Entries tagged with “Aristotle” from this Public Address 1.0


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Reelin' em in

just another sign of the times

Pocola, Oklahoma, where my parents live, is just another one of those highway towns. It's sort of a suburb of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, but not really. It has more in common with the little country towns I've been posting pictures of than the “big city” of Ft. Smith.

Fishing is big there. My father was a fisherman. I never got interested in it, and neither did my brothers. None of us could stomach cleaning them. Fish has lots of associations for me. As I lay down reading my book my first night in Pocola, I noticed a tiny toy kerosene lamp on the bedside table. I recognized it. The little yellow and red streaked lamp was distinctive; I’ve never seen another one like it past childhood. It came from a little curio shop in Bridgeport, California, high in the Sierras where dad used to fish.

Mom remembered trying to make me into a fisherman. They bought me a nice new reel using S&H green stamps. I walked off and left it on the bank of a stream somewhere near Bridgeport. Dad wandered the mountainsides up there, until they fenced the meadows and prohibited fishing. I never did much fishing; I just wandered.

All my wandering lately has given me some bald tires. Waiting around the Walmart in Ft. Smith while getting some fresh tires installed, I was confronted with another connotation of fish on a T-shirt I hadn't seen before:

If it smells like fish— eat it!
Words can be a tricky thing. I suspect I should reel myself in.

AKMA's article on Biblical Interpretation posted while I was away converges with my reading in Pocola



In one of those weird little epiphanies last semester, it dawned on me that the only difference between dialogic and dialectic was the presence of an implied hierarchy, and an implied resolution in dialectic. Dialogism is messy, and refuses to be any other way.

Dialectic is one means of damping the oscillation (or osculation) of dialogue. Who’s your daddy? Dialectic is coercive, and more often than not presents a false security of pretended resolution. Reading deeply in Plato these last few years, I’m struck with how unresolved and unsynthesized things really are. Centuries have declared Plato and his apologist Aristotle the victor, effectively squelching the other voices in the dialogic oscillation. Aristotle became the “Daddy.” Rewriting (his)tory with the silenced voices back in becomes a sort of fetish game of dominance and submission.

I’m not sure this is all that productive. However, recognizing the swinging pendulum itself surely is. With each stroke, the opposing voices are driven to clarify their positions, and recognize the value-laden nature of the discourse. Each time that I write something here, since I seem to have attracted a crowd of astute readers, I anticipate a certain amount of pressure on problematic assumptions. This is a good thing. I try to return the favor from time to time. This blog has transformed lately into a reading journal which compares concepts in books I’m reading with conversations already in progress, with an occasional expressive flourish. It helps me, a lot.

I am glad that Tom spoke up about my problematic lines regarding skepticism. I wrote and erased them a dozen times. Eventually, I settled on leaving them in as a sort of aporia. Statements of that type beg for a defense, which then (or now) I lack the energy to pursue. It was the one part of the essay that I was least happy with; but rather than expend a great deal of time with that (relatively minor) conceptual part of the equation, I simply let it stand and moved on. I’m happy that someone noticed; it’s the sort of thing that could easily be expanded into an essay all its own. Reduction always invites challenge, as AKMA parenthetically noted in his wrap-up of some of the conversation going on.

Thankfully, his clarification need not be answered in a response of my own. When I expressed a sympathy for his questioning of the flight from accountability that pseudonymous writing can represent, it was for all the reasons that Ed noted in response to another conversational thread:

But failing to convey feelings or at least the inability to properly resolve them, whether in person, privately or through the act of writing, has got to be the ultimate stab against self-respect. And anyone who stops at midpoint because of this, anyone who fails to put their name upon a piece, is ultimately disrespecting the full nature of their talent, or owning up to their own inadequacies or, for that matter, who they really are.
The problems involved are complex. As I said, this is my “first response,” but not my only response. Learning to construct multiple identities through writing is a key skill. People try on different voices, though I think it is necessary in the end to be accountable for those voices. But even in sum, all these voices do not entirely construct a person. There are always silences, gaps, and ums and uhs. Life itself is often seems a “dark, deep Ravine— / Thou many-colour'd, many-voiced vale” where things are only discovered through the relationships implied between them.

There are large areas at play in writing instruction regarding which voice should be emphasized in teaching. The oscillation swings between privileging disclosure (expressivism) and privileging silence (neo-traditional and some aspects of social-constructivist praxis). Power always enters into the problem. There are no easy answers, as Rory’s reply to that splinter thread implies. It is indeed about the definitions of public and private, and it is also about the economics of the exchange. And economics are only possible when one thing is valued more highly than another.

Jill unveiled an interesting paper on the economics of links. This approach certainly has merit, regarding one important aspect of link behaviors. People are the currency of the web that interests me, and it seems pertinent to note one more definition of rhetoric from Richard A. Lanham:

Rhetoric is the economics of attention.
Disclosure and non-disclosure are in some ways the personal currency of the web. While it is tempting to view them as positive and negative values, which is which depends entirely on your perspective. Perhaps the fun is in the friction, which dialogic rather than dialectic exchange implies.


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Wood s lot gestured at a listing of Rhetoric resources.

As is typical of me, I can't keep my mouth shut. The web links listed (with one exception) have been on my sidebar for many months. The one that isn't, Rhetorica is focused on political rhetoric (which doesn't interest me much, except as a teaching device).

A point of pedantry though: his glossary of rhetorical tropes contains one boner— anastrophe is defined reasonably correctly, but the example is not an anastrophe. It is a chiasmus (inversion of structure, bookended symmetrically for emphasis). A much better example of anastrophe would be Yoda-speak: "Jedi I am." However, rhetoric is much more than remembering all the Greek and Latin words for things. The slant of the references on Blood's list are primarily classical, with only one exception: Kenneth Burke.

I'm the odd-man out in thinking that Kenneth Burke is a putz. His dramatistic pentad is just journalism restated, and his view of language use as "symbolic" puts me off. Sad that he's the only thing past Rome and Greece represented on the bibliographic list. I can't resist a few comments.

Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student is an expensive textbook that no one I know uses. Meant for first year writing classes, it's really more of a graduate student's tool. However, it is absolutely excellent. It presents clearly all the tropes, styles, etc., while also providing overviews of both writing pedagogy and the history of Rhetoric. As dense as it is, it's perhaps easier to read than the primary texts involved (of which it provides great excerpts) and contains a number of great samples for rhetorical analysis. Great choice, but not really for beginners. The Art of Rhetoric is a cheap Penguin copy of Aristotle's Rhetoric, available online. It's more of a theory piece, really, not a practical guide— it is fragmentary, more like lecture notes than a full treatise. Aristotle's perspective on Rhetoric really needs to be read across several of his works, a job that Classical Rhetoric does quite well. Cicero and Quintillian are great, but a bit distant from modern rhetorical praxis. Many efforts have been made to update them through the ages, and one of the worst is listed in the ensuing list. Hugh Blair is for aesthetes, and this treatise has more to do with speech than writing. Starting with Ramus, Rhetoric was eviscerated. Blair, Campbell and Whately in the Romantic period completed the job of ripping out its epistemic heart: invention (inventio for those who prefer Latin). Blech! It wasn't until I.A. Richards in the early twentieth century that Rhetoric began to get back on track.

Asking about Rhetoric is like asking about "science." Uh, which version (or subgenre) do you want? There is no real need for me to compile an alternative bibliography, because one already exists, and as for great examples, many of the best speeches by women are available online at Gifts of Speech.

The entire text of The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing is available online. The introductory section covers the development of the "new" discipline of Rhetoric, and its conflict with Blair's belles-lettres. Matthew Arnold, taking Blair up a notch, is largely responsible for the attitude I was railing against yesterday. The bibliography is neatly sectioned by topic, with classical and contemporary perspectives on Rhetoric. If you're interested in Rhetoric (not just teaching writing), this is perhaps the single best place to start. It has abstracts of every book and article listed, and provides a great shopping list for those who want to know more about Rhetoric.

On another topic— Tom, if you're reading this, an attempt has been made to index bloggers geographically. It's called The Pepys Project.

Now, I'm off to Ft. Smith for a few days. Thanks for commenting, folks!

My ball

Cross purposes

Using their typical approach of pointing out contentious articles on the web, Arts and Letters Daily has gestured at another piece of academy bashing, You Read Your Book, and I’ll Read Mine.

Despite what your high school English teacher may have told you, literature does not make us or our society better. To be seduced by fiction is to live at cross-purposes with most of the really important things in life.
This of course, really depends on your definition of “the really important things in life.” Personally, I think people are the most important thing in life. They are life. There is nothing more relevant to existing on this planet than the thoughts and feelings of other people who have faced the same problems, and asked the same questions as you have. With a brief gesture at the notion of “social capital,” the bias of the article becomes clear:
What they have in mind is what economists call social capital, which is the trust between people that lets them get along well enough to build businesses and other useful institutions.
Of course I still have Bourdieu fresh in my mind, and was further struck by the discovery this same afternoon that Walker Evans read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (the example that opens the article) in 1930 and loved it. After noticing other people still draw connections between my blog and homo academicus, I feel the need to go off on another one of those historical rants that I indulge in from time to time.

I’m not a conventional “student” or a conventional “teacher” per se. I was shut out of education in the years that Reagan held sway as governor of California. I spent a long time in the business of selling things to people, burning out and ending up in more clerk-type employments. The reason for this being that as Coleridge observed, few things are more important in life than providing “bread and cheese.” But they aren’t the only important things, and I have long felt the compulsion to explore the fields of artistic expression. Maybe I’m just a victim of my “habitus” as Bourdieu would have it, but my own “spiritual economics” has long been at cross-purposes with monetary economics. The value which drew me, like Walker Evans and other artists I admire, was disinterestedness. The importance of this freedom from economic slavery (in my mind, though not in actuality) was what drove me to be almost totally unconcerned with normal notions of suck-cess.

The antithesis of governing principles between “cultural economics” and conventional economics is well explored by Bourdieu, and it explains a lot about my own particular doxa. One of the governing institutions of “cultural capital” is the academy, and the rules and principles are closer, though not identical, with my own. I also have that streak of American transcendentalist in me too, which rebels against homo academicus. So, when all is said and done I must continually assert that though I am now moving from the workaday world of saying “may I help you” (which really means “may I sell you”) to dispensing another form of capital. It’s closer to me, but it’s not me. I don’t know what the hell I am really, but I know that I am neither an uneducated laborer (though I spent most of my life laboring) nor an ivory tower intellectual. I’m just continually searching to find out what works for me, and “cultural capital” has always been more important to me than economic capital. Of course, there is a nice refutatio near the close of the article:

None of this matters if core curriculum classes teach students to question the falsely coherent narrative of intellectual progress that canonical books are said to exemplify, which is what happens in the best of such classes.
I couldn’t picture a better way of describing my state-run university, particularly the American literature people. However, in British lit, the problem is that if you don’t know the canon, you are unable to even begin to understand the literature of the last few centuries.

I get so sick of the bashing of universities, and of the so-called “great books.” It is only in the secondary literature that any sort of “coherence” occurs, and then only for brief historic windows in time. The stocks of writers, and artists, rise and fall based on their coherence to institutional politics, but also cultural capital. The first cultural capital of any importance to me was music; and I don’t buy the now institutional Rolling Stone or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame points of view. Yet I still love music. And I’ll continue to love the books, and works of art, that have use to me, canonical or not. Just because it’s canonical doesn’t mean it’s automatically the enemy. Sometimes they call them great books, because they are great books. But that’s up to each individual reader to decide.

That’s one reason why I find rhetoric as a subject field so attractive. There is no real canon. It’s at once the oldest, and the newest of subjects. What matters most is what works. In my opinion, Cicero, Quintillian, Aristotle, and Plato work as long as they are offered in the correct context. In some ways, these books, as well as other great works of literature have made the world richer and better; their utility is dependent on how they are presented. I think it best to present them as possibilities, not as totems enshrined in wood. Each time I read one of these articles I can only marvel at how crappy the writer’s teachers must have been, to make them hate the forces that formed them so much. The closing sentiment of the article regarding the goal of reading is good, but diffuse:

This process, however, has nothing to do with coming together and everything to do with breaking apart, with figuring out how to live as an independent intellect and a soul loyal to its own needs. Literature takes root in a rich and stubborn particularity, not in some powdery notion of communal uplift.
I think William Blake had it figured out better than that:

I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you to Heavens gate.
Built in Jerusalems wall.

Jerusalem, Plate 77

That’s what reading is for me. It’s not an academic thing, really, it’s just the search for that golden string. And this is just my ball. Sorry, but I do think it is about coming together. It's about joining yourself into history to better see where you are now. Literature works for me, perhaps because I'm working under a screwed sense of economics.

Stupid Questions

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Stupid questions.

I’m always asking them. On the last day of my latest rhetorical theory class, we were given an open forum to ask any nagging questions we might have, so that the class could offer up perspectives on them. I asked one that has been bothering me for the last few years:

“What is the difference between Rhetoric and Fine Art?”

The groans from the class were pernicious. “Oh no! We’d have to get into the whole ‘what is art’ thing . . .” That wasn’t my intention, so I clarified myself: “Reflecting on all these articles which proclaim that rhetoric is an art, just what differentiates it from fine art?” I asked. No one answered. So I continued: “It seems as if the fundamental distinction is one of utility; is rhetoric defined in any way by utility?” Stone silence.

Granted, I’m probably the only one in the room that thinks of things in these terms, coming from the documentary tradition in photography. After thinking about it the last two days, I suppose I’ll jot down my thoughts. I haven’t been able to locate the Walker Evans quote I was thinking of. He said something to the effect of “my photographs are documents, because documents have a use, compared to art, which by definition is useless.” One of the students in the class brought up that the “uselessness” of art was purely a Western fabrication, and things stalled again. Okay, so I’m a Western guy. I haven’t been through the twelve-step program, but I’ll cop to it just the same.

That’s what makes the issue problematic for me. If I accept Evans' definition, it might seem that what I’ve been practicing all these years is rhetoric rather than art. But this has a negative spin, amply expounded upon by synthesis.

On one side, you have the words that "narrate" -- on the other side, the words that "affect." It's a very, very vicious war and it may never end. Like most such wars it's extremely difficult to even tell the two sides apart. Then consider that the words themselves are forever switching sides, promoting and demoting themselves and trying on new disguises.
If art is defined as a pure affection, and history as pure narration (knowing full well that it is impossible for either to exist in pure form), then rhetoric is certainly closer to art than narration. Occasionally defined as persuasion, rhetoric is designed to move. That’s what makes it useful. Narration then, or history, would be most ineffectual in its purest form — it can only catalyze change by moving its audience. In this sense, fine art which merely reports the mental state of its creator, or of the world, without any attempt to move the audience to action (or feeling) is indeed useless.

That’s the myth of realism, and the myth of an “impartial” narrator. If art moves us, it moves us somewhere. That’s the goal of rhetoric, and the primary reason why it has grown up alongside the notion of self. If an audience listens, it requires knowing who the speaker is in order to grant authenticity. A speakers authenticity is established outside the realm of realism— a fabricated construct of identity— a self that is made visible and conveyed to others. The notion that a rhetorical “self” is somehow false whereas an artistic “self’ is true is part of the legacy of Aristotle.

It began with Plato, who cast the “narrators,” the poets, out of his ideal republic. They practiced arts of imitation. Rhetoric was devalued as well, and only dialectic remained as a means of divining the “truth”. Aristotle invited the poets back in, granting that poien was generative. Poets and artists created things, so they should be valued as creators. However, rhetoric ends up in the doghouse, as mere craft, which rearranges things to serve a purpose. Modern “new rhetoric” attempts to restore rhetoric to the company of poetry, as a generative and epistemic art. Ultimately, this does beg the question I asked. Just what is the difference anyway? If rhetoric is generative, then why is it different from poetry (and or art)? I think it’s just that nagging connotation of falsehood, which has persisted through the ages. Rhetoric can be, but isn’t always, a deception.

Alex suggested that the idea of presenting your self to others began with Aristotle. That’s close, but not strictly true. Concern with the false presentation of self to others began with Plato and continued through Aristotle’s severance of rhetoric from poetry. The importance of presenting your self to others, in the Western sense, was born in Sicily with Corax in the fifth century BC. It was a matter of property. A despot, Thrasybulus of Syracuse, had seized the personal property of the residents. Litigation resulted after the fall of the despot, in order to restore the property of the residents. Those who excelled at helping these citizens pleading their claims set up schools to educate others in the art of persuasion. This was the beginning of the Sophists (Sophist actually means teacher, or wise man). It was their questionable methods which caused the reactions of Plato and others a century later. The importance of presenting a “true self” is perhaps best illustrated by the Roman Quintillian though, who defined rhetoric as “a good man speaking well.”

From the beginning, rhetoric was generative. The only differences between rhetoric and art appear to be in questions of motive: A bad man, speaking (or painting , or sculpting, or whatever) well is accepted with open arms in the world of art. Art appears to live in a world outside good an evil, or at least it pretends it does. Rhetoric, on the other hand, is measured by its attention to virtue. A double standard, to say the least.



2. Resemblance between Man and the Ass. - A round and convex forehead, says Aristotle, is a sign of stupidity.

Long ears are a sign that their possessor is extremely foppish, both in language and action; but indicate, also, good memory. According, to Aristotle, such ears denote a disposition like that of the ass. Polemon and Adamantius say, they denote a dull disposition. Albert assures us that long ears denote stupidity and impudence. Rhases says they are a sign of foolishness and longevity.

According to the opinion of Rhases and Conciliator, he whose face is long, is slow and lazy. Albert says, that such a one is cowardly and sensual, slow in his motions, lazy, and sometimes stubborn.

The under lip, when it advances more than the upper, is a sign that the possessor thinks about a great many vain things, and cherishes vulgar or unpolished ideas.

The union of all these signs in the same head, will be found to correspond exactly with that of the ass, to which it may be compared.

From The Physiognomist's Own Book: an introduction to physiognomy drawn from the writings of Lavater

Broken mirror

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Broken mirror

It’s been theories of knowledge week around my house. There is a fracture between language and image; a sort of metaphoric divorce. I’ve been thinking about that gap, because it also represents my “second life” after years of dealing with images. Only lately have those ideas begun to coalesce, because virtually every theorist splits the visual and verbal into independent realms. Indeed, empirical observation tends to support this. As I have recollected before, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to talk and make photographs at the same time.

Reading Roland Barthes' “Photography and the Electoral Appeal” reminds me of the essays on politics and language that I have considered this year, from George Orwell and Toni Morrison. Barthes, as usual is unique in his approach for he deals with photography as “an ellipse of language and an ‘ineffable’ social whole,” proposing that in this sense photography “constitutes an anti-intellectual weapon and tends to spirit away ‘politics’ (that is to say a body of problems and solutions) to the advantage of a ‘manner of being’, a socio-moral status.”

Barthes goes on to perform a rhetorical analysis of the variety of poses and types of political photographs, suggesting that each one conveys its own sense of ethos which the candidate sells to get himself elected, liberated from the problem of actually dealing with issues. This is distinctly parallel to the point made by Orwell and Morrison, that political language is a tool used to dumb us down and force us to accept violence, unquestioningly.

What is transmitted through the photograph of the candidate are not his plans, but his deep motives, all his family, mental, even erotic circumstances, all this style of life of which he is at once the product, the example, and the bait.
But I am very uncomfortable with the idea of images, photographic or otherwise, as an “ellipse of language.” I think they operate on a separate field, and though the basic nature of the appeals (ethos, pathos, logos) is much the same, the realm of the image is tied to a different circuit in our brain.

I’ve written a bunch of stuff about emotional memory and trauma in the last few months. The core of it is that emotions are placed into memory without control or processing by higher brain functions. Reading a article about visual research at Vanderbilt suggests that vision works in much the same way. The brain centers that deal with temporality, narrative order, and the like don’t get primary control over what we see. Consequently, it seems unlikely that image is an ellipse, an extension, or modification of language. However, some people like Aristotle offer a fairly compelling argument that language actually springs from images. At first, I pretty much agreed. Now I’m not so sure.

To give one primacy over the other is the problem, particularly when the complex processing required for language seems to occur in many parts of the brain. The level of complexity increases when you examine other research on Braille readers suggesting that there is an abstract level of meta-image that is close to language, and outside the influence of the senses. So, in saying that language springs from images, which images are we speaking of? Sensual images, or abstract mental images unrelated to the senses? Other work on image rotation suggests that “unreal” images are dealt with differently than real ones, consequently finding a connection between image (of the sensual variety) and language seems even more obtuse than at first glance. Like the emotions, confrontation with images of the real may operate at a visceral level where processing is different and not at all language or narrative driven. Can these two systems be reconciled? Are we hopelessly separate and at odds with our animal selves?

Antiphon, the Sophist, seems to have thought so. In the fragments of his lost work On Truth he cuts right to the core problem:

Mind rules the body, but it needs a starting point.

This starting point is the senses. We believe what we see with our eyes more than abstractions

But when we speak, there is no permanent reality behind our words, nothing in fact comparable to the results of seeing and knowing.
Language, borne from the fantasy centers of the brain, is consistently unreal. We create our concepts of self only through language, learned from the communities we live in, and yet inside at the deepest of levels it must be our own, turning and twisting and examining itself. I still don't buy social constructivism because, like Antiphon, I don't believe that there is a permanant reality behind words. It's just a negotiation of inside and outside, of animal and socio-logical creature, which often gets shattered in waves of self (not community) doubt.

Even as a broken mirror, which the glass
In every fragment multiplies; and makes
A thousand images of one that was,
The same, and still the more, the more it breaks;
And thus the heart will do which not forsakes,
Living in shattered guise, and still, and cold,
And bloodless, with its sleepless sorrow aches,
Yet withers on till all without is old,
Showing no visible sign, for such things are untold.

Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto III 289-297.

Sounds like living, and thinking, to me.

Being born

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He not busy being born is busy dying...

It’s that time of year again. Swamp-like humidity in the morning, burning off in just a few hours. Sticky yellow residue of sex everywhere, gumming up wiper-blades and making it hard to see. My car needs a shower, it’s getting really funky.

But then there’s the green. A thousand shades of it, bursting out everywhere. There’s something special about this time of year, because the black trunks are still visible behind the subtle shades now decorating the spidery network of trees. I accept myself as a metaphor-making creature, and I’ve been thinking about how the color of this state is truly green, in every sense of the word. It’s a big change from where I’m from.

The dominant color of the Great Central Valley of California is brown. Green occurs in the patchwork fields, since most of the fruits and vegetables for the country come from there, but it’s mostly monolithic, non-variegated patches of a single cash crop in the fields that can afford to pay for the water it takes to grow them. What sticks out in my mind are those empty fields, the stretches of brown sandy dirt, seldom impeded by a stone put there by nature. Instead, the fixtures are concrete, and often covered with fading graffiti. And the people turn brown too, as they work in those fields. It is truly a land of dirt, dust, and brown. Infinitely variable shades, really. It takes a long time to become acclimated to them, and to develop a language akin to an arctic tribe, that need not really have a thousand words for snow, but instead endless variants of modifiers and types to describe the state of the snow. In California, what matters most is the state of the dirt, not the individual crops placed in it; most of what grows is not wild, but transplanted from somewhere else. When plants are transplanted, there is often a shock, and leaves turn brown.

I now live in a land of somewhere else. It’s green. It’s green with envy, as one of the poorest states in the union. It’s green with naiveté, as they still fight the civil war over race issues oblivious to the fact that one day they, like the rest of the country, are likely to be overcome by brown. But it’s also green with brilliant underbrush, in a million shades, covering the blackened underside of trees that once rooted in the brutal clay soil, refuse to give way. Every spring, the green comes back. It seems so miraculous, so beautiful, and above all, so wet.

Aristotle wanted to blame everything on moisture. Moisture, however, is where life springs from. I like living in a wet world; I don’t mind taking a shower to wash off the residue from time to time. While you’re being born, it’s bound to get messy. It just seems, well, natural. Ah, I get it now, that’s why they call Arkansas the natural state.

Standing on Ceremony

Five double cappuccinos and eight hours later...

One of my much needed papers is done. And it’s here, too, if you’re interested.

Standing on Ceremony is 2,000 words or so on the subject of Aristotle’s “classes of rhetoric” as applied to the Internet environment. Some of it will be a bit basic for the typical web reader, and a bit deep in classical rhetoric, however through the miracles of hypertext all the key rhetorical terms are hyperlinked to explanatory references. The web-conversation specific stuff is also linked for the benefit of my professor, who would not be familiar with ongoing blog conversations. I think it worked out pretty well.

Of course, comments, suggestions, and/or bricks and tomatoes are welcome.



There’s just something, well, seminal about that affix. So much for an open, tolerant society. We’ve declared war on a belief. It wouldn’t bother me as much if it was a war on a behavior; obviously some behaviors damage the fabric of society. To keep it stitched together, society just can’t tolerate certain types of behavior. Is thinking about a sin, a sin? I side with Milton on that one. I don’t think so.

When we make nouns of thoughts, we tread on dangerous ground. Just what is the referent? This rapidly degenerates into surrealism. When these abstractions become as real to us as a chair or a table, we have truly entered the twilite zone.

It’s sticky stuff. Decisions must be made. Stay in or pull out? A thick problem, indeed. I prefer to stay in, as long as the blood flows in a pleasant direction. That’s the problem— it sometimes doesn’t.

Arguments are like that. They don’t always end up in pleasant places. I think it has to do with rigidity. Enough friction, and things liquefy. It’s a dissolution of identity, a scary thing for those who prefer rigidity, comfort, and closure within their own dimensions. But this takes discipline, particularly when it comes to staying within one’s own discipline.

I suppose that’s why I’m currently hanging out in the “no-discipline dicipline.” Rhetoricians are more fun at parties, they can talk to anyone. Except for one fringe group, “the theory thugs,” that is: a group which I find myself hanging out with quite often. It’s a specialized vocabulary, to be sure, but it’s fun once you learn what all the big words mean. I only hate it when people use them gratuitously. Used correctly, they are an excellent shorthand for really big concepts. When pages are filled with these words, you’ve got to study them for a long time. More bang for the buck, so to speak. Make that glorious orgy of the text take a little longer. . .

But sometimes it seems, well, penile. I mean how many variations of “sem” can there be? Semiotics and semiosis, terms beating like semaphore against the brow of those lesser mortals that can’t penetrate the warm cave of scholarly humanity. It seems rather frustrating in the end. But when it works, it results in the glorious birth of an —ism. But some —isms can’t be tolerated. Careful with the verbs you nominalize. You might have war declared on you, if you can’t adequately defend your system.

Then it becomes the province of rhetoric. I like the way that Aristotle explained it:

The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate on without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning.
So rhetoric has a duty, a mission as it were, to make complex decision making simpler. For everyone, not just for the chosen few that can interpret the shorthand. I’m attracted to it, being a hopeless generalist.

The answers to understanding? Perhaps not. Just a tool to decide what’s probable, and improbable. I’ll leave the hard science to the anthropologists. Though anthropology is soft by definition, with blurry lines between several disciplines including linguistics, psychology, etc., it appeals to the generalist in me. Whatever road takes you there, is what I say. As long as we can make it a pleasant trip.

I am, above all else, easily amused. When I found the definition of nosemosis on a pest-control web site, I just rolled: “infection with micro-sporidia of the genus nosema.” Yes, I suspect that it’s just that damn language virus coming round again.


Interrupting the relation of belonging
What we have called “belonging” is nothing other than the adherence to this historical lived experience, what Hegel calls the “substance” of moral life. The “lived experience” of phenomenology corresponds, on the side of hermeneutics, to the consciousness exposed to historical efficacy. Hence, hermeneutical distanciation is to belonging as, in phenomenology, the epoché is to lived experience. Hermeneutics similarly begins when, not content to belong to transmitted tradition, we interrupt the relation of belonging in order to signify it.

I took a detour. That happens to me a lot. It brought back a memory. I remember when I first started studying literature. My point of entry was William Blake. Growing up, he seemed so dense, so impenetrable, and yet so compelling. I wanted to understand what he was on about. I remember well the feeling of drowning, positioning myself at the genesis of the Romantic period in literature. I commented to the Medievalist on campus, after having read “The Wanderer” just how lost I felt. It seemed like there was an ocean of literature stretching both directions from the period that interested me, and I didn’t know what to do, other than jump in and see if I could swim. She answered that this was all that any of us can do.

I thought about how that relates to where I find myself now. I can’t buy goal oriented models for a very simple reason. Things never start at the beginning, and they only “end” when we insist on a false sense of historical closure. It’s a waste of time, things just don’t work that way. We always are swept up, somewhere in the middle, and in order to find out where we are we have to stop, imply a false closure, and fix our relation to the moment. But then the moment becomes lost, as we find ourselves engulfed in yet another sea of meaning.

I started reading From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II by Paul Ricoeur. I’m a philosophical neophyte. Sure, I’ve dug into a few— Locke, Kant, Plato, Aristotle, etc., but only as they relate to very specific issues. I’m still struggling with that big picture of philosophical history the same way I struggled with literary history. But I’m starting to swim a little. Tentative strokes, mind you, but strokes nonetheless. I’m drawn to Habermas, Gadamer, Ricoeur, etc., rather than the rest of the crowd. But I’m wandering in the desert, trying to make sense of it.

I’m drawn to this concept of distanciation. It makes me think about the problems that a writer has when they think too much about their audience, and reminds me of what I thought of as my task as a documentary photographer. You can’t make sense of things if you are too close. There has to be some distance involved. Distance seems imperative in this process of making meaning. But distance is the hardest quality to achieve, when you find yourself thrust in the middle of an ocean of possibilities.


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There is something about triangles.

After studying theories from several different subject fields, I find my mind littered with them. They keep overlapping each other in the strangest ways. Unlike oppositions or negations, triangles create space. Two points on a continuum always result in a line, but it takes a minimum of three points to create a space.

The fundamental rhetorical apparatus is the rhetorical triangle, composed of language, speaker, and audience. It is easily flattened into a terrible sort of continuum. This happens every time we write. Notice that in the triangular representation, there are lines that connect the audience with the speaker, and the audience with the language. If you filter the communication through written words, the audience can no longer see the speaker, only the language. The speaker also is limited, having lost the view of his audience in flatland:

Speaker → Language → Audience
And worse still, it's a one way trip.

However, by placing language at the apex of the pyramid it takes on the significance of defining culture, defining the relationship between speaker and audience. Language is the at the pinnacle of the development of society. This whole idea of banding together in groups must have been a tough sale from the beginning: sacrificing immediate personal gain for long term benefits. It seems clear that a functional, useful rhetoric must be at the top of the list of problems to solve. How do we persuade people to act to improve the general, rather than specific personal advantage? Rhetoric, according to Aristotle, was the art of determining the best means of persuasion for a wide variety of occasions.

Identifying the basic modes of persuasion, the Greeks listed three primary appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos. There is no implied priority in these appeals, however, by imposing on them a hierarchal structure, an interesting model emerges. Each of these terms is loaded with connotations. Ethos, the root word of ethics, can be interpreted as a personal quality of goodness, or, in the broader sense it means custom, character, or kinship. I have placed that at the top of my pyramid. Another appeal is logos, the root of logic, which also implies "the word" in the divine sense, as well as fact or truth. Pathos is the appeal to the heart. Drawing the appeals this way opens up a space; these things do not lie in a straight line. Custom or character does not imply either heart or truth; there is no simple progression to be found.

These concepts translate well into another sort of trinity: that of mind, body, and soul. The apex should be simple to agree upon. Surely soul would be the highest quality of man. Unitary philosophies, or holistic ones, seem to be aimed at the collapse of the space between these distinctions. I do not think that this provides a useful way of looking at it. Appreciated for their differences, these qualities of man open up a space for conversation to take place, and the form of those conversations can also be teased out into three often overlapping forms of discourse

In The Spectator Role and the Beginnings of Writing James Britton proposed a sort of continuum for writing. The modes of writing he describes are:

Transactional ← → Expressive ← → Poetic
Britton's primary thesis is that expressive writing is where all writing begins. With practice and development, writers learn to do different types of work with their writing.

The transactional is the most common form of writing; it is the writing by which we transfer knowledge to each other. The poetic transfers feelings. The expressive contains elements of both. The distinction can also be described through roles. When we write expressively, we are both participant and spectator, whereas transactional writing is more closely allied with participation alone. The role of the poetic then, is the role of the spectator. Rather than representing them on a continuum, a triangle makes more sense.

Then I stumbled on Henri Lefebvre's triadic model of representational spaces through a posting on net.narrative.environments. There were two major concepts in this model that appealed to me. First of all, the idea that representational spaces represent an intersection between what we perceive and conceive. As the often stolen lines from Wordsworth go, we half-create what we half-perceive. This seems obvious. However, tying this to materialism and idealism, and thinking about the model of social spaces described there made all my triangles come together.

Social space is "not a thing but rather a set of relations between [objects and products]."
Overlapping these disparate models produces some amazing relations:

Expressive Writing
Representational Space
Transactional Writing
Spatial Practice
Poetic Writing
Representation of Space

Britton proposes that expressive writing is the matrix from which all other writing follows. This would make sense, given that it expresses both the inner feelings of a person, and their place in relation to the larger culture. The view of self and world is told through an almost monolithic notion of self: this is how I feel. It's represented often in binaries: I like this. This sucks. Most contemporary writing programs in one fashion or another attempt to open up expressive writing and move it to a higher level, although there is substantial confusion about how to achieve this. Just what is a higher level anyway? I'm beginning to believe that it is tied directly to the relationship of participant and observer.

When an individual writes from these perspectives as if they were one, there is little space for writing to develop. There must be a separation of fact from opinion, logic from feeling, in order to open up a space for more complex writing. These attributes never exist in pure states, however, by attempting to increase the discrimination between them a representational space develops more fully. It's about moving from a point inside the self into other perspectives, with one pole attached firmly to the mind and another firmly rooted in the body that more complex writing evolves. It is only through consciousness of our mind and body, not just our soul, that we become good writers.

Or, I could be completely out to lunch. It was just a thought. I think of triangles a lot. There's a Thin White Rope song that haunts me called "Triangle"

I am feeling just a little down
Nothing I can wrap reasons around
But I can ignore it if I look real hard
And make perfect triangles out of every three stars

Sometimes I make burns on my arms
Cause it moves that feeling from my heart to my arms
And when I'm driving and it keeps me awake
I have so many more triangles to make

Now that I have planted the seed
Maybe those triangles will form without me
Surround the world in their crystalline ache
And freeze the heroes into glassy mosaics

I get lost in these spatial games, like some kid playing with blocks. I want to make things fit together, and move into more dimensions. I want to create some sort of space that these thoughts can find a home in.

It often seems like a crystalline ache.

Peeling the onion

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Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Please think of the kittensTalk about the use of the pathetic appeal...

Rex sent me a larger photo he gleaned from somewhere out there, and I snipped this sticker from the corner. Persuasion is everywhere.

Of course, that's not as bad as this or this.

Then, oddly enough, I connected a bit of theory with another one of Rex's familiar admonitions:

Peel me an onion.

In one of my classes last night, the head of the Speech Communications department lectured on some of the current theory there, which overlaps a great deal with rhetorical theory. Though the theorists are different, some of the problems spring from the same fountain. Unlike my earlier estimation of them (I called them the milk and cookies department at one point, because it seemed like kindergarten forever), the goal in Speech Communications is to peel the onion.

The focus in Speech Communications is interpersonal relationships. It strikes me as a weird interface between psychology and rhetoric, a sort of applied psychology, which like rhetoric, is focused on negotiation of problems to a desired resolution. It’s persuasion, just as Aristotle defined rhetoric, but it’s more concerned with the touchy-feely side. Logical argument isn’t a primary concern, but instead, like the “New Rhetoric,” its aim is consubstantiality. We are supposed to all get together and have a group hug, I suppose.

But the model of self as an onion is really almost funny. I can't remember the last time I got sufficiently peeled to think of the universe in this sort of way. I'm too tightly knit, interwoven as it were, to think of self in these terms. All my layers interpenetrate.


The Social Penetration Process. I can get behind that. After all, even Rex would admit that penetration is a common goal. That, according to these folks, involves peeling the onion. We start at the outer layers of superficial commonality, moving into the levels of ethical agreement. When we feel comfortable in revealing our deeply held spiritual values, then we're getting nearer to the "core personality."

I love models. But there are big problems with this one. It presupposes a unitary self. That is, according to most current theory, a fallacy. Of course the head of the department knew that. But when you discard the core of the onion, the skin just starts flailing about. I don't think this model works well at all.

Mike Sanders, in another strange coincidence, spoke of another model similar to what the Speech Communications specialist offered last night. John Hiler proposed a model of "time economics" for blogging, where the amount of time invested in linking is far less than the time required to generate real content. Time-economics is a matter of time invested vs. reading time accrued. This has deep resonance with the costs and rewards model of friendship. The theory is that we weigh our friendships based on what the costs are versus the benefits in a reasonable economic model. When the scale tips too far, we shut the friendship down. I don't buy that model either. It presupposes a sort of dialectic continuum to life, a continuum that I increasingly doubt.

Talking to Dr. Kleine during a break, he put it very succinctly: "Dialectic models have limited usefulness when you have more than two people, or more than two alternatives involved." It's not in my opinion, a useful model of web behaviors. It's a rationale which hides the real reason why people often link, rather than write: they don't want to peel the onion.

There are only a few link-pointing blogs that I read regularly, Wood s lot being one of them. The reason is that he provides thoughtful extracts rather than just quick ambiguous pointers. I would suspect that he spends a reasonable amount of time selecting which parts he extracts, because they are often key thoughts in the middle of huge documents. It's hardly a more "efficient" mode of creating traffic, especially when it's done well.

Happy Happy

Happy Happy Joy Joy

A long day grading papers. But at least I’m now nearly caught up. All I have to do is teach two classes, read a medium sized novel, and have it finished in time for my night class.

Then I can start working on the hypertext essay for my Tuesday night class. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll have that finished on time, but I’m going to give it a try. The problem is, constructing it will involve revisiting huge chunks of Aristotle on Rhetoric. Oh well, such is the life of a... just whatever the hell it is that I am.

But for a moment, there can be a little peace. On the good side, the essays were far more interesting than I expected. I’ve got to start writing some stuff about the classes so I’ll have something to turn in for a “journal” for the practicum, but it’s hard to get motivated to construct another journal besides this one. With this one, I get feedback instead of performing a rote exercise to satisfy a teacher that I’m engaged with the material. Hell yes I’m engaged. If I was any more engaged with rhetorical issues at this point, I’d need to be surgically separated!

Inquiring minds


Though the authorship of Problems has been contested, I like to think it was Aristotle. It casts a different light on the nature of serious philosophical debate. It’s a book of questions that one might imagine jotted down subsequent to an after-hours party:

Why is it that it is not those who are very drunk that are most troublesome in their cups, but those who are only half blotto? Is it because they have neither drunk so little that they still resemble the sober nor so much that they are in the incapacitated state of those who have drunk deep? Further, those who are sober have more power of judgment, while those who are very drunk make no attempt to exercise their judgment; but those who are only half blotto can still exercise their judgment because they are not very drunk, but they exercise it badly because they are not sober, and they are ready to despise some of their neighbors and imagine that they are being slighted by others.
Yeah, those pesky half-drunks. I remember them well. But the questioning here really probes deep seated human issues:
Why is it that to those who are very drunk everything seems to revolve in a circle, and as soon as the wine takes hold of them they cannot see objects at a distance, and so this is used by some as a test of drunkenness? . . .

Why is it that to those who are drunk one thing at which they are looking sometimes appears to be many? . . .

Why is it that the tongue of those who are drunk stumbles? Is it because, just as the whole body staggars in drunkeness, so also the tongue stumbles and cannot articulate clearly? Or, is it because the flesh of the tongue is spongy ? It therefore becomes saturated and swells up . . .

Why is it that those who are drunk are incapable of having sexual intercourse? Is it because to do so a certain part of the body must be in a state of greater heat than the rest, and this is impossible in the drunken owing to the to the large quantity of heat present in the whole body; for the heat set up by the movement is extinguished by the greater surrounding heat, because they have in them a considerable quantity of unconcocted moisture?
Unconcocted moisture, the root of all human problems. Or was that sex?
Why is it that one who is having sexual intercourse, and also a dying person, casts his eyes upward, while the sleeper casts his eyes downward? . . .

Why do the eyes and buttocks of those who indulge too frequently in sexual intercourse sink very noticably, though the latter are near and the former far from the sexual organs? Is it because these parts co-operate very noticeably in the effort made in the act of coition, contracting at the point of emission of the semen? . . .

Why is it that those who desire to submit to sexual intercourse feel a great shame about confessing it, which they do not feel in confessing a desire for meat or drink or anything of that kind? Is it because the desire for most things is necessary and its non-satisfaction is sometimes fatal to life, but sexual desires proceed from something beyond mere necessity?
The Greeks obviously had lots of spare time, and inquiring minds.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Memories can't wait

Memories can’t wait

I finally got around to cruising my new two-volume Princeton edition of Aristotle last night while unwinding after class. Yes, I find amusement in the strangest places. It dawns on me that it was actually the cause of a few laughs in class. People are of the impression that I find the weirdest scholarly stuff entertaining. They’re right.

Of course, I first looked at On Memory. Aristotle makes some interesting distinctions. Declaring first that in order to remember something, we must have perceived it first, he continues:

Memory is, therefore, neither perception or conception, but a state or affectation of one of these, conditioned by lapses of time. As already observed, there is no such thing as memory of the present while present; for the present is object only of perception, and the future, of expectation, but the object of memory is the past. All memory, therefore, implies a time elapsed; consequently only those animals who perceive time remember, and the organ whereby they perceive time is also that whereby they remember.
This is of course, quite logical, but also in the light of modern science quite wrong. I wrote a while back about the amygdala, which processes sensory inputs through the emotions first, before they are contextualized by temporal ordering. Emotional memory is not temporal, but imagistic. But Aristotle was on to that too.
Without an image thinking is impossible. There is in such activity as affectation identical with one in geometrical demonstrations. . . . Thus it is clear that the cognition of intellectual objects involves an image and the image is an affectation of the common sense. Thus memory belongs incidentally to the faculty of thought, and essentially it belongs to the primary faculty of sense-perception.
The distinction here is fine, but sure. Memory is tied more closely to the senses than thought. That is its primary faculty, its effect on thought is secondary. Separating this out, Aristotle then gets at the core thing that separates the nature of human memory from animal memory, or “soul” memory as he describes it:
If asked of which among the parts of the soul memory is a function, we reply, manifestly of that part which imagination also appertains; and all objects of which there is imagination are also objects of memory, while those which do not exist without imagination are objects of memory incidentally.
Thus, all animal memory would be incidental unless you think that animals share the capacity for imagination. This could be debated, because anyone who has had a pet knows that they seem to dream. But do they experience imagination in the waking state? Clearly, they do not experience the sort of temporal memories humans do, but there is perhaps a core of imagistic memory in there somewhere. Yeah, so I’m easily amused.

However, what really hit me was Aristotle’s constant references to the relationship of forgetting, perception, and the melancholic temperament. Aristotle proposes that humans are the only ones that deliberate on issues, the only ones who concern themselves with the future, but that contemplation of the future is in the now:

That the affectation is corporeal, i.e., that recollection is searching for an image in a corporeal substrate, is proved by the fact that some persons, when, despite the most strenuous application of thought, they have been unable to recollect, feel discomfort, which even thought they abandon the effort of recollection, persists in them nonetheless; and especially in those of melancholic temperament. For those are most powerfully moved by image. The reason why the effort of recollection is not under the control of their will is that, as those who throw a stone cannot stop it at their will when thrown, so he who tries to recollect the hunts sets up a process in a material part, in which resides the affectation.
Or, to put that all in a more modern perspective from Henry Miller:
The mission of man on earth is to remember.

I don’t know where I thought I was going with all this, except to save that notion form Aristotle that memory, once started, is like throwing a stone. It is unstoppable. The remainder of his essay on memory, by the way, deals with such contemporary issues as getting a song stuck in your head. Of course, he blames it all on moisture. He was Greek after all. But also central is the role that imagination plays in the human memory. This is something that seems to have been lost by all the interpreters of Aristotle over the ages. That's why I like to go to the source. Memory as an affectation? Now there's a concept!

Roaming Rhetoric

Roaming Rhetoric

I was a bit bored, so I took a look at the Daypop and Blogdex indexes to see what people were looking at. It seems like paranoia is perhaps the biggest cash-crop of the new millennium. Blaming it on the shrub-in-charge [sic] is grand sport. I don’t want to join in beating around the Bush, the sic makes me sick. I stay away from politics. I don’t understand how Nixon, Reagan, or any of the latest bumper-crop of idiots got elected. I don’t really have that much interest in it, because I’m far more interested in deeper human concerns. Besides, to steal Protagoras’ argument: “there is much to prevent one’s knowing: the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of man’s life.”

The shifting nature of the massive community of online writers around the globe is of deeper abiding interest to me. But it’s been frustrating to figure out how to comment on it without resorting to epideictic. Praise or blame? Are these the only two options? In the grand scheme, no. However, when it comes to debate in a public forum this genre of discourse is the most natural. Thinking about the “pilgrims progress” on the Internet, I think this is just a healthy growth stage.

The branches of Roman rhetoric (stolen from Aristotle, of course) are marked with attention to kairos, the proper time and place for constructing an effective argument. Dr. Kleine suggested that it is helpful to connect the branches with places and times. In the case of epideictic, the place is the public square, and it is primarily concerned with the past. This notion seems to be played out in the obsessions with his and her stories of both blogging and the personalities to be found on the Internet, and it couldn’t be closer (at least for now) to the concept of a world-wide public square filled with hundreds of thousands of voices.

But the “branch” analogy is also useful in terms of thinking of it as a tree. Epideictic is the lowest row of branches on the tree. Just above the roots, it’s where the flowers bloom. The next set of branches, for the Romans, was the forensic. This type of rhetoric is most often connected with the courtroom, but its primary concern is justice vs. injustice. Its mode of persuasion is sometimes praise and blame, but not always. And its goal is a disposition in the present. Is it right or wrong? Though it looks to the past for its evidence, the mode of action moves firmly into the present. The venue is of a much more limited nature, and in the US system at least, includes a jury of peers rather than a mob. I would suggest that the growth of blogging circles, and group blogs like metafilter, are a move up the tree of discourse into the forensic.

At the top of the tree is deliberative discourse. Of course, the branches get thinner and shorter near the top of the tree. There isn’t much of this going on at this stage of development, I think. However, damn it all, I’ve landed myself back in politics. The domain of the deliberative is the legislature. Its mode of action is based in the present, but looking to the future. I don’t think “blogging about blogging” counts as deliberative discourse, it’s largely metacognitive epideictic. The point of deliberative discourse is to suggest a course of action for the future, to make plans and projections for a better future. The future, in that respect, looks pretty bleak. But the Internet is young, and it’s forcing a crisis due to the proliferation of epideictic discourse.

Daniel posted a terrifying narrative about a blogger who was fired from her job for expressing her opinion on her blog. A recent Wired story about defamation lawsuits that I found cruising blogdex was also scary. I’ve been enjoying the festival of voices, though most do little beyond praise or blame. The idea that we may be headed for a time where we have to look out for what we say in public places points out the failure of deliberative discourse in our time. It seems like a huge cluster-fuck to me.

I was watching Heartbreak Ridge on TNT this morning. Each time Clint Eastwood uttered the words “cluster-fuck” they were neatly changed to “cluster-flop” in a voiceover. It scares me most that one day the Internet might become like that, and that the utopian dreams of the metabloggers might be reduced to some arbitrary code of conduct bent on self-protection. Only if this “cluster-flop” is stopped can the real voices be heard. Time and time again, the majority of citizens have stood against censorship. I can only hope that this trend continues. But somewhere around half of my country voted for a president [sic] that seems hell bent on silencing dissenting voices both in this country, and around the globe. It’s too bad there isn’t more deliberation going on. I’m hoping this all won’t be a cluster-flop.

Competing technologies

Competing technologies

In The Muse Learns to Write Eric Havelock proposes two theories, a “general theory of orality” coupled with a “special theory of orality” which applies only to Greek culture before the 4th century B.C. It’s a fascinating perspective on the impact of technology with deep resonance to many contemporary fields. The reason for a “special theory,” rather than an all encompassing one is that because we live with the weight of centuries of being literate, and all things are considered through the lens of our perspective as literate humans.

This was not the case when writing as a technology was new. There were no established “rules,” no dominant literate culture to measure and compare with. The impact of a fully developed literate culture on non-literate people can be measured now, however, in the case of Greece, literate culture was just beginning to form. There were no dominant “rules” for it, just competing proposals. Obviously, Plato, and later Aristotle, won. The world hasn’t been the same since. But why Greece? The common explanation is that the Greek alphabetic technology was the first to equivocate the written word completely with the sound of orality. It made it possible to move from an auditory culture into a visual one. It was the proximity to the word as spoken to the word as written.

I really need to learn Greek. The differences introduced by translations pointed out by Havelock really make it difficult to get a sense of what it was like, when writing was new. The verb “to be” was not used much at all in early, orally influenced writing. Things did not have a presence in and of themselves, they were defined solely by their actions. It wasn’t until Plato’s time that concepts like “self” were discussed.

It wasn't until language could be dealt with visually, as a representation outside the speaker, that the concept of “speaker” or “author” became part of our vocabulary. It’s hard to fathom a world without self. Havelock’s case is convincing though, that our concepts of “self” were only made possible through the separation of language from our being through coding it in visual representation. It was making language visible that made us leap into the distant realms of abstraction.

However, it seems as if modern technologies may be the source of yet another quantum leap. It is our ability to record sound, to be able to play it back unaltered, that reintroduces the values of oral culture back to the forefront. All the things that were good about sound-based culture can be recaptured, but with a higher degree of sophistication and complexity. Sound, rather than being immediate and physical, becomes separated and abstract as well. It can develop beyond its tribal roots, and into a new means of transmitting culture. It's interesting to me that folk music also lacked the notion of songwriters, until music could be recorded. Only composers that could write their music down, in visual notation, survive as known quantities, or selves.

I’ve often thought that contemporary music has been richer and more progressive than modern poetry. Music becomes the code of a lifestyle, much like the oral poetic tradition was in the age before writing. The world exists as a mesh of conflicting technologies, and perhaps we are returning to our roots in a way that few people are really taking notice of. The transitions are subtle, and hard to identify when they are in process. Significant differences get lost in the translation.

Rather than surviving in a fleeting world of auditory information which is fixed solid in visual representation, we are now faced with the prospect of dealing with both modes as a source for transmitting societal codes. They are in conflict, not just because of their syntax, but by their paradigm. Sound appears and is gone, but now it's not gone forever. We can return to the voices which please us, any time we like.

From Prodicus to Euripides

From Prodicus to Euripides

I briefly mentioned an advance copy of an article I was going to read from my professor, Dr. Michael Kleine, regarding the problem of creating a kinder, gentler modern rhetoric. I've been digesting it for a few days, it's called "The Heuristic Potential of Rhetoric Reclaimed: Toward Imagining a Techne of Dialogical Arrangement." The article is actually easy to state in plain language: Dr. Kleine has suggested that what we know about conversational discourse analysis (he is a linguist) can be applied to the problem of rhetorical invention to provide a new mode of rhetoric.

He's actually promoting a schizophrenic sort of writing, a writing that emulates the model of conversational "turns" where points of view are interrogated and defended in two voices. Not in the agonistic sense of classical rhetoric, where a stronger position is defended against a weaker one, but in a space which emulates the conversational "floor" where positions are treated on an equal basis. At first, it seemed like it was delusional: how can one speaker be both advocate and challenger? Then, I discovered an example in Prodicus.

In "Heracles on the Crossroad" Prodicus (in a secondhand account) describes how Heracles meets Virtue and Vice. The oration began with a sensual description of these two women, but narration ceases as the conversation between the two possibilities begins. The core of the "pitch" on both sides is pleasure— pleasure now from Vice, or pleasure in the future, from the Gods, by Virtue. At no point does the orator seem to favor one over the other, and the actual decision made by Heracles is only implied. The rhetor doesn't judge, or point, or direct the argument at all. The argument is purely supplied through conversation.

I remember how much I hated Plato when I first read him. Aristotle too. The reason why was that their motives and steering of the "dialogues" was just so blatant. This is not the case with Prodicus, his approach seems nearly identical to the techne suggested by Dr. Kleine. Trying to figure out the 5th century B.C. is pretty tough, and the perspectives of the Sophists or Plato and Aristotle are not the only ones available. The dramatists, like Aristophanes and Euripides put in their two cents too.

I decided to read Hippolytus again. I first found this play, oddly enough, through a Thin White Rope song, "Some Velvet Morning." It's a cover of a Lee Hazlewood song, and it's just haunting.

Some velvet morning when I'm straight
I'm gonna open up your gate
And maybe tell you about Phaedra
And how she gave me life
And how she made it end
Some velvet morning when I'm straight
There's a video, with Lee and Nancy Sinatra riding horses on a beach, which makes little sense until you figure out who Phaedra is.

Short synopsis: Hippolytus, a chaste young man and bastard son of Phaedra, is hopelessly in love with Artemus (the goddess). Aphrodite gets pissed off, because he isn't paying her tribute since he won't fall in love with a human. She forces Phaedra to fall in love with him (in the non-socially acceptable way). Phaedra goes mad, holding back those forbidden feelings. She eventually breaks down and confesses to her nurse, and the nurse professes an oddly familiar point of view:

The life of man entire is misery:
he finds no resting place, no haven from calamity.
But something other dearer still than life
the darkness hides and mist encompasses;
we are proved luckless lovers of this thing
that glitters in the underworld: no man
can tell us of the stuff of it, expounding
what is, and what is not: we know nothing of it.
Idly, we drift, on idle stories carried.
How postmodern is that? Not bad for 428 BC. The nurse will have little to do with words as a solution: "Your words are wounds. Where will your tale conclude?" Euripides' argument, conveyed by the nurse, is much the same as Shelley's. Love is the ruling force of all:
The chaste, they love not vice of their own will,
but yet they love it. Cypris [Aphrodite], you are no god.
You are something stronger than a God if that can be,
You have ruined her and me and all this house.
And through Phaedra, Euripides indicts those who would practice rhetoric:
This is the deadly thing which devastates
well-ordered cities and the homes of men—
that's it, the art of oversubtle words.
It's not the words ringing delight in the ear
that one should speak, but those that have the power
to save their hearer's honorable name.
Oddly enough, Hippolytus has a teacher (perhaps a Sophist?). Since words won't do the job, the nurse decides to tell Hippolytus the problem thinking he might be able to physically, ahem, take care of the craving. Big mistake. When the nurse begs him to be silent and not tell anyone, he responds: "Why not? A pleasant tale makes pleasanter telling when there are many listeners."

These words doom everything. Phaedra hangs herself, and leaves a note claiming that Hippolytus raped her. Theseus, Phaedra's husband, banishes him. Theseus's father was Poseidon, and he utters a curse on Hippolytus which daddy takes care of. As Hippolytus rides away on the beach, a huge bull comes out of the ocean and wrecks his chariot, mortally wounding him (this explains the video!). Artemus appears in the end to tell Theseus the truth, and the last discussion is on the futility of teaching as Hippolytus is dying:


What fools men are! You work and work for nothing,
you teach ten thousand tasks to one another,
invent, discover everything. One thing only
you do not know: one thing you never hunt for—
a way to teach fools wisdom.


Clever indeed
would be the teacher able to compel
the stupid to be wise! This is no time
for such fine logic chopping. I am afraid
your tongue runs wild through sorrow


If there were some token now, some mark to make the division
clear between friend and friend, the true and false!
All men should have two voices, one the just voice,
and one as chance would have it. In this way
the treacherous scheming voice would be confuted
by the just, and we should never be deceived.

While still implied to be agonistic, this contains Dr. Kleine's argument in a nutshell. I wasn't expecting to find it offered in 428 BC. But, then, you never know. Some good ideas just don't want to quit. I wonder if he knows about this? I suppose I'll have to mention it to him next Tuesday.

Thinking and remembering

Thinking and remembering

I don’t believe they are equivocal. Equating them begins a carefully reasoned path into religion. Starting from the fundamental questions, St. Augustine gets right to the core in his Confessions:

What, then, am I my God? What is my nature? A life that is ever varying, full of change, and of immense power. The wide plains of my memory and its innumerable caverns and hollows are full beyond compute of countless things of all kinds. Material things are there by means of their images; knowledge is there of itself; emotions are there in the form of ideas or impressions of some kind, for memory retains them even while the mind does not experience them, although whatever is in the memory must also be in the mind. My mind has the freedom of them all. I can glide from one to the other. I can probe deep into them and never find the end of them. This is the power of memory! This is the great force of life in living man, mortal though he is!

Augustine goes on to propose that we do not recognize things unless we remember them. Therefore, qualities like joy and happiness can only exist in the mind because we experienced them somewhere before. There must be an origin, a God to explain why these qualities seem so familiar to us. If you buy that thinking and remembering are the same thing, then human experience is a closed thing dependent on an original experience, an experience of God— because if the mind is infinite but based on memory, then the memory must be of the infinite.

I’ll bet you didn’t think I could get here from there. The line of argument can also be tied into the debate of nomos vs. physis between Plato and the Sophists. If all thinking is memory, then how do things get named? The Sophists, like the postmodernists, believed that language was arbitrary. They asserted that there is no one “correct” name for anything. It was depends on the ethics of the situation, nomos, a sort of little t truth. Nomos is is truth only when it works; humans are free to rename things when the renaming works to clarify the situation, because the only truth that exists is the truth inside each of us. Plato and Aristotle championed physis a physical capitol T truth that lies outside, that can be discovered, that can be correct at all times for all people. There is a metaphysical hierarchy, perhaps only vaguely remembered by humans, which assigns all things one and only one proper name.

To name things is to reclaim them. Protagoras, the oldest of the Sophists, was also perhaps the worlds first agnostic. He felt that “God” couldn’t be proved or disproved, but more than that, that it really didn’t make any difference in our day to day lives. We define and name our world each day as we travel through it, without the need for outside guidance. This comes from a distinct difference in the view of language. To embrace memory as a guiding force, and reasoned correctness in naming, is to accept that spirituality is not only possible but essential.