Wed, 17 August 2016
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today we continue our month-long festival of all things deliberative rhetoric with a discussion of Saving Persuasion by Bryan Garston.
One thing exciting about his book is that it isn’t written by a rhetorician. Nope, not really. It’s written by a political scientist, which makes rhetoricians excited for two reasons. First, we always get excited when someone outside of our field thinks of us, much less praises us. Second, this guy is in political science! Political science, the people who are always saying things like “empty rhetoric” and “let’s cut through the rhetoric”! And here’s Bryan Garsten saying that persuasion has value, that it is worth saving. We could, as a discipline, collectively kiss him.
But that would take a while.
Also, it would be weird.
And yes, Garsten invokes Hitler and how German concerns were polarized instead of addressed. You can see how it happens. Post world war I, the Germans were excluded from the table of negotiating the peace. German concerns were left out of the deliberations, or were underplayed and Germany hurt bad after the war. By not being considered part of deliberations, many Germans become polarized and aggressive about groups they feel wronged them. And the exclusion begins again. Hitler says, “We all are hurt from WWI” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and Hitler says, “German should be great again” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and then Hitler says, “So we should eliminate Jews and other undesirables” and some people suddenly are out of the discussion again..
The example Garsten gives is Pres. Johnson, who was able to meet the small-town, white Texans where they were and position something like civil rights for black people in a way that would be palatable to them as well
If you’re a political scientist with thoughts about rhetoric or a rhetorician with thoughts about politics, feel free to contact us either via email at email@example.com or our Twitter account @mererhetoric-k-e-d or put out a negative TV spot showing us in unflattering, slow-motion footage. Keep on persuading, my fellow rhetoricians!
Wed, 10 August 2016
Welcome to MR podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. We’re beholden to the humanities media project at the university of Texas for support for this re-recording that sounds so good. And This is a re-recording, so recognize that it might not fit into a normal timeline. This was supposed to come after the Encomium ofHelen written by Gorgias. It’s a come back written by my favorite sophist--Isocrates.
Isocrates had a complaint that Gorgias has not written a true encomium, but an apologia--a defense. He only defended her actions as not her fault instead of saying what she was actually excellent at. Isocrates complains that the encomium of helen is flaky, like the encomiums of bees or salt that other sophist have written. And, like so many of us, he uses this technicality to fuel his own attempt. It kind of reminds me of the Phaedrus, where Socrates wants to correct the speech he has just heard from another sophist. Something about seeing something done wrong makes you want to do it right.
And Isocrates is certain that is has been done wrong. First lines of his encomium demonstrate that: “There are some who think it a great thing if they put forward an odd, paradoxical theme and can discuss it without giving offense” Complaints against the sophist especially gorgias--Isocrates was one of those people who thought Gorgias was disreputable, moving around all the time, proving impossibles all the time, and, damningly, a political. “The most ridiculous thing of all is that they seek to persuade us through their speeches that they have knowledge of politics” (9). Writing about trivial things means that people will listen, admire--but not debate. By taking novel topics instead of political, they are easily the best--like being the best player of Calvinball. Instead, Isocrates praises in a political vein, using Helen as a figure for a contemporary controversy. But he does so in a roundabout way.
So to praise Helen, starts by praising her absconder. He mentions himself that “it would not yet be clear whether my speech is in praise of Helen or a prosecution of theseus” (21) But he argues by association: those who are “loved and admired her were themselves more admirable than the rest” (22). So, that argument goes, those who wanted Helen were the best sort, so she was, by assoication, pretty great. There’s a lot of praise of Theseus here for a supposed praise of Helen, but the Theseus Isocrates paints is a hero, not just of himself, like Hercules was, but for the Greek people in general he “freed the inhabitants of the city from great fear and distress” (25) and “thought it was better to die than to live and rule a site that was compelled to pay such a sorrowful tribute to its enemies” (27). Theseus was a selfless, poltical heo who has “cirtue and soundness of mind … especially in his managment of the city. He saw that those who seek to rule the citizens by force became slaves to others and those who put others’ lives in danger live in fear themselves” (32-33).
Indeed, there’s so much civic love for Theseus here that you set the idea that Isocrates here isn’t just talking about fiction, or myth, or history , but politics. This is not just a fun triffle , a parodoxologia like where Gorgias made Helen a hero instead of a villian. this is not paignion, a fun peice of exhition. George Kenedy argues that Isocrates goes on at such great length about theseus because “theseus is worthy of Helen” and similarly “Athens is worth of the hegemony which it should take from Sparta” (81). In other words, The Helen is “in fact a clear statement of Isorates’ program of Panhellenism” (80)--a united federation of greek city states helmed by Athens.
The praise of Helen herself backs up this idea: “It is due to Helen that we are not the slaves of the barbarian” paraphrases Kennedy (82). Isocrates talks about Helen the way that 19th century americans talked about manifest destiny: “A longing for beautiful things,... is innate in us, and it has a strength greater than our other wishes” and “we enslave ourselves to such people with more pleasure than we rule others” (55-57). Helen wasn’t just beautiful--she was devine. She “acheive more than other mortals just as she excelled over them in appearances. Not only did she win immortality, but she also gained power equal to the gods’” (61). While Theseus was honored by association to be chosen to judge the gods, Helen was defied, and --and this is important for the political analogy--she was able to assist in the apotheiosis of Menelaisis and others.
In the end, Isocrates’ Helen is several things at once: it is a criticism of the Gorgias and the other traveling sophists, who made their living by proving the impossible in demonstration speeches that delighted and caused, to paraphrase Gorgias’ own words, amusement for the authors. He’s presenting a political tract, similar to the one in the PanAthenaicus, where he argues for a more involved Athenian hegemony in panhellenic unity. He’s also presenting a pedagogical advertisment: study with me, he says, and you’ll create real political speeches, not fluffy bits of taffy. At the end of the speech, ever the teacher, Isocrates says “If, then, some people wish to elaborate this material and expand on it, they will not lack material to stimulate their praise of Helen beyond what I have said, but they will find many original arguments to make about her”--yes, he’s setting up his potential students to use his encomium--a real encomium--as a model for their own, future, semi-scaffolded work.
If you have your own example of using your own writing to help your students learn about differnt genres, I’d love to hear about it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in contact how ever you’d like. I recently heard from Rik in Holland (which, incidentally is awesome) that he listens to the podcast on his commute to Groningen University and when he walks the dog, as well as using the podcast in his own classes. Rik! I love to listen to podcasts walking a dog, or commuting, so good on you! Rik also made a suggestion for a podcast on framing, and, by gum, that sounds great, so look forward to hearing about framing in the future, Rik and all the dog walkers and everyone no matter where they are or what they do while listening to Mere Rhetoric.
Wed, 27 July 2016
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have defined rhetorical history. Today is a re-record from when we were doing our "villians of rhetoric" series, but since we just recently did an episode where I apologized for being too hard on Kant, here's the original castigation. Enjoy!
Today we continue our podcast series on villians of rhetoric with Kant. As in Immanual Kant, and not ‘I can’t stnd him” I’ve actually been to Kant’s hometown, Kohnisberg, which is now Kaliningrad Russia. And when I say Kant’s hometown, I mean the town where he was born, studied and died. In his whole life he never even traveled more than 10 miles fromKonigsberg. He might not have been much of a traveler, but he had a spectacular philosophy career. He was apopular teacher and had success in fields of physics and natural science, but he didn’t really get into philosophy, hard core philosophy, until he was middle aged. And the emphasis is on “hard.” His critique of pure reason was 800 pages and dense dense philosophy, even for German philosophers. It wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. But Kan revised it in a 2nd edition and eventually his philosophical work became popular. You know, for German philosophy. His ideas about Enlightenment were controversial, and he had to skirt censorship and even the King’s criticism. His disciples battled his detractors and Kant became the most important German philosopher since Christian Wolff and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. His ideas are quintessentially Enlightenment: agnostic, rationalistic, and committed to individual inquiry of philosophy instead of relying on tradition, including the classical tradition. Kant suggests that there is a thing-in-itself that exists out the in world, but that we are only able to encounter it through our senses and experiences.
Also, he didn’t like rhetoric.
And, brother won’t he let you know it. Rhetoric, he says “merits no respect whatever” because of several complaints: first, that rhetoric is just style. Kant says in the crituqe of judgment athat rhetoric is only “the art of transacting a serious business of the understanding as if it were a free play of the imagination (V 321), In this he makes the same complaint against rhetoric that some of our other villains—Ramus and Montaigne—have made: rhetoric is nothing more than style. By removing invention from the canons of rhetoric and focusing only on style, Kant can focus more on his idea of truth being something just out there rather than something constructed socially. As scholar Robert J Dostal says, “With Kant rhetoric is reduced to a matter of style—dispensable in serious philosophical matters. The requirement [of rhetoric] that one know men’s souls is eliminated in view that it is sufficient merely to speak the truth” (235).
Kant’s other complaint, like Agrippa, Jewel, Patrizi and Hobbes is that rhetoric is immortal. When Kant reads the classical rhetoricians he feels an “unpleasant sense of disapporival” because he finds rhetoric “an insidious art that knows how, in matters of moment, to move men like machines to a judgement that must lose all its weight with them in calm reflection” (V 327). In other words, if people would just sit down and think, really think like a philosopher, they’d come to the right conclusion, but these nasty rhetors mislead them with their tricky words. In this sense he defines rhetoric like this “Rhetoric, so far as this is taken to mean the act of persuasive, ie the act of misleading by means of a beautiful illusion ”
Kant wasn’t the only Enlightenment philopher to criticize rhetoric. Descrates points out that you don’t need to study rhetoric to be a good speaker because “those who reason most cogently, and work over their thoughts to make them clear and intelligible are always the most persauve even if they … have never studied rhetoric.” Like Kant, Descartes believes that if you just speak the truth you don’t need rhetoric. Kant wan’t alone in thinking that rhetoric was dangerously misleading, either. John Lock wrote that “all the art of rhetoric […] are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions and thereby mislead the judgment and so indeed are perfect cheat” So Kant had good company in disliking rhetoric. But can Kant be reconciled to a sympathetic view of rhetoric?
Scott Stroud thinks so. Stroud, who works here at the University of Texas (hook ‘em horns) is the author of a book coming out in October called Kant and the Promise of Rhetoric that aims to rehabilitate Kant to rhetoric. He claims that Kant didn’t really have the same definition of rhetoric which we have—he too, was influenced by villains of rhetoric like Plato and Ramus, and when he says he hates rhetoric, he means he hates something different. Since the book hasn’t come out yet and my Delorian is out of gas, I can’t tell you all of the arguments that Stroud will make in Kant and the promise of rhetoric, but I can tell you what I’ve gleaned from his earlier articles. One of them goes in the back door of rhetoric but looking at education. In 2011, Stroud’s article “Kant on education and the rhetorical force of the example” approaches a possible Kantian rhetoric through Kant’s ideas on education.
Kant says he hates rhetoric, but he loves education and was looking for a way to teach without coersing. So remember how Kant called rhetoric a “beautiful illusion”? Stroud argues that what Kant is objecting to is what Kant else where calls the “aim of win[ning] minds over to the advantage of the speaker before they can judge and to rob them of their freedom” (5:327). In this senese, Stroud says that Kant isn’t anti-rhetoric, but anti-bad rhetoric. The word rhetoric had been so pejorativized by Kant’s time that it came to be synonymous with manipulation and in opposition to individual consideration. So earlier, when we said that Kant was all about the freedom to think without the contraints of tradition? This is that same concern. As Stroud puts it, “What Kant is objecting to is the fact that such rhetorical deception moves people without their choosing the maxims of action, or without an accurate knowledge of what principle they are acting.”
Using illustriative examples, though, can enable the student (or the audience member) to think for themselves. Again, from Stroud, “Kant did not fear the skillful orator. He feared the skillful and non-moralized orator. Examples employed by a cultivated rhetor (a teacher, a preacher, etc.) are engaging because they partake in the lively form of narrative and they readily make themselves available for moral judgment.” Through the educational example, Stroud rehabilitates Kantian opposition to rhetoric. “The way examples operate in Kant's educative rhetoric is by evoking the experience of transitioning from the prudential stage to the moral stage of development in the subject's interaction with the example at hand.” Whether young students or adult audience members, these subjects can be taught without being coersed.
So maybe Kant isn’t truly a villain of rhetoric, but a victim of other villains who made rhetoric such a dirty word that he couldn’t imagine a rhetoric that could be moral and individually affirming. A rhetoric that could be called a Kantian rhetoric.
Wed, 20 July 2016
Just a heads up, this is a re-recording of an earlier podcast, so it's not chronologically accurate. Like, I didn't just submit my dissertation, I got it approved, defended and bound on linen paper. Boom! Okay, anyway, that's the warning, but really, if you've recently finished a dissertation and think its as interesting as I think mine is, you should email us at email@example.com. That way I can be all, "hey, that's great!" and maybe we can do an episode on it. There you go.
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people, and movements
Now some of you who listen to my podcasts may think, wait a second, we've talked about Gorgias already. The Dialogue? Yeah, but this isn't the Gorgias. This is Gorgias himself. The actual man Gorgias. He was an actual person and he was extremely popular as a rhetorician. People loved him. He was like a rock star.
There are very few rhetoricians who get a shiny gold statue made of them. In fact, I personally don't know anybody who has a shining gold statue but there's one man specific - Gorgias who did. It was solid gold. This was one of the many honors that Gorgias was awarded that are usually reserved for citizens, but Gorgias was a foreigner. In fact he traveled from place to place. He never really stayed still -- a lot like a rock star. Because of this, he was also sort of had that rock star reputation of not really being the most level headed or moral, sort of a person. But he was really, really good at what he did. And when you're a rock star you have to find even greater challenges.
So one of the challenges Gorgias set for himself was to write and encomium of Helen. First let me explain a little bit about Helen. We're talking about Helen of Troy here whose position in Greek society was not eh.. great. [laugh] Helen of Troy was seen as sort of the personification of sort of just lustiness and sort of infidelity and things like that. She did not have a high position.
An encomium is a specific genre of speech or writing where you sort of praise somebody who maybe didn't get a lot of praise. So you can think of analogies nowadays would be something like, maybe an encomium of Eve if you were writing in the middle ages or you might do an encomium of Bella from Twilight. So why did he do this? Why did he attempt an Encomium of Helen? Well partially he said, it was fun. He says I wished to write a speech which would be a praise of Helen and a divergent to myself which is also a little bit cocky. He's saying oh, it's so easy. Look at me do something fun like an encomium of Helen. But there's also a deeper, philosophical meaning here with Gorgias, just like how people can find meaning in rock stars' lyrics that they think is far deeper than just something fun. Gorgias was also making an argument about the power of language. Arguing implicitly that his speech has been effective by saying that language is extraordinarily powerful and that was what was behind Helen's abscondence.
So while he's describing that Helen couldn't help herself, everybody else in the audience is being swept away too. This is a page [inaudible][00:03:19] . A really playful piece, not a serious piece of deliberative or judicial rhetoric. Something that's a little bit just you know, sort of fun and curious to think about. It's also sometimes called paradoxalogia which is sort of where you set up something that sort of is in contrast and because of this paradoxalogia, it does seem a little bit contrary to have an orator tell you to be wary of the things people say in beautiful ways because they can lead you astray. He's kind of saying watch out, I can make you do whatever I want you to do when he writes a speech talking about how powerful speech is. He's certainly not making a case for straight talking the way he's speaking. But he's mostly focusing that speech can be good and bad and immensely powerful and that makes Gorgias himself into a sort of you know, benevolent dictator of people's emotions and opinions.
So how does he do it? How does he persuade people that speech is so powerful? Partially because the beautiful way that he speaks it. He is known for devices like antithesis that are sometimes even called Gorgiatic. So the way that antithesis works is you have one thing and an opposite thing. So he'll say a lot of things that sort of balance. "Opinion is slippery and insecure" he says, "emptying it into slippery and insecure successes." So you have sort of this really clear parallelism that he uses a lot. He describes cities and [inaudible][00:04:45] power, body and beauty, soul and wisdom, action and virtue, speech and truth. By creating connections between these things, he sets the stage for his thesis about the necessity of the speaker to speak and potentially lead people astray against their inability to stop the speaker. So he uses two metaphors significantly when he talks about speech. One is that speech is a lord and the other is that speech is a drug. Two metaphors that describe the irresistible nature of speech as well as the speech's power to be both benevolent or maleficent.
So he uses a lot of antithesis to sort of argue that speech is a powerful lord and overall he says that if Helen was you know, physically taken away, if she was kidnapped and drawn bodily, we wouldn't judge her. But being persuaded by speech is just as powerful as being carried away physically. So he says if she was persuaded by speech, she did not do wrong but was unfortunate instead. Since speech and stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity, it has the power of drugs over the nurture of bodies. This is a really powerful view. With such a speech that sort of gaily twists the knife into his critics that say that what he's doing is useless or superficial, he creates a really fun speech that also makes a powerful argument for the power of rhetoric and lays the group for future rhetoricians and sophists. Now not everybody loved Gorgias as sort of the father of sophistry. Aristotle of course, criticizes Gorgias' showmanship and money grubbing. He is also Socrates’ foil in the Gorgias, but even so-called early sophists like Socrates felt like Gorgias didn't really write an encomium. Not really in praise of her, but in defense of her.
Next week we're going to talk about Isocrates' Encomium of Helen. And in the meantime, think to yourself, what are some institutions or people that are usually criticized that, through the power of rhetoric, can also be rehabilitated? Does rhetoric really have the possibility to sweep people away as powerfully as physical action? Well, we'll have to think about those questions next time when we think about Isocrates' Encomium of Helen.
Wed, 29 June 2016
[SHAKERS & INTRO SONG]
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric. A podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements, and terms that have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren and today, I'm going to finally follow up on a promise that I made earlier.
Do you remember when we were talking about Hermogenes? The hairy hearted hero who came up with a lot of extra ways of dealing with things. Well I said back then that I would come back and talk with you about stasis theory which is pretty fantastic and guess what? Now I'm finally living up to that promise.
If you haven't listened to the Hermogenes of Tarsis podcast, you can go back and listen to that for some more details but we're going to focus on the basics today. Think back of the last time you had a really bad argument. Not just like a shouting, throwing dishes argument, but an argument where everyone seemed to be talking past each other. Like you couldn't even agree on what it was that you were arguing. This is a pretty common experience. I've been through it and I'm pretty sure you've been through it too. And in fact, back in the earliest ages of rhetoric in fifth and sixth century B.C. in Greece, there were rhetoricians who were beginning to recognize that we need to think about what we're arguing about when we're arguing with other people. Sometimes you may think that you're arguing about what to do when really the person you're arguing with doesn't believe you need to have any action because nothing has happened.
Trying to sort these out has become sort of stasis theory. Aristotle loosely references the topic by recognizing there's a need to know something about the facts, the definition, the quality and policy of arguments but he never really talked about the need for individuals to come to an agreement about what it was that they were arguing about.
The first person to really articulate this is Hermagoras of Temnos who in the second century B.C. really went in depth in it. And he's the one who set out the four elements of stasis as we recognize them today. These four elements sometimes get a little bit tweaked into five elements or in fact all the way up to the 13 that Hermogenes did but in our context, we're just going to talk about the four.
These four are pretty easy to remember and they can make a real practical difference in the way that you argue today as well as the way that you look at other people's arguments. Stasis comes from the same place as sort of standing, right? So you know homeostasis for example, sort of where you are in your biology of not getting too much or too cold, your sort of standing in the middle. Stasis sort of lets you know where you stand in the argument and where your opponent stands. For me it's helpful to think about this as standing on a platform and if you and your interlocutor are standing on the same platform, you could have worthwhile conversation instead of trying to shout up to somebody standing above you or shout down to someone standing below you.
So let's go through these four stages and talk about how you might go up the staircase with your interlocutor to discuss a different issue. The first and most basic level is just fact. Did the thing itself exist? So famously, a rhetorical scholar named John R.[inaudible] applied this to talking about global warming. So if you're talking with somebody about global warming, the first thing to asses is do you both believe that in fact the Earth is getting warmer? Do you agree on fact? If you guys are already in agreement about this, then maybe what your discussion is is about the next level up.
So go up those stairs if you both agree and talk about the next level. Definition. But if you don't agree about fact, that's what you're going to have to argue about. Did something happen? What are the facts? Is there a problem? Where did it come from? What changes happened to create this problem and is there anything our arguing about it can do? These are some of the facts you would have to argue out with your interlocutor. But if you both agree, you can go upstairs to definition.
Continuing on with our example of global warming, definition is where you talk about what the nature is of the problem. So with global warming, is this a man-made issue or is this just a periodic cycle? What exactly is this issue? What is it related to? What are the parts of this issue? And how are those parts related?
Once you agree about definition, maybe what you need to be arguing about is quality. Is it a good or a bad thing? How big of a problem is this? Who's it going to affect and how much? Is this a crisis we need to resolve? Again, thinking about global warming. Is global warming going to cause catastrophic climate change that destroys human life as we know it? Or is it just an excuse to break out the shorts for a little bit? Quality sort of talks about how big or how much the issue is.
Also you have to think about what the costs are with quality. So with global warming, what's the cost of stopping global warming? Should we stop all manufacture for example? Or transportation? Is it more important to focus on "the short term health of the economy or the long term stability of the climate?"
Okay so when John R. [inaudible] says we've exhausted questions about quality, the next stage is policy. So if you and your interlocutor agree that there is such thing as global warming, it is man-made, and it is a really bad idea, the next step is to talk about what do we do about it? Is the better choice to ban plastic bags or make people ride only on commuter buses or change to nuclear power? Or any of the other things that people have suggested to try to stop global warming? All of these issues are about policy. What do we do now?
You'll see lots of different applications to this idea of stasis. In fact, Quintilian goes through the stasis when he talks about making an argument. He gives the example of somebody saying, "you killed a man" and in response the accused says, "yes, I did kill." Okay so they agree on fact but the accused says, "it is lawful to kill an adulterer with his paramour." So now he's making a discussion more about the quality and the definition. But then the person who accuses says they were not adulterers and so it contests that idea. So the argument has moved from a question of fact, was somebody in fact killed? To a question of definition and quality - was it murder? Was it a bad thing? And for whom?
This is a really fun game to play when you watch law and order and I have to confess a lot of times I kind of geek out watching the attorneys make arguments that go from fact to definition even to policy when they get to sentencing. I mean is it better to send a troubled kid to a mental asylum or to juvenile delinquency? Mostly though I just love law and order.
Stasis is really useful, not just in sort of how we analyze things but also how we conduct conversations with others. Sometimes those bad arguments we have, don't need to be so bad if we just stop and think about what is it we're really arguing and how can we stand on common ground with those we speak?
Wed, 22 June 2016
[acoustic guitar music]
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 every time we do Mere Rhetoric, I hope you feel like it's a cozy introduction to some of the people who have been part of rhetorical history at different times and places. But it's rare that I actually get to talk about somebody who I've sat next to, and I've eaten lunch with. And in fact, I got to eat lunch twice with today's topic, Suresh Canagarajah. Canagarajah is kind of a hero of mine, and he's a really amazing scholar and just a really nice human being. I met him for the first time when I was a beginning graduate student, and I was at a really small conference -- small enough that they were willing to pay for us to eat lunch together every day, and I got to sit next to Suresh Canagarajah, who is one of the superstars of that particular conference, which focused mostly on multilingual writers and different writing traditions.
So it was such a big honor to get to meet him. And not only did I get to meet him, but he was really nice and sort of soft-spoken. Later, I actually got to see him, talk with him a little bit at this last year's MLA in Vancouver. And again, he was just really nice and generous, and... I don't know, I just really enjoy spending time with Suresh Canagarajah. So today we're gonna talk little bit about him, and I hope you spend time with him right now and get to enjoy the time that you spend here.
Okay, so the reason why I was a little cowed by Suresh Canagarajah is he's done some really important work. His book, Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, won the MLA's Mina Shaughnessy award in 2000. Later, another book that he wrote, Geopolitics of Academic Writing, won the Gary Olson Award from the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition in 2003. So he's kind of a hotshot. His work focuses, like I said, mostly on different ideas of teaching English, and the ways that English becomes part of the cultural capital in other traditions. And to be able to get at this idea, he focuses at the very beginning in the former British colony of Sri Lanka, which is where he's from. Canagarajah himself is a multilingual writer who had to negotiate identities as a Sri Lankan, as well as a scholar in rhetoric. So his background sort of uniquely prepares him to be able to talk about resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. This book focuses on how, quote, "The classroom culture is a site where the agendas of the different interest groups get played out, negotiated, and contested," end quote.
Teaching English in a country where they have other linguistic traditions is always going to be a question of power. And there's conflicting attitude and behavior about students regarding English study. On one hand it opens up a lot of possibilities for them, especially economically and in terms of power. But on the other hand, they have, quote, "conflicts in having to indulge in a communicative activity, from which they have to keep out their preferred values, identities, conventions, and knowledge content," end quote. So you can feel a little bit like you're betraying you own language, our own writing tradition, and even your own values when you engage in academic writing -- or any other type of writing -- in English. These students have to, quote, "negotiate with English to gain positive identities, critical expression, and ideological clarity." And they will become insiders and use the language in their own terms, according to their own aspirations, needs, and values. This seems like a high order for teaching English and making sure that the people who come from other language backgrounds aren't isolated, that they can use the dominant discourses from the perspective of their vernacular standpoint to creatively modify the codes, not just buy into the standard American English, but sort of have a way to feed back to American academic English from their own traditions, and bring what they have to the table as well. This of course has application in the classroom.
So he says, "The end result of this pedagogy is a critical awareness of the rationale, rules, and consequences of the competing discourses in the classroom and outside." So there's a lot of emphasis in Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching, on the teaching aspect. But everything that he says about teaching can apply to other ways that English remains the lingua franca of academic writing. So you can think about this in terms of articles that get published in academic journals, or the way that conferences are conducted -- the fact that when I go here Canagarajah speak, he has to speak in English, and that puts us at a different power dynamic than maybe it would be if I had to meet him and speak in Tamil.
So when he goes about talking about the potential for linguistic imperialism in teaching English, he comes at it from an ethnographic perspective. Particularly an ethnographic perspective that takes in his own culture. In some circles, talking about sort of your own lived experience can be called autoethnography. Autoethnography looks at your own group, your own circle, and sort of yourself as a participant in this particular group. Canagarajah defends the use of autoethnography because, he says, "It gets you into doors that you wouldn't get into otherwise." For example, he points to closed faculty meetings, or casual conversations. When he talks about autoethnography, it's perhaps a controversial methodology because there can be questions about how much disclosure he has in those closed faculty meetings and other situations. But on the other hand, it makes you sure that you're proceeding from an insider's perspective and not being imperialistic in the ethnography that you're doing.
Now, his book about resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching was controversial sort of itself. Robert O'Neil argues that people learn English, quote, "to communicate with people who do not speak the same language," end quote, instead of communicating with your own people. And that it's not just about the sort of insider, talking to each other situation. There are nationalists, as well as universalists, who either reject English study as nationalists, or embrace an English that is, quote, "expansive, malleable, and neutral." Canagarajah is sort of proposing something else, where English is not neutral at all, but it's sort of a necessary -- I don't want to say evil, but a necessary [inaudible] for a lot of people to enter discussions of power.
Canagarajah draws on a lot of other theorists, including Phillipson, who really focuses on the native speaker fallacy, which is this idea that if you're a native speaker, somehow you understand English than somebody who isn't a native speaker. And Phillipson's work has been really important in questions of TESOL. And it's kind of fitting that Canagarajah has just recently become the editor of TESOL Quarterly, which is the journal that focuses on teaching English to speakers of other languages. So it's -- You can see sort of a clear trajectory in the work that he does.
More recently though, his work has sort of expanded from looking at world English’s in terms of groups that speak English outside of the United States, to linguistic and dialectic variety in all of its situations, including African American vernaculars. He's interested in how new forms of globalization, quote, "lead to fluid, discursive, and linguistic practices between communities." And he's interested in all of the different ways that we look at English, and why we can find other strategies that will treat English, quote, "as a heterogeneous language, made up of diverse varieties of equal status, each with its own norms and system." This work has also sort of applied to different ways that people publish in English in different situations as sort of diaspora communities. The panel that I was able to listen to him speak at MLA focused on these multiple English’s, and what might be termed as experts' right to their own language. That is to say, once you get enough cachet, you can bring in your own linguistic tradition and your dialect, and nobody's going to think twice of it. But if you're a novice, then you might be stuck speaking something that looks a little bit more like bland, imperialistic American academic English. So Canagarajah is a really amazing scholar, and he's really done some interesting things. I recommend you, check out some of the books from him -- especially Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching.
No matter how you feel about the role of English in American academic writing, it will definitely spark some conversations that you can have with other scholars, or even just thinking about it yourself. But even if you don't get a chance to read Canagarajah's work, I can hope for you even the greater honor that you will be able to meet him at a conference sometime.
Wed, 8 June 2016
Wed, 11 May 2016
What’s the difference between writing and composition? Writing, we think we know what that is: it’s maybe typing out letters on a computer screen, or maybe it’s holding a pen above a legal pad. But what if writing is bigger than that? What if it’s also the prewriting that takes place in your brain, as you drive around town or play racquetball or stare into space? And how about composition? What does that mean? It’s not just writing so could it be arranging speech, or images or even moving bodies? Is dance part of composition? Jody Shipka’s landmark text, Towards a Composition Made Whole, expands our understanding of what we mean when we say “writing and composition.” Today on Mere Rhetoric.
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and I’d like to give a shout out to our sponsors at the Univesity of Texas Humanities Media Project for their support, but today’s topic is right up their alley too--what are the limits of humanities and media?
Shipka is sick and tired of the way that two words are deeply misused in the feild of rhetoric and composition. The first is the word composition itself. Composition, Shipka argues, does not have to be text-based media. Shipka is a proponent of teaching students to compose in a broad sense--using images, music, dance and motion alongside words and letters to create meaning. Drawing on Cheryl Ball Shipka sums up resistence to non-print composition in that “texts are often labeled experimental when (or simply because) audiences are not used to recognizing their meaning-making strategies” (133).
That leads to the other term that Shipka takes issue to--technology. If composition is often view in very conservative terms as something done with pen and paper or a computer, technology is perhaps too-hot. Technology, Shipka claims, does not equal digital. The ferver for “technology” can be just as bad as a prejudice towards newfangled technology. In her words, “I am concerned that emphasis placed on ‘new’ (meaning digital) technologies has led to a tendency to equate terms like multimodal, intertextual, multi-media, or still more broadly speaking, composition with the production and consumption of computer-based, digitalized, screen-mediated texts” (8) and “we have allowed ourselves to trade in one bundle of texts and techniques for another: pro-verbal for pro-digital” (11).
Technologies are only seen as technologies as long as they are difficult and electronic, she argues, while other methods of multimodal composition can be as or more effective while employing other means. The example that Shipka leads the book with concerns an essay written by a dance student on a pair of ballet slippers. The essay was researched, ‘composed’ and transcribed in a way that uses multiple approaches, but nothing that needs a cord. She quotes Wertsch that “all activity is mediated by tools, whether by psychological tools and/or by technical tools such as hammers, nails [etc]” (43). Elsewhere she writes “when our scholarship fails to consider, and when our practices do not ask students to consider, the complex and highly distributed processes associated with the production of texts (and lives and people), we run the risk of overlooking the fundamentally multimodal aspects of all communicative practice” (13). Okay, and one more quote just to really underline her position: “ “To label a text multimodal or nonmodal based on its final appearance alone discounts, or worse yet, renders invisible the contributions made by a much wider variety of resources, supports, and tools.” This understanding of how we mediate even when we use “analogue” technology lets us expand our concept of buzzwords like “multimedia” and “multimodal.”
These two terms lay the groundwork for what she suggests in her manifesto: a composition made whole, with all processes, projects and media enveloped in the process of composition. In her words “A composition made whole recognizes that whether or not a particular classroom or group of students are wired, students may still be afforded opportunities to consider how they are continually positioned in ways that require them to read, respond to, align with… a steaming interplay of words, images, sounds, scents, and movements” (21).
Something about Shipka’s work is extremely freeing, both in our research and in our pedagogy--we can expand our work to anything. But it’s also terrifying--what do I know about document design? about video production? about dance? This same free fall feeling comes when I read about the processes Shipka describes her composers taking. Here in A Composition Made Whole she talks about the process of writing in a big way, similar to how big her definition of composition is. This part reminds me of a chapter that she co-authored with Paul Prior in another place. What Prior and Shipka did was to give their participants a piece of paper and have them draw their writing spaces and their writing practices. What they found is that people’s writing practice goes far beyond the “prewriting, writing, rewriting” steps that we often inculcate our students with. Objects like cigarettes, cats and washing machines and activities like talking over beer, walking the dog and calling a friend become part of the writing process.
Shipka describes some of these writers’ processes in a a composition made whole. For instance, when a writer goes for a run to clear her mind, “what might otherwise look like nonwork--taking a break from the task at hand--functioning as an integral part of the composer’s overall process” (60).
This creates some messy borders of a process we simplify in our research and teaching. If taking a run is part of the compositing process, what else is part? What can be excluded? I found this a difficult question to ask when I began keeping track of my time while working on my dissertation. If was I reading a text or coding data, that was definitely just as much a part of writing my dissertation as putting words on the paper. Meeting with my advisor? Yes. Talking it out with my mom? yes… Thinking about it on a run? I think. Thinking about it when I’m driving?...maybe? It can hard to say for sure what 40 hours a week of academic work looks like because it’s so dispersed. If our students say they have to clean their apartment, or walk the dog or watch six episodes of Broadchurch in a row before they can write the paper, it’s hard to say whether this is part of their writing process or a procrastination effort.
Wed, 4 May 2016
Dewey Part Deuce
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric. Or maybe welcome back, because last week we talked about John Dewey and today we’re talking about John Dewey again. You don’t have to go back and listen to the last week’s episode on Dewey and aesthetics, but if you like this, Dewey part the Deuce, then you migh want to go check out the previous episode on Dewey and the artful life. Today, today thought,we get to talk about Dewey’s political and educational contributions.
Dewey was a huge fan of democracy and of education for democracy. He said, “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous."
One scholar summarized Dewey’s politics in this way: “First, Dewey believed that democracy is an ethical ideal rather than merely a political arrangement. Second, he considered participation, not representation, the essence of democracy. Third, he insisted on the harmony between democracy and the scientific method: ever-expanding and self-critical communities of inquiry, operating on pragmatic principles and constantly revising their beliefs in light of new evidence, provided Dewey with a model for democratic decision making…Finally, Dewey called for extending democracy, conceived as an ethical project, from politics to industry and society.” Dewey was big on democracy. this idea, especially about participation in democracy instead of just representation inspired much of his writing in education. The kind of progressive education that Dewey endorsed was education for democracy, education that focused on making student empathetic and engaged citizens.
Dewey’s most articulate thinking about engaged democracy comes as most good thinking does: in response to an interlocutor whose ideas make our blood boil. For Dewey this was Walter Lippmann. the famous Lippmann-Dewer debates begne in 1922 when Walter Lippmann wrote s book called Public Opinion. In Public Opinion, Lippman says that democracy is demo-crazy--public opinion is actually shaped by adverstisers and demogogues who can manipulate the public into thinking what ever they want. The people as a whole can’t make any decision that hasn’t already been made by sleezy Madison Ave. types. So Lippman says that instead the government should be led by experts, preferably scientitic and objective types who would be immune to propaganda. Instead of democracy romantically conceived, he suggested representation and political experts.
Well this got Dewey’s goat and in The Public and its Problems, he responded to Lippmann’s view of democracy. Instead of relying on experts for democracy, Dewey recommends that “"it is not necessary that the many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns." Sure, he admitted, there could be ignorant publics swayed by propaganda, but the solution was not to toss the baby with the sludgewater--education was what the populace needed if they were to engage in participatory democracy.
The Dewey Lippmann Debate has gotten a lot of press from recent rhetoricians. Search for it on Google scholar and you’ll find over a thousand entries since 2011. In the 2008 meeting of the Rhetorical Society of America, a “lively panel” discussion took place where, according to one witness “Jean Goodwin effectively advanced journalist Walter Lippmann’s critique of the “omnicompetent” citizen against Robert Asen’s John Dewey, who represented hope for collaborative dialogue.” And in the most recent meeting of the Modern Language Association, another scholar pointed out how the Lippmann-Dewey debate relates to the current expert-laden political rhetoric. A recent collection of essays on called Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice, Brian Jackson and Gregory Clark, eds. also reminds us of the perrential importance of asking ourselves “Are our citizens trained for democracy? Can they be?” The debate, so it seems, continues.
The kind of education you would need to particpate in democracy includes not just information about the value of nuclear energy or the political history of the middle east: you need to have some sense of how you fit in to a democracy, what the moral obligations you have and what the society can provide you.
For Dewey, America’s ideal model of civic engagement wasn’t a selfish, me-first mentality, but neither was it entirely collective and socialist. In Individualism Old and New, Dewey says it’s time to move past the old, rugged, wild-west homesteader kind of individualism that theAmericans he was writing to could possibly remember, or at least could remember stories of their parents and grandparents. while his audience of early 20th century Americans idealized that kind of independence, they were also increasingly aware of how to connect. The experience of world war have taught them that “Most social unifications come about in response to external pressure” (11) and “personal participation in the development of a shared culture” (17). Defining that interconnectivity against the struggles and hardships of war and poverty may seem intutive but the move from frontier rugged individualism to an individualism that recognizes our interconnectivitity is at the core of Dewey’s political philosophy.“Each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence around this garden” (82).
Now just so you know that last week’s episode on the aesthetic of Dewey wasn’t totally separated fromt his sort of thing, Dewey also talked about how that “shared sulture” happens through art, and how this art educates, cultivating the skills that are necessary for democracy: “The art which our times needs in order to create a new type of individuality is the art which, being sensitive to the technology and science that are the moving force of our time, will envisage the expansive, the social culture which they may be made to serve” (49). Or, another way, “The work of art is the truly individual thing” (81).
Wed, 20 April 2016
Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren, Jacob is in the booth and the Humanities Media Project is making this all possible.
Quick note: this is a rebroadcast, so you might want to take the next couple of sentences with a grain of salt. That is all. Starting…now.
We’ve spent this month talking about the villains of rhetoric, but since mere rhetoric isn’t just abtout rhetoric, today we’re going to talk about one of the villains of composition. But first
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Today’s villain is not one mustache-twirler, but the very most villainous type of villain: the committee. And even worse than a committee is a report written by a committee. The villans of compositions are often reports written by committee, and the first major villainous report in question goes all the way back to the 19th century Harvard Reports.
Harvard, the site of the very first frist- year composition classes, was also the place where complaints about those freshman were most acutely embattled. Because Harvard was, you know, Haaahvaaad, it pioneered an entrance exam for its applicants. Soon, preparatory schools were gleefully teaching to the test, a test which, however well it kept out the riff raff, was woefully inadequate in, well, helping students learn how to write. Soon these students entered actual classes at Harvard or any of the copycat schools that required an entrance exam, these students having learned only the minutia of grammatical correctness, pedantary and the art of the all-night cram-fest, were dismayed to discover they couldn’t in fact write.
Their instructors were the more distraught by the realization, not least because there were dreadful lot of terrible writers to be taught. The late 19th century saw a boom in educational enrollment, the likes of which are inadequately compared to increases post-WWII or in the 70s. Albert Kitzhaber reports that in 1894, more than a thousand students at Univeristy of Michage were served by a staff of 4 full time teachers and 2 part-time graduate instructors. That means not only was the writing often awful, but there was an awful lot of awful writing. So there was a crisis—Quick! To a committee!
The report that Harvard’s committee wrote compained “It is obciously absurd that the College—the institution of higher education-should be called upon to turn aside from its proper functions [those are left un specified by the way] and deovte its means ad the time of its instructors to the task of imparting elementary instruction which should be given even in ordinary grammar schools, much more in those higher academic instituions intended to prepare slect youth for a university ocourse” (44) According to Kitzhaber, it goes on in that same tone and he reports drily that “there was a good deal of sarcasm in the Report. (45).
“It is little less tha absurd to suggest ath any human being who can be taught to talk cannot likewise be taught to compose,” fumed the report “writing is merely the bait of talk with the pen instead of which the tongue!” The report grumpily pointed the finger at the lower schools for not preparing students better, and suggested raising the standard for admissions even higher. In total, three reports were issued from Harvard: 1892, 1895 and 1897. The three castigated the lower schools for “the growing illiteracy of American boys” and urged more mechanicall correctness from preparatory schools.
There’s nothing new about complaining about the awful writing of freshmen. Complaining about lazy, illiterate students is one of the oldest and most time-honored traditions of teachers, alongside wearing silly hats for official ceremonies and calling people you hate “my esteemed colleague.” What made the Harvard Reports so villainous was the immese influence they had in 19th century America.
These reports spread all over America, creating a sense of crisis in the popular press. Eventually the US government took not and in response to this crisis—wait for it—appointed a committee. This committee saught to standardize entrance exams and require more writing in the secondary schools. In the end, the Harvard reports had succeeded in creating a sense of crisis and creating action to address the crisis, lifting standards “by the hair of the head” as Fred Newton Scott said. Still, all they had done was ensure that the superficial complaints that these teachers and administrators had were the only complaints to be addressed.
A focus on mechanical correctness has dogged composition ever since. Every few decades, newspapers and magazines will find that some percentage of college graduates are dangling their participles and the education world will find itself again playing the blame game. It happened again in 1975 with NEwseeek’s incidenary article “Why Johnny can’t Write” which again highlighted “the illiuteracy of American boys” (why don’t these reports ever concern themselves with girls’ inability to diagram a sentence, I leave to the audience to deduce). “Why Johnny can’t write” led to further committes, further reports and further books all declaring a “back to bascis” curriculum, where basics meant the identification of linguistics terms. This coninutes today. While searching for a copy of the original “why Johnny can’t write” I found an article published on the nbc website in 2013 that starts with the sentence:
Can you tell a pronoun from a participle; use commas correctly in long sentences; describe the difference between its and it's?
If not, you have plenty of company in the world of job seekers. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, many employers complain that they can't find qualified candidates.
Often, the mismatch results from applicants' inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and to write clearly.
The reporter seems to have made a sudden slip—can you spot it? She’s jumped from the skills of identitying a pronoun or punctuating a possessive to the “inablitiy to speak and write clearly”. Sadly, I do not believe this will be the last article to make a similar leap and for that matter, we don’t see the end of that sort of reasoning in books or committee reports.
We can’t blame the Hardard reports of the 1890s specifically—maybe these complaints are just eh easiest writing errors to identify and castigate—but whenever an English major is confronted with a horrified acquaintance who says “I better watch my grammar in front of you” we’re dealing with some of the popular fall out from the 19th Century Harvard reports.