Reelin’ em in
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
Changes in how we interpret the Greek word logos seem to be in order, both in the rhetorical sense (as one of the primary appeals listed by Aristotle), and in the biblical sense. Welch has some powerful arguments on the rhetorical side, which dovetail in a strange way with AKMA’s argument. These things are important to me, as a teacher of writing, because last semester I used the appeals (ethos, logos, pathos) as the framework for my classes. I didn’t dig into the problematic nature of logos for these classes, but for my next ones I think I will.
Ethos has become increasingly problematic; I did explore that in class. While I skipped the Bourdieu, social-constructivist underpinnings of how we now approach this concept, I did point out quite carefully that the word contains multitudes. Ethos is not just who you are, as a Ciceronian good man, but also the style and conventions of the ethical community in which you are trying to have your words heard in. You’ve got to learn to talk the talk before you can walk the walk. In Electric Rhetoric, Welch argues that a lot of other terms have been simplified, much in the way that ethos has been simplified, causing a misreading of most of the extant pre-Aristotelian texts. Philosophia is one of them. In the sophistic sense used by Isocrates, philosophy is not figuring out the nature of reality, but instead a cultural term for developing a way of life. Much like the notion of a frozen, individualistic ethos, philosophy became atrophied when it became the study of “whatness” that Plato and Aristotle pushed it toward.
Philosophy, in the sophistic perspective, is an immanently useful art. The sophistic view of philosophia is much more concerned with “howness,” distinctly paralleling their dynamic conception of ethos.
Complicating logos seems to be a necessary step in order to keep things like rhetoric and theology relevant to life itself. Words are not transparent carriers of meaning. Instead of distanciation strategies, life-relevant disciplines need strategies of engagement. We must return to more pre-literate stance, an acceptance of the dynamic and associative nature of logos, rather than the fixed immutable texts of print culture.
The direction I see myself driving slowly toward is finding ways of dealing with more multivalent levels of pathos as well. It’s been building in the back of my head like a thunderstorm. I’m sure there will be many more thoughts about this to come; I’m still working my way through it. But for now, I wanted to finish one associative thought-train.
When I visited my brother the day after getting the tires changed, we were talking about fishing, and he asked me if I’d seen the sign-board at one of the churches in Pocola. I drove down the street next to the Tote-A-Poke, and it seemed fairly normal on the front:
But the back side of the sign shows an Eastern Oklahoma take on theology:
And the entrance to this church shows that yes, indeed, this is America.