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 perspecti
ves 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.

1 thought on “Triangles”

  1. In animation we we have a process called Tessellation, where all the NURBS and B-Spline geometry are converted to triangles instead of wire frame. So, for me there is something about triangles as well, but insanly not related to your statements. I’ll go away now.
    I, too, see triangles as an underlying structure in just about everything. Consider the Medieval trivium of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, which holds just as true today as it ever did for good composition. Any good writing is based upon the delicate balance of the triumvirate of Unity, Coherence, Development. And let us not forget the ancient Greek philosophical triad of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth!

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