CCR 634: Aristotle & Isocrates

The two things that stuck out most to me from reading Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Isocrates’ “Against the Sophists” and “Antidosis”: (1) the role of style v. something deeper when it comes to rhetoric and (2) the role of “nature” and the link between speaking well and having a good character.

When reading Gorgias and about Gorgias last week, we discussed the value of style, like the role of meter and the poetic quality of language and how this can almost bowl over an audience. In English, I often come back to Swinburne and Tennyson: for me, regardless of whatever content lies in the poems, a certain musicality permeates their language. The ending of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” for example, has always stuck out to me for its elegance, despite being a (dangerous) poem about imperialism:

“. . . and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Its almost marching rhythm, its careful alliteration, the uses of breaks and pauses, and the balance and repetition of the final line carry a certain rhetorical power. Or as Jacobson argues about the slogan “I like Ike,” its “poetic” quality has a potent power. Today, I think we may say this capacity of the sound and feel of language can lend to its virality.

So I appreciate that Aristotle melds views on the style (lexis) and arrangement (taxis) in Book III of Rhetoric with the more psychological and purpose-driven advice in Book I and II. The role of psychology, particularly through ethos and pathos, as well as Aristotle’s grounding and insistence on proof (logos) through enthymemes provides a backdrop that can then further (and be furthered through) style and arrangement. And his taxonomy of speaking purposes–deliberative, epidictive, and forensic–can also have a similar relationship.  To me, a certain core toolkit or meta-scaffolding informs the content or brunt structure of a speech, while leaving a range of possible variation and polish, though I can see how Aristotle discusses the role of style more in Poetics. I can almost see a similarity with Aristotle and genre theory, in that one can apply a core of possible considerations to a variety of recurring situations.

Moreover, with Aristotle, his grounding on persuasion, while limiting, also felt gratifying. Drawing on the centrality of proof in his rhetoric, Aristotle early on says, “Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (I, 2). Reading this, I was initially thinking about rhetoric as a sort of modality or mood, in that one is trying to persuade regardless of context. Persuasion becomes the purpose or characteristic of a particular moment, as opposed to comfort or inform, for example. These other elements–like comforting or informing–may be part of what one is doing or saying, but ultimately one wants to persuade, making this the ultimate end (or telos) of the language one uses.

Thinking about Aristotle’s Categories, for example, I ended up considering more of what Aristotle next says: “Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter. . . But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us” (I, 2). Although the particular of medicine may have its own means of proof or persuasion, the general category of persuasion itself, as the telos of the situation, fits under rhetoric. But I am still thinking through this. For the most part, though, I found Aristotle’s moving between particulars and larger, more abstracted concepts, like pathos or deliberation, helpful, as well as his inclusion of style and arrangement.

Moving to Isocrates, though, I found the concern with nature and rhetoric interesting, albeit a bit contradictory in my (admittedly fast) read. In “Against the Sophists,” he writes:
all wise men, I believe, will agree with me, that many, studious of philosophy, have led a private life; but that some others, tho’ they never were the scholars of sophists, were skilled both in eloquence and governing the state; for the faculty of eloquence, and all other ingenuity, is innate in men, and is the portion of such as are exercised by use and experience.
He goes on to say that educating them can improve them, polishing their ability to draw from this “great store,” but a certain innateness seems to be important. And I am not clear how universal innateness is here. In this quote, it feels more inclusive–though some may have it more–but later on, he writes:
Let no one think, that I imagine justice can be taught; for I do not think there is any such art which can teach those who are not disposed by nature, either temperance or justice; tho’ I think the study of popular eloquence helps both to acquire and practice it.
Here, latent abilities feel less secured–or that the virtue acquired through training is not as inclusive. Reading the piece as whole, I get the sense that training does need to draw on some innate skill or abilities, though these may be fairly widespread. One can’t simply implant ability into someone, or at the very least, a sound understanding of eloquence beyond a parroting of forms requires extensive and thoughtful training. Moreover, Isocrates seems to place increased emphasis on the instructor, who must be a master of this art, and shows skepticism toward the large and financially motivated promises of the typical sophist.

But in “Antidosis,” I found he was a bit more inclusive about the power of learning to speak well, which is where I felt the potential contradiction. For example, he writes about how someone wanting to convince others of his character may strengthen his character–which Aristotle does say may make things easier, though it is not necessary. He also notes how people learning rhetoric would study great deeds and heroic exploits, likely absorbing them–a sort of connection I see with belletristic rhetorical theory. He also argues that such people will likely want “speak or write in discourses which are worthy of praise and honor,” furthering their conversion into a positive character.

In Isocrates, perhaps to defend his own teaching and distance it from the Sophists, I get stronger sense of rhetoric’s connection to character or nature. Phrased another way, I see a stronger link between how one speaks and who one is–what sort of nature of character they are. And his rhetoric, unlike the Sophists, with their own dubious character, is the most self-improving. In Aristotle, though character and nature may be a variable, rhetorical method seems more neutral and applied, though this may be more about how they are presenting their views on rhetoric.

Still, I think, these readings evoked in me a stronger sense of some of the ongoing conversations that continue up to today, somewhat evoked by Plato, particularly this question of rhetoric/speaking and character or nature.

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CCR 634: Doing things with Words

When reading Plato’s Gorgias and Phaedrus dialogues, as well as the Dissoi Logoi and Gorgias’ “Ecomium,” three motifs struck me: the role of relativism, the act of teaching rhetoric, and the power of language. I also couldn’t help but meld some of these readings with where my head is at lately, so I think I’ll start there.

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CCR 634: Comparative (Cultural) Rhetorics

The tension between more “objective” knowing and more “subjective” knowing has often followed me around. Lately, I’ve been thinking about it in terms of filter bubbles, as this post explores, but I think it also has more general connections, including to the task of comparative rhetoric from the readings.

Before diving into the readings, though, I wanted to start a bit where I generally come from: essentially, Kant and the question of metaphysics. With Kant, I’m always preoccupied with his argument that most knowledge is “synthetic” and therefore arrived at through experience, and furthermore, we experience things as phenomena through the “synthetic a priori”of our experience, not as the noumena of the “thing-in-itself.” I think this basic framework–that we never experience “Reality” except in a subjective sense–is productive beyond Kant, as one can layer up more lenses between the thing-in-itself and our experience of it. Language, culture, our prior experiences, cognitive biases, our senses, etc., color our perception, making the sort of transcendental knowledge of the Rationalists impossible. As Nietzsche put it, in Kaufmann’s translation, there is no “immaculate perception.”

And as someone who is trying to think about the world and “produce knowledge” (though the phrase knowledge production has always felt off to me), I am constantly faced with the ethics of knowledge. A certain hubris can come from a transcendent view of knowledge, as well as a potential violence. Even if one isn’t actually trying to produce a totalizing model for stuff or a transcendent theory, the deductive and inductive dance of explaining and knowing in most Western models still has a certain tendency to want to stretch beyond individual contexts.

And I think that’s where the readings come in: trying to find ways to ethically and responsibly theorize across different contexts, particularly different cultural and rhetorical ones.

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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).

Hello, 2017

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” -Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

I’ve never been a big New Year person. It’s position seems too arbitrary. Sometimes it fits, but often, like a poorly timed joke, it feels too late or too early, punctuating the calendar whether we want to celebrate it or not.

I think about other forms of time, like the slow waltz of geologic cycles or the Mayan Long Calendar’s b’ak’tun–the approximate equivalent of 144,000 years per cycle. I don’t mean to go full Rent, but the sense of days adding up to a pre-determined, arbitrarily assigned date feels a little bloodless to me. Abstract, even if its celestial and mathematical elegance has its own beauty. I appreciate the bringing-together mentality that each New Year offers, even though many countries don’t celebrate this crux between December 31st and January, but as an individual, I wonder if more valuable measurements exist.

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Update

Hey all,

Sorry for the long hiatus. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’ve made some significant changes to the site, both aesthetically and in terms of content. I’ve finally compressed my for-school blog into this site–including all of the past posts I did this semester–and will likely be doing both types of writing here from now on. I think the major changes are done, but I may be doing further tweaks, as I’m not quite sure how I feel about this aesthetic quite yet.

I hope to do my first post tomorrow, as a way to start the new year, but in the meantime, I hope everyone has a positive final day of the tumultuous 2016.

-Brett

ENG 730: Play, Agency, and Activism

My main takeaway from this week’s readings concerns questions of agency. More specifically, I saw the possible tension between the human players and the nonhuman elements of the game through its rules or “procedural rhetoric.” This is the more localized interaction of agency. But, in a broader sense, one also has the agency of the designer, perhaps distributed into the game, and the agency of the larger ideologies and structures that further inform the designer.

Rather than a “magic circle” outside or “ordinary life,” as Huizinga would see it, playing a game is more of a crossroads or gathering where human and nonhuman open up a particular form of interacting, an “assemblage,” to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term, where larger experiences and practices may emerge and where the constitutive components, themselves, may also change. I want to argue more what I mean below, but first a quick note on agency.

I’m using agency here in the way that people like Bruno Latour, John Law, and Michel Callon have taken it up in work in Actor-Network Theory.  In this outlook, agency is more about the possibility of acting and interacting in the world a  certain way. Different actors have different possible actions, sometimes passive or active, sometimes sentient or insentient. A mug can hold liquids. A dog can bark or run. A human can generally perform a whole range of actions. And as different actors interact, link up, or break apart, argues Latour, both new actions, situations, materials, relations, etc., arise.

His famous gun example makes this clear. A gun alone cannot do much, though it can shine or exert weight on a table. Similarly, a human without a gun can’t shoot anyone, though they have a considerable array of possible actions. In order to shoot, the human must grab the gun, creating a gun-human hybrid, then decide to shoot.

Through this framework, I think one can see that the agency of the game rules presents a certain experience when the human players interact. But this agency is fraught and contested, and as Bogost and Flanagan discuss, it can be used for different things.

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ENG 730: Atari, Design Constraints, and Ecology

Thinking through Bogost and Montfort’s Racing the Beam, I was reminded a bit of some of the conversations we had last class regarding design and the material constraints that technology imposes.

I think the role of hardware struck me particularly with questions of porting. As they write regarding Pac-Man‘s port to the Atari, “Porting a graphical video game from one computer platform (the arcade board) to another (the Atari VCS) does not demand a change in fundamental or representational of functional mode.  Both versions are games, rule-based representations of an abstract challenge of hunter and hunted. Where the two versions diverge is in their technical foundations–in their platforms” (67).

This is a key observation, as it hits at the material implications of replicating player experience or game cohesion across platforms. The invention process of remaking a game for a different system requires ample creativity when the systems are different enough–particularly in graphic affordances and machine communication.  In this way, the designer is not making new content or rules, but they are making a new means to express the content or rules, a new way to interface with the machine to attain a similar end. With this situation in mind, I think about parallels with translation or transcription, but I wonder how far those alphabetic, or at least textual, metaphors can apply in this case. In both cases, one is working in different systems, but the technology of a semiotic system differs from the technology of a video game hardware.

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CCR 633: Multimodality, Part 2

Chapter three begins with the “prosumer,” an idea that Alexander and Rhodes borrow from Daniel Anderson. The “prosumer,” they describe, is “a convergence of the consumer and the professional in terms of new media tools” (106). Many new media tools allow consumers, formerly just receivers, to produce products, thereby acting as professionals. This, in turn, allows a more critical focus on production, as it is no longer black-boxed behind the usual channels, but in the hands of the consumer.

This similar idea–that of consumer as professional or producer–also connects with the Situationalist notion of “détournement,” a form of “pillaging or appropriation,” as Frances Stracey describes (qtd. in Alexander and Rhodes 112).  The Situationalists argued that capitalism had the constant need to project a “spectacle” of needs that inspire consumers to thirst after products, so people should critically produce to counter this.

Alexander and Rhodes connect these ideas to current DIY movements, but emphasize the “critical” dimension of this production. In other words, it’s not simply enough to be critical, in a humanities sense, or to produce; one must use production in a critical way, engaging in multimodal production through new media tools. They provide the example of images that grew in “excess” from their work that argue their work or ethos as “queer rhetoric” scholars in different ways.

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