetorical hotbed. She focuses on how the epic of Inanna illustrates the rhetorical choices of “the earliest known writer” Enheduanna, who lived in 2300 BC. Let me say that again, 2300 BC. I’m not sure what the Greeks were doing at that time, but they probably weren’t writing what Brinkley calls “rhetorically complex sophistical compositions [that] challenge the traditional canon of rhetoric and thereby many of the origins stores and foundational assumptions of the humanities” (49). And yet, Binkly points out, when did you hear of Enhuduanna? Paul Hoskisson and Grant M. Boswell turn from religious hymns for a goddess to another key genre: shameless self promotion, as Sennacherib “the great king, the powerful king, the king of all there is” sets up some columns to set up how great he is. As Hoskisson and Boswell point out “Assyrian kingship was performative in that Assyrian kings continuously legitimized their claim to the throne” (75).y
The next section shifts to the West to the Egyptian rhetorical tradition.
Carol S. Lipson argue that “It all comes down to Maat” in ancient Egyptian rhetoric, where Maat is “what is right” sort of justice and morality and the order of the “sun, moon and stars” a “balanced state of creation” (81). Egyptian letters concern themselves with moves that perform “maat” Deborah Sweeny meanwhile examines the legal texts of ancient Egypt for examples of persuasion and eloquence. Just as legal tradition spurred the development of rhetoric in ancient Greece, Sweeney sees similar developments in the legal texts of Egypt.
Chinese rhetoric may seem the epitome of exotic compared to Athenian rhetoric, but the Chinese had a richly developed pattern for discussing rhetoric. George Q Xu describes the confusion principles of rhetoric which ranks different kinds of speech, with “clever talk” taking the lowest rung (122) Arabella lyon, meanwhile, describes the value of silence in confusion rhetoric As she says “Confucian silences go beyond a reticence to speak, a willingness to act and a refusal of eloquence” the “silence workds by not saying what should be obsious, what should be self-discovered and that which alienated” (138). Yameng Liu Xunzi and Han Feizi’s rhetorical criticism, arguing hat “instead of a mere byproduct of philosophical inquiries, classical Chinese rhetoric was a discipline/practice in its own right” (161) as different schools of thought competed with each other.
After Mesopatamia, Egypt and China are investigated, there’s a sort of catch-all of many alternative traditions. David Metzger writes about the rhetoric of the frist five books of the Hebrew Bible, and James W Watts and C Jan Swearingen look at ancient near eastern texts. Meanwhile Richard Leo Enos actually deals with Greek rhetoric, but a different type of Greek—the rhetoric of Rhodes. Rhodes was a far more diverse city-state than Athens. As Enos says “the orientation of rhetoric at Rhodes was not internal but external. That is, the emphasis on rhetoric was directed toward facilitating communication with other peoples (184) Such a perspective emphasized a cross-cultral epideictic rhetoric, inclusive and found on declamation” (194). Going over my notes in this text, I see I’ve written “ooh, I’m all psyched now,” and I admit that I am again—there’s a lot more the Greek rhetoric than just one city-state stuck in a hundred-year period. That’s what the whole book is arguing—there’s a whole world of rhetoric out there and we ought to do something to explore it.
There are some questions of omission you could have about this volume: for example, why talk about ancient China but not India? It’s hard to anthologize anything without leaving something out and especially a topic as ambitious as everything-not-ancient-Greek. Don’t worry, Lipson and Brinkley came out with a sequel to this book five years later called Ancient Non-Greek Rhetoric. And, yep, it continues to expand the view of what is rhetoric, collecting works about the ancient near-east, Japan, India and pre-Roman Ireland. It’s a pretty exciting and wide ranging text itself and you know what? It’s not done yet! Studying the rhetorical traditions of people wherever they use language can yield fresh insights into what rhetoric is and how it works. Kind of makes you want to get out there and open up rhetoric to something beyond just 5h century BC Athens, up to the whole world. If you want to open this podcast up to some particular types of rhetoric, go ahead and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org because there’s a lot of rhetoric out there and we just have to tackle it one week at a time.
Direct download: 15-08-12_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Rhetoric_Before_and_Beyond_Greece.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 10:46am CDT
Mon, 2 November 2015
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, Samantha’s the booth, Humanities Media Project sponsored us and I have nothing to regret.
Remember back when we talked about kairos? Just to remind you, here’s a poem, a Greek poem, translated by Jeffrey Walker, explain. This poem is ekphersis, a piece of writing that describes a piece of art, in this case a sculpture of Kairos done by Lysippos of Sicyon. The rest explains itself.
From where is your sculptor? Sicyon. What is his name?
Lysippos. And who are you? Kairos the all-subduer.
Why do you go on tiptoes? I’m always running. Why do you have
Double wings on your feet? I fly like the wind.
Why do you have a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men
That I’m sharper than any razor’s edge.
Why does your hair hang down in front? For him that meets me to grab,
By God. Why is the back part bald?
None that I have once passed by on my winged feet
May seize me, even if he wishes to.
Thus the artist fashioned me, for your sake,
Stranger, and placed me at the entrance as a lesson.
So here we have this figure of kairos, with a haircut that is party in the front and business in the back ad if you don’t grab him, too bad. It’s done. Game over, chance lost.
But then what? when you’ve missed your chance, what’s even left? Are you all alone as Kairos flits away?
Not really. The ancient Greeks created another figure, named Metanoia to describe the deep regret that comes when there’s something you could have done and you missed the chance. MEtanoia literally means after thought, or after mind, I guess if you want to get picky about it. It’s similar to regret. As Kelly A Myers put it in her rhetoric society quarterly article, Metanoia was a figure that “resides in the wake of opportunity, sowing regret and inspiring repentance in the missed moment” (1). It is “a reflective act in which a person returns to a past event in order to see it anew” (8)
In Roman poetry, metanoia accompanies the god of opportunity in Ausonius’s epigrams. The first part of the epigram sounds very similar to the ekphrasis of kairos poem “who are you” “I’m opportunity” “why do you look so weird?” “seize the moment” etc. etc. but then the questioner turns to metanoia “please tell me who you are.” “I am a goddess to whom even Cicero himself did not give a name. I am the goddess who exacts punishment for what has and has not been done, so that people regret it. Hence my name is Metanoea.”
There’s something weirdly compensatory in this accusation against Cicero. Metanoia is a such an important concept, Ausonius seems to say, that Cicero must have known, must have felt, but neglected to name. Metanoia is out there, but under studied and ignored.
But we’ve all felt that regret, haven’t we? Me, personally, I get that feeling in the shower, when dumb things I’ve said, or witty comebacks I should have said come sweeping in on me. I’ve also heard people getting hit with metanoia when they’re trying to sleep or when they’re driving or when they’re staring into a beautiful tropical sunset. It makes you want to stab your eyes out.
So what was the purpose of metanoia? What did it accomplish to feel such crippling regret? Hopefully such reflection and regret means that next time around you doing something different. Hopefully you change. This became a big deal as Christianity burst onto the scene. Metanoia became associated as a step of repentance, reflecting on the mistake you made before you can move forward. The New Testament uses matanoia as an “act of repentance that lead to spiritual conversion.” (9).
As kittel et al describe it “affects the whole man,” not just the brain.
It’s important that this emotional aspect of metanoia exists. Some sources point out that metanoia is always emotional as well as mental it is a “change of mind ad heart” (Liddell and Scott 1115) a “profound transformation of the epistemic orientation of the whole person” (Torrance 10). Myers points out that “metanoia ia the affective dimension of kairos” (2)
Metanoia as a rhetorical figure really hit its stride in the middle ages and beyond. Visual representations of metanoia became as common as kairos. Metanoia stuck with kairos, showing up in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, sometimes as a beautiful young woman and sometimes as a vengeful hag. Here’s the thing: there’s a moment of indecision, a Schrödinger's Cat moment where you don’t know whether you will seize the moment or live to regret it.As Myers says ‘once a descion has been made or missed, the two part ways, but before that crucial moment they stand together” (4).
So when you think of kairos, think of the inverse as well, the potential for deep abiding regret that makes you want to burn your high school yearbook. But remember metanoia in the moment that comes, not just regretting what is past, but looking at where you are now and making sure you make the right choice right now, so that you don’t have to regret it later.