Wed, 2 March 2016
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements and people who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today we get to continue on in our theme of the villains of rhetoric. Today though, instead of just focusing on one person like Raymus or Hobbes. We get to talk about three and the reason why we get to talk about three is because a fantastic book that Wayne A. Rebhorn wrote. It's called “Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric.” This is a great volume. It's a compilation of a lot of short pieces by a lot of different authors during the renaissance, starting pretty early and going pretty late. You can see the way that they respond to each other and how they respond to voices that you don't even really see in the book that are just sort of out there. Like, people say this or people say that.
But today we're going to be talking about distinct criticisms of rhetoric. The first is from Agrippa. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa who was German as you might suspect and he was a captain in the army of Maximillian the 1st so that gives you sort of a time frame. This is very early 16th century. He was maybe a magician. He worked in sort of occult philosophy and kabala and all sorts of stuff like that. And he even defended a witch legally. So definitely a free thinker.
Now this criticism he makes against rhetoric is on the uncertainty and vanity of the arts and sciences. This may be sarcastic, we're not entirely sure. But it's definitely bringing up some interesting points against rhetoric.
He says mostly that rhetoric is very sneaky. He says, "The entire discipline of rhetoric from start to finish is nothing other than the art of flattery, adulation, and some might say more audaciously, lying.” Well you don't get any more critical of a criticism of rhetoric than to just say this is straight up lying. But even if it isn't lying, it's pretty terrible. He says, "in short, it appears that rhetoric is nothing other than the art of persuading and moving the emotions." Okay, that sounds like the sort of thing that anybody would be okay with. But then it gets worse -"Seizing the spirits of the thoughtless by subtle eloquence, exquisite deception and cunning appearance of probability, leading them into the prison of error while perverting the sense of the truth." Okay so that sounds like pretty strong criticism against rhetoric.
Another voice that Rebhorn highlights in this compilation of the debates in the renaissance comes from John Jewell. John Jewell may not have been an accused witch, in fact he was sort of a spokesperson for the Church of England. A sort of a balance between the extremes of Protestantism in Europe and Catholicism. He publicly spoke against the Porters of Rome during the mid-16th century and sort of had a reputation of being a great preacher, being very eloquent. But just like with Agrippa, Jewell may or may not be sarcastic in his criticisms against rhetoric. We don't really know for sure, especially because he was such an eloquent preacher.
But in the oration against rhetoric, he points out that the entire pursuit of eloquence I say, “which so many Greek and Latin writers enrich, I openly proclaim here there offers neither dignity nor benefit and is entirely idle, empty, futile, and trifling." So instead of saying that it's something that's evil and really big and bad, Jewell here says that rhetoric is just that stupid. It just takes a lot of time and doesn't really do anything.
He says, "If something is clear and distinct, it has enough support in itself and does not need the allurement of polished speech. If it is obscure and unattractive, it will not be discovered despite all the glamour and flood of words. In other words, truth needs no ally and error deserves none."
Further on in his oration against rhetoric, he makes the claim that there's something seditious about rhetoric which is a claim that you will hear a lot during this time that rhetoricians are kind of sneaky and evil. An example that he pulls up is the Demosthenes who is definitely sort of a big bad wolf in a lot of the Renaissance views of rhetoric. He says, "who among us has not heard of the lamentable plundering of that greatest and most ancient of cities, Athens which was nevertheless leveled to the ground and almost completely uprooted and destroyed thanks to the eloquent tongue of Demosthenes?"
He says, "for when I have shown how states have been overturned by the most eloquent men and great empires converted into wasteland, all the things that you've heard so far which are very serious, will be thought to be nothing. It seems to me that whoever first introduced eloquence into human affairs gave the worst advice possible. Eloquence is really the one responsible for all of these faults he says."
So even though at the beginning he says it's just a waste of time and it’s idle and foolishness, he seems to be crediting the fall of the Greek empire to rhetoric and rhetoricians. He goes on to talk about how Demosthenes was such a bad person personally that he has sort of this sear of treason. He says, “why did the greatest orator, Desmothenes lose his mind, his reason, his very self when he stood before Phillip? What is the meaning of all this trepidation, power, hesitation, confusion and shaking? If the case is good, why are they afraid? If it is bad, why do they take it on?” This criticism against rhetoric, that it's something sneaky, he says is actually just endemic to the idea of rhetoric itself. He says that when you are an orator, you're always trying to make people think that you're not really an orator. That you didn't stay up all night working on it.
This is something we still have sort of today. The idea that somebody's trying too hard on writing a speech or being persuasive. That somehow everything should just sort come in a flash of light- probably inspiration of something that's going to be naturally good. He points out that tailors, medicine peddlers, and bods seek crowds into light, showing their merchandise openly and freely in public. Only the orator does not dare to parade his skill, but behaves in such a way that just when he was making the maximum use of the art of his tongue, he seems then to be the farthest away from the art and utterly inarticulate as if he had learned nothing.
This is a really interesting point. We kind of have an idea that if somebody is demonstrating that they worked hard to make something persuasive that sort of makes it lose all of its power. Now both of these speakers that we talked about were maybe probably just being sarcastic and not really meaning what they said because they were such great writers.
The next two may legitimately have problems with rhetoric as it is. Francesco Patrizi was from Dalmatia -- sort of the area that we now think of as Croatia. And he was an Italian philosopher. He was very platonic and as we talked about in other places, Plato was not super excited about the idea of obedience to these strict rules like Aristotle. Instead, he believed sort of in this divine revelation.
So he creates a dialogue between two people where he uses this dialogue to sort of put himself in conversation and speak against rhetoric. He says in this dialogue that the orator always strives for victory but, "he doesn't care about justice or duty." Things that are really important if you're a big plan of Plato. "Further, he says if an orator would never undertake to defend anything other than a just case, and would always prosecute unjust ones, would he always be acting justly in so doing? Just as on the contrary one who always undertook to prosecute a just case and defend an unjust one would be wrong. But if there is fan orator who defended cases that went beyond both justice and injustice and prosecuted similar cases, he'd be sometimes good and sometimes bad. Finally, Patrizi comes to the conclusion that an orator is a man between good and evil. And because of this middle position, he will act equally to defend and to prosecute a just man and an unjust man. Because of this he points out that he is motivated only by the sake of winning. Glory and gain are dear to him says Patrizi, than justice is.
He even goes as far as to say that the orator can't be valued, that he is feared, that he is violent and the descendant of tyrants because he doesn't care about justice -- only about getting his way. It's a pretty damning [?] criticism of rhetoric.
The final villain in this team is Michel de Montaigne who is probably best known for writing essays, tons of them. He kind of invented the genre of the essay. He too is critical about rhetoric, mostly because he believes in honesty above all else and being self relavatory. Much like some of these other critics, he believes that rhetoric is a little bit tricky and often immoral. He says that rhetoric is a "tool invented to manipulate and stir up a mob in an unruly populous. A tool that is employed only in six states, like medicine in states such as those of Athens, Rhodes, and Rome where the crowd of the ignorant where all people had power over all things.”
That might not sound so bad to us who live in a democracy, but really he saw that rhetoric was something that only existed where people were fighting. In fact he goes as far as to say that eloquence flourished most at Rome when affairs were in the worst condition and were disturbed by the storm of civil wars.
This criticism against rhetoric says that when do we need rhetoric? When do we need a lot of people asking persuasive arguments? Well when there's a lot of unease. Where we don't know what the right answer is and we have sort of a battle.
If we were all agreed, if we were unified, there wouldn't need for rhetoric. This is an argument that you can still kind of see today when people talk about politics. If we just all have some unity or patriotism, or we're behind our leaders, then we wouldn’t have all this contentious discussion.
So these critics of rhetoric, Agrippa, Jewell, Montaigne, and Patrizi, all bring up arguments that we still her today against rhetoric. But there are plenty more who are defending rhetoric during this same time. The renaissance was a rich time for rhetoric and even though we don't really talk about it, or we think of renaissance rhetoric as just being classical rhetoric warmed over. It was really dynamic and a lot of the arguments they were making were specific to their particular cultures and respective countries.
I highly recommend you check out the book. “Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric” by Wayne A. Redhorn.
It provides a lot of different perspective and a lot of different texts about something that we don't even really think about very often. The renaissance and its relationship to modern rhetoric. But you don't have to take my word for it.
Wed, 24 February 2016
When you were learning math, I bet you didn’t start by trying to solve P versus NP. When you were learning Spanish, I bet you didn’t start with creating your own translation of Don Quixote. When you were learning to write, did you start with writing thirty-page rhetorical analyses and speeches? Probably not.
The ancient Greeks thought it was probably not such a good idea to start out young rhetors on writing full speeches, so they came up with a series of exercises that teachers could lead their students through, exercises that would help students become more comfortable with language, learn the conventions of their culture and generally ease their way into the kind of speech writing they’d be doing when they became generals and politicians and whatever else they were planning on doing when they grew up. These exercises were called progymnasmata, which mean “early exercises.” You may recognize that middle part as sounding like “gymnasium,” so it’s easy to remember what progymnasmata means—exercises.
Anciently, the two most used sequences were written by Hermogenes of Tarsus and Aphthonius of Antioch. And the order in which the progymnasmata were taught were usually the same, more or less: starting with fable, students then work through, chreia narrative, proverbs, refutations, confirmations, commonplaces, encomiums, vituperation, comparison, impersonation, description and only then on to theses and defending or attacking a law.
Some of these terms you might not be familiar with but pretty much the idea was to start with simple stories and move up to arguments. But—and I think this is important—stories were an argument. We do this all the time, don’t we?
So, Eric, what’s one of your favorite fables that proves an argument?
[Eric does his thing]
These stories are deeply resonate in our society’s memory and we can use them as an argument, assuming our audience agrees with these stories’ premises.
In the progymnasmata of Aelius theon, he explains the importance of “making clear the moral character inherent in the assignments” (13). Our society values something about the morals of Romeo and Juliet and the tortoise and the hare and so when we learn them and how to use them, we are underlining things our audience already buys into.
One step more abstract than fables are proverbs: “A penny saved is a penny earned”; “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; “If you build it, they will come.” We have many proverbs that exemplify what our society values—whether thrift, equality or building baseball stadiums for ghost players. When the ancient Greeks were educating their students about language and putting together arguments, they were also educating them in what kinds of arguments their society already believed in.
Chreias Krey-ya, which are maxims ascribed to a person, for example, not only tell the student what the society values, but also who the society values. Again, these are generally accepted societial values. For example, when people say, “When they were hanging Nathan Hale, he bravely declared, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,’” they are not only affirming the value of patriotism, even martyerism, but they’re also saying that Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary spy, is the kind of guy that we should be listening to.
Older exercises take parts of a speech and go in depth like ekphrasis which describes something. Let’s describe this room: Go:
Another exercise, ethopoeia, takes it a step forward by encouraging students to write in someone else’s situation, “where someone is imagined as making a speech” as Hermogenes puts it, “For example, what would a general say when returning from a victory? … what would a general say to his army after a victory?” Farmer one, Dido, etc.
Encommium and invective involve praising or blaming a figure, usually someone everyone knows and on whom everyone has an opinion. Think of Gorgias’ famous “Encomium of Helen,” which tried to argue in favor of someone everyone hated, Helen of Troy, or Isocrates’ response in his own encomium. Usually, though, Encomiums and invectives were along the lines of what everyone already thought, but the rhetor’s challenge was to say something new.
Finally, students could work on thesis and antithesis Nicolaus the Sophis says that “Thesis is something admitting logical examination, but without persons or any circumstance at all being specified.” In other words, while students start with clear concrete stories and fables, they end being able to talk abstractly about frequently heard debates like “should a scholar marry?” or, to use ones more common in our day, “should we have the death penalty?” “is gun control moral?” “should abortion be legal?” or any of those other topics that you were probably assigned to debate in junior high. And just like in junior high, ancient greek students were expected to know how to debate both sides of the argument.
Once these progymnasmata were under the belt, so to speak, students could work on actual speeches with a context and an audience.
This method may seem a little old fashioned to modern pedagogies. In fact, yes, very old fashioned. These exercises continued not just in the ancient world, but into both Byzantine and Western Europe. The “themes” of the progymnasmata, argues Edward P. J. Corbett, had even more influence on “European schoolboys of the 15th and 16th centuries” than they did on Greek children. In fact, the idea that students need to first become conversant in parts before they can address the whole was later reformed into the “modes.” If you have a parent or grandparent of a certain age, you can ask them about writing modes and themes when they were growing up and they will tell you about having to write descriptions, narrations, and expositions before they were allowed to write arguments. Albert R. Kitzhaber chronicals the way that the modes became THE pedagogical tool for almost a hundred years here in the US, much as the progymnasmata dominated Europe for millennia. But Most compositionists these days say, “heck with prerequisites, get the students composing organically, making their first full attempts at a complete argument early, even if it means a short length or a superficial topic.” I’ve taught a class, for example, that begins with students ardently debating whether toilet paper should be hung over-hand or under-hand. This is probably the kind of education that you’ve had.
The progymnasmata, and in fact, the idea that there should be prerequisite writing exercises before argumentative writing, swings back and forth in pedagogy. Additionally, becaue the progymnasmata reflect societal values in their stories and common places, they can be seen as stifling individuality. George Kennedy points out that the progymnasmata “are open to criticism that they tended to indoctrinate students with traditional values “(x).
But the benefits of the progymnasmata have been appealing to modern composition scholars as well. Kennedy further says that “Nevertheless, it would be unfair to characterize the traditional exercises as inhibiting all criticism of traditional values. Indeed, a major feature of the exercises was stress on learning refutation or rebuttal: how to take a traditional tale, narrative, or thesis and argue against it. If anything, the exercises may have tended to encourage the idea that there was an equal amount to be said on two sides of any issue, a skill practiced at a later stage of education in dialectical debate."
Sharon Crowley and Deborah Hawhee point out that instead of giving students everything to do at once, the progymnasmata provide small exercises that lead to big results:” Each successive exercise uses a skill practiced in the preceding one, but each adds some new and more difficult composing task. Ancient teachers were fond of comparing the graded difficulty of the progymnasmata to the exercise used by Milo of Croton to gradually increase his strength: Milo lifted a calf each day. Each day the calf grew heavier, and each day his strength grew. He continued to lift the calf until it became a bull."
everything old is new again with the progymnasmata, and that’s a proverb that you can trust!
Wed, 10 February 2016
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements,
and people who shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren.
Quintilian was a transitional figure of rhetoric. Born in a Roman province of Spain to a Spanish
family at around 35 CE, he lived both geographically and temporally at the peripheries of the
Roman Empire. Quintilian was, as everyone was, influenced by Cicero and the Greek instructors,
Progymnasmata, which we've talked about in an earlier episode. He was deeply concerned with
questions about the education of rhetoric. As a teacher of rhetoric, his students were mostly
historians, like Tacitus, or authors, like Juvenal, instead of politicians. In fact, his student Tacitus
will later argue that there wasn't much space for rhetoric as the Roman Empire became more
authoritarian. Who's going to argue with an Emperor? But Quintilian was deeply interested in not
just creating better rhetoric, but better rhetors. The most famous idea from Quintilian is probably
his insistence that the rhetor will be a good person all around. Educated, kind, refined. As Bruce
Herzberg and Patricia Bizzell say in their introduction, "Quintilian's insistence on the moral
element may bespeak his own quiet desperation about what sort of leader would be needed to
galvanize the corrupt Rome of his day." Whatever Quintilian's motivation, he explains in detail,
hundreds of pages of detail, how rhetors are to be educated.
>> That's right, Mary. To illustrate Quintilian's preoccupation with the intersection of ethics and
the art of oratory, it's worth noting that his definition of rhetoric is "a good man speaking well.”
Without good words and good morals, there cannot be good rhetoric. There can be no divorce
between the content and the form of statement. The reverse was also important for Quintilian,
that training in rhetoric could have some sort of moral impact on the student. Quintilian hoped
that people would be more moral for their rhetorical training. Although he was teaching at a time
when rhetoric and Roman society was at "no longer a severe discipline for training the average
man for active citizenship." Good citizenship depends, not just on speaking technically well, but
also morally well. How does the student develop this kind of technical and moral excellence in
speaking? Primarily, through the impact of good examples. Nurses, classmates, and especially
the teacher should "all be kept free from moral fault" or "even the suspicion of it." Classmates
can have good effects on students. Instructors should also frequently demonstrate because now
that we teach, examples are more powerful even than the rules." This sort of reminds me of the
kind of scaffolding that Lev Vygotsky, Ridley, and Carroll talk about. When students are
surrounded by students doing work that is just a little bit more difficult than what
they're accustomed to, they can see how their near peers rise to the problems and learn how
to imitate those strategies as well.
>> So teachers, classmates, instructors, you can tell from all of these influences that Quintilian is
so worried about, he believes in the little sponges model of pedagogy. Some influences like
nurses and classmates maybe accidental, but Quintilian also emphasizes the conscious use of
imitation exercises to strengthen the student. In fact, Quintilian declares that "an orator ought to
be furnished, above all things, with an ample store of examples." The things that
Quintilian recommends imitation, though, vary from the standard Progymnasmata.
The Progymnasmata gave students topics like kidnappers and smugglers. Standard Hardy Boy
stuff. But Quintilian believed that students should imitate the sort of things they're actually going
to be writing. Real life writing. In this sense, you can see how Quintilian would be comfortable
with some of the scholars who emphasize learning to write in the disciplines. All of this is sort of
a social-constructed view of good rhetoric, even something a little pre-writing in the disciplines.
Quintilian talks about how every species of writing has its own prescribed law, each to its own
appropriate dress. So this sort of emphasizes the idea that there's not just one type of good
writing and you can't teach somebody just good writing or good rhetoric. He saw that you needed
to practice in the types of forms that you're actually going to be doing. This is really kind of
revolutionary stuff and it's surprising that it didn't get picked up earlier until in the past, about
100 years has been a real emphasis on beginning to teach writing not just was a transferable skill,
but something that is really specific to a specific task. But at the same time, Quintilian believed
that his students should be generalists, because eloquence "requires the aid of many arts." So
even things like gymnastics, to improve lung capacity and posture, and geometry should be
taught to the would-be rhetor. A sort of balance between the liberal arts and sort of like a specific
kind of technical training. But especially, you have this reading, writing, listening all being
taught at the same time, because they influence each other, and Quintilian says that they are
so inseparably linked with one another and that they should be taught, not as separate skills, but
as sort of one fluid type of learning about language.
>> That's right, Mary. Quintilian saw speaking, writing, and reading as important skills of
course, but not things that could be separated from the human experience as a whole. In fact,
Quintilian saw it as his duty as a teacher to cultivate not just good rhetors, but the whole person.
That might sound a little authoritarian, but just because Quintilian believed that students should
write real-life exercises, doesn't mean he didn't think that they should have fun. Rhetoric, in
varying forms appropriate to age, surrounds the student's cradle to the grave. Little children and
babies could be given alphabet blocks as toys, and young students should be allowed to play with
their own writing and the student should be daring, invent much, and delight in what he invents.
Practice alone, though, won't lead automatically to greatness. "Talent does matter, but he who is
honorably inclined will be very different from the stupid or idol," Quintilian says, "and the wise
instructor will give matter designed as it were beforehand in proportion to the abilities of each,
and the teacher will help them to find their strengths and apply chiefly to that in which he can
succeed." Help make students succeed. The students should be happy with what they are
producing even if it isn't what a professional writer would write. Not everyone has to become a
famous writer but any skill in rhetoric will pay dividends for the wealth, honor and friendship,
greater present and future fame," Quintilian writes, "No matter how much or how little you
obtain or feel you use."
>>Unlike many other teachers of rhetoric, Quintilian rejected stylistic anachronisms and effects.
"Language is excellent, perspicuous and elegant and should have the public stamp like currency.
Current practices matter so much that custom in speaking, therefore, I shall call the agreement of
the educated just as I call custom in living the agreement of the good." There's an obvious
influence here on enlightenment rhetors like Hugh Blair who similarly reject the idea that you
should speak in an old timey way and that you need to consider what the modern style is for your
own region. Incidentally, Blair thought that Quintilian was the best of all the rhetoricians.
Overall, students should develop fasilitas, the readiness to appropriate language for any situation.
To be fluid with understanding what the social conventions are and how you can apply language
to it. And after a good career, Quintilian even advises the rhetor to bow out gracefully, not full of
reunion tours and botox, but to leave at your peak, "Because it becomes him to take care that he
speak not worse than he has been in the habit of speaking." That's not to say that retired people
are off the hook. They're still expected to study like Marcus Cato who learned Greek in his old
age. But Quintilian definitely sets out a line of the entire rhetor's life, from their earliest years
playing with blocks to when they retire at an old age.
>>So Quintilian clearly would have been no fan of Rocky V and VI, is what we're saying there
>>How many people were? [laughs]
>>I think only a few perhaps. If all of this seems like a lot of work to raise the writer, then you're
absolutely right. Quintilian describes such an involved pedagogy from cradle to grave, that the
relationship is less like a teacher and more like a parent. The focus in Quintilian's pedagogy is
less quick and dirty tricks, and more the formation of a rhetorical character. He feels that
learning rhetoric will help make you a better person. The good man speaking well and because of
that he passionately promotes a study of rhetoric. In fact, we can't put it any better than he does,
so we'll end with his inspiring words and if these don't make you excited about studying rhetoric,
I just don't know what will. "Let us then presume with our whole powers the true dignity of
eloquence then which the immortal gods have given nothing better to mankind and without
which all nature would be mute and all our acts would be deprived alike of present honor and
commemoration among posterity and let us aspire to the highest excellence for, by this means,
we shall attain the summit and if it does not ring great advantage to studious youth it will at least
excite in them what I desire even more, a love for doing well."
Wed, 3 February 2016
Welcome to New Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, events, and ideas that have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren and today I actually get to respond to a listener who wrote in, named Greg Gibby. And Greg wrote in saying that he would love to know some sort of ranking system; some way to see who are some of the most important figures in rhetorical history and sort of how they might relate to each other. So because of Greg, for the next month, we are going to be counting down the villains of rhetoric. Not that there are any you know, mustache twirlers per say, but these are folks who sort of give rhetoric a bad name, and contributed to rhetoric becoming a pejorative.
So today, in honor of Greg, we are going to be start out our series. We are going to be starting with, Thomas Hobbes. Now, you probably remember Hobbes from your political science classes. He's the one that came up with the idea of the social contract. You remember this. You have a bunch of people all living together and life is nasty and terrible and brutish, and then they decide, "Hey if we all get in this together and make somebody in charge of us, we don't have to live like animals." So they create a contract.
"We will all obey the sovereign, and the sovereign will protect us."
Well, this is all very well and good until you include rhetoric. Hobbes kind of defines eloquence into two camps. One is philosophy, and the other is a passion.
He says, "The one is an elegant and clear expression of the conceptions of the mind, and riseth partly from the contemplation of the things themselves. Partly from the understanding of the words taken in their own proper and definite signification. The other is a commotion of the passions of the mind. And derives from metaphorical use of words fitted to the passions."
This is sort of going back to the old idea that you either have, sort of a philosophical understanding of what everything is, and you just sort of lay the words on top of it with one clear understanding. Or, you've tricky, tricky words which are going to create a commotion of passions of the mind, deriving a metaphorical use of words fitted to those passions. It's sort of a cold, contemplated way to sort of approach rhetoric, in this sense. So rhetoric is suspect, and in fact Hobbes is quite suspicious of the roll of rhetoric within, heaven forbid, a democracy.
He says, "In a democracy, look at how many demagogues, that is how many powerful orators there are with the people."
And he says, "In a popular dominion there may be as many Nero's as there are orators who sooth the people."
It's kind of a scary idea for him that people will be able to speak, and have such a big influence. He goes even deeper with this when he talks about why there are so many demagogues, so many orators trying to grasp for power through the words that they use.
He says, "Another reason why a great assembly is not so fit for consultation is because everyone who delivers his opinion holds it necessary to make a long tongued speech, and to gain more esteem from his auditors, he polishes and adorns it with the best and smoothest language. Now the nature of eloquence is to make good and evil profitable and unprofitable, honest and dishonesty. Appear to be more or less than indeed they are. And to make that seem just which is unjust. According as it shall best suit with his end that speaketh. For this is to persuade, and though they reason, yet they, not from their rise form true principles but from vulgar received opinions."
Now this is actually Hobbes getting at sort of a philosophy of rhetoric that has been around for a long time. The idea that received opinions are a way to reason. In ancient rhetorical theory this was kind of okay. It was called the common places, and you could argue from a common place. We talked about this a little bit in the podcast about the cannons, and a little bit of the [inaudible]. Well you could say, "Well everyone knows that a stitch in time, saves nine." And that would count as good evidence. But for Hobbes, he says that becomes dangerous because of vulgar received opinions. Now, these orators, he also criticizes by saying, "there is no reason why every man should not naturally mind his own praise, rather than the public business, but that here he sees a means to declare his eloquence, whereby he may gain the reputation of being ingenious and wise. Rejoice and triumph in the applause of his dexterous behavior." So he says that all these orators that are going in for public speech; they don't really care about the public in general. In fact, they should probably just mind their own business, but the only reason they are going into it is so that people will think that they are smart, and clever. Now that's not to say that there is zero space for conversation within Hobbes ideas. At the beginning of chapter 14 of Laws and Trespass, Hobbes does make a somewhat passing remark about the role of council. He says that those who confuse law and council are like those who, "think it is the duty of the monarch, not only to give ear for their counselors, but also to obey them, as if it were in vain to take council unless it were also followed." What? Hobbes! Did you just say that Monarchy could be influenced by something outside of the sovereign, but politically impactful? Let's take a look at the page again. "Council is directed to his end that receives it. Council is given to none but the willing." Council, then, according to Hobbes, doesn't necessarily persuade the sovereign as we might understand in rhetoric, but provides another pillar of reasoning for the Monarch to consider. In fact, such council looks a lot like that philosophical eloquence that Hobbes describes above. A clear, grounded, rationalist contemplation and divorced from emotional appeals. This kind of reminds me of Tacitus who was similarly enamored of the principatus, and his concern about demagogues' rhetorical sway. But he was, nonetheless, willing to admit that the sovereign could benefit from hearing what advisers have to say. So in the end, Hobbes is generally not in favor of rhetoric. Not for the masses, not for the people speaking of their own, not sort of even in assemblies, but he does have a tiny smidgen of space where a counselor could say something to a sovereign, that the sovereign -- moving forward from his own wisdom and not from anyone else's admission can take into account of make his own decision. So there you have it Hobbes; number four on our list of the villains of rhetoric. Next week we will continue on with our villains of rhetoric series by talking about Ramus. Until then, try not to let the demagogues bring you down. And always pay attention to what your sovereign has to offer.
Wed, 27 January 2016
And today we have news: ast week something finally happened, something I always dreamed of, ever since I was 18 years old—I got called up for jury duty. I’m thrilled to be able to do my civic duty, not just because since I was 18 years old I’ve been mainlining old episodes of Law and Order, but also because because it gives me a front row seat to the world of forsensic rhetoric. Today on Mere rhetoric, we’re going to talk about the illustrious history of forsensic rhetoric. But first just a reminder that you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, or follow us on twitter at mererhetoricked (that’s mererhetoric followed by a ked) or email us at email@example.com.
Ok, so when we think about rhetoric, we often think of it as a foil to philosophy. Something completely unrelated to everyday life, abstract and smartsy-artsy. But for the ancient greeks, rhetoric was a cold, hard necessity. The Ancient Greeks of around 467 BC were a litigious group, constantly hauling each other into court. It was one of the great things about having such awell developed government, that you could drag your neighbor into court and get some money out of them. But in ancient Greece you didn’t have a professional corp of lawyers to fight your battles for you. If you were going to sue your neighbor, you were suing your neighbor and you had to make a case and that meant you had to give a good argument.
Rhetoric historian George A Kennedy even claims that rhetoric as an art arose because of this legal imperative. He writes, "Citizens found themselves involved in litigation... and were forced to take up their own cases before the courts. A few clever Sicilians developed simple techniques for effective presentation and argumentation in the law courts and taught them to others” "Anyone reading the classical rhetorics soon discovers that the branch of rhetoric that received the most attention was the judicial, the oratory of the courtroom. Litigations in court in Greece and Rome were an extremely common experience for even the ordinary free citizen--usually the male head of a household--and it was a rare citizen who did not go to court at least a half a dozen times during the course of his adult life. Moreover, the ordinary citizen was often expected to serve as his own advocate before a judge or jury. The ordinary citizen did not possess the comprehensive knowledge of the law and its technicalities that the professional lawyer did, but it was greatly to his advantage to have a general knowledge of the strategies of defense and prosecution. As a result the schools of rhetoric did a flourishing business in training the layperson to defend himself in court or to prosecute an offending neighbor."
and so rhetoric came to the Greeks. Teaching other people how to argue their own cases was the first form of rhetorical education.
Eventually, the greeks came up with the idea of the logographer. So since you have to give your own case, the courts allowed you to get help from one and only one friend or relative….or professional ringer. The logographer would hear your case and write a speech written in your voice and then you would memorize the speech so that you could present it in court. People who knew you well might be surprised at how elquant and wise you sounded, but it might help you win the case after all.
Some of the best rhetoricians of the ancient world did stints as logographers. Demosthenes, the rabble-rouser who almost toppled Alexander the Great, was a logographer, as was the great rhetoric teacher Isocrates. Lysias, the orartor who inspired Plato’s Phaedrus, was a logographer, too, and Antiphon. So logography has a long and nobel tradition, even though it was, essentially like getting your speech written by a professional ringer. Arguments were made in the ancient world, like now, that there was something unfair about the way that rich people could buy the best defense. Many of the ancient complaints against rhetoric, like those made by Socrates in the gorgia, were against logographer’s ability to write as good of an argument against a position as for it. When a logographer could be hired for the defense or the prosecution, they weren’t perceived as sincere as someone who was arguing in court about their own life, property and freedom.
And what might go into Athenian forensic thetoric? What were those logographers writing? Well, to understand that, you have to understand a few things about Law and Order: Athens. First, this was a trial by jury, but it wasn’t necessary people like me getting called up for jury selection. People volunteered to be on a jury, because you did get paid. It wasn’t enough to volunteer, though you had to be selected. But sometimes it wasn’t necessarily selective. There could be hundreds of jurors on a jury—up to 500! And the jury had a lot of power—the judge didn’t decide the trial outcome at all, only the jury. So in appealing to a jury, you were appealing to a large group of people, a lot like making a political speech, really. In Athenian justice, reputation meant a lot to these juries, so many of the witnesses were just good and/or famous people brought it in say that they did or didn’t think the plaintiff did it—regardless of whether they were actually an eyewitness. It also helped to have some graphic description of the wrong done and make appeals to the common man—these jurors did want to be entertained while they decided after all.
Some great early pieces of rhetoric were, in fact, legal speeches. In some cases we don’t know whether these speeches were actually ever used in court or if they were used for demonstrating a logographer or rhetoric teacher’s ability. For example, Isocrates wrote “real” forensic pieces like “Against Lochites, Aegineticus, Against Euthynus, Trapeziticus, Span of Horses, and Callimachus.” Even though he always said that he wasn’t fit for the court. He may have been working as a logographer for someone else, or they might not have been cases that were actually tried. Some of these court cases are pretty crazy, showing how you didn’t have to be famous to sue someone. The speech against Lochites - where "a man of the people" irX1790vs is the speaker - exhibits much rhetorical skill. The speech about the horses concerns An Athenian citizen had complained that Alcibiades had robbed him of a team of four horses, and sues the statesman's son and namesake (who is the speaker) for their value.
Isocrates also wrote faux forencis speeches.“Against the Sophists” and “Antidosis” defend his character and profession against imaginary lawsuits. Forencis examples were common for a rhetorician to show off his capacities in what kind of defendents he could write for and one popular form of rhetoric was to write a defense of someone who isn’t actually going to see the inside of a court room, or to write a legal argument for a case long settled. Students of rhetoric, too, engaged in a lot of forensic rhetoric. The progymnasmata, or series of exercises used in training a young rhetor, included crucial steps of defending or protesting a law and writing definitions of what is and isn’t just. Forensic rhetoric drove rhetorical education forward.
Eventually legal speeches became a clear genre of rhetoric, one of several. By the time Aristotle writes On Rhetoric, legal, or forsencic rhetoric is, along with deliberartive and epideictic one of the three major categories of rhetoric that Artistotle classifies. Aristotle spends 6 chapter discussing forensic rhetoric. At the beginning he sets up the primary “means or persuasion” in forensic rhetoric. He suggests 3 things need to be considered: “1. For what purposes persons do wrong 2. How these persons are mentally disposed 3. What kind of persons they wrong and what these persons are like.” He also explores abstract ideas like what kind of wrongs are being done when someone breaks the law, and The Koinon of Degree of Magnitude"which states: "A wrong is greater insofar as it is caused by greater injustice. Thus the least wrong can sometimes be the greatest.” Pretty heady stuff.
If greeks were good at setting up legal rhetoric, the Romans took it to a new level. Romans love laws. Even more than laws, they love talking about laws: which ones are just, which ones are misinterpreted, which ones are being faunted. Arguably, arguing was their greatest art. One of the greasted of these contentious legal types of Cicero. In The orator Cicero emphasizes the importance of learning all of the ins and outs of the law if you want to become a rhetor, because it was assumed that you would be involved in the court system on one side or the other. Again, this was all personal—the idea of separate lawyers who represent you in court is only a few hundred years old.
So what does this have to do with what I’ll expect to see when I show up for jury duty? Well, I don’t think I’ll see the defendant and plantiff respresenting themselves, although they might, especially if this is one of those sweet small-claims deals. If not, there will be lawyers who rae taking the case not because of any great affection for the parties, but because they’re getting paid. And they will be making speeches, not because they have any great passion for it, but because they’re professionals good at what they do. Acutaly, if you think about the complaints that people make against lawyers in our society—that they’re insincere and slimy and only after the money—those are the same complainst people had of logographers and rhetors. The legal arguments I’ll hear will almost certainly invoke ideas of wrongdoing and talk about the character of the parties involved. And I and my five or eleven fellow jurors will get a say in justice, just like the hundreds of Athenian jurors back in the days of Isocrates.
Wed, 20 January 2016
Juana Ramirez y Asbaje had a lot going against her from the beginning. She was born to unmarried parents and her father took off after two siblings were born. Being illegitimate with no dowery in 17th century Mexico was not a recipe for an easy life, but Juana had one thing going for her—she was very, very talented. Her overall brainyness was evident form her eariliet childhood. She used to sneak off to go read, in a time and culture when few people of her class and sex were literate, and she even learned to read and compose in Latin.
** But because “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” Juana was also helped out by her intense physical beauty and charm. These helped get her noticed by the king’s representative in Mexico, who patronized her studies.
One of the moments that I’d love most to observe in the Wayback Machine would be when Juana’s patron arranged for her to publically field questions from learned men. I can just imagine it: charming and beautiful Juana, still in her teens, surrounded by greybeards stroking their grey beards as she gives wise, thoughtout and pithy analysis on all sorts of erudite subjects. It must have been a rush for her, as well as the observers.
But remember how Juana had no money, no power and no rich husband? All that braininess and no where in 17th century Mexico to use it. She was convinced to join religious orders, even though she didn’t particularly feel a vocation to it. It was a place where she believed she could read, write and continue to study.
And she did, but the circumstances were not as favorable as they might have been. Sor Juana, as she was now, put together the biggest library in New Spain, complete with musical instruments and scientific objects as well as books and manuscripts. Her own writing, especially her volumes and volumes of poems, were prized by her patrons, one of whom, the Countess de Paredes, brought her writing to Spain, where Sor Juana became a literary sensation. In fact, all across the Spanish colonial world, Sor Juana’s wisdom, wit and skill as a writer were being acclaimed. Except in Mexico.
In Mexico, both the religious authorities directly around and the community as a whole was antsy about Sor Juana’s immense rhetorical prowess. Her astute observation and skill with language, the very things that they were praising in Spain and the other Spanish colonies were being held against her as not becoming a woman, and a nun at that. In fact, Sor Juana’s detailed letter of theological exposition was published without her consent as an example of her brilliance—but also as a criticism of her misusing her time. It’s hard to know how Juana felt when she discovered the publication of “Letter Worthy of Athena,” but we know what she did—she fought back with all of her brilliance and rhetorical power. She wrote a response letter that defended her own education and promoted women’s education in general.
Sor Juana gives examples of the many educated women in both secular and scriptureal accounts: Deborah the prophetess and the Queen of Sheba, Esther who persuaded a king and Aspasia, Pericles’ teacher, and all the Muses. And what about St. Paula and Queen Isabella?
These examples aren’t the only arrows in Sor Juana’s quiver. She also uses the perhaps misogynistic words of Paul the Aposotle against her accusers. Since Paul says that women should be silent in the church, he also describes “The aged women, in like manner, in holy attire, teaching well.” For the commentary Sor Juana cites, it becomes clear that women may not be preachingin public places, but participating in a private sphere where education among and within women is more edifying. As she says “What impropriety can there be if an older woman, learned in letters and holy conversation and customs, should have in her charge the education of young maids?” St. Jerome himself, Sor Jauna points out, thought ti was important to teach young girls the geneology of the prophets and the poetry of the psalms.
In fact, women can teach other women in ways that men can’t. If a male teacher might pressure his young female charges to impropriety, a female teacher can teach her charges more safely. “for if there were no greater risk than the simple indeceny of seating a completely unknown man at the side of a bashful woman[…] even so the modest demanded in interchange with men and in conversation with them gives sufficient cause to forbid this. Indeed, I do not see how the custom of men as teachers of women can be without its dangers” except, she adds quickly “in the strict tribunal of the confessional or the distand teachings of the pulpit or the remote wisdome of books” But for intimate teaching, the kind of one-on-one instruction that makes young people intimate with their tutors, women are best.
And Sor Juana posits that we definitely need teachers. Scriptures are not always very clear because of the metaphoric language used throughout. For example, she says, consider the injunction to “honor the purple” which means “obey the king” Without a tutor, a young girl might not pick up the metonymy and think about redecorating or dressing in purple more often, like the Unicorn Club in Sweet Valley Twins. And it’s not just parts of speech that young women need a tutor for—there are questions of culture and custom in understanding scripture too. Sor Juana points out that the kiss of greeting or the washing of feet or the phrase that a strong woman’s “husband is honorable in the gates” can’t be understood unless someone who has a lot of careful learning can instruct in the correct interpretation. Otherwise, “for lack of any Christian teaching” these “young girls go to perdition.”
Whether this remarkable defense of women’s rhetorical education had any impact on her detractors or whether they responded to it as all is unknown, but she kept learning and kept writing, gaining far more acclaim in Spain than in her native Mexico where pressures on Juana kept mounting. She sold her wonderful library, denounced her old life and died of disease. She was only in her forties.
Sor Juana’s life and writing stand as somber testiments that even talented rhetors who make strong arguments in beautiful language aren’t always successful in winning over their audiences. Like Cicero, who was beheaded despite his rhetorical genius, Sor Juana’s brilliance was unable to save her from her destractors. But also like Cicero, Juana’s reputation has only shone brighter with time, long after her critics have turned all to dust.
Wed, 13 January 2016
Speech acts debate
Mere rhetoric a podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movements that have shaped the rhetorical world.
Probably one of the best titles of any book in rhetorical history is J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words. In fact, this is often what I tell people is what rhetoric is all about: doing things with words. But actually, Austen had something more in mind when he prepared these 12 lectures for Harvard Universitiy in 1955. All words do something—encourage, persuade, shame— but this philosopher points out that some words are what he calls “performative”—their utterance does something. Think, for example of the phrase “I now declare you man and wife,” which creates a marriage in the utterance, or “I knight you Sir Patrick Stewart” or “We christen this ship the USS Lollipop” which do similar sorts of things through the words themselves.
Now Austin doesn’t think that words themselves are the only things that create whatever these performative speech acts create: after all, the state says that only certain people with certain qualifications are allowed to go around to marry or knight or christen. Austin says that speech acts can be “misfired” when the procedure is done incorrectly, under the incorrect circumstances or by incorrect people. If I try to knight you, the act wasn’t false—the words still make sense because there is such a thing as knighting, and they grammatically hang together—but you don’t get to call yourself a knight of the rhelm because the act misfired. The other way that these speech acts can fail to get off the ground is if they’re done insincerely or without the right internal condition. Think of marriages performed in plays or movies, or quoting someone else or any comment you’ve made that you’ve followed up with a “just kidding!” So although Austin is far more complex than that in practice, the crux of his lectures are this: words can do things, unless the authority isn’t right and unless the act was done insincerely. It’s a nice little book—not too big and with a good deal of the wry Britsh academic humor which the 1950s, along with tweed and horne glasses, brimmed with.
But it started something more.
Speech act theory, as Austin’s ideas became more developed, became the arena of one of the greatest debates in language philosophy: John Searle on the one and hand J. Derrida on the other.
Derrida, as you can imagine, was fascinated by much of this, including Austin’s rakish suggestion that we might not know when someone IS being sincere, so how do we know when the act has gone off? If I say, “just kidding” afterwards, does that undo the snide comment? For Derrida, jokes, sarcasm, or fiction don’t invalidate speech acts, because such non-serious or "parasitic" speech are in no way distinquishable from any other speech act: how do we know when someone is being insincere?
Searle wrote a short response to Derrida "Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida", saying that Austin wasn’t including those types of speech as performative speech acts because they were beyond the scope of his argument.
In “Limited Inc a b c …” Derrida claims that “no intention can ever be fully conscious” to an author(s) (73). This author(s), so decentralized and unoriginal, is not even necessary to their writing because “writing […] must be able to function in the absence of the sender, the receiver, the context of production, etc.” (48 These insincere utterances, are not simple mistakes of the serious. Derrida states that, “A corruption that is ‘always possible’ cannot be a mere extrinsic accident” (77). In this sense, Derrida reads Austin as viewing “the parasite [as] part of so-called ordinary language, and it is part of it as a parasite” (97); however, before he is done, Derrida will “reverse the order of dependence” and assert that this “so-called ordinary language” is, in fact, a subspecies of the parasite (104).
Anyway, they go back and forth like that for a while, which is not surprising, because Searle, as a analytic philosopher has a radically different view on the purpose of philosophy than Derrida the deconstructionist does. Mostly the argument involves the two of them complaining that the other doesn’t understand what they’re trying to do, as well as Searle saying that Derrida isn’t a serious enough philosopher who and Derrida saying Searle needs to remove a stick from his orifice. Enlightening stuff like that.
But both of them wanted some claim on Austin’s speech acts. Early in “Limited Inc a,b,c…” Derrida derisively referred to Sarl and (their) ilk as “self-made, auto-authorized heirs of Austin”—those who take themselves as the defenders of a created Austin orthodoxy (37). While Derrida did spend a lot of time talking about copyright, he didn’t spend too much of his limited ink (ha) talking about the implications of claiming and owning the speech act philosophy. He did criticize, heavily, though, the idea that his claim on Austin’s ideas were somehow illegitimate. He chaffed at the title of Sarl’s second chapter—“Derrida’s Austin”—and the claim that “Derrida’s Austin is unrecognizable” (qt in Limited 88, italics in original). Much of what he does in “Limited Inc” is to assert that his (mis?) interpretation of Austin is just as valid a continuing of the tradition as Sarl’s. In fact, there is a Sarl’s Austin as clearly as there is a Derrida’s.
And there is also a Sarl’s Derrida and Derrida’s Searle, with caused both philosophers a lot of frustration, often claiming that words and concepts attributed to them were not in the original and making frequent pleas that his interlocutors just read again his original piece and see what was actually there.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that an analytic philosopher and a deconstructionist would have a hard time understanding each other’s positions on something as crucial for each of them as whether there is a distinction between serious and non-serious language. But despite the frustration and often pettiness of the debate, I kind of love that it happened. It created some of Derrida and Searle’s best work, as they both engaged the opposition and found news ways to describe their positions on what Austin wrote. When you think about all the pages that Derrida and Searle produced in this particular controversy, it seems like the engagement was fruitful.
I don’t wan to editorialize too much, but it seems like sometimes we just disengage with theorists or thinkers we don’t agree with, instead of wrestling with them. Not that I think Searle and Derrida were always scholarly about their disagreement, but I rather like that they took each other seriously enough to engage. So me, for my part, I declare this a Very Fruitful Debate, for which speech act I have absolute authority.
Wed, 6 January 2016
Remember when genres were easy? Second grade, we start learning about genres, about fiction and non-fiction (in fact one of my sister’s childhood brushes with literary greatness was asking whether Ray Bradbury enjoyed writing fiction or non-fiction best in a Q&A session after a reading.) A little while later, we learned more sophisticated genres—novel, poetry, drama, satire, fable, book report, coming-of-age story, faux epistolary, application letter, ethnogenesis, thesis. We tend to take genres for granted in our everyday, and even scholarly lives. But how do we learn to identify a genre when we see it? What goes into our interpretation of it? How—and when-- do we learn to write them ourselves? A branch of composition theory called Genre Theory investigations these questions and, in the process, uncovers more about the relationships among reading, writing and societal hegemony.
Genre has been around as a concept for a long time, not just in fourth grade, but back to the Greeks, which means back to—who else?—Aristotle. Aristotle had strong feelings about the sort of characteristics that lyric poetry and epic poetry, comedy and tragedy ought to contain. He wrote about much of this in a slim little volume called Poetics. These strict divisions between genres continued for a millennia, as Romans and later European Scholastics insisted that there was something different between an epic poem and a satire.
But what about a slightly satiric satire and a very satiric satire? What about satires about love or satires about politics? Were they different genres? This question flummoxed the taxonomies of the Enlightenment thinkers who studied genre. John Locke tried to break down genre to the atomic level and David Harltey went even further:
“How far the Number of Orders may go is impossible to say. I see no Contradiction in supposing it infinite, and a great Difficulty in stopping at any particular Size.”
In the 20th century, people began to look at genres not as just something that exists out there as a form, but as something that is constructed. We make something a genre when we call something a genre. But why should we even care to have genres? What’s the advantage of having a word called satire or for that matter dissertation, book review or podcast?
In 1984, Carolyn Miller examined this question from the perspective of rhetorical exigence. Lloyd Bitzer had written a text called “The Rhetorical Situation,” in which he argued that circumstances will present a moment of exigence, where audience, subject, everything is ripe for the rhetor to occupy the rhetorical moment. Miller continued from Bitzer’s idea to suggest that genres arise as people repeatedly come up against similar situations. If there’s a need for a group of people to say things in a certain way and that need comes up over and over again, that genre will spring into life as a shorthand for what the social situation required. Miller draws on the work of Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamison, who argued that it’s not so much that genres exist out there as fun taxonomies that we can fiddle around with, like Aristotle, but that genres, rather, tell us about the societies that produced them, about what their priorities are. For example, if biologists in the Enlightenment find themselves increasingly interested in knowing the methods and materials of an experiment, then each time a biologist writes he (and let’s be honest, it was usually a he) will begin to include more detailed information on methods and materials. Anticipating the needs or potential criticisms of his audience, the biologist will create a genre that answers those needs. Miller pointed out that these are perceived needs, not needs that exist somewhere else. Perceived needs, not needed needs. As she puts it, “At the center of action is a process of interpretation,” (156). Because the biologist wants his work to be read as a scientific article, not just a letter or a diary entry, he forms it in a way that lets it be read that way. You’ve probably run into this yourself when you were first writing a new genre: did you write your first literary analysis with a little too much summary because you were used to the genre of a book report? Have you ever written a cover letter or professional email in a way that was, for the situation, too breezy and casual? As Miller puts it, “Form shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction, so to speak, about how to perceive and interpret; this guidance disposes the audience to anticipate, to be gratified, to respond in a certain way” (157). Studying genre, for the rhetorician, then means “genres can serve both as an index to cultural patters and as tools for exploring the achievements of particular speakers and writers; for the student, genres serve as keys to understanding how to participate in the actions of a community” (165).
Miller’s article launched a movement in rhetoric. Called Rhetorical Genre Studies, or RGS, these scholars examine genres as social actions, which occur over and over again to meet their rhetorical situation.
Berkenkotter and Huckin expanded Miller’s argument: "Our thesis is that genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use and that genre knowledge is therefor best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities" (78). Whew. Let’s break that down a bit. Essentially they’re saying that every discipline, say biology, is going to require its adherents to think a certain way when approaching one of those rhetorical situations. To use a non-biology example, think of the image of a volcano erupting. Everyone is running away, except the photojournalist who responds to the repeatable situation of natural disaster by reading it as “great chance for a shot’ instead of “This could kill me.” So the photographer runs towards, instead of away from the volcano because she is a photographer. Similarly, there’s nothing about a biological experiment that means that it has to be written about in a scientific paper—you could write a haiku, but if you’re a biologist wanting to write to other biologists in a biology journal, you’re probably going to write a scientific article.
As you’re probably realizing, genres rely heavily on communities. In fact, in their very excellent book Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research and Pedagogy, Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff point out: “Since part of what defines a genre is its placement within a system of genre relations within and between activity systems, genres cannot be defined or taught only through their formal features” (103). It’s not enough to say, “A scientific article includes a methods section.” You have to think about why biologists include method sections, how “doing biology writing” situates the author within a world that values description of methods. Because that may change. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that genres will change as the discourse communities around them change. Charles Bazerman, who made a long study of the way that scientific articles have changed over 300 years, has said “Genres are not just forms. Genres are forms of life, ways of being.”
There’s a lot more that we could say about genre, but don’t have space here. There’s Anne Freadman notion of “uptake, ” for instance. And the work of Anis Barwashi. And lots more. But the critical thing is that genre theory describes how communities that overlap and change creating these “forms of life, ways of being” that can be recognizable, whether in a lab report, a literary analysis. Or, who knows, even a podcast.
Wed, 30 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric: a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, movements, and people that have shaped rhetorical history. I'm Mary Hedengren.
Last time we did a podcast, I was at the Rhetorical Society of America's biannual meeting in San Antonio. Well now that the conference is over and everybody is home, I thought I might go through a few of the things that happened at this conference.
The conference lasted from Friday all the way to Monday afternoon, and included a lot of interesting presentations. If you've never been to a rhetoric conference before, it can be kind of daunting to see all of the different types of papers. For example, we had papers on things like "Bordering on Obsolescense: The Fate of Race-Based Affirmative Action After Fisher v. Texas", "Queer Technotopias: Technology, Cyberspace, and Queer Politics in the Digital Age", or how about "The Gendered Borders of Sports Rhetoric". What about something a little bit more traditional, like "Rhetoric, Poetic, Aesthetic: Studies in Ancient Theory", or "Approaches to the Rhetoric of War" or "Rhetorics of Birth." There's so many different topics. And it would be impossible for me to give you a full range of all of the many different presentations from great scholars from around the country and around the world. But I'm going to talk about a couple of the presentations that many people were able to see.
They first is the keynote address by Linda Martin Alcoff. Alcoff is actually a philosopher -- she teaches in a philosophy department. But much of her work fits in with rhetoric. She gave the keynote address titled Whiteness on the Border: What Happens When the Walls Come Down, on Friday. And this topic addressed the future of whiteness as whites cease to be the majority, but still enjoy white privilege. As racial demographics in the U.S. shift in the next 20 years, Linda Martin Alcoff suggested the future of what whiteness is will change. We can't just say that we'll be in a post-racial society where race doesn't matter and only class is the difference, Alcoff says, because
"We need race to explain how class functions."
While whites often describe themselves in complex percentages of European backgrounds -- 15% Swiss, 12% German -- they will have to give up on identifying as white and become what Alcoff calls "a particular among particulars," instead of the default race. In this situation, some white people are going to feel dissettled and feel like they're a minority surrounded by other minorities. She illustrates the displaced white figure through two films that talk about this anxiety: Dances with Wolves and Avatar. In both of these films, the white man becomes a fish out of water, recognizing the moral deficiencies of his previous experience, and clumsily trying to assimilate into an alien culture. In Avatar, the culture is literally alien, and the hero decides to stay in the culture. He integrates in a way to stay forever, instead of returning back to white culture as a figure of prophecy, like in Dances With Wolves. But somehow, he still maintains his super heroic white privilege; not just seamlessly integrating, but becoming the culture's preeminent warrior, and even savior. Although outnumbered and displaced in the alien culture, the hero retains privilege while still being a minority, like a white reconceptualization of a post-white majority America.
On Sunday, Krista Ratcliffe also talked a little bit about race and whiteness. Her address was called Aristotle, Enthymemes, and Rhetorical Listening. Rhetorical listening is Ratcliffe's idea that the audience kind of needs to be pulling its own weight in considerations of rhetoric. And it was first articulated in discussions of, again, whiteness. Ratcliffe's book, Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, confronted the problem that many people -- especially white people -- have a difficult time resisting the pull of oppression. And so,
"Rhetorical listening compels us to contemplate arguments based on the relation to culture and to engage the possibilities of bringing those differences together,"
in the words of one review. That's the identification stuff again, which may be familiar to those who are fans of Burke, is a sense that you connect and disconnect with different groups. In this address though, Ratcliffe expanded on rhetorical listening to discuss the enthymeme the enthymeme, if you're not familiar, is sometimes called the rhetorical syllogism. And the syllogism is a series of proofs leading to a conclusion. For example, you might have a formal proof that says
"If it is raining, rain will get in, and it will be unpleasant."
And then have another sub-point that says
"If you close the window, rain won't get in."
And then have a conclusion that says
"Therefore, shut the window so that it doesn't get wet and unpleasant inside."
Now in an enthymeme, you cut out one or two of those. So you might just tell somebody "Oh it's raining, shut the window," without stopping to explain to them that you need to shut the window so the rain doesn't get in, and that if the rain gets in, it will be unpleasant. So the enthymeme is this way of assuming that your audience has some sort of knowledge that will fill in the gaps. Now this comes into play really differently in terms, for example, of race. Different views and philosophies of race will interpret the phrase "race matters" in different ways. So if you're a white supremacist intent on essentializing and separating groups, you're going to say "race matters". Whereas "race matters" is going to mean something different to somebody who is doing work like the stuff Linda Martin Alcoff is doing: how race impacts cultural and class relations. You have to consider how the audience or author has constructed that particular enthymeme.
Well the Rhetoric Conference of 2014 had a lot to offer. It happens every two years, and there are a lot of projects besides just panel presentations. There were groups who were working together to workshop their stuff, there was an undergraduate research section, there were sections for professionals to meet together and graduate students to meet together. There were even reconsiderations of previous debates that had happened, where writers who had written to each other in their scholarship were able to respond to each other. Lots of great stuff. And I hope that we'll be able to see you next time in 2016 when the conference reconvenes in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm especially excited about this one because Greg Clark is in charge of it, and he was my old mentor. So I hope that we'll be able to see you in Atlanta in 2016.
Thu, 17 December 2015
Welcome back to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we today we continue our exploration of the baddies of rhetoric.
Last week we talked about Thomas Hobbes and his rhetoric-hating ways for our first villain of rhetoric. Next in our series of the badnicks of rhetoric is Peter Ramus, or, if you will, Petrus Ramus. Ramus came before Hobbes, and he’s definitely one of the people that rhetoricians point to as a villain
As James Jasinski once said, "the range of rhetoric began to be narrowed during the 16th century, thanks in part to the works of Peter Ramus.”
And who was this villain?
Ramus was born in Cuts, France. His father was a farmer and his grandfather a charcoal-burner. He became a servant to a rich scholar at the College de Navarre. Ramus was educated at home until he was 12 at which time he entered the Collège de Navarre in Paris. He graduated with a Master's Degree in 1536, defending a thesis on Aristotle. After graduation Ramus taught, first at the Collège de Mans, then at the Collège de l'Ave Maria in Paris where he taught until 1572.”
Walter Ong chonroicled the way in which Ramus kicked rhetoric down off in the trivium in his Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason The title of this book gives away pretty clearly what Ramus did: ramus wanted to decrease the importances of discourse to what he called reason. Remember when we talkeda bout the canons of rhetoric? In case you’re just joining us or you’ve forgotten: It’s what the Pirate says I alwys state my demands Invention, arrangement, style memory delivery. Ramus proposed moving the invention, arrangement and memory out of the rhelm of rhetoric into logic, under a new name: iudicium (judgment).
He redefined the trivium of grammar dialectic and rhetoric
“Grammar’s two parts are etymology and syntax; dialectic’s two parts are invention and arrangement; and the two parts of rhetoric are style and delivery.”
Ramus's goal is to show that many of the categories that Aristotle came up with regarding rhetoric, which Cicero and Quintilian and others followed, are either arbitrary or actually false, because the divisions divide the subject at the wrong joints. I think Ramus is, for the most part, right, though he is being a little more strict than the subject matter allows [per Aristotle].
Ramus says: Quintilian has added all kinds of things to rhetoric that do not belong to it. Rather, these things might be necessary in rhetoric, e.g., grammar, or must exist in the good orator, e.g., virtue, but these are not what rhetoric itself is about, as an art. Ramus identifies rhetoric with what earlier writers call eloquence, limiting its scope to style and delivery. Invention, order, and memory, he says, belong more properly to dialectic (which ends up being very similar to philosophy). In this way, rhetoric seems to be separated from both the audience and the pisteis of the argument. This makes sense, but only so long as it is remembered that rhetoric [eloquence] is nothing without dialectic as its counterpart [per Aristotle]. Ramus evidently believes that rhetoric can be taught apart from dialectic, even though speeches and even literature and poetry are constructed out of both. Dialectic and rhetoric work together in "stirring the emotions and causing delight" (Newlands 124), but training in ethics is the better place to go to learn about the emotions properly.
As walter Ong says
Prime inditement against Ramus as one whose work “could in no real sense be considered an advance or even a reform in logic” (5) because he was “living off the increment of intellectual capital belonging to others” (7)
“Ramist rhetoric […] is not a dialogue rhetoric at all, and Ramist dialectic has lost all sense of Socratic dialogue” (287), because, as Ramus says, “The art of dialectic is the teaching of how to discourse” (qtd. 160) and as for rhetoric “Ramist rhetoric relies more on ornamentation theory than perhaps any other rhetoric ever has “ (277).
In the place of rhetoric, Ramus recommended a type of logic that depends on what he called “Method”—“orderly pedagogical presentation of any subject by reputedly scientific descent from ‘general principles’ to ‘specials’” in bifurcated charts (11). These charts are familiar to us now, especially when we thinking about flow charts and technology branches. It’s also very familiar to those of us who grew up reading Choose Your Own Adcentures. It’s about splitting all of your options in to. For example Ramus creates a tree of cicero’s life. At the beginning, you have the two choices: life and death. Death is a dead end, but if you follow life, that splits into his birth and his parents on one hand and his learning on the other. Follow learning and you haveanother split between old age and youth. Follow old age and you’ll find his public career and his retirement. Following these branches, you can follow a yes or a no throughout Cicero’s life. This is a great sort of organization for computers to follow because of its bifurcation and it’s handy also when you’re following a taxonomy, but it isn’t the most useful for coming up with ideas that exists in non dialectical order. Still this method could be used for invention and memory, just as Ramus wanted.
According to Yeates (1966):
"...one of the chief aims of the Ramist movement for the reform and simplification of education was to provide a new and better way of memorising all subjects. This was to be done by a new method whereby every subject was to be arranged in ‘dialectical order’. This order was set out in schematic form in which the ‘general’ or inclusive aspects of the subject came first, descending thence through a series of dichotomised classifications to the ‘specials’ or individual aspects. Once a subject was set out in its dialectical order it was memorised in this order from the schematic presentation – the famous Ramist epitome." (p.232
“Ramus became a convert to Calvinism in the 1550s and in so doing became caught up in the politics associated with the French Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Calvinistic Huguenots. The Duc de Guise, a Catholic, took control of the royal family in Paris. This resulted in uprisings by the Calvinist Huguenots throughout France and a ruthless response by Duc de Guise. Near the end of 1562, the Calvinists were forced to leave Paris, and Ramus left with them.
In 1572, after spending time both in and out of Paris, Ramus planned to return permanently to Paris under protection of the King. Despite this protection, during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in which a Roman Catholic mob attacked and murdered Protestant Huguenots, Ramus was assassinated. Following his death he became regarded by Protestants as a martyr.“
Ong argues that it was in part because of Ramus’ martyrdom that he became so popular in England and other Protestant
Ramus was incredibly influential for centuries, first in the Protestant continent, and then in England and America (47). Most importantly, perhaps, “Ramism assimilated logic to imagery and imagery to locig by reducing intelligence itself, more or less unconsciously, in terms for rather exclusively visual, spatial analogies” (286).
Ramus was influencial, but he also limited the role of rhetoric to eloquence, to the style and delivery of ideas rather than the invention of them. It would take centuries for rhetoricians to wrestle these elements of the canon back to the rhelm of rhetoric but the idea that rhetoric equals style is still with us. Just think of how often we hear politicians say their opponents have lots of hollow rhetoric without any good ideas.
Next week we’ll go even earlier to talk about the renaissance debates about rhetoric, so we’ll have a whole super team of rhetoric villains, all plotting to limit the scope or influence of rhetoric. If you have an idea for a series you’d like to hear on Mere Rhetoric, why not drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org? I’ll listen respectfully, because I am not personally a super villain.