The rhetorical baseball diamond

For almost a week, the pattern has remained the same.

Just before sundown, it starts to rain. Some days, there is a little thunder and lightning around sunset. It always calms, and a soft and insistent rain fills the night. I haven’t been able to sleep until the sun comes up. Occasionally, there has been a gap in the rain, and like Patsy Cline, I’ve gone walking after midnight. But tonight, it’s raining harder.

I’ve been reviewing classical rhetoric, getting ready for the next round of classes, trying to commit classes to memory. Maybe coding it into a table will help. Stolen from Roland Barthes, here’s the classic technè rhétorikè.

1. Inventio    
    Euresis invenire quid dictas finding what to say
2. Disposito    
    Taxis inventa disponere ordering what is found
3. Elocutio    
    Lexis ornare verbis adding the ornament of words, figures
4. Actio    
    Hypocrisis agere et pronuntiare performing the discourse like an actor: gestures and diction
5. Memoria    
    Mnémè memoriae mandare committing to memory

Barthes seperates the first three divisions into a sort of rhetorical triangle, or a baseball diamond of sorts:

from The Semiotic Challenge

Why is this important and why am I writing about it? Because I’m trying to conceptualize it in new ways. Barthes describes the challenge to writers succinctly: the agonizing question that Rhetoric seeks to answer is “what is to be said?”

Looking at this diagram tonight, it dawned on me that writing is really a sort of game. The bases of res and verba can also be related as signified and signifier, or in my twisted logic, first and third base. It’s hard to get to first base. To figure out what you’re trying to signify, what “thing” you want to address. Second base lines up with the pitchers mound. Figuring out how to arrange things, you are furthest away from the target audience. It’s a pity that Barthe’s diagram is mashed in this fashion. Taxis, or arrangement, is purely syntagmatic. All writers learn their pitches by reading other writers, adding their own embelishments perhaps, but mostly staying close to the rules which most non-writers aren’t aware of. Sometimes the writers themselves don’t even recognize how formulaic it is. But when you round that base to third, you must confront the lexis, the vocabulary, of the audience. You can see where you want to be, but the techné has taken you for a long trip away from the thing you started with. If your discourse contacts though, you score.

Sorry folks, but I’d just never thought about it this way before, as a game. But then, I was never any good at sports either.

The rain stopped. Maybe it’s time to go for a walk.

1 thought on “The rhetorical baseball diamond”

  1. wow.. it’s strange to think of writing like that. rather than just vomiting out some words. heh.

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