Mere Rhetoric

On Christian Teaching


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. Big thanks to the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project for supporting the podcast.


Today we get to talk about the saint who brought classical rhetoric into the realm of Christian homiletics. Augustine was a fourth century saint whose life in someways demonstrates the great sea-changes in the Mediterranean world of rhetoric, education and religion. His father was pagan, his mother was Christian and young Augustine describes himself as a bit of a genius hedonist in his Confessions. His teachers were supposedly terrible, but he mastered the standards of a Roman education—Virgil and Cicero. He eventually became a rhetoric teacher in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He taught rhetoric all told for somewhere between ten and fifteen years, before his eventual conversion to Christianity and vocation as a priest and the bishop of Hippo. He must have spent a lot of time pondering the question of how his previous career as one who taught other people how to persuade could be reconciled with his new religion’s emphasis on inspiration. If God will give the preacher exactly the words which he needs, either through scripture or through divine inspiration, is there any space for a Christian rhetoric? He started working on his definition of Christian rhetoric as early as the 390s, but On Christian Teaching wasn’t finished until 427, only three years before his death. Throughout those forty years, Augustine must have thought about the practical question of whether Christian preachers could be trained to give better sermons, much as he had spent more than a decade teaching young men in the principles secular rhetoric.


The first argument that Augustine has to make is that Christian teaching can be rhetorical. Rhetoric was seen as pagan and more than a little sneaky. Augustine argues that rhetoric may be used by Christians as a means of spoiling of Egypt to adorn the temples of Jerusalem (Green’s 64-7). The biblical allusion he’s making comes from the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt who took pagan gold with them to make their own religious items. Augustine’s metaphor implies that rhetoric, like the gold itself, is valuable, but it must be melted down and essentialized from its current pagan form. Augustine goes on to argue that Christians not only benefit from using rhetoric, but they avoid rhetoric at their own peril. Because “rhetoric is used to give conviction to both truth and falsehood” why should truth “stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood” (101)? So Augustine argues that rhetoric has both positive and defensive value, but as part of the melting down of the pagan gold idols, he recommends several key differences from classical rhetoric.


First, the similarities: there’s a lot that Augustine believes that the Christian can be taught about oratory, especially he classical idea of the three levels of speaking, high, middle and plain. He is very willing to steal the gold, also, of the three aims of the orator, to instrut, delight and move, which Augustine calls “to be listened to with understanding, with pleasure and with obedience” (87). Even the methods of instruction can be taken from the pagan rhetors. Imitation looms large, except more Paul, perhaps, and less Cicero. Augustine sees the bible as not just source material, but examplars. This is a very Classical way of teaching style. Augustine’s destinction between “things” (the content) and “signs” (the proclaimation of the content) is itself a very classical distinction. Augustine’s “Egyptian gold” seems to be of a very Platonic and Ciceronian ore, but he does melt it down to reform it into a more Christian shape through two important moves.



First, Augustine puts a heavy emphasis on the ethos of the speaker. Classical rhetoric, too, especially Cicero, who Augustine read, valued ethos, but for Augustine, the character of the preacher is important for practical as well as theological reasons. Augustine demands that the speaker live a good life and be in companionship with the inspiration of the Spirit of God. While Augustine admits that “A wise and eloquent speaker who lives a wicked life certainly educates many who are eager to learn, although he is useless to his own soul,” he believes that the speaker in front on an audience should, in the best case, be the best sort of man (142). The speaker who is a good person can teach through acts as well as through words. By living lives that were beyond reproach, the preachers who follow Augustine “benefit far more people if they practiced what they preached” (143). This follows Paul’s injunction to his own teacher-in-training, Timothy, when he says about bishops that they “must have a good report of them which are without” (1 Tim. 3:7). The people outside of the church as well as in, would be best to have a good example teaching them


            But for Augustine, it’s not enough just to live a moral life—pagan Stoics and Epicureans can similarly follow rules they have made for themselves. Augustine also says that the preacher needs to pray and receive the Holy Ghost’s instruction. The preacher needs to pray in preparation “praying for himself and for those he is about to address” (121). He needs the prayer in order to be able to be an instrument of the Spirit and the audience need the prayer so they can be receptive to the message. The preacher gets the truth of the subject as well as the delivery from the prayer. As a vessel fro the truth the preacher prays so he “can utter what he had drunk in and pour out what has filled him” (121). Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121). The idea behind this is that eloquence can come as does inspiration to speak the right thing—from the inspiration of the Spirit.

Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121).

This idea that the preacher can appeal to divine eloquence instead of considering the rhetorical situation has made several 20th century scholars frustrated with Augustine. Kenneth Burke complains in Rhetoric of Motives that Augustine seeks “cajoling of an audience [not] routing of opponents.” I don’t pretend to know every Burke means, but that seems like a bit of an unfair argument because Augustine spends most of his time describing homiletics, a genre that operates on the assumption that the speaker and the audience are already in agreement on most of the key principles, if not the application and degree. Once they’ve put on the stiff suit, or itchy nylons and are sitting on the hard-backed pews at an unreasonable hour of a Sunday morning, you’ve already won a large part of the battle. Your audience is probably less diametrically opposed to you than would be, say, the senate in a legislative speech or the jury in a judicial speech. Stanley Fish objects that that Augstine’s dependence on spirit depreciates the speaker, which is actually a very old argument against Christian homiletics. In the Renaissance, rhetoric was a scary idea in general and we’ll talk about Wayne Rebhorn’s books about rhetoric debates later, but the key thing is that Augustine along with his critics had to deal with how rhetoric fits into one of the key Christian paradoxes: that men are both “little lower than the angels” and also “less than the dust of the earth.” Fish is right that Augustine’s reliance on spirit depreciates the agency of the speaker, but he neglects that for Augustine the steps necessary to receive the spirit—obedience and prayer—are responsibilities of the speaker, as necessary to a Christian canon of rhetoric as invention and arrangement. And it’s not just a Christian rhetoric that Augustine is describing here: it’s a neo-Platonic one.

Plato’s influence is seen all over On Christian Doctrine. You might not remember from our episode on the Pheadrus, but Plato believed that eternal truths about, for example, beauty could be “remembered” in this world. What we are remembering are the glimpses of truth that we were able to see in a spirit world where we were able to control our rash desires. In other words, when we were obedient to our better selves. Augustine was a big fan of Plato, but as a rhetorician, he probably liked the pro-rhetoric Plato best. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine seeks a way to reconcile his neo-Platonist philosophy, Christianity and the idea that good preaching is a skill that can be teachable and improved. In the turn of the fourth century, Augustine witnessed both the 410 sack of Rome and the 430 Vandal invasion of Hippo, his own home. He lived right on the boundary between the end of the old, Roman Mediterranean world and the rise of the Christian European one. In all of the tumultuous change that was about to begin, Augustine recommended adaption, not revolution, as Christians reused the best rhetorical practices of the pagan world to build their new era.






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

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 CST

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 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 CST

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 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 CST



Welcome to MR the podcast about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today we’re going to be talking about what are perhaps some old ideas, but from a fresh angle. What if the way we thought about traditional rhetoric in a more modern context? But first, let me give a shout out to the Humanities Media Project, whose support lets us record these podcasts in such sound-proof-room splendor, and Jacob in the booth, who not only lets me know when I’ve muttered my lines, but edits it up so that it doesn’t sound like I did. Okay, back to the show.

Rhetoric is a field bound by tradition. And no tradition is more traditional than Aristotle’s original three appeals: ethos logos pathos. Often times I think that if my first year composition students learn one thing this semester, it is ethos logos pathos and if they remember one thing five years after this semester, it will be ethos, logos and pathos. But one of the problems with the appeals is that they are ethos, logos and pathos--weird Greek words that don’t exactly map onto English easily. I’m forever explaining that a pathetic appeal isn’t a terrible one, or a tragic one, or that logos doesn’t just mean computer-program logic. M. Jimmie Killingsworth set out to reform and modernise the appeals in his 2005 text  titles, appropriately enough, “Appeals in Modern Rhetoric:an Ordinary-Language approach.”


Killingsworth breaks down the appeals in this way: Appeals to authority and evidence; appeals to time; appeals to place; appeals to the body; appeals to gender; appeals to race; appeals to race; appeals through tropes and the appeal of narrative.


Some of these may see straightforward and ever-lasting: appeals to authority, for instance, seem as old as time and require rhetors to judiciously determine which authorities are authoritative for them as well as for the audience.   But some of the appeals restructure how we think about rhetoric. Appeals to time, for instance, is a general way to describe how Aristotle’s other division, the genres of rhetoric, relate to each other. The genres of rhetoric, you might recall, include forensic (looking at the past), epideictic (looking at the present) and deliberative (looking towards the future). Again, because these genres seem very distant to modern audiences, Killingsworth translates into contemporary business writing:” reports narrate the pass, instructions deal with actions in the present time and proposals mak arguments for future action” (38). But these genres aren’t just neutral--they may an argument to the audience. Arguing that something is modern, or urgent is an appeal in itself, as does harkening back to the halcyon days of yesteryear. Instead of thinking of genres as genres, Killingsworth encourages us to think of them as arguments.


Killingsworth also breaks down the appeal about the author into some of the key identities which modern rhetors might use: appeals to race and to gender. He also pulls a bit an Aristotle himself in classifying these appeals further. TAke, for instance, appeal to race, where he talks about the way that racial stereotypes creates an othering. Fine, we might say, we all know that racial stereotypes create a wedge between groups, and “reduce the complexity of individuals and cultural groups” (99) but how exactly does this happen? In three ways, Killingworth suggests, in true artistotlean fashion. “Diminishment of character involves the denial of key human qualities” such as assuming that a group of people don’t love their children as keenly as another or that a group doesn’t value romantic love (99-100). Dehumanization goes even further and makes the people into animals or objects. The extreme example of this is chattel slavery, which completely dehumanizes slaves. Finally, demonization is where a race is seen as superhumanly wicked. “Western devils” for instance, or Indian witches, or black devils, who only exist to perpetrate crimes against another race. (100).


Killingsworth may be straying back difficult terminology when he talks about appeal through tropes--what the heck is a trope? Well, he’s talking about the four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony, but he’s going to describe what they are and how they work as appeals in this way: you can identify one position with another, like a metaphor; you can associate one position with another, like metonymy; you can represent one position by another and you can close the distance between two positions and increase the distance from a third, like irony (121). Let’s give a few practical examples of how that might work. Metaphor, you might remember, is a little like an SAT verbal question. If I say “Cedar pollen smacked me in the face today,” I’m saying pollen is to immune system as fist is to face. In terms of an argument, you might say, like Martin Luther King Jr, that “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is cover up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed” and so make the comparison that activists are to injustice as doctors are to illness (125). Metonymy sustitutes the part for the whole, for example, when someone says they question the bible, they don’t question the existence of such a book, but the validity of the events narrated therein.Synecdoche looks at a critical part for the full. There might be a critical story that tells a fuller story.

For example, if I begin a paper about graduate student writers by telling about a student who was frustrated when her literature professors didn’t give her quizzes about the main characters in the books they read, I’m saying that something about this story relates to how all graduate students feel when they transition from undergraduate programs. Burke calls this the representative anecdote--a small story that represents a larger trend. Irony is, as Killingsworth says, “the most complex and diffitult of the four master tropes” (131). Irony is a beast, and we’ll talk more in-depth about irony this semester when we talk about Booth’s Rhetoric of Irony. Killingsworth here, though, points out that the “crucial elements of iron’ are “Tone and insider knowledge” (132). We come to identify with the rhetor when we hear irony because we’re both in the know.


So once I was describe satire and I described Swift’s a Modest Proposal as a magnificent work of ironic satire and one of my students sat bolt upright in his seat. “That was ironic?!” he said. “I just assumed Swift was some kind of sicko.” Really, Swift says we should eat babies, so how does anyone think he isn’t some kind of sicko? Well, partially because before I read a Modest Proposal, I knew Swift was a clergyman who worked with poor people in Ireland for most of his career, and I also knew that Swift loved satire--he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, after all. Because of my inside knowledge, I was able to interpret Swift’s exaggerations as irony. And then Swift and I get to stand together, winking at each other against the supporters of the Corn Tax. Irony unites the speaker and audience as we poke fun at the subjects of our irony (132-3).


So Killingsworth provides a review of many of the principles of rhetoric we’ve discussed in the podcast and well as a preview of things to come. Rhetoric, he proposes, is not just about stuffy terms and dead Greeks, but something that continues with us in all situations, even in the modern world.

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

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 CST

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 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 CST

Bootstraps, Victor Villanueva


What does a rhetorician look like? When you imagine a rhetorician, maybe you see some white-toga-ed Roman, crossing his legs under his seat, holding a stylus to his chin. Or maybe you imagine a tweedy early twentieth century rhetorician, shaking out a newspaper and frowning. Or maybe you even imagine a contemporary rhetorician, presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America in front of a powerpoint presentation. But here’s a question for you--did you imagine a white rhetorician?


Today on Mere Rhetoric, we talk about Victor Villanueva’s book Bootstraps: from an American Academic of Color, which interrogates our discipline’s white privilege and privileging. But before we get to that, let me start out by thanking some people. First off, much thanks to the Humanities Media Project at the University of Texas at Austin for supporting the show, including letting me record in this great recording booth with great people like Jacob here to record and edit. Also, thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a review of Mere Rhetoric on iTunes. Also thanks to my fiance Krystian for always believing in me. Know how you feel when you get written comments on end of semester evaluations? That’s how I feel everytime someone leaves a review. Finally, since I just came back from a conference where I got to meet some great people who like the podcast, I’d like to give a big shout out to Clancy Ratliff for showing me a great restaurant in Lafayette and her student Nolan, who let me jabber about the connections between creative writing and composition while he showed me where my next session was. If you have strong opinions about the best place to eat in your hometown, or if you have a suggestion for the next episode, why not drop us a line at Okay, enough business--let’s get to it.


I first became aware of the racial imbalance in rhetoric at my first RSA conference. Sharon Crowley was giving one of the key addresses, talking about racism in our students, in our institutions, and at one point I looked around at the audience--and wondered about racism in our own field as well. There were a few black and brown faces, but almost everyone in the great hall was white. We couldn’t, I realized, talk about racism in our classrooms and our colleges without interrogating our own racial assumptions.


That’s exactly what Victor Villanueva sets out to do in Bootstraps. Villanueva is a hot shot rhetorician, by almost any standard possible. He’s received the David H Russell Award for Distinquished Research, the Exemplar Award and Scholarship in English and was Rhetorician of the Year in 1999. Side bar: I did not know there was an award for being Rhetorician of the Year. Somehow, I imagine a People Magazine spread like for Sexiest Man Alive, but with pictures of academics mid-gesture in a lecture or thoughtfully frowning at a computer. Villanueva has also published and edited over 80 books including the essential anthology Cross Talk in Composition and Rhetorics of the Americas: 3114 BCE to 2013 CE. Guy knows his stuff. When you are literally rhetorician of the year, you must be the quintessential rhetorician, confident and poised in your rhetoricianness.


You’d think so.


In Bootstraps, Puerto-Rico-born Villanueva weaves autobiography, scholarship and teacher research together into an exploration of how the academic world can seem uncomfortable and unwelcoming to academics of color. He himself, for his PhD and his 80 books, when he writes about himself in the third person “He still  suffers [the fear that he isn’t as smart as he thinks] today, thirty years later, PhD, publications and all… He has seen the liberal’s fear of being honest with people of color about their abilities; the fear of being considered a bigot .. He has seen that tokenism, even when well-motivated, even though somehow necessary, makes things seem equitable when they aren’t equitable at all… he always wonders if, maybe, he isn’t as smart as people think” (13).


Little commentary here: this feeling, like you don’t belong, is called impostor syndrome and it’s pernicious among graduate students, more especially people who already feel like they don’t belong, as Villaneauva says about his own PhD “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but knew I was getting into something not intended for the likes of me” (xv). I remember when I got accepted at the University of Texas at Austin, I had nightmares that I hadn’t been, in fact, accepted, but had been allowed to complete on a reality to show to gain entrance into UT Austin. “Who Wants to Be a Longhorn?” Other graduate students, professional athletes and actors, and anyone who feels like they got into something for which they secretly might not be qualified suffers from this feeling. We’ll talk about more impostor syndrome in another podcast, but for our purposes here, the key thing to remember is that academics of color, even when they are invited into programs and departments warmly can still doubt the sincerity of the welcome. They can doubt themselves, when the culture has been insisting for their whole lives that academia is “not intended for the likes” of them.   


Villanueva’s education in the 60s certainly didn’t forsee a brilliant rhetoric academic career for little Victor. His first school that assumed that “you people need to learn a trade,” in the words of one of his teachers (3) and at the next one the PE teacher shouted “Go home and get a haircut! And don’t come back until you do!” So, he didn’t (38). Yeah, that’s right--Villanueva, probably one of the most important rhetorical authors of the later 20th century didn’t graduate high school, but the high schools he would have graduated perpetually underestimated him. Only through detours in the military did he finally come to Tacoma Community college: “I wanted to try my hand at college, go beyond the GED. But college scared me. I had been told long again that college wasn’t my lot” (66).


So I started this podcast talking about Sharon Crowley’s speech at RSA, and she shows up at a crucial point in Villaneuva’s life because it was Crowley, “the first person he had ever read who had written of the sophists--a bigshot” (118) who offered him a job. It’s not a happy ending though--material conditions are hard for any young academic and more especially those who don’t have large family resources.


One of the reasons why he had been underestimated is that he was a minority in the nation. That’s a word that’s hard to pin down or used too casually, but Villanueva makes a distinction between the immigrant and the minority: “We behave as if the minority problem where the immigrant problem,” (19) and all we need is to make the minority sound or act like the majority. “The difference between the immigrant and the minority amounts to the difference between immigration and colonization” (29). He tells the story of two of his students arguing about English’s role in the composition classroom. “Both are Latinos, Spanish speakers, but Martha is Colombian; Paul is Puerto Rican. Martha, the immigrant. Paul, the minority. Martha believes in the possibilities for complete structural assimilation; Paul is more cautious” (24). “The immigrant seeks to take on the culture of the majority,” he suggests, “and the majority, given certain preconditions, not leaves of which is displaying the language and dialect of the majority, accepts the immigrant. The minority, even when accepting the culture of the majority,is never wholly accepted. There is always a distance” (23).


“The code switcher is a rhetorical power player,” he quips, pointing to how bilinguals recognize intuitively the fluid nature of language, the rhetorical nuances that comes from understanding the inexact nature of self-translation (23).Villanueva points out that we often assume that cultural shifting happens naturally, without any work, when, in fact, it’s very hard to try to keep both of your identities as an other-American.   Villanueva tells of his own personal experience with assimilation when he was drilled into strict prescriptivist English as a young boy in Puerto Rico. He was criticised for speaking with an accent, but “there was no verbal deprivation at play, just a process that takes time, ‘interlanguage’ to use a sociological term” (32). Eventually he read and listened and spoke more in English until “the accent disappeared, and Spanish no longer came easily, sometimes going through French or through Latin in my head, the languages of my profession, searching for the Spanish with which to speak to my family. Assimilation” (33).


But it’s very difficult to try to be perfect at Spanish and perfect and English. “Biculturalism,” he writes, does not mean to me an equal ease with two cultures. That is an ideal. Rather, biculturalism means the tensions within, which are cause by being unable to deny the old, ot the new ...I resent the tension, that the ideal is not to be realized, that we cannot be the mosaic … nor can we be the melting pot if that were the preference” (39). Those old metaphors, the mosaic and the melting pot, don’t do enough to describe all of the cultures in the country and the complex ways those cultures relate.


The first step, it is implied, is just to make the implicit explicit and recognize that culture is necessarily complex and changing. “It is not enough to recognize and make explicit our cultures. We need to recognize cultures in the context of other cultures, since none of us can be monocultural in America. Mexican americans may have a culture in common with many Mexicans, say, but Mexican Americans also have a culture in common with fellow Americans” (57). It’s like the classic 1997 film Selena where Selena’s dad points out the frustration of trying to navigate two culture and two languages, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”


Selena’s dad is right. It’s additionally important not to essentialize. “Puerto Ricans may be ‘Hispanics.’ Yet our history in general and our history as it pertains to the United States is very different from the histories of both the Mexican American and the Mexican” (57). These differences are sometimes bluntly painted over, through terms like Hispanic or even “minority.” Villanueva tells ruefully of being asked to review an article on Mexican rhetoric, even though he isn’t Mexican, but even if had been Puerto Rican rhetoric, he’s a classicist, working on the sophists. He knows about Isocrates best, so why would he be pigeonholed in this way?


If it’s not obvious by now, Villanueva is also heavily influenced by Marxist thought. He suggests that the ultimate goal of the field of Rhetoric and Composition is to develop the “organic intellectual,” a theory from Antonio Gramsci about the combination of personal experience and academic learning--much like the book Bootstraps itself. Don’t ever say Villanueva doesn’t practice what he preaches. The organic intellectual doesn’t stay in the ivory tower, but “is involved ‘in active participation in practical life’ … an intellectual liaison  between the groups seeking revolutionary change and the rest of civil society” (129).


This perspective should influence everything we do in our weird academic culture--the way we teach our classrooms and the things we research and publish, the way we structure our departments and graduate programs and admissions and graduation requirements.


Villanueva ends the book with a call that I find pretty darn stirring. I’ll give him the last word: “As our status as workers becomes more apparent and as we come more in contact with more of those who are intellectuals from non-traditional backgrounds, we find ourselves in a potentially decisive moment. The  moment is right for America’s intellectuals in traditional academic roles to help organize intellectuals recognize themselves as such and to begin to fuse with them--creating Gransmi’s new intellectuals” (138)

Direct download: 16-03-24_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Bootstraps.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Welcome to MR, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today or rather, the day I wrote this, I got some bad news, so to make up for it, I get to talk about Jeffrey Walker, who is one of my favorite people ever, and I get to talk about one of my favorite books, too, his Genuine Teachers of This Art, subtitled Rhetorical Education in Antiquity.


Basically Walker’s arguing that rhetoric as a field is, at its very core, pedagogical. It’s not just practice of rhetoric or analysis of rhetoric, but that both of these really come into being through the teaching of rhetoric. As he says “by defining ‘the art of the rhetor” as the art of producing a rhetor, one puts the other definitions into relation. The pedagogical project sets the agenda for the critical-rheoretic one and determines the appropriate objects of study… Its pedagogical enterprise is what ultimately makes rhetoric rhetoric and not just a version of something else” (2-3).


Walker’s title comes from a line from Cicero’s dialogs on the orator. Antonius describes Isocrates’ subsequent rhetoric teachers as the “genuine teachers of this art” and Isocrates does feature heavily in how we think about rhetoric and the teaching of rhetoric.


At the center of this text, Walker does the incredible work of reverse engineering the techne or art of rhetoric that Isocrates may have written. We think Isocrates wrote such a treatise. Zosimus’s Life of Isocrates in the the fifth century wrote “It is said that Isocrates also wrote an art of rhetoric bu in the course of time it was lost” (qtd. 57) Cicero, too, and Quintilian, seem to take it for granted that Isocrates had a complete rhetoric treatise. We might, Walker points out, not impose our own publishing tradition on what this would look like. Isocrates’ treatise on rhetoric would be, like Aritotle’s probably was “a  ‘teacher’s manual’ or ‘toolbox’ containing an organized and thus memorizable and searchable, collection of ‘the things that can be taught’ and a stock of explanations and examples” (84).


Combining shorter pieces of Isocrates’ with cited fragments and other sources’ admiration, parody and allusion, Walker reconstructs what this lost document might look like. He suggests that by looking at, say, the legal arguments of Isocrates, you can see evidence of a “rudimentary stasis system”: did they do it? how bad was it? was it legal or right? if it was right was that because of advantage, honor or justice? Of course there’s a bunch of stylistic rules some of which seem uniquely suited to Greek language and culture. And, of course, imitation is paramount. Over all, it seems that Isocrates’ pedagogical philosophy “assumes an ideal student of ready which who can take the imprint of the stylistic models set before him and can quickly come to imitate and absorb them” (153).


One of the key pedagogical assignments, then, is declamation. We don’t think of performance and acting as part of rhetorical discovery, but back in Isocrates’ day,speaking was extremely important, and the old debate practice of speaking your opponents’ words was a key pedagocial practice. Not just your opponent, but just “others” with whom you may or may not agree, sort of playing a part and trying on an argument. Think of it a little as if you were doing mock trial back in high school and some peopel are given the role of defense counsil and some are prosecution and some are witnesses: you have the facts of the case, but then you play the role the best you can within that structure. It’s invention, but also acting and it can be an effective pedagogical tool. As Walker puts it “the student was(is) freed from the pressure to discover the ‘correct answer’” (198) and “because the the student is playing a role, his or her youthful ego is not at stake, and it is possible to both play with the lines or argument and to reflect on them as well” (199).


If you have a question about some of the verbs and pronouns used in those last quotes, it’s because Walker doesn’t just study this stuff--he teaches it. Since his whole argument is that rhetoric is about being a teacher, he doesn’t shy away from describing how contemporary first year composition can embrace “rhetoric [as] an art of cultivating a productive, performative capacity” and unabashedly declares that “Rhetorical scholarship that made no consequential difference to what rhetors/writers do, or to how rhetors/writers are trained, would have little point. Perhaps that is obvious. Yet it is easy to forget” (288). Man, I get chills reading those words. I should take a moment here to say that if you use rhetorical methods from the ancients, like closely imitating exemplors or trying on other arguments, why not shoot a line at Mere I’d love to hear about it and maybe we could do an episode just on the history and benefit of, say, imitation or declamation.


Okay, here’s the last word from Dr. Walker, though “Ancient rhetorical education appealed to the desired that brought the motivated student to it and that persists today: the desire expressed by Isocrates’ students to say admirable things; or Plato’s Phaedrus’ remark that he would rather be eloquent like Lysias than rich; or Plato’s Hippocrates’ wish to learn to speak  ‘awesomely’ like Protagoras … Rhetoric, as a paideia, was a ‘sweet garden’ where the young could experience and enact such things as theater, as game, and in so doing could cultivate their dunamis for wise and eloquent speech, thought and writing in practical situations as well as develop an attachment to a dream paradigm of democratic civic life” (293-4)



Direct download: 16-03-24_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Genuine_Teachers.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST


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 CST