Mere Rhetoric (general)

abermas and public sphere theory

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movemnts who have shaped rhetorical history. special thanks to the rhetoric society of america student chatper at the university of texas at Austin.  I’m Mary Hedengren and today I’m joined by Laura Thain.

 

Have you spent much time thinking about coffee? If you’re a grad student, the answer is probably yes, but really do you spend much time thinking about what coffee did, especially coffee shops, especially in Europe? Coffee houses were an integral part of the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century and they spread quickly throughout all of Europe. By the 17th century, coffeehouses, not taverns, were the places to gather in your neighborhood. And if you think about how caffeine-fueled coffeehouses differed from the sloppy drunkenness of taverns, it’s little surprise that coffeehouses quickly gained a reputation as being a place of open political and intellectual discussion. 15th century Ottomans and 20th century Seattleites alike saw the coffeeshop as a place to open up dangerous conversation. The Spanish king Charles II even tried to restrict coffee houses on the grounds that there were places where “the disaffected met and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers” (qtd Times 23 Feb 2008). Gathering around a cup of Joe seemed to set everyone to riotous conversation, to the public discussion that led to revolutions in America and France in the 18th century, and because of this the coffeehouse became the place of obsession for 20th century philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas noted an 18th century seachange in the relationship between people and sovereign. Earlier, people supported (or didn’t) their sovereign as a symbol for them: France is the king and the king is France, therefore it’s to the benefit of France for the king of France to be as rich and grand as possible, regardless of how this impacts the everyday peasant on the street. But in the 18th century, a rise in coffeehouses and the conversations they engender accompanied an increase in newspapers reading clubs, journals, salons and other groups of public political conversation. This Habermas calls the öffentlichkeit, or the public sphere. The public sphere was a dialogue, a conversation of opinions. “Is the king France? Should the king be France? Let’s hear the pros and cons, then!” Habermas drew a direct line between the increase of coffeehouses and their conversations and the toppling of the French monarchy.

This public sphere isn’t a given and not every coffeehouse, town hall meeting etc. is going automatically be a public sphere. In fact, Habermas identified some of the identifying characteristics and requirements for a public sphere.

1-    First, the public sphere requires a temporary disregard of public status, according to Habermas. He believed in “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether” () . It doesn’t work if only the princes of France get their say and the merchants don’t. Everyone needs a place at the coffee table.

 

In many ways, our conception of a “public sphere” as ordinary citizens in the US is so pervasive that we have trouble imagining a world without one.  But what Habermas points out is that before the birth of a public sphere in the eighteenth century, there was little linking the private sphere (the discourse of ordinary subjects of the sovereign) to the bureaucratic sphere (the discourse of the sovereign to his subjects).  Imagine if laws and edicts were all that existed to communicate between king and subject. Habermas argues that the public sphere emerged as a unique space for what were once private murmurings to have real and legitimate impact upon bureaucratic procedure under certain rhetorical constraints.  This was no pitchforks-and-barn-burning kind of conversation, but rather, the emergence of a new rhetorical practice that rapidly came to be dominated by a nascent middle class of people: the bourgeois.  

 

2-    Talking about private and bureaucratic coming together is tricky, though.  “Private” doesn’t mean what we might think today.  In the public sphere, there needed to be some sort of common issue, a public issue of common concern. Before the emergence of a public sphere, according to Habermas, the kinds of things we think about as very public were private conversations among citizens, if they were articulated at all.  For instance, the question of whether France needs a king is a question that everyone in France is concerned about. The question of whether wine dealers in the northwest of Paris should ration a particularly good vintage is not. The question of whether Pierre ought to marry Margarite is definitely not. Often these common concerns were rarely discussed—they were given. The civic or religious authorities told the people that France needs a king and that’s that. Until the people begin sitting around in coffeehouses started asking the questions about things that they all had an interest in.

 

The idea that the coffee house became a new space for people who previously had no visible platform to communicate with existing power structures is really important because it signals the emergence of not just a new place to talk but a new center of institutional authority.  Habermas argues that the public sphere is an important and new site of power in the 18th century.  This might sound familiar to you if you’ve heard talk about “public discourse” in the things you read and discuss in your own life.  Public discourse and a space to have that discourse in is really important, but it’s important to understand how that space happened to read how we might read what the public sphere means as a concept today.

 

3-    Habermas argues that the public sphere is a public good, but in order to do so he claims that once-private-now-public issues had to be open for anyone to discuss. As Habermas said “The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate” In coffee houses and salons, there were no rules about who was allowed to open their mouths.  

The coffeehouse seems to fulfill these expectations, which is probably why Habermas was so keen on the example. But the coffeehouse wasn’t perfect and these imperfections highlight some of the problems of the public sphere in general.

For instance, there were rules about who could get in the coffeehouse. While Germany made some exceptions for silent baristas, in France and Germany, women were personae non gratae in these vibrant spaces of public debate. It’s all very well to say coffeehouses were inclusive, except where they weren’t.

And for that reason, Habermas’s dreamy ideal of the public sphere is seen by some as just a dream, a bourgeois dream that pretends to be inclusive but actually excludes voices of women and other minorities. The scholar who is mostly closely associated with a criticism of Habermas’s public sphere is American scholar Nancy Fraser.

Nancy Fraser’s Rethinking the Public Sphere makes her three points about the public sphere to challenge Habermas’. While Habermas emphasizes disregard of public status, common issues and the freedom to open your mouth and speak, Fraser refutes these same points.

  1. When Habermas says that everyone is equal in the coffeehouse, Fraser contends that this is actually a “bracketing [of] inequalities of status” and far from removing these differences of status, “such bracketing usually works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” Instead of saying—inauthentically—that there is equality in the public sphere, Fraser recommends instead that we “unbracket inequalities in the sense of explicitly thematizing them.” Instead of saying that a prince and a merchant are the same in the coffeehouse, some of the conversation should be about the fact that they aren’t and why.
  2. Fraser also challenges the idea that there are common issues in the public sphere. She says that there “no naturally given … boundaries” between public issues (or “common concern”) and private ones. So remember the example about how the question of whether France needs a king being a public one while Pierre marrying Margarite is a private one? Well, what if the names were instead Louie XV and Marie of Poland? Is that a public issue or a private one? Fraser points out that many issues that were once personal issues like domestic abuse, have become public issues. As she says, "Eventually, after sustained discursive contestation we succeeded in making it a common concern".
  3. Finally, Fraser points out that not everyone is welcome to the table. Women were excluded everywhere—in clubs and associations—philanthropic, civic professional and cultural—was anything by accessible to everyone. On the contrary, it was the arena, the training ground and eventually the powerbase of a stratum of bourgeois men who were coming to see themselves as a ‘universal class’” The deception that such spheres were truly public justified the male, middle classes in making decisions that were for ‘all of France’ when, in actuality, hegemonic dominance had excluded many participants.

Instead, Frase suggests that theses marginalized groups form their own public spheres, which she called Counterpublics. These counterpublics are “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs"

 

Another site of vibrant research in public sphere theory is in the field of spatial rhetorics.  While Habermas arguably saw the public sphere as an ideological shift that just happened to be housed in Europe’s coffee house and salon culture, scholars like Henri LeFebvre, Edward Soja, David Fleming, and UT Austin’s own Casey Boyle are increasingly interested in talking about, to quote Dr. Boyle, “how spaces affect our shared practices and sense of identity.”  To these scholars, the coffee shop as a physical, embodied space is as important to the structural transformation of the public sphere as the folks who inhabited it.

            So the next time you visit your favorite cafe and order yourself a hot beverage, think about what kind of public you’re a part of. What, if anything, do you have in common with the people around you? What are some power differentials between you? What “common concerns” do you have? And what do you think about the king of France?

 

 

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Habermas_and_Public_Sphere_Theory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:47pm CDT

Habermas and public sphere theory

Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movemnts who have shaped rhetorical history. special thanks to the rhetoric society of america student chatper at the university of texas at Austin.  I’m Mary Hedengren and today I’m joined by Laura Thain.

 

Have you spent much time thinking about coffee? If you’re a grad student, the answer is probably yes, but really do you spend much time thinking about what coffee did, especially coffee shops, especially in Europe? Coffee houses were an integral part of the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century and they spread quickly throughout all of Europe. By the 17th century, coffeehouses, not taverns, were the places to gather in your neighborhood. And if you think about how caffeine-fueled coffeehouses differed from the sloppy drunkenness of taverns, it’s little surprise that coffeehouses quickly gained a reputation as being a place of open political and intellectual discussion. 15th century Ottomans and 20th century Seattleites alike saw the coffeeshop as a place to open up dangerous conversation. The Spanish king Charles II even tried to restrict coffee houses on the grounds that there were places where “the disaffected met and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers” (qtd Times 23 Feb 2008). Gathering around a cup of Joe seemed to set everyone to riotous conversation, to the public discussion that led to revolutions in America and France in the 18th century, and because of this the coffeehouse became the place of obsession for 20th century philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Habermas noted an 18th century seachange in the relationship between people and sovereign. Earlier, people supported (or didn’t) their sovereign as a symbol for them: France is the king and the king is France, therefore it’s to the benefit of France for the king of France to be as rich and grand as possible, regardless of how this impacts the everyday peasant on the street. But in the 18th century, a rise in coffeehouses and the conversations they engender accompanied an increase in newspapers reading clubs, journals, salons and other groups of public political conversation. This Habermas calls the öffentlichkeit, or the public sphere. The public sphere was a dialogue, a conversation of opinions. “Is the king France? Should the king be France? Let’s hear the pros and cons, then!” Habermas drew a direct line between the increase of coffeehouses and their conversations and the toppling of the French monarchy.

This public sphere isn’t a given and not every coffeehouse, town hall meeting etc. is going automatically be a public sphere. In fact, Habermas identified some of the identifying characteristics and requirements for a public sphere.

1-    First, the public sphere requires a temporary disregard of public status, according to Habermas. He believed in “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether” () . It doesn’t work if only the princes of France get their say and the merchants don’t. Everyone needs a place at the coffee table.

 

In many ways, our conception of a “public sphere” as ordinary citizens in the US is so pervasive that we have trouble imagining a world without one.  But what Habermas points out is that before the birth of a public sphere in the eighteenth century, there was little linking the private sphere (the discourse of ordinary subjects of the sovereign) to the bureaucratic sphere (the discourse of the sovereign to his subjects).  Imagine if laws and edicts were all that existed to communicate between king and subject. Habermas argues that the public sphere emerged as a unique space for what were once private murmurings to have real and legitimate impact upon bureaucratic procedure under certain rhetorical constraints.  This was no pitchforks-and-barn-burning kind of conversation, but rather, the emergence of a new rhetorical practice that rapidly came to be dominated by a nascent middle class of people: the bourgeois.  

 

2-    Talking about private and bureaucratic coming together is tricky, though.  “Private” doesn’t mean what we might think today.  In the public sphere, there needed to be some sort of common issue, a public issue of common concern. Before the emergence of a public sphere, according to Habermas, the kinds of things we think about as very public were private conversations among citizens, if they were articulated at all.  For instance, the question of whether France needs a king is a question that everyone in France is concerned about. The question of whether wine dealers in the northwest of Paris should ration a particularly good vintage is not. The question of whether Pierre ought to marry Margarite is definitely not. Often these common concerns were rarely discussed—they were given. The civic or religious authorities told the people that France needs a king and that’s that. Until the people begin sitting around in coffeehouses started asking the questions about things that they all had an interest in.

 

The idea that the coffee house became a new space for people who previously had no visible platform to communicate with existing power structures is really important because it signals the emergence of not just a new place to talk but a new center of institutional authority.  Habermas argues that the public sphere is an important and new site of power in the 18th century.  This might sound familiar to you if you’ve heard talk about “public discourse” in the things you read and discuss in your own life.  Public discourse and a space to have that discourse in is really important, but it’s important to understand how that space happened to read how we might read what the public sphere means as a concept today.

 

3-    Habermas argues that the public sphere is a public good, but in order to do so he claims that once-private-now-public issues had to be open for anyone to discuss. As Habermas said “The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate” In coffee houses and salons, there were no rules about who was allowed to open their mouths.  

The coffeehouse seems to fulfill these expectations, which is probably why Habermas was so keen on the example. But the coffeehouse wasn’t perfect and these imperfections highlight some of the problems of the public sphere in general.

For instance, there were rules about who could get in the coffeehouse. While Germany made some exceptions for silent baristas, in France and Germany, women were personae non gratae in these vibrant spaces of public debate. It’s all very well to say coffeehouses were inclusive, except where they weren’t.

And for that reason, Habermas’s dreamy ideal of the public sphere is seen by some as just a dream, a bourgeois dream that pretends to be inclusive but actually excludes voices of women and other minorities. The scholar who is mostly closely associated with a criticism of Habermas’s public sphere is American scholar Nancy Fraser.

Nancy Fraser’s Rethinking the Public Sphere makes her three points about the public sphere to challenge Habermas’. While Habermas emphasizes disregard of public status, common issues and the freedom to open your mouth and speak, Fraser refutes these same points.

  1. When Habermas says that everyone is equal in the coffeehouse, Fraser contends that this is actually a “bracketing [of] inequalities of status” and far from removing these differences of status, “such bracketing usually works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” Instead of saying—inauthentically—that there is equality in the public sphere, Fraser recommends instead that we “unbracket inequalities in the sense of explicitly thematizing them.” Instead of saying that a prince and a merchant are the same in the coffeehouse, some of the conversation should be about the fact that they aren’t and why.
  2. Fraser also challenges the idea that there are common issues in the public sphere. She says that there “no naturally given … boundaries” between public issues (or “common concern”) and private ones. So remember the example about how the question of whether France needs a king being a public one while Pierre marrying Margarite is a private one? Well, what if the names were instead Louie XV and Marie of Poland? Is that a public issue or a private one? Fraser points out that many issues that were once personal issues like domestic abuse, have become public issues. As she says, "Eventually, after sustained discursive contestation we succeeded in making it a common concern".
  3. Finally, Fraser points out that not everyone is welcome to the table. Women were excluded everywhere—in clubs and associations—philanthropic, civic professional and cultural—was anything by accessible to everyone. On the contrary, it was the arena, the training ground and eventually the powerbase of a stratum of bourgeois men who were coming to see themselves as a ‘universal class’” The deception that such spheres were truly public justified the male, middle classes in making decisions that were for ‘all of France’ when, in actuality, hegemonic dominance had excluded many participants.

Instead, Frase suggests that theses marginalized groups form their own public spheres, which she called Counterpublics. These counterpublics are “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs"

 

Another site of vibrant research in public sphere theory is in the field of spatial rhetorics.  While Habermas arguably saw the public sphere as an ideological shift that just happened to be housed in Europe’s coffee house and salon culture, scholars like Henri LeFebvre, Edward Soja, David Fleming, and UT Austin’s own Casey Boyle are increasingly interested in talking about, to quote Dr. Boyle, “how spaces affect our shared practices and sense of identity.”  To these scholars, the coffee shop as a physical, embodied space is as important to the structural transformation of the public sphere as the folks who inhabited it.

            So the next time you visit your favorite cafe and order yourself a hot beverage, think about what kind of public you’re a part of. What, if anything, do you have in common with the people around you? What are some power differentials between you? What “common concerns” do you have? And what do you think about the king of France?

 

 

 

 

Direct download: habermas_and_public_sphere_theory.docx
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas of Austin for the support for this podcast. Also, thanks to Jacob in the booth who makes these podcasts sound so great.

 

Okay, when we say rhetorical history, we know that rhetoric is a big of a swiper discipline, right? I mean, we’ve had philosophers featured on the podcast, educational psychologists, those sorts, and today we get to talk about an applied linguistics, Ken Hyland. But before we get into the skinny on Ken, it might be worthwhile to first talk about what applied linguistics is.

 

Applied linguistics is a little bit like rhetoric in that it’s a rather interdisciplinary field itself. Simply put, it’s a practical and applied approach to linguistics, which means that it covers everything from computer programming theory to translation. The leading journal in applied linguistics is called, creatively enough, Applied Linguistics. Its editor in chief is Ken Hyland.

 

And that brings me to get to talk about Ken. By the way, I get to be on a first-name basis with him, even though I’ve never met him, because I wrote my dissertation on disciplinarity and that happens to be Ken’s area. I’ve read a lot of books and articles by Ken Hyland. There’s no wikipedia article on Ken, for some bizarre reason, but I’ve read enough “about the author” blurbs to tell you that Ken is a brainy British bloke who taught English to speakers of other languages all over the world, seeking deeper and deeper into applied linguistics along the way. Now he has a list of publications as long as my arm and teaches and works in Hong Kong where he still keeps publishing and writing  about, among other things, academic discourse, graduate students, and how non-Anglophone natives write and publish academic writing.

 

If I were to recommend two books from Ken Hyland, I would recommend Disciplinary Discourses and its spiritual sequel, Disciplinary Identities, but there are four pages of books on Amazon for you to puruse. Have I mentioned how prolific Ken is?

 

In Disciplinary Discourses he interrogates how academic writing exposes the hierarchies beneath it. Academic writing genres "represent careful negotiations with, and considerations of, their colleagues" (1). Writing "helps to create those disciplines by influencing how members relate to one another, and by determining who will be regarded as members, who will gain success and what will count as knowledge" (5). Writing, in other words, isn’t just a step that allows disciplines to share research--it is very the constitutive force of disciplines.

 

Hyland puts it eloquently:  "the persuasiveness of academic discourse... does not depend on the demonstration of absolute fact, empirical evidence or impeccable logic, it is the result of effective rhetorical practices, accepted by community members" (8).

 

But not everyone in that community is esteemed equally. That community includes people on the edges "competing groups and discourses, marginalized ideas, contested theories, peripheral contributors and occasional members" (9). A graduate student won’t--and in some ways, can’t--write the same kind of article or book that a long-established luminary in the field will. Because of this, people have to position themselves within the project they’re attending, including the hedges, qualifications and even citations that they use. Disciplinary genres are only abstract until they determine whether you put food on the table. As Hyland says, "disciplines seek to ensure that accounts of new knowledge conform to the broad generic practices they have established, while writers are often willing to employ these practices because of a desire to get published and achieve recognition" (170). You might not like writing a lit review, but if need to do it to get published and get a job, you’ll learn to comply.


Disciplinary Identity follows up the work  Discources started in ascribing genres to sociological conditions. Disciplinary Identity introduces two key terms that describe how practitioners relate to their disciplinary communities: proximity and positioning. Proximity refers to how align yourself as a member of a discipline. This proximity includes “identification /with/ and /by/ others" (29) For instance, if you’re a continental philosophy theory-head, you might show that allegiance by citing a lot of Derrida and Levinas and submitting to the right journals to support that work. But you also might have other people like reviewers, editors and colleagues describe your work as continental in bent. We aren’t the only ones who get to label us. The other key term is positioning--positioning relates to how we place our own work as part of the variation within the discipline, or, in Ken Hyland’s words, ”appropriating the discoursal categories of our communities as our own" (35). So we might be part of the continental philosophy club, but our unique contribution is to apply those philosophies to, say, invocation of international law in 20th century literature,  or some other variation that stamps our own contribution. Proximity is where we belong and positioning is where we take our place.

It’s not surprising, then, that identity should be such a key part of how academic writing proceeds. Identity, generally, is "crafted and managed across time and across situations" and "our identities are the product of our lives in different communities" (15), and so in disciplinary writing our disciplinary identities are mediated by the departments we join, the journals we aspire to publish in, the collections we edit. For Ken Hyland, our identities are neither entirely stable and inflexible nor are they entirely socially determined, but mediated through the groups we aspire to join and what those groups decided to hold dear before we even showed up to the party. This tension leads to constant change where " Differences of opinion are normal and natural, but often hidden by a veneer of agreement and a common symbolic discourse which constructs a boundary to outsiders" (12).

 

Think about the most recent time you tried to join a new disciplinary group. Maybe this was in a graduate course where you had to learn the conventions of a new scholarly genre or maybe you were repurposing one kind of research to a new journal that you’ve never attempted to publish in. You were probably hyper aware of the mistakes you were making, while for those who were well-established in the discipline didn’t know how to explain the mistakes that you’re making. This happens to everyone in a new field. My rock star advisor Davida-freakin-Charney, told me that when she went from writing about scientific and professional writing to writing about the psalms, she had to re-learn how to write for the religious studies field. Disciplines are weird.


They also change a lot. Hyland points out that  today’s  discipline doesn’t look yesterday’s and won’t look like tomorrow’s. So if Davida were writing about psalms when she started her career, it wouldn’t even necessarily look like the work she does now. That’s because, as Hyland puts it, “ Boundaries of scholarship shift and dissolve [...] New disciplines spring up at the intersections of existing ones and achieve international recognition [...] while other decline and disappear" (23).


Disciplines change, but "identity and discipline can be understood only by reference to each other. Each is emergent, mutable and interdependent" (43). So your identity in your discipline might shift under you.

 

So what are you to do if you’re in a discipline that isn’t fully formed or is extremely cross-disciplinary? What do you do if you’re in, say, applied linguistics?  I guess it follows that your academic identity is going to keep shifting around, then, as your discipline slips around. Or you might find yourself sliding from one sub discipline to another, all while building a clear research agenda. You might, like Ken Hyland, focus on academic writing, but apply that to English language learners, metadiscourse, pedagogy and assessment.

 

And then we end where we began, with my deep admiration of Ken Hyland and his work. If there’s someone you admire, or a scholar or work that is part of your dissertation, you really ought to tell me all about it. Drop me a line at mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com and tell me who you feel on a first-name basis with.






Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ken_Hyland.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Epideictic Rhetoric

 

Intro and rebroadcast note

 

 

Today we’ll be talking about epideictic rhetoric because it’s probably my favorite of the three branches of Aristotelian rhetoric and it’s my birthday. It being my birthday actually has a lot to do with epideictic rhetoric because birthday speeches are one of the classic examples of epideictic rhetoric, the others being wedding toasts, eulogies, and Independence Day orations, except I think the people who came up with that last one probably lived a century ago because I have never attended an Independence Day oration, unless you count the one Bill Pullman gives in the movie Independence Day and that was probably not what they had in mind. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a birthday speech either.

 

The point I think I was making is that epideictic rhetoric is very old and very important. It’s likely older than either political or legal rhetoric, and might have grown out of the same TV-less fascination with sitting around hearing someone talk that makes human beings revere storytellers. Because it has a long history, epideictic rhetoric also has a long history of being studied. Manuals on how to give speeches date back to the 4th and 5th century bc and Greeks continued to be fascinated by epideictic rhetoric. It is one of the three branches of rhetoric that Aristotle describes in the Art of Rhetoric along with the judicial and deliberative. But while judicial rhetoric obviously concerns itself with obtaining justice and deliberative rhetoric obtains laws or political action, it’s less clear what the goal of epideictic rhetoric is. Judicial rhetoric can keep you out of jail or paying a fine; deliberative rhetoric can stop a tax or send you into war with Sparta; epideictic rhetoric—makes a happy day happier and a sad one sadder? It turns out that epideictic rhetoric actually does a great deal of work, but a subtler way than judicial or deliberative rhetoric. It’s sneaky, but lets break it down into three things you need to know about Epideictic rhetoric

 

The first thing you need to know is that Epideictic rhetoric, according to Aristotle, deals with praise and blame. So all of those special occasion pieces, like wedding toasts and obituaries, point out the good qualities of the people getting married or buried. They talk about the virtues of the people of the hour. For Aristotle, these virtues were well classified: of course, it’s Aristotle so it’s well classified. He mentions “justice, courage, self-control, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, practical and speculative wisdom" or "reason." You can imagine an obituary that pointed out how brave and gentle the deceased was, or a wedding toast that honored the good reason in choosing this particular spouse. This is the “praise” side of epideictic rhetoric, which is easy to imagine because we see it relatively often. Well, hopefully the people writing the wedding toasts and obituaries point out the good qualities instead of blame, although you could imagine occasions that didn’t sugar-coat everything. Blame speeches are a little more difficult to conjure up, but Guy Fawkes Day springs to mind, as do the journalistic obituaries for dictators and other villains. These blame speeches, for Aristotle, will focus on the opposites of those virtues, so instead of talking about bravery and gentleness of the departed, a blame-based obituary would talk about a tyrant’s cowardice and cruelty. So the first key thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it engages with praise and blame according to some criteria, some list of virtues that are deemed important by that community.

 

That leads to the second key element about epideictic rhetoric. The praise and blame that people bring up are dependent on the community in which those people live. So to go back to the example of writing an obituary, if you lived in a community where gentleness was not considered a virtue, but, on the contrary, being feared was the most important attribute, you might say, “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” with utmost praise and affection. When we in our society hear that phrase, we recoil and feel the figure is being blamed, but another culture might interpret that phrase as praise. So one of the jobs of the rhetor is to understand what is praise- or blame-worthy in the community. Chaim Perleman and Lucie Olbrecht-Tyteca have said, “The speaker engaged in epidictic discourse is very close to being an educator ” and must do the work of “promoting values shared in the community” (52). The community determines what is blamed and praised, but also what is praised and blamed tells you something about the community. So if “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is considered praise in a community, you know a lot about what it’s like to live there. You know you want to clear out of there. But epideictic rhetoric both reflects and creates a community. Celeste Michelle Condit describes this process when she says that one of the key things epideictic does is “shape and share communities” (289). Sometimes the epideictic rhetoric is the first time that common attitudes and beliefs have been put into words, and if the articulation of those beliefs resonate with the audience, it defines that community. Jeffrey Walker describes this as a lyrical enthymeme. An enthymeme does this [shave and a hair cut knock] It’s hard not to finish it, isn’t it? In your mind you’re filling in the blanks—provided you’re familiar with the whole pattern [shave and a hair cut—two bits]. You could only know the whole pattern if you were part of the culture that made this pattern so common. Imagine the same thing happening in an epideictic speech. I say “Brooklyn,” you say “whaaat?” and I say “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” and you say “boo.” The audience fills in the gaps. In fact, if the audience doesn’t, Condit sees this as a good sign that you aren’t part of the community. This works in parts as well as over all. The speaker gets to decide which parts of the community to highlight and which parts to downplay. If someone praises something that only 80% of the community agrees with, the remaining 20% are, according to Condit, “likely to [feel] a sense of alienation from the community “ (290). So while almost everyone in our community agrees that being “a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is a bad thing, if the speaker then goes on and says, “and he didn’t like dogs—he liked cats!” then everyone in the audience who likes cats is going to start thinking, “Wait, what’s wrong with liking cats? I like cats. Should I not be liking cats? Do only cold-hearted, calculating tyrants like cats? Argh! I’m terrible, I don’t belong here, what am I doing?” So epideictic rhetoric will sometimes reflect the values of an audience, but sometimes it will create an audience, by alienating some members of the community.

 

So if the first point is that epideictic rhetoric praises and blames and the second point is that epideictic rhetoric will shape and share our communities, the last thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it’s actually everywhere. At this point you might be saying, “wait a tick, didn’t you just say that Independence Day orations and birthday speeches are really rare?” Yes, but epideictic rhetoric doesn’t always have to be a formal speech. Remember the characteristics we mentioned—praise and blame and reflect the society’s values. Now think about everything that does that. A movie like Independence Day might do that. It praises the courage of Will Smith’s character and Jeff Goldbaum’s quirky intellectual obsession while criticizing cowardly politicians and naïve hippies. If you’re an American, the movie seems to argue, these are the values that you’ll admire. If you don’t admire those values, the movie can be alienating. Movies, song lyrics, TV shows, museums, even art and architecture can be epideictic, establishing what is praiseworthy and what is blameworthy. A lot of literature, in a broad sense, can be read as epideictic. The idea that the arts presents to an audience stories that we can either praise or blame creates a rhetorical background for the rhetoric of poetics. Scholars from Wayne Booth to Jeffery Walker have noted the way that literature creates an argument for our societies, teaching us values. Being assigned certain “great works” can be a way of indoctrinating young people to the values and attitudes of a community, as can being told that a book or movie is a “classic.” When epideictic rhetoric can be found everywhere, we recognize that we are always being persuaded to attitudes and values, even if not to specific actions.

 

So while today I might not be getting a birthday speech at my party, I will probably have a conversation with someone about achieving my birthday goal of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays (which are persuading me to espouse certain values), and we’ll listen to the French circus music I like (which may alienate those who don’t appreciate a swing accordion) and when someone wishes me a happy birthday, they will wish me the things we as a community have agreed will bring me happiness.

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Epideictic_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Saving Persausion

 

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.


Garsten argues that the political theorists of the Enlightenment got it all wrong; instead of appealing to some sort of universal common standard for political deliberation, we need to be more comfortable with how people actually think. Their feelings, attitudes and even biases.

Because, in our age "efforts to avoid rhetorical controversy tend to produce new and potentially more dogmatic forms of rhetoric" we need to realize that "public reason was ingested by philosophers to quell religious controversy by subjecting debate to authoritative standard"-in Hobbes' case, representation, in Rousseau's "prophetic nationalism" and in Kant's "public reason." In each other these there’s an attempt to keep debate from happening—to push people out of the debate Garsten suggests that all three of these standards result in what he calls "liberal alienation"--the way that "from implied unanimity [...] dissenters feel alienated"--if you feel like you can't participate in "general deliberation," your concerns are unaddressed. The result is a polarization where those not invited to the deliberative party strike out against those who exclude them.

 

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..

Instead, Garsten recommends that we make more space for alternative arguments, including those that are based in partiality, passion and privacy. He defends these elements against the common Habermasian critiques against them and says that what should count as deliberative argument is simply "when we make decisions deliberately [...] when we purposefully consider [...] the factors relevant to the our decision." We need to, instead of excluding our adversaries because of their "bad reasoning," see each other and respect each other for how the actual existing individual thinks and feels.

 

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

In all of this there is still the threat of demagoguery. As a potential solution, Garsten invokes Madison, whose theories about small, localized governments within a extended territory can be extended to deliberation: break issues down into smaller, localized, even interested issues, and make sure that there is plenty of space for things to be re-evaluated in the future, and that even if one issue is decided, it doesn't by extension mean that all of the other issues are. Small, piecemeal disputes are best. These institutional strictures structure the individual though and directions deliberation--there can' be any thought of "If I were king," because there aren't any kings to be had.

Ultimately, Garsten promotes a defense of persuasion where we look at each other, and speak to each other--not that we're BFFs or brothers, but that we "pay attention to fellow citizens and to their opinions," not as their opinions should be constructed, or we think they should be, but as they are. The best purpose of persuasion is that it forces us to think beyond ourselves, to encounter others as they are, instead of trying to make them in our own image.

 

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.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!

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Saving_Persuasion.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.com 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.

 

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Isocrates.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Kant podcast

 

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.

 

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Kant.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

Audio: Gorgias_Encomium_of_Helen.mp3

 

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 mererhetoricpodcast@gmail.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
who shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren and I don't know how many of you actually noticed, but I actually was gone for a couple of weeks. I've been uh, eyebrow deep in my dissertation but I finally got it submitted to my readers so that means I have a little bit of time to come back and talk to you about Gorgias. 

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.

 

Direct download: 16-03-24_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Gorgias.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

[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?

 

Direct download: 16-03-24_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Stasis_Theory.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT

[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.

[guitar music]

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Canagarahjah.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT