Entries tagged with “Thin White Rope” from this Public Address 1.0


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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.

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.

Dead Grammas

There's always beer

Music Junkie

Thinking about the way the world spins