Aspasia and the Methods of Recovery

Rereading Aspasia’s funeral oration–as well as the scholarship and controversy of Glenn, Jarratt and Ong, and Gale that surrounds Aspasia–I noticed the similar tensions with past work surrounding the role of interpretation, accuracy, and recovery. In general, I kept coming back to the standards we use to judge the accuracy of our recovery.

When it comes to Aspasia’s oration in itself, I couldn’t help but think of rhetorical accretion, though Vicki Tolar Burton (Collins)’s term does not come up in the scholarship. Considering the layers of (inter)textual sediment, encountering the image of Aspasia through Plato’s treatment of Socrates’ recreation of Aspasia feels almost comical. Like Conrad’s Lord Jim or Oxymandius’ column from a past post, the distance between the source and the recovery makes Aspasia and elusive figure, which is why I appreciated Ong and Jarratt’s approach to looking at the “discursive space” of Apsasia, not the “real” flesh-and-blood figure.

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Rhetoric and Ritual, Particularly Death

Of all the tombs I visited in Egypt, the “Bent Pyramid,” featured above, was my favorite. Pulling up to the monument, we parked in a barren lot beside a single guard listening to his radio and sipping tea. He approached with a gentle wave before turning back to his small hut. A cyan blue sky arched above, trimmed with a gentle haze to the north, and the Sahara’s dusty gray skin withdrew into flat horizon lines, warbled with gentle hills. Wind kicked up sand, disturbing the silence.

The Bent Pyramid likely marks the transition between the early step-pyramid approach of some rulers and the more recognizable models, like the Great Pyramids at Giza, a design also shared by the Red Pyramid nearby. Archeologists guess that the initial incline proved untenable, requiring a last-minute shift toward the tip.

But I remember the isolation of the pyramid most of all. While the Great Pyramid accompanies the throaty calls of merchants selling overpriced trinkets and Coca Cola to tourists, themselves snapping pictures and gawking at the monuments in a range of languages, the Bent Pyramid–perhaps from its crooked birthmark–remains isolated. And while Giza, itself sprawling from Cairo, continues to fill the desert around Khufu’s great tomb, the Bent Pyramid stands largely alone.

Obligatory Great Pyramid pic, Giza

Outside the tomb, my fellow teacher Dea and I sat underneath a rocky archway, overwhelmed by the silence. I listened to the “heartbeat” of the desert, as I then wrote.

But throughout my time in Egypt, I experienced many tombs. Going to and from Cairo, our taxi passed “The City of the Dead,” a nickname given to a still-used necropolis of Muslim tombs inhabited and cared for by poorer families. A series of road- webbed grids, walls, tarps, and low-slung rooftops spilled into the distance, pierced by the spires of the occasional mosque. At sunset, the haze-infused orange of the setting sun timed with the muezzin’s call proved overwhelming.

A “neighborhood” in the city of the dead, Cairo

I also experienced the quiet, bleached streets of Coptic Cairo, where churches held the relics and clothed caskets of saints and religious figures, icons of St. George covered walls, and fans spun slowly from high ceilings over long rows. In Cairo, the bodies of Muslim royalty remained concealed behind the arabesque of mosques, while in Alexandria we wandered the Roman-Egyptian catacombs of Kom al-Shoqafa. In the deserts, beyond the pyramids and their localized buildings, we walked inside the boxy tombs that housed non-royal figures and stood atop the ruined Greek town of Karanis, now little more than blanched stone under a relentless sun.

Outside Egypt, I’ve always been interested in death, from the Roman mummy masks that I perused while lingering in Oxford’s Ashmolean, to the various graveyards and grave sites in Europe in America. But I’ve never thought about the rhetorical power of ritual and death.

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CCR 634: Legalism, Quintilian, and Structure

Reading Han Feizi, Quintilian, and Arabelle Lyon’s treatment of Daoism, Legalism, and Confucianism, I kept coming back to the role of the individual rhetor and the larger context, as well as the role of different genres and different types of “persuasion.” But I will likely just focus on the first of these.

With Han Feizi, I often noticed the limits of rhetoric, particularly when he discusses how good words–or a good orator–can still end up in trouble. As he writes, after a litany of violent examples, “Why could these worthies and sages not escape death penalties and evade disgrace? It was because of the difficulty in persuading fools. Hence every gentleman 37 has to remain diffident of speaking. Even the best speech displeases the ear and upsets the heart, and can be appreciated only by worthy and sage rulers” (Book 1, Ch. III).

Here, I couldn’t help but think of Socrates–and to a lesser extent Cicero–as well as the book of Ecclesiastes railing against the efficacy of knowledge. What good is knowledge or eloquence when your audience doesn’t care? I feel like this is a question that doesn’t show up as much in other texts that we’ve read.

Countering this, I think feminist rhetoric tends to point to problems with the “available means of persuasion” when unwilling audiences and cultures are critical. Introducing their anthology Available Means (2001), Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald, for example, describe “women’s rhetoric” as “a tradition that has existed only in the shadows for centuries because women’s writing and speaking have not been gathered together as ‘rhetoric’” (xvi). And while many of the speakers they include were trained rhetoricians or employed deliberate rhetorical tactics, their anthology also includes “women’s writing that may not meet and that may even defy traditional rhetorical criteria and categories— especially concerning ethos, or the appeal of the speaker’s ‘character,’” as this reflects the often marginalized position where women spoke (xviii). They also include many alternative texts, like letters, and topoi that differ from Aristotle’s traditional conception of rhetoric and how people have taken that up. Without tradition audiences, many women rhetors had to use different “available means.”

And I think that’s where “shih” comes in, as Han Feizi, describes, which I gather is a sort of authority from institutional structure. Through shih, people are forced, or forcibly attuned, to listen. Order gets maintained regardless of “who” is governing.

This trust in order felt really interesting, because although Han Feizi also values “tact,” which reminds me a bit like Confucian ren as an ability to read people and navigate governing in a shrewd way, the roles of shih and fa (laws) are extrinsic to the rhetorician at some level.  As Han Feizi argues, the rhetorician does not need to be “worthy” to have this authority, as most people are “average men,” not particularly bad or good. Rather, one should construct a strong structure that can give rulers their authority and not allow them to disrupt things too much if they are not good.

This contrasts a bit with Quintilian who describes rhetoric as the “good man speaking well” and continually emphasizes the moral character of the rhetor, even noting in the later chapters that this is something that they must practice continually. Furthermore, individual training and a close relationship with individual teachers are important, almost forming a familial relationship.

And without being too reductive, I find this to be a more common thread in Western v. Eastern rhetorical traditions as we’ve encountered them. Again, this is not meant to be a totalizing generalization, but many of the traditions we have read–Legalism, Doaism, and Confucianism–seem to value how one relates to elements beyond the individual, while the Greeks and Romans tend to value how the individual navigates certain points as an individual.

On the one hand, the Daodejing values how one aligns with the Way; Dong Zhongshu emphasizes the relationship between emperor, Heaven, and the people; Confucius emphasizes the role of ritual and alignment with tradition and public harmony; and Han Feizi emphasizes the role of law.

Meanwhile, Isocrates values the individual abilities of the student, and Aristotle emphasizes the rhetor’s individual ability to read and intervene with the situation or wield their ethos in a productive way. Cicero and Quintilian also have a similar focus. With Cicero, trying to evoke the emotions of the audience becomes central, and Quintilian recognizes the potential individuality of the speaker as well.

Obviously, complications exist, though. For Confucius, it seems that the individual must spend a lifetime cultivating inner virtue, much like Quintilian’s ideal rhetor. And many on the Greek side, from the Dissoi Logoi onward, recognize the contextual nature of rhetoric, particularly how rules change. More generally, then, I think these readings emphasize the perennial tug-of-war between the individual and kairotic or contextual elements of rhetoric. As Thomas Nagel argues about philosophy, there is no “view from nowhere;” for rhetoric, even as we craft forms and heuristics, this seems equally true–if not more so.


CCR 634: Cicero, Part 2

Reading Cicero this week, with the emphasis on arrangement, memory, style, and delivery, I found a few threads that struck me.

First, particularly with Crassus’ interlude, I noticed the return of philosophy. Again, Crassus’ ideal orator feels like a polymath who can also vary their delivery depending on their situation. They have the knowledge of the philosopher, but can also convey that knowledge in ways that philosophers cannot. As Crassus concludes:

“if we are looking for the one thing that surpasses all others, the palm must go to the orator. If they [philosophers] allow that he is also a philosopher, then the quarrel is over. If, however, they keep the two distinct, they will be inferior  in that their knowledge is present in the perfect orator, while the knowledge of the philosophers does not automatically imply eloquence” (266).

While Crassus does seem to treat the ideal orator as somewhat Platonic, a goal we can strive toward more than attain, the role of knowledge feels particularly significant. His tracing of philosophical schools tries to tie his own (rhetorical) craft into these deeper traditions. The space his seeming “digression” takes up is substantial. And, this theme comes up regularly in the overall text. So, I want to focus on the role of knowledge.

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CCR Ancient Rhetorics: History Telling

The main takeaway I had from the readings this week is the ecological and complicatedly situated mode of discussing history. I remember back in middle school, my history teacher discussed the “story” of history, largely framing things in a linear line of causation.

Michelle Ballif critiques this somewhat, though, with”Writing the Event,” in which she draws from Derrida’s notion of “the event” to complicate this often linear approach. As she writes, “Events event all the all the time. Happenings happen all the time. But . . . the writing of history coopts happenings, events, and subjects them to sequences of progression and regression, making them evidentiary to greater paradigms (of ‘time’) and thus fulfills a chronological notion of temporality” (246). The sense that “events event all the time,” in unpredictable, rupturing ways reminds me of some pieces of read about recent history, how people make sense of the now only after the fact–something Heidegger also argues. Reading this en rout to the March on Washington, I couldn’t help but think what “events” or “happenings” will history remember–and where will these current events and happenings go. As Ballif notes, we are “historicizing the so-called present.”

Moreover, the way these breaks into unpredictable possibility get subsumed under an almost Hegelian sense of time and passing, I think, lulls us into a sense of security. It also brings up the question about what is “new” and what is a larger recurring pattern. But I’m not sure if I fully followed Ballif’s closing turn toward performance–rather than writing “of” and event. While I think it’s honest to consider things with an uncertain possibility, I also think deeper notions of place and identity often challenge that.

I think this came through in Baca’s “Chicano Codex” and in Villanueva’s “Rhetoric of the First ‘Indians,’ though in very different ways. In Baca’s piece, revisionist history gets a dynamic model through the 2000 Codex Espangliensis. In the Codex, more ancient traditions of symbolization, doubles, and jarring pairs uses modern icons and symbols, like Wonder Woman, to re-tell and re-frame the colonization of peoples by Columbus and more contemporary pop culture. In a sense, this connection aligns two parts of a colonial project, but subsumes the usual chronology into a more symbolic or thematic context. In this way, it links events, one could say, but it doesn’t do so in a chronological, linear path of cause and effect. European colonialism both echoes in the present and modern day pop culture revives elements of the past.

For Villanueva, I got a strong sense of the role of origins and the role of history and culture when discussing the Taino people. As he writes, “The people, the Taino, created a culture. There was an origin story” (17). Parts of their language and culture, like their valuing of the good and noble or their diets in fish, which Villanueva notes, come to us as historical fragments. This piece, to me, recognizes the complex work needed to recreate a culture that, temporally speaking, is historical–is not longer “alive” in a contemporary sense, though traces of their culture, language, and history is, almost like a rhetorical DNA stitched into contemporary fabrics. As he writes, “The memory cannot be killed, even when the people are” (19). Such recovery work, while a “bringing back” or “bringing to light,” as one might put it, also is grounded in the present in terms of how we are grounded in our inquiries.

Kellner’s “Is History Every Timely” takes this distance up squarely with the notion of chronoschisms, breaks in time–distances–that are inherent to the telling of history. Just as Ballif seems to point to, events are happening all the time, and the historian often has to pick and choose events through a particular method or lens. This inevitably creates gaps between where the historian stands and between events themselves. Even language, as Kellner points out, contains chronoschisms. As he writes, “The simplest words like ‘yet’ or ‘still’ contain within them a unusually unnoticed division between the moments represented and the expectations of either a narrator or the reader” (239-40). To draw from Barthes, a historian is a bricholeur of sorts, not only translating “events” into language, but arranging that language–whether as symbols or words.

And on the other end, in terms of audience, history also also has a rhetorical dimension as Martin Bernal’s Black Athena shows, with certain stories–in this case of Greece and “Western Civilization”–have different traction. While different “models” exist of how we conceive of what may have happened may coexist at any time, cultural and methodological trends may favor some models and disparage others, often with political and cultural motives. This is especially true in a “crisis” as he notes, where particular origins (European) are more valued than others (non-European).

Embodied Borders

“Not only does Roman society depend upon moral codes being as stable as Latin morphology, but it also demands that those codes emerge in visible, easily detectable signs. By using notions of the body simultaneously to create and reinforce social distinctions, the elite in Rome could check the power of marginalized groups such as women and ambitious politicians from outside Rome.”

-Anthony Corbeill, Nature Embodied

The distinction that the Romans had regarding “nature” v. training seems to represent a tangled area. Discussing delivery, for example, Quintillian writes,  “without the least reluctance, I allow that the chief power rests with nature,” although nature can be “assisted by art” (Institutes of Oratory, III.12). In other words, one must have a certain set of skills initially in order to build upon–like a good memory, a strong voice, etc. While one can certainly improve upon these qualities, both Cicero and Quintilian seem to stress the importance of a latent sound body and mind.

Complicating this, however, both Cicero and Quintillian describe ornate hand gestures, ways of planting the feet, modes of walking, etc., that lead to a “natural” delivery.  While some of these might sound inherently natural, like pointing, others are less intuitive, with specific placement of fingers in unnatural patterns.  Taking command of these gestures and setting the semiotic bridges of signifier and signified, training could construct these seemingly “natural” gestures.  Such codification creates stability and comprehension, but such stability, just like any monolingual intervention, often leads to exclusion.

As Anthony Corbeill writes, “tacit understanding between speaker and audience ultimately works to distinguish between bodies that accurately convey a speaker’s mind by moving in accordance with nature and those that can be marked as unnatural and therefore in some way deviant.” Constructing signs that constitute the norm, the “natural” within proper rhetorical discourse, instruction can be a powerful tool for exclusion.

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