April 12, 2008

The physical in Cixious and Kristeva

In reading Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva, although I am extremely welcoming of a woman finally getting a forum and bringing the important role of women into the Rhetorical Tradition, I see a bit of a tension in their attempts to empower women (and perhaps I am simply interpreting their words in the incorrect or unconventional way). It is clear that they are calling for women’s liberation through text. They state that “writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural – hence political, typically masculine – economy? (1235). This, they argue, must change.

It seems, however, that Cixoius and Kristeva focus so much on the body that it appears to me that they are essentializing that which they wish not to be essentialized by men. I understand that they are trying to show that the body can give woman her “being? and “access to her native strength? (1236). I agree. They are in fact trying to celebrate the strength of that which has been assumed submissive. However, I feel as if this attention to the body, to the physical, comes at the expense of celebrating that beyond it – the spiritual, the intellectual, and the possible. Again, I hedge my statement in the fact that I know that there is a certain “oneness? of all of them that Cixious and Kristeva appreciate (as do I). Still, it is as if I want them to do more to counter the “phallic? domination of discourse they so adamantly oppose than with referencing something else “bodily.? For instance, they state, “Her libido will produce far more radical effects of political and social change than some might like to think? (1237). I realize they use such phrases in some respects to twist the terminology that has been used against them, but in proclaiming that discourse is an escape and a liberation I want them to go beyond the physical references and pave the way for a woman’s “becoming? outside of the walls that have been rhetorically been built around her.

April 9, 2008

Derrida and Writing

Derrida’s larger project is anti-humanist in the sense that he does not want origins or “fixed presence? of structure or a genesis of subjects. In order for Derrida to conduct his project, which essentially does away with a stable subject, he had to privilege writing. Put differently, to undo the inheritance of Platonic “truth-seeking? (or words as representative of an essence) and an accessible ontological presence, Derrida first had to attack speech as a superior vessel of intended meaning and authentic truth by privileging writing. Furthermore, to push the ontological difference further, which Heidegger posed, Derrida had to look at a representational form of language already premised upon the absence of a subject before he could move to other forms of communication. Although Derrida concedes that no stable referent or presence is possible in oral communication, theorizing absence through writing illustrates a more accessible means through which to establish an ontological modification of presence—since the subject generating the “mark? is inherently removed in writing. Derrida notes, “This structural possibility of being weaned from the referent or from the signified (hence from communication and from its context) seems to make every mark, including those which are oral, a grapheme in general … cut off from its putative ‘production’ or origin. And I shall even extend this law to all ‘experience’ in general as it is conceded that there is no experience consisting of pure presence but only of chains of differential marks? (1482).

In other words, Derrida posits writing as a productive example for his project of the “continuous modification of presence? or a rupture in presence, which, for him, is fundamentally exposing the quest for stability as a mistake and the indeterminate play of differences as desirable. Moreover, Derrida sees a misguided effort in the desire to posit the intentionality of a subject because it can only produce teleological readings/understanding. Derrida is careful to assert that there is nothing “outside? the mark; rather, he states that every mark can break with any given context “engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable … this does not imply that the mark is valid outside of a context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center or absolute anchorage? (1483). In my reading, Derrida does not assume that one needs a transcendent signifier (center), rather, the duplication of the mark or “iterability? of the mark is not an “anomaly?; it is what allows the mark to have anything close to a function “called ‘normal’? (1483-84). In sum, Derrida poses the question: “What would a mark be that could not be cited?? In Derrida’s world, one must think of the interplay of differential marks as intrinsic to language—for this Derrida chooses the word “différance.? He states “this deferral must be capable of being carried to certain absoluteness of absence if the structure of writing … is to constitute itself? (1479).

Writing serves as the ideal site for Derrida to work out his project because for him ecriture “axiomatically? (if I can use that word w/ D.) is a representation that can more easily be posited as removed or “absent? from the “presence? of the speaker/subject. This move is necessary for Derrida to assert that writing is not just a convenient substitute for the original; rather, it represents the true nature of language, which cannot be totalized. Thus, Derrida can push the ontological difference further than Heidegger who posits, “language is the house of Being.? His project is at its core metaphysical in the sense that he wants to attack philosophical ontology that has origins and seeks to restore presence, which ultimately denies language and privileges the subject.

As Said says better than I can possibly articulate: “Derrida wants us to see—if not to understand—that so long as we believe that language is mainly a representation of something else, we cannot see what language does; so long as we are expecting to understand language in terms of some primitive essence to which it is a functional addition, then we cannot see that any use of language means not only representation but, paradoxically, the end or permanent deferring of representation and the beginning of something else, which he calls writing. So long as we do not see that writing, more accurately and materially than speaking, signifies language being used not simply as a substitute for something better than itself but as an activity all its own, we cannot recognize that ‘something better’ is a fundamental illusion. In short, we will remain in the grip of ‘metaphysics’? (Edward Said, “The Problems of Textuality? 689-90).

Kim TP

April 4, 2008

Rhetoric and Foucault as Philosopher

I admit; I am not as well versed in the history of rhetorical criticism as I should be. That said, I wonder if critical rhetoric would be at all possible without Foucault’s (vis-à-vis Nietzsche’s, Heidegger’s) de-centering of the privileged subject position. In other words, insofar as rhetoric (so-construed as a “tradition?) is beholden to the “subject? who seeks knowledge that s/he can then persuade an audience of, or “man? as something that remains constant: for rhetoric to become more “critical? rhetorical criticism needed a theoretical postulate from which to launch an examination of the rhetorical subject as non-fixed. Or, in order to join on firm ground the “postmodern? debate, rhetoric had to build a more “critical? discipline, which adopted an idea of the subject that was not an immutable given. Having done this, rhetoric could posit itself as possessing a “subject? who was familiar with shifting social structures and instability. Put differently, rhetoric as an independent discipline in the mid-twentieth century was not developing a body of theory that was clearly anti-humanist and was therefore reliant upon philosophy to generate the theoretical tools to become more “critical.? In this sense, the logical place for rhetoric to look for critical tools was philosophy. In so doing, rhetoric had to adopt thinkers, such as Foucault, that were clearly anti-rhetoric, so to speak. Barbara Biesecker notes in her essay “Michel Foucault and the Question of Rhetoric?: “Given that Foucault’s work appears to have undermined the liberal view of self-determination as the basis and condition of the possibility for freedom, and seems to have flagrantly dismissed the deeply entrenched view of our discipline that the existing social order—its relations of exploitation, domination, and oppression—can be transcended through symbolic intervention and collective recognition and resistance, why have we welcomed him into the house that Aristotle built??

This brings me to a tricky acknowledgement: I’m not sure how seamlessly rhetoric has taken up Foucault. In other words, I see Foucault as having an explicit place in philosophical debates and a convenient place in rhetoric. I do think a critical turn in rhetoric was necessary in order to address issues of power, gender, race, etc., but I wonder about the rigor with which rhetoricians have justified their use of Foucault’s theory, which is clearly philosophical. Let me clarify with an example: in Foucault’s essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,? Foucault is validating and extending Nietzsche’s view that the problem with a history which seeks origins is that it relies on faith in metaphysics and offers up a “suprahistorical perspective [which] metaphysics can bend … to its own purpose? (360). Furthermore, Foucault notes “historical sense can evade metaphysics and become a privileged instrument of genealogy if it refuses the certainty of absolutes.? In this sense, Foucault is concerned with an argument against the primacy of metaphysics, its postulate of a stable human, and the totalizing forms of history. In what we have read to date, I see the clearest affinity to rhetoric in Foucault’s “the Archeology of Knowledge,? but even here, as Liz noted, he is arguing with Saussure. I guess what I am getting at is fundamentally this: in order to make sense of Foucault in relation to the Rhetorical project, rhetoric needs to more carefully craft a sense of itself in relation to philosophy, particularly postmodern philosophers such as Foucault, Derrida, etc. Has rhetoric carefully woven a disciplinary self that can justify the co-optation of philosophy for its critical ends? Or, does one need to let rhetoric and philosophy co-exist as related projects with indentifiably similar projects? I have trouble with this.

Kim TP

March 30, 2008

Foucault and rhetoric

Foucault and Rhetoric
Liz Kalbfleisch

The question I will investigate in this post is one that has puzzled me throughout my rhetorical studies-how and why is Foucault rhetorical? This question takes on added exigency when one considers “Archeology of Knowledge? where he explicitly distances himself from rhetoric, “Discursive relations are not internal to the discourse...they do not establish a deductive or rhetorical structure between propositions or sentences?.
On the one hand, a rigorous treatment of this question, must go back further to ask about the relationship between linguistics, particularly Saussurean linguistics and rhetoric, since in some sense, F’s project in “Archeology? could be described as Saussurean linguistics made answerable to a world in which language is used, while at the same time challenging a notion of realism in langage: “I would like to show that ‘discourses’ in the form in which they can be heaerd or read, are not, as one might expect, a mere intersection of things and words… I would like to show that discourse is not a slender surface of contact or confrontation between a reality and a language (langue)…I would like to show with precise examples that in analyzing discourses themselves, one sees the loosening of the embrace, apparently so tight, of words and things, and the emergence of a group of rules proper to discursive practice…Of course discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to the language (langue) and to speech. It is the ‘more’ that we must reveal and describe?. Such and endeavor being beyond the scope of this post, however, I will proceed with what F. gives the reader in this text.
In “Archaeology?, at the most basic level, F. sets out a method “the rules of formation? (1436, 2nd ed.) in order to explain the “meaning of statements? (1436, 2nd ed., footnote). In this sense, Foucault would seem to be more of a hermeneut than a rhetorician. The investigation into a ‘discursive formation’ with the rules of formation shows that objects are constituted by language (1436-37). Statements like this would seem to project F. into the realm of rhetoric by virtue of this acknowledgement that language does something; is classical, Aristotelian rhetoric, what language does in persuade, and for Foucault language constructs or constitutes. Thus, it would seem that in some sense, Foucault is revising Saussure in a rhetorical direction by nudging Saussure’s ideas to acknowledge the world and to acknowledge a certain power of language in that world.
At the same time, though, Foucault’s method seeks to eliminate or efface the world at the moment it is apprehended; to “dispense with things?: “To derepresentify them. To conjure up their rich heavy, immediate plentitude, which we usually regard as the primitive law of a discourse that has become divorced from it through error…To substitute for the enigmatic treasure of ‘things’ anterior to discourse, the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse. To define these objects without reference to the ground, the foundation of things, but by relating them to the body of rules that enable them to form as objects of a discourse and thus constitute the conditions of their historical appearances? (1441). Traditionally,(and perhaps until Foucault) rhetoric has depended upon this realism in language (the ability of language to, with reasonable accuracy, reflect the world that it describes). Thus, this dispensing of the world at the moment he apprehends it could for some separate his out from rhetoric, if one is relying on a rigorously historicized and perhaps reactionary notion of the term, or it could represent a development in and complication of notions of rhetoric that profoundly impacts what comes after it. Certainly this question about rhetoric and realism (the assumption in rhetorical theory that language is necessarily realistic) lies at the heart of some debates in modern rhetoric, most notably Dana Cloud and James Aune’s disagreement with Ron Greene over Marxist rhetorics. As such it would seem that Foucault’s thought has undoubtedly shaped new directions in rhetoric that come after it and given that the rhetoric of inquiry project begins right around the time that Foucault is publishing works like “Archaeology?, F. likely has a hand in reviving rhetorical studies in the last half of the twentieth century.

March 25, 2008

Foucault and Power

I’m enjoying the orientation to Foucault’s conceptualization of power. He does, indeed, talk about power in a way I find much more satisfying than the discussion put forth by the Frankfurt School and Gramsci in regard to hegemony. As widely stated, his conception of power is more optimistic; that is, power is the ability to make change rather than the fact that a certain group is overpowered by a more advantaged group. Such hegemonic theories which posit that power is all-encompassing never seem to provide an avenue out of such powerless situations. Although I am not far in Foucault, I have hope that his idea that power is motivating and freeing might gets us further to reaching an answer.

Foucault’s assertion that “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are ‘free’? (139) diverges from other notions of power which seem to capture freedom and eliminate it. For Foucault, however, power implies and allows freedom. He states, “Where the determining factors are exhaustive, there is no relationship of power: slavery is not a power relationship when man [sic] is in chains, only when he [sic] has some possible mobility, even a chance of escape? (139).

Foucault’s conception here makes me think of how Burke distinguishes motion from action. It appears that, for Foucault, freedom is only possible in the realm of action, and to both scholars, the importance of ethics enters the scenario when humans are able to have that freedom (in action) to allow for choice and becoming. The parallels here will be something to watch as I continue to read.


March 13, 2008

Analyzing P &O-T according to P & O-T

I found the "completeness" of The New Rhetoric to be quite impressive, and this more than anything else makes me think that they are recuperating Aristotle rather than pushing off of him towards something completely new. Both Aristotle and P&O-T have such a fondness for the extensive catalog, where every possible type of something is named, analyzed and put in its proper category.

Since it is so complete, I assume that P & O-T have given us the tools to analyze their own rhetorical act: this book. I am especially interested in how the authors treat other arguments through their use of examples. P & O-T note how a focus on the device of another's argument leads to the weakening of this argument (by showing the strings behind it, as it were). This is of course what their whole book does with various examples and it left me (as a reader) feeling that they have a particularly pragmatic orientation and see no argument as intrinsically valid, but only made valid through effective rhetorical technique. This is a different feeling than I got from Burke, and a far cry from Weaver, who seems to judge arguments (in a moral sense) based both upon their means and their ends. Martin Buber's critique of the means to an ends orientation which P & O-T summarize on page 436 could be particularly relevant as an argument against P & O-T's own approach which focuses so much on the value of means, rather than the value of message.

One other interesting facet of The New Rhetoric to look at in this regard is the preponderance of examples from religious texts. Besides the obvious examples, from the bible and the writings of saints and mystics, they also chose to look at the arguments of modern philosophers with a very religious bent, such as Buber and Simone Weil. I imagine that in a context with a very definite religious-secular split such as France, this did not earn P & O-T many admirers. Both sides would likely exclaim with disapproval (for different reasons): "How can they treat arguments on religion like any other argument??!!" While emphasizing the devices that these arguments use deprives them of some of their power, the fact that P&O-T use religious examples in such great number seems to give them importance according to their own ideas of using repetition to make a topic present for the audience. Thus, I was quite confused as to P&O-T's own attitudes towards religion and the legitimacy of religious arguments. Perhaps they wanted it that way.... ~Tor.

March 12, 2008

logic and rhetoric in Weaver

Liz Kalbfleisch

When reading about Weaver’s definition of rhetoric, one of the immediately defining features of his definition is the fact that he does and does not separate logic from rhetoric. On the one hand, he says “For the most obvious truth about rhetoric is that it’s object is the whole man. It presents its arguments first to the rational part of man, because rhetorical discourses, if they are honestly conceived, always have a basis in reasoning. Logical argument [italics mine] is the plot, as it were, of any speech or composition that is designed to persuade? (1352, 2nd ed.). This conception of rhetoric seems to resonate with Enlightenment understandings of rhetoric, say, Campbell’s who understood logic and grammar to be parts of rhetoric (907,2nd ed.), as though rhetoric is a master discipline with logic and grammar as sub-parts of it.
But then, on page 1353, Weaver begins an extended discussion of logic that seems, when it mentions rhetoric, to posit logic and rhetoric as an opposite to rhetoric. He says “Logic is merely the mechanism for organizing the data of other provinces of knowledge? and then goes on to explain that man could never convert himself into a pure logic or thinking machine, because “he would be a thinking robot, a concept which horrifies us precisely because the robot has nothing to think about?. Then, in the next paragraph, he seems to binarize logic and rhetoric: “A confirmation of this truth [that man is not purely a logic or thinking machine] lies in the fact that rhetoric can never be reduced to symbology. Logic is increasingly becoming ‘symbolic logic’ (formal logic)…but rhetoric always comes to us in well-fleshed words, and that is because it must deal with the world, the thickness, stubbornness and power of it?. So it seems that here, Weaver is maybe positing two types of logic: regular logic as a reasoning process used in argument, and symbolic logic, a process of symbols manipulated according to a static, rigid system of rules, also known as formal logic. P and O-T in New Rhetoric also address formal logic in relationship to rhetoric. They say that a mid-1950’s conception of reason is more and more confined to the symbolic manipulations of formal logic (TNR, 2-3). Their NR is directed, partially, at re-couping reason from the stronghold formal logic has on it. So it seems that a division of logic into plain logic and formal logic in Weaver is reasonable and that plain logic is the kind that is used along with rhetoric.
But then, at the very bottom of 1353, Weaver says: “Rhetoric has a relationship to the world which logic does not have…?, thus seeming to fit plain logic into a binary opposition to rhetoric. (?)

March 8, 2008

The particular vs. the universal in P &O-T

Last week we began a discussion about the relationship between the universal and particular audience according to P & O-T. It does seem that at times they oscillate between privileging one over the other at different points in the book. In my opinion, however, I read P & O-T as putting more emphasis on the particular audience in regard to argumentation. Indeed there is a universal standard of some sort, but is more important to work off of that standard to urge the particular audience members into adherence. In their discussion of notions, which seems to be a type of universally held “system of reference,? P & O-T state that any notion needs to make “suitable adjustments? in order to adapt to particular ideologies of audiences (134). Similarly, they state, “The status of the audience varies with the concepts one has of it? (34). The end product, as such, is to construct arguments in a way as to create adherence in the minds of audience the speaker is addressing – which will differ depending on the situation and the particular audience.

The best reading I can come up with is that P & O-T see the particular and universal audiences as being in a constant dynamic relationship with one another – they cannot exist without one another. Although they state that “argumentation is a totality intended for some definite audience? (508), I do not think it unfair to read the expert as suggesting that while there might be a universal audience, different particular audiences need to be taken into consideration because they will react differently to arguments. P & O-T state that “a theory of argumentation which fails to give consideration to all these elements in conjunction will never succeed in its object? (508). In the conclusion, P & O-T make it clear that they reject both pure objectivity and pure subjectivity: “[R]ealism and nominalism are simply two diametrically opposed attempts at justification, both linked to philosophies of language that are equally inadequate? (513). Hence, they seem to favor the dynamic interaction between reality and value or the universal and particular in creating social meaning.

P & O-T state, “Facts, truths, and presumptions are assumed to command the agreement of the universal audience, whereas values, hierarchies, and loci only command the agreement of particular audiences? (179). This passage, however, confuses me because overall P & O-T seem to suggest that they do not believe in an overarching truth: “[B]ut we will stay clear of the exorbitant pretension which would enthrone certain elements of knowledge as definitely clear and solid data, and would hold these elements to be identical in all normally constituted minds, independently of social and historical contingencies, the foundation of necessary and eternal truths? (510).

That being said, I am often at a loss for trying to follow what role the universal audience plays because they seem to want to make it integral in their explanation of rhetoric. I am not satisfied with what they do with the universal audience; for me, I never quite understand the role it plays except for that it is some overarching normality. Unlike Burke, I do not think they spell this out, spending most of their time talking about how to connect with the particular audience which exist in a “particular cultural atmosphere? (163). Near the end I am really thrown off when they state, “But the universal audience is no less than other audiences a concrete audience, which changes with time, along with the speaker’s conception of it? (491). So, are they not now equating the universal with the particular audience? Am I missing something?

February 21, 2008

Burke and Hitler

Burke seems really fixated on Nazis. I suppose this is not surprising considering that Nazi ascension was propelled largely by rhetoric. I think (I don't know, he might get to this later or it might have just gone over my head) that he misses an opportunity to illustrate his theory of identification, at least the way that I've interpreted it from the readings and class discussions, by showing how the Nazis were able to take over Germany.

Germany has always been a divided country. Protestants were dominant in north and catholics in the south. Differences in tradition and history have always been present and Germany itself did not actually exist until the second half of the nineteenth century. These divisions were exacerbated by the political splintering that occurred after the first world war. The Germany that Hitler led had to be created.

Hitler did this with identification. He used consubstantiality, the idea of a "race" that all Germans belonged to, as a basis for his regime. This belief allowed the population to be manipulated and was at the root of many of the infamous actions that Germany perpetrated.


February 12, 2008

Burke and practicality

After reading Burke’s rhetorical analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a lot of his concepts suddenly became much more clear to me. It was nice to see parts of his conversation about language, ideas, and symbols put to practical use in his criticism. For example, his critique that Hilter “appeals by relying upon a bastardization of fundamentally religious patterns of thought? (230), makes use of his idea that symbols can be used and misused. This is similar to Campbell’s idea that “beauty? can be used as a rhetorical strategy. The power to use language and symbols (especially words and images that are already known in a society) in new ways can be an effective tool for persuading members of society. With Burke, we are now beginning to see the true power that words and images can have. It no longer seems to be just about rhetorical invention (i.e. Campbell) and/or rhetorical context (i.e. Bahktin and Richards). With Burke, it becomes how rhetoric can be used, created, manipulated, or situated in ways that make it have the most power.

Because we are “symbol-using animals,? Burke makes it clear that “rhetoric is not rooted in any past condition of human society. It is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic, and is continually born anew; the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols? (188). Because language now has a function (beyond just being persuasive and contextual), it seems that past theories are almost synthesized. Granted, I do not have as vast a knowledge in rhetorical theory, but it seems like Burke’s Pentad and its ratios explains some of the debates that have been going on previously. For example, Burke claims that both “acts? and “agents? require “scenes? to contain them (152). When scene is interpreted as “rhetorical context,? then it highlights some aspects of Bahktin’s notion of context and Richards’ notion of the interinanimation of words. In order for an act to make sense, it would need to be placed in the context under which it will have the best outcome. Or, for an agent to act, they would need to choose their words for the particular scene they are in. This may seem simplistic, but one thing Burke was able to do for me was to bring my understandings of past theory into applicable light.


February 7, 2008

Burke and literature (Gusfield or Bizzell/Herzberg?)

Did anyone else who read or glanced through Gusfield's introduction notice that in one particular, it seems to contradict a statement made in The Rhetorical Tradition about Burke? On page 3, Gusfield says "Burke has denied the special privileged position of imaginative writing as a vehicle of study" while in their introduction to Richards, Bizzell and Herzberg note that literature is considered a higher form of rhetoric for both Richards and Burke. I think that these statements reflect each editor's motives. Gusfield wants to make sure that Burke fits into his camp of sociologists and so downplays his role as a literary critic, and wants to portray him as analyzing all sorts of "text." Since he is alongside so many other rhetors in their anthology, Bizzell and Hertzberg make note of how literature is more central to his work than for many other rhetors, thus distinguishing him from the whole without denying his place in it.

Given his tendency to use literature before other types of text, and what I read as his strong denigration of the semantic style (Can we assume that this roughly correlates with scientific or utilitarian writing?) on page 101, I would side with Bizzell/Herzberg. This makes me wonder if the Gusfield anthology has a strong sociological bias and if calling Burke a sociologist is a bit like calling Locke a rhetor. How do the other members of the class see him in this regard?


February 4, 2008

Richards and Language

I found Richards to be very interesting in several places. Something that I thought had particular resonance were the issues he explored toward the end of his appearance in Bizzell and Herzberg. It made me think of fairly everyday assumptions that I make which, under his analysis, seem rather spurious.

When Richards discusses the way we think of words as embodying something beyond their linguistic symbol (1291) I think he is describing an action that most of us take. Morphemes, sounds common to different words the describe a related meaning, make words seem like more than just linguistic representations. The "fl" sound he cites as being related to moving light is a good example. To us, this sound carries something more than a linguistic representation. Richards, correctly I think, points that this simply an artificial construct. We associate moving light with "fl" sound because it is the sound we often use to describe moving light in our language. Outside of our language, it doesn't have any meaning.

This passage made me think about something I once read regarding the man who invented shrapnel. He was actually named Shrapnel. The writer commented how the pronunciation of his name seemed to embody the different sounds that the artillery ammunition he invented made as it was fired. I've been wondering how specious this is.

It is unfortunate that we don't have a good record of how language evolved. It seems as though in early stages of verbal communication that the sounds of words might have been less abstract. Of course, this is probably again me falling into the trap that Richards describes.


The “rightness? of ambiguity

Richards states, “But where the old Rhetoric treated ambiguity as a fault in language, and hoped to confine or eliminate it, the new Rhetoric sees it as an inevitable consequence of the powers of language and as the indispensable means of most of our most important utterances – especially in Poetry and Religion? (pp. 980-981). I found this passage to be very illustrative of the generative (versus transmissive) view of rhetoric that we discussed in class. While acknowledging that ambiguity can be a nuisance, Richards appreciates the fact that through uncertainty can come discovery. It seems very important to him that we continually update our knowledge and question our terms of thinking.

I think that it is actually a very important lesson for those in academia – even scholars and students sometimes tend to strictly favor the “correct? reading of a certain text, forgetting that the meaning itself is ambiguous and, often, relative.

In fact, it is when we look at issues or concepts from different angles that we are able to learn more. As Richards states, “And thereby we rediscover the world – so far from being a solid matter of fact – is rather a fabric of conventions, which for obscure reasons it has suited us in the past to manufacture and support. And that sometimes is a dismaying discovery which seems to unsettle our foundations? (p. 981)


January 31, 2008

the space for individual creativity in Bakhtin

I was really interested in the tension which I seemed to find in Bakhtin between a place for individual creative expression and the fact that all expressions are socially determined. He seemed to be saying that certain speech genres allow for more individual expression than others (which would imply at all utterances have this component to a greater or lesser degree). At the same time, he discounts ideas from figures such as Tolstoy, who want to put creative individual thought to the fore, saying that such individual expression is also determined by social milieu and audience. Taking his ideas to their conclusion could lead to a social determinism, it seems to me. Every utterance is dependent on every other and on the limitations of its particular speech genre.

His theory of language as socially constructed has implications for many fields. In studies of Language Acquisition, it would pit him against the innatist school and Chomsky. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is a sentence which uses the tools of language creatively, but as an utterance it is non-existent, except in the social context of trying to prove Chomsky's theory. In Literary Criticism, a figure like William Blake would be seen as a product of his time (the utterances that came before him) rather than a genius ahead of his time, who has only recently gained his real audience. In Composition Studies, language as socially constructed clearly puts Bakhtin in the camp of Friere, Giroux and other critical pedagogues who claim that written expression always exists within a social (political) context and for a particular audience, rather than with Elbow and the expressivists who would claim that writing is for self-expression and therefore fall in with Tolstoy.

I am just curious as to whether Bakhtin would see himself with the folks in the paragraph above, or if he is simply emphasizing the social aspect of language to the extent that he does in order to correct a previous imbalance. Does he believe that individual creativity is a romantic myth, or does he simply wish to downplay its influence on rhetoric?


I found Bakhtin interesting. A lot of the questions that he raised made me think about things that I was aware of but had never paid that much attention to. The issue of how language is inseparable from human interaction is a sharp reminder of how the social aspect of our species has shaped our evolution.

I thought some of the insights on page 1215 were fairly striking. The reminder of how important a shared context is to communication stuck in my head. It made me think of a Star Trek reference that I will, due to what seems to be a popular aversion, refrain from illustrating here. I find it impossible to disagree with his statement that there is no such thing as an abstract addressee.

I do think Bakhtin is guilty of a recurring sin common to people who write about about communication. On pages 1223-1225 he wants to impose a very hard and unwavering analysis on how people interact with one another. I think that this is a doomed effort when a person is writing about something that is as ever-changing and amorphous as human communication. What he says is certainly insightful, but I don't think that is as absolute as he makes it out to be.