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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?