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.
Mon, 21 December 2015
Weclome to mere rhetoric, a podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, terms and movement who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and today we’re talking about two influencial chapters from one book: Richard Weavers’ “The Ethics of Rhetoric”
The Ethics of rhetoric was written in 1953, and it definitely feels like it and Weaver was Southern and definitely feels like it. Even though he spent most of his career at the University of Chicago, with Wayne Booth, he kept his summers free to go down to a farm that he kept where he lived an agrarian dream of plowing the family vegetable garden with a mule. He definitely believed in the Jeffersonian ideal of the gentleman farmer, connected to the earth.
Somehow in the middle of all that plowing, Weaver was able to be one of the most important of the “new conservative” branch of thinkers and the leading neo-platonist rhetorician of the 20th century. Weaver believed also somewhat idealistically about rhetoric. He said, “Rhetoric “instills belief and action” through “intersect[ing] possibility with the plan of actuality and hences of the imperative” (28). Rhetoric is “a process of coordination and subordination […] very close to the essential thought process” (210). Thought and rhetoric were interwoven and rhetoric couldn’t be ignored.
There are two chapters in The Ethics of Rhetoric which have had especially lasting influence. The first is a reading of Phaedrus, because Weaver loved him some Plato. Remember when we talked about the Phaedrus? For those of you who weren’t here, it’s a story about Plato giving two opposite speeches about love: in the first, he tweaks an existing speech about the importance of choosing someone who doesn’t love you as your lover, in the second, he repents of the first and gives a speech about how it is good to have a lover who loves you, and at the end, he ends up talking about rhetoric. Some people may say, “what? what’s the connection?” Not Weaver. Weaver says tthat“beginning with something simple” Plato’s dialogue “pass to more general levels of application” and then end up in allegory (4). The lovers are like rhetoric—you can have good, bad and impotent rhetoric. The non-lover is a lie, like “semantically purified speech” (7). Bad rhetoric, like bad lover, seeks to keep recipient weak and passive (11). If we have impure motives towards our audience, we’ll keep them dependent on us, week and passive, instead of empowering them the way that a true lover would. Ulitmately, Weaver believed in an ideal of rhetoric, rhetoric that would make people "better versions of themselves" (Young 135)
Another one of Weavers’ chapters to have lasting influence classifies the very words we use, most famously, “god terms” and “devil terms.” “God terms are those words that, for a specific audience, are so positive and influential that they can overpower a lot of other language or ideas. For Weaver, writing in 1953, he uses “American” as one fo the key political god terms. In contrast to god terms are devil termns and for weaver, writing in 1953, the ultimate devil term is “communist.’ From here, he can set up the language of the McCarthy era nicely, right? The committee on Unamerican activities uses a powerful god term. Most famously, Weaver introduces “god-terms” and “devil-terms” as ultimate terms that are either “imoart to the other [terms] their lesser degree of force and fixes the scale by which degrees of comparison are understood” (212), either positively or negatively (222). When you hear a god or devil term, the defensive rhetorician must “"hold a dialectic with himself" to see if he buys the word as it’s being used.
But additionally Charismatic terms= those terms who have “broken loose [from] referential connetions” which will that “they shall mean something” (eg: “freedom”) (227-8). These terms don’t mean something in particular just “happy feeling.”While, Uncontested term= seems to invite a contest, but not in its context (eg: appealing to “illustrious Rome”) (166). They aren’t really disputed with. Ultimate terms like these are often “a single term [awaits] coupling with another term” (211).
Weaver was also influencial in the rhetoric of poetics because he saw that “Like poetry, rhetoric relies on the connotation of words as well as their denotation.” That is to say, not just what the words mean in the dictionary, but what they mean to a community—communist to a group of 1953 american politicians is a far more fearful thing than its dictionary definition. Like poetry, too, there must be an enthemyme, a truncated syllogism, where the audience fills in the blanks, or as Weaver puts it “The missing propsition […] ‘in their hearts’” (174)
Good rhetoricians, he claimed, use poetic analogies to relate abstract ideas directly to the listeners (Young 132). Specifically focusing on metaphor, he found that comparison should be an essential part of the rhetorical process (Johannesen 23).
Weaver didn’t produce more than a handful of books, possibly also because he died quite suddenly in his fifties, but he had a lasting influence in the Chicago school and elsewhere. Weaver certainly wasn’t a perfect person—for instance, he disliked jazz and that is just plain wrong—and he’s kind of gone out of favor, but reading The Ethics of Rhetoric, you see how crucial his ideas have been to the 20th century revival of rhetoric.
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 email@example.com? I’ll listen respectfully, because I am not personally a super villain.
Mon, 14 December 2015
Welcome to mere rhetoric. The podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren
The original recording of this podcast in 2014 was especially timely because we’re going to talk about an important article that came out in College English 30 years ago this year: Stephen North’s Idea of a Writing Center
This essay has been hugely influencial in the rapidly growin and professionalizing field of writing center studies. Back in 1984, though, writing centers couldn’t get no respect. “Writing Labs” of the early 20th century were often responses to a defitioncy model of writing education—the students who were coming in were seen as remedial, and thus in need of one-on-one attention from tutors. This was a response of the same crises we talked about in the podcast on the Harvard Reports. By the 80s, writing center were becoming more abundant on campuses, but that doesn’t mean they were popular: often shunted to the literal basements of buildings, with creaky, leaky facilities and an underpaid non-tenure track director, writing centers were somehow expected to “fix” student writing. But even under such terrible circumstances, writing center theory was beging to develop, aided by such scholars as Muriel Harris and Stephen North.
Stephen North was a good candidate to have written such a manifesto as “The Idea of a Writing Center.” In the 1980s, North was a discipline-maker. His thorough taxonomy of composition research The Making of Knowledge in Composition has sometimes been tapped as the foundational manifesto for research in composition. We’ll probably talk about it later, but “The Idea of a Writing Center” was no less of a manifesto for writing center studies.
The first line of the article reads “This is an essay that began out of frustration.” The frustration is palpable as North addresses some of the complaints that writing centers have from—and he means this in a nice way—ignorant colleagues. Everyone is ignorant—everyone in the profession, even people in composition, are ignorant “They do not understand what does happen, what can happen in a writing center” (32). It’s not just that North feels misunderstood; it’s that this misunderstanding affects the students who come through his door day-by-day: “You cannot parcel out some portion of a given student for us to deal with,” he fumes against his colleagues in writing classes, “’you take care of editing, I’ll deal with invention”) Nor should you require that all of your students drop by with an early draft of a research paper to get a reading from a fresh audience. You should not scrawl, at the bottom of a failing paper ‘go to the writing center.’ Even those of you who, out of genine concenrn, bring students to a writing center, almost by the hand, to make sure they know we won’t hurt them—even you are essentially out of line.” Ow. Seems like a pretty long list of ways to misuse the writing center and even to modern audiences all of these techniques seem innocent enough. The main problem, North points out, is that “we are not here to serve, supplement, back up, complement, reinforce, or otherwise be defined by any expernal curriculm. (40). Unless you think North has it out for his colleagues, he admits that even his own writing center includes in its mission statement the description of the center as “a tutorial facility for those with special problems in composition” (34). If it’s possible to spit something out in a written article, North faily spits the words out in self-loathing. And the loathing is “the idea that a writing center can only be some sort of skills center, a fix-it shop” (35).
So if writing centers AREN’T just a support for composition, what is the “idea” of te writing center anyway? “We are here to talk to writers” (40). This definition makes the writing center an independent entity with its own purpose in the university, not just an appendage or fix-it shop for the composition classes. What a writing center is can be much larger. North sets out the definition for writing center that persists to this day : at a writing center “the object to to make sure that writer, not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction. In axiom form it goes like this: our job is to produce better writers, not better writing” (38). Whhhoooo, I almost get chills. It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot in writing cneters, “better writers, not better writing.” What it often means is that writing centers aren’t editing services or a way to improve an assignment or get an A in a class, but an educational cite themselves that hope to teach writing skills and processes that students can take with them in any class and even after graduation. In this sense, the writing center, as North says, “is going to be student-centers in the strictest sense of that term” (39). It will “being from where the student is, and move where the student moves” (39).
North suggests that writing centers are uniquely qualified to do this work, since the teaching of writing can take “place as much as possible during writing, during the acticity being learned” instead of before or after the writing (39). “The fact is,” North continues “not everyon’s interest in writing, their need or desire to write or learn to write coincides with the fifteen or thirty weeks they spend in writing courses—especially when, as is currently the case at so many institutions, those weeks are required” (42). Anyone who’s taught composition can attest that students sometimes have a hard time seeing the point of skills that their teachers immediately identify as critical for future writing, but with only the imperative of finishing the class, it can be hard for students to understand. At the writing center, North suggests, this is not the case, because the motivations become real. “Any given project” is the material that brings students in “that particular text, its success or failure” (38) motivates students. Students who are motivated by applying to law school or understanding a lab report are often suddenly willing to see the importance of writing skills. These students, “are suddenly willing—sometimes overwhelming so—to concern themselves with audience, purpose and persona and to revise over and over again” because “suddenly writing is a vehicle, a means to an end” (43).
The ideas from North’s “Idea of a writing center” have become commonplaces, both because they resonated with what was already happening in the Writing Lab Newsletter and other periodicals as , in North’s words, “writing center folk general are becoming more research-oriented” (44). That tradition has expanded, as peer-reviewed articles in writing centers studies supports a half-dozen journals as well as frequent publication in College English and College composition and communication. When North saw that writing center directors were meeting “as a recognized National Assembly” at the National Council of Teachers of English, he might have foreseen that writing center studies would balloon into the International Writing Center Association, a biennial conference that draws participants in hundreds, and all of the regional conferences affiliated with the IWCA…which reminds me.
One such conference is the south cettral (waazzup?) writing center association conference, which we hosted here at the Uniersity of Texas at Austin last February. I confess that my interest in this topic was partially inspired by the call for papers in this conference, which invoked the 30-yr anniversary of “the idea of a Writing Center.”
If you have a conference that you’re organizing in rhetoric and composition, send me an email over at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to give you a shout out on a future podcast.
Direct download: 15-08-12_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Ideas_of_Writing_Centers.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT
Fri, 11 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we have Samantha and Morgan in the booth and today we get to talk about one of the most influencial figures in the so-called “social turn” of composition.
Paulo Freire was born into a middle-class family, but the Depression hit them hard, and soon he was familiar enough with the very worst of poverty. He noted, later in life, that his poverty, his hunger impacted the way that he learned: "I didn't understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn't dumb. It wasn't lack of interest. My social condition didn't allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge" (Freire as quoted in Stevens, 2002). Eventually, things got better: the Freire’s got money, got food and young Paulo got a good education, eventually becoming a state director of the department of education. In this position, though, he didn’t forget the lessons of his hungry childhood—the relationship between education and poverty haunted him. His political work taught hundreds of people to read and became the basis of one of Brasil’s successful education programs.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Freire—nope, the governemental tides shifted and Freire was exiled, living in Boliva and Chile. And if the examples of Cicero, Ovid and Machiavelli have taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing like a sudden collapse of political position and forced vacation to inspire great minds to produce great works. So Freire, the ultimate doer, mover and shaker became a writer and thinker. He wrote Education as a Practice of Freedom and then his most famous work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published in 1968. The book is dedicated to “the oppressed, and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side.” Strong stuff.
The book itself is strongly influenced by Marx—of course— as well as Hegel, Gramsci and Sartre. The key idea, according to Richard Schaull, is that “Man’s ontological vocation […] is to be a Subject who acts upon and transforms his world” (Shaull, Forward 32).
This would be a good time to describe Freire’s definition of “subject.” By this, he doesn’t mean like “subject to the king” but rather “subject of the sentence,” the thing that is making the action, not being acted on. Only human beings “exist”—are deeply involved in becoming (98), and it’s the goal of the educator to maintain that dignity.
Another key term from Pedagogy of the Oppressed is “praxis” which Freire here defines as an application through action: the action, reflection and the word. “Reflection,” says Freire, “is essential to action” (53).
Okay, but getting back to Pedagogy of the Oppressed-- what is all of this in opposition to? In a phrase, the banking principle of teaching. This idea, elaborated in the second chapter of PEdaogy of the Oppreessed, is the traditional way of teaching: you “deposit” information with your students, have them carry it around and bit and then you demand it parroted back to you in the form of tests or essays. You can see how this is directly against the agency of the student. Instead, the education should always be mutual, a process Freire calls—get ready for another term-- conscientization, A type of political consciousness, conscientization has also been translated as raising critical consciousness. How does one do this? Well, there’s two parts:
The goal of the educator, the politician, the social worker is two fold: 1- unveil the world of oppression and, through the praxis, the thoughtful action, to “commit to its transformation” And when the reality is transformed, is the work done? No, then “this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation,” and educators “expulse[e] the mtyhs created and developed in the old order, which like spectors haunt the new structor emerging from the revolutionary transformation” (54-5).
Methods to do this include educators who must present the problem to the people through photographs or drawings and questions to “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves” (83-4). There must be a showing of the oppression, an “unveiling” as Freire put it. But the most important method of pedagogy of the oppressed isn’t what you do with one or another lesson plan, but the way that you live. Remember Freire’s dedication at the beginning of Pedagogy of the Oppressed? To the oppresses and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side. For Freire, it’s crucial that these liberators live with the people, to suffer with them if they are to fight with them. Because, as he put it, “to carry out the revolution for the people” is “equivalent to carrying out a revolution without the people” (127).
Teachers of any sort must be united with those they teach. “The role of revolutionary leadership […] is to consider seriously […] the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of the people and to seek out true avenues of communion with them” (166).
Only in this way can the teachers Freire proposes truly help their students” to over come the situations which limit them: the limit situations” (99).This term is actually borrowed by Viera Pinto, his fellow Brasillian intellectual exile. Consciousness of these limits leads to acts of rebellion, or “limit acts” which only human beings are able to do, real, empowered human beings.
As a sidebar, this might seem a little confusing: “limit siutations”=bad “limit acts”= good. Some of Frere’s terms kind of do this. For example when someone “lives” that’s just the basic biological state while the ideal is to finally “exist” to enjoy the deep teological process of becoming something significant.Also, activism isn’t necessarily a positive term here: Freiere defines activism as a sacrifice of reflection while sacrifice of action = verbalism (87.) I imagine that some of the confusion here comes from the translation from the Portuguese, but also, this is philosophy of rhetoric, so definitions of words are whatever we want them to be, right? Let’s celebrate that freedom.
The work of Freire became very popular in the world of composition in the 1980s. Everyone wanted a bit of Freire and some scholars like Donaldo Macedo, bell hooks, Peter McLaren and Henry Giroux were especially inspired. They were the leaders of this new “critical pedagogy” as it developed in the United States. The anti-apratheid protests of the 70s and 80s fueled the pedagogy and Freier’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was banned in South Africa. Of course, that didn’t keep the revolutionary types of distributing photocopies of it illegally.
But although the text was championed by many Marxist thinkers and progressive educators, some critics responded with a little more hesitancy. Gregory Jay and Gerald Graff were concerned that educators always have the potential to be colonizers and, the text implies that “we know from the outset the identity of the ‘oppressed’ and their ‘oppressors.’ Who the oppressors and the oppressed are is conceived not as an open question teachers and students might disagree about, but as a given of Freirean pedagogy” (A criteque of critical pedaogy”). This is a legitimate concern: when an outsider comes in to liberate, how can they prevent themselves from being oppressors themselves? In a related sense, when is someone just one thing? In her 1988 article “Why doesn’t this feel empowering?” Elizabeth Ellsworth points out that everyone has multiple identities and someone who may be oppressed in one sense (for example as a woman) may be privileged in another (for example as a white woman.)
But whatever people thought of critical pedagogy, they had to engage with it. all of this attention to Friere’s work helped gain support for him. He was a professor and advisor at Harvard, for the World Council of Churches, and finally in 1979 he was able to return to Brasil and continue his work with adult literacy. In 1988, with a change in Brazil’s political structure, Freier was appointed Secretary of Education. The remarkable ups and downs of his life had shown Feeire the very real consequences of poverty and oppression as well as given him the education and opportunity to reach out and help others around him, others who have been just like him.
Mon, 7 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we have Samantha and Morgan in the booth and we’re all three of us different people—why?
Who determines who you are? Why do you pursuit the things that are important to you, whther they be published articles, a thin and athletic physique or a reputation of being a decent human being? Michael Foucault addresses the idea of forming “docile bodies” in Discipline and Punish.
This book starts with a graphic, contemporary description of someone being drawn and quartered and ends with the declaration that “The judges of normality are present everywhere [...] and each individual, where ever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements” (304). It’s a chilling progression. But if you think about it, there are things that we do because of “judges of normality” that we couldn’t be forced into by a tortuter. Can you imagine a prison where it would be moral to force you to wake up at 4:30 and run 10 miles and then lift weights, and then to relax with a glass of mysterious green smoothie? But if you think you need to look a certain way then you might do these unpleasant things to satisfy the “judges of normality.” The link between old-style torture and contemporary judgemental attitudes trace through this text.
So what does all of this mean for rhetoric? Some theorists, like Edward Said and Richard Miller despair at ever standing outside of the panopticon, that the power relations are too deeply entwined and too dispersed to be opposed. Instead of just stickin’ it to the man, or rescuing Robin Hood from the corrupt Sherriff of Nottingham, would-be revolutionaries have to change the entire system. And what makes the revolutionaries think that they have a better perspective when they, too, are implicated in the self-policing power structure?
In 1992, Barbara Beisecker examined Foucault’s influence for rhetoricians. Initially she was skeptically inclined (especially in the early 90s!) to say that Foucault was just being invoked in order to embrace the fashion for post-modernism without losing our traditional perspectives on power dynamics. However, foucault’s focus on theways that communities construct individual positions opens up new views of rhetoric. Biesecker concludes that because of Foucault, “We might say, then, that a critical rhetoric is a timely discourse whose task is not, as we have heretofor thought, one of changing what’s in people’s heads.” Instead it is about turning the grid of intelligibility that organizes the present in such a way that it becomes possible to transform the crituqe conducted in the form of necessary limitation into a practical crituqe that takes the form of a possible transgression out of which new forms of community, co-existence, pleasure” will emerge” (362). Rhetoric becomes less about individuals than the whole community, all focused on creating docile bodies, prioritizes.
It may be daunting to think about changing an entire community with rhetoric instead of one person., but as young John Muckelbauer in 2000 argued, there are still ways to effect change even in Foucault’s self-policing view of culture, as long as we “debundle what we mean by resistence his articulation of resistanceis clearly something quite differentfrom a traditional understandingof resistancewith its connection to “agency”. […] the concept of power functions differently(as primarily productive),and the relationshipbetween power and resistanceis not one of binary opposition. On a more practical level,anothermajordistinction isthat this versionprovidesno central concept, no preexisting category—such as identity—around which to mobilize collective action. Instead, political action is itself transfigured, emphasizing strategic local ac- tivity and transitory alliances as opposed to traditionalconceptions of mass collective movements.”
So we’re not entirely subsumed by predetermined roles because of the judges of normalicy all around us, but neither are we free when we are unfettered.
Direct download: 15-08-12_-_Mere_Rhetoric_-_Discipline_and_Punishment.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CDT
Sat, 5 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. We have Samantha in the booth and I’m Mary Hedengren. Today
I want you to do a little experiment for me. Think back to what you were writing five years ago. If you happen to be at your computer or the scrapbook of everything you’ve ever written, you can even pull up your writing. If not, just go ahead and meditate. Do you need a moment? It’s okay, I’ll wait. Now then—has your writing gotten better? Have you become a better writer?
If you’re like me, you probably look at the things you were writing five years, or even a year ago, you might say, “yes” in very enthusiastic tones. If you’re like me, you might, in fact, have a hard time reading the work you did five years ago. How could I have been so stupid? How was I such a bad writer?
Lee Ann Carroll, in her book Rehearsing New Roles has a shocking proposition for you: maybe you weren’t a bad writer, maybe you were just inexpert in writing the sort of things you write today. Carroll gathered up some college students and performed a longitudinal study, which means that she followed the same subjects around through their entire time at school and beyond. She had them sit down in interviews with her and fill out time logs detailing how much studying they do outside of class (in case you’re curious, the amount ranged from five hours a week to forty). They brought in their writing assignments, and their outside writing to talk about. It was very thorough. And do you want to know her take away?
First off that “students in college do not necessarily learn to write ‘better,’ but that they learn to write differently—to produce new more complicated forms addressing challenging topics with greater depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication” (xiv) “Wait a moment,” you might say, “great depth, complexity and rhetorical sophistication? Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “better writing?” Maybe it is, but it’s not that they’re getting better at this vague genre of “academic writing. As Carroll puts it “Their writing gets better in that they do learn to write differently but the do not fulfill the fantasy of mastering one kind of literacy, an idealized version of academic writing” (60).
This is the real-life writing changes of writing in the disciplines. A student gets into one class, learns the genres and expectations of that class and then, right when she gets the hang of it, heads into another class. “Students’ literacy develops because students must take on new and difficult roles that challenge their abilities as writers. In fact, student writing may sometimes need to get ‘worse’ befor it can become ‘better.’ Because many college writing tasks are essentially new to students, they will need repeated practice to become proficient.” (9). How much do professors take this into consideration? Not very much.
The writing assignments that Carroll’s participants navigated were complex and sophisticated, but also, very, very different from each other. She claims that “Faculty are likely to underestimate how much writing tasks differ from course to course, from discipline to discipline, and from professor to professor” (9) Put another way, “students must learn to write differently but have few opportunities to develop one particular type of writng over any extended period of time” (55).
And where does this leave first year composition? Carroll writes that we should take the work of first year composition seriously, but not “too seriously. A first-year composition course can serve students by helping them make connections between what they have already learned about writing in their k-12 education and ways they might learn to write differently both in the academy and as citizens of the larger society. On the other hand, first-year composition cannot succed as a source that will teach students how to write for contexts they have no yet encountered A one-semester writing course is bet viewed as ust one step in a long process of development that extends from children’s first encounters with literacy on through their adult lives” (27-28).
Carroll does have some practical recommendations. She suggests that first year composition focus on metacognitive awareness and students own writing as much as possible. You know asking students things like “what do you do when you get an assignment prompt?” and discussing their own writing practice. She also recommends focusing on portfolios—in classes as well as in departments and programs. As much as possible, those portfolios should provide opportunities to return to similar genres as well as challendging students to try new things—remembering that the results will be less than perfect and that students will need plenty of specific feedback.
I find Carroll’s argument very persuasive, and as I’ve written and recorded more of these podcasts, I’ve noticed that this weird literary genre is becoming more comfortable for me. But it’s been more than a year! How many literacy projects do average undergraduates get to revisit over and over again? Is there a project you’ve mastered or a project you thought you mastered (like the so called reading response) only to discover that a different teacher had a different expectation? If so drop us a line at email@example.com I’d love to hear about it. Now go back and check out your writing from five years again, because if it’s anything like mine, it’s pretty darn amusing and well worth a reread
Wed, 2 December 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project supports the podcast and
A few weeks ago I was at an excellent lecture by Collin Brooke here at the university of Texas and he was talking about applying the master tropes to different models of networks. Then I thought--by Jove, the Master Tropes! What a brilliant idea for a podcast! So with all deference to Dr. Brooke, let’s dive into these four beauties of the world of tropes.
A trope, you may or not know, is a way of presenting thought in language. A trope is different from what’s called a figure because it doesn’t deal with arranging words, but rather arranging thought. For example, a figure might be something like hyperbaton, which is the the way that Yoda talks: “Patience you must have” just means “you must have patience” there’s not change in the thought behind the words, but the refiguring of the words creates interest, so Yoda says things like “Miss them do not” instead of do not miss them, but the ideas aren’t changed at all. That’s figures.
Occasionally, though, Yoda will use a trope. For example, once he said ““In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” This is, as it turns out, a metaphor: knowledge doesn’t actually cast a glow, but it does make things metaphorically clear. The words transform the ideas: light equals knowledge. It’s not that Yoda changed the words around--all considered this is pretty syntactically straight-forward for the sage-green sage--but he’s presented the ideas in a different way. This is a trope, not a figure.
It is, as a matter of fact, one of the four master tropes: Metaphor, Synecdoche, Metonymy and Irony. It’s possible that these terms aren’t familiar to you, or only in a vague, AP English sort of way, so let me provide examples and definitions. Metaphor is the trope that is most familiar to us: knowledge is light, the Force is a river, many Storm troupers are a wall. So I’m going to skip over that. Synecdoche is--aside from being difficult to pronounce, using the part to represent the whole. I always think of that movie Synecdoche New York, where the guy builds a replica of New York for a movie. The standard examples include things like “earning your bread and butter” when you’re hopefully earning much more than that or “putting boots on the ground” when the military often needs soldiers, too, to fill those boots. I used to joke with my Mormon comedy group since everyone prays to “bless the hands that prepared this food,” if there was a terrible accident in the kitchen and everyone died, at least the hands would be preserved. So you get the idea. Metonymy can sometimes be a little more confusing, because it, like Synecdoche, involves using a word associated with the idea to stand in for the idea itself. We say things like “the White House has issued a statement” when the building itself has done no such thing, or “Hollywood is corrupt” to represent the movie business generally. Some people will say that synecdoche is just a specific kind of metonymy, like how simile is a specific kind of metaphor. Finally, irony may seem like a simple, straightforward trope, but it can be notoriously complex, as Wayne Booth describes in greater detail in The Rhetoric of Irony. How we we know when someone is being ironic? How much is irony dependent on understanding cultural cues? Why do we say the opposite of what we mean as a way to say what we want? Tricky stuff all around.
The four master tropes are probably most familiar to rhetoricians as the essay found way in the back of Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Methods, way way back as an appendix. There, Burke equates these over-arching tropes with different epistemic perspectives: metaphor correlates with perspective, metonymy with reduction, synecdoche with representation, and irony with dialectic. The way that we construct thought depends on how we use these four master tropes.
Remember when we talked about the Metaphors we live by? Well, Burke says that we don’t just live by metaphors individually, but also by the idea of metaphor, or by reduction, representation or dialectic. The tropes, instead of just being a way to make your writing more flowery, can be a critical part of invention, and how you see the world more generally. Are you inclined to think inductively, looking at a couple of examples of Sith lords and there after making generalizations about the group as a whole and their capacity to run a competent daycare? It’s possible to think in terms of irony, transpositioning one view of truth with an anti-thetical perspective: can Anikin be both on the dark side and not on the dark side? Can you both do and do not if you only try? These master tropes are not just ways of expressing ideas about the world, but coming to make ideas as well.
I’m a huge fan of Burke, but I’m afraid that I can’t give him credit for coming up with the idea of four master tropes that encompass other ways of figuring ideas. I’m sorry to say that that distinction goes to--ew--Petrus Ramus. Yes, Ramus, the mustache-twirling villain of rhetoric himself. Back when we did our series on the villains of rhetoric, Ramus was public enemy number one, removing invention from rhetoric and diminishing the whole affair to a series of branching “yes and no” questions and needless ornamentation. And yet it was Ramus, in his eagerness to classify everything into categories and subcategories who coined the idea of the master tropes back in 1549. Fortunately the idea was taken up by a more palatable figure of rhetorical history, Giambattista Vico, who in the 18th century, identified the master tropes as basic tropes, or fundamental tropes, being those to which all others are reducible.
Since Burke, though, others have taken up the idea that these tropes of arranging ideas might become ways to think about the world in general. Hayden White, for instance, saw the master tropes as representing something about literature.
He constructed a table where each trope has its own genre, worldview and ideology. Metaphor, for instance, was about romance--or we might say fantasy--and was associated with formism and an ideology of anarchism because anything might apply as a metaphor. Metonymy was associated with comedy, organicism and conservatism--presumably because if you assume that “the White House” speaks for the country, you’re putting a lot of stock in the traditional power that dominates. Conversely, synecdoche was associated with tragedy, mechanism and radicalism. Irony, naturally enough, was the trope of satire and its world view of contextualism and liberalism. Once White had come up with this tidy table, he because to think about the tropes not just statically, but how they might evolve temporally, both in terms of an individual child’s development and in a civilization.
Metaphor was the earliest stage, corresponding to infants up to two years old and aligned with Foucault’s conceptualization of the Renaissance. Then metaphor gives way to metonymy, the domain of children from 2-7, which White lines up with the Classical period and the Enlightenment--very conservative and fond of straight-forward comedy. Next comes synecdoche of tweens and the modernist period--radically breaking from the past and finally, in crowning achievement, irony, the stage of teenagers and adults, corresponding to the post-modernist era, with its love of counterintuitive and contradictory thought.
Others have highlighted the philosophical or historiographical possibilities of the mastertropes, including Jakobson and Foucault himself. Which brings me back to this fascinating, exploratory lecture by Collin Brooke.
Brooke suggested another correlation for the master tropes: not ways of thinking or periods of time, but networks of connection. Networks are a big stinking deal for digital humanists and new media rhetoricians like Brooke, and some of the different types of networks, brooke proposes, may correlate to the master tropes: hierarchies, for instance, are like metaphors, which correspond across groups--the padowan learner doesn’t really tell us much about the Jedi master who trains her, but you expect the role of that padowan learner to be similar to the role of another padowan who studies under another master. Synecdoche, though, can be seen in truly random networks. A network of 200 that is truly random, is representative of a network of 2000, or of 2 million. Some networks are neither analogous like metaphor or random like synecdoche. In situations that produce what’s been called the long tail--citations for example, some groups or people are more popular because they are more popular. the more people who fear Jabba the hut--peons, bounty hunters-- the more he is feared. It creates a snowball effect that is similar to metonymy. Brooke’s ideas are inchoate and he admits that he’s not sure what network might correlate to irony--it’s all a work in progress, afterall, but it goes to show that the organization appeal of the master tropes continues. The idea of tropes that rule all the other tropes and say something meaningful about the ways in which we construct and understand the world around us is a timeless appeal that goes all the way back to Vico--er, let’s just say Vico, okay. Until next week--miss us you must not because patience you must have.