The motives of eloquence: literary rhetoric in the renaissance
The motives of eloquence: literary rhetoric in the Renaissance
Richard A. Lanham
New Haven and London: Yale University Press
The verbal style in the West: proceeded on the basis of a few simple premises:
- Every man possesses a central self; combine into a single homogeneously real society which constitutes a referent reality for the men living in it (1). Man invented a language to communicate with another man. Communicates facts and concepts about nature and society. And emotions. Facts/concepts: clarity. Feelings: measured by sincerity. Literature: representation of society and imitates them – success measured by the faithfulness of the imitation.
- Style studied intensively by Greeks, as part of training in rhetoric
- Scholars agree rhetorical paideia hasn’t changed since Greeks
- Rhetorical paideia hasn’t changed since the Greeks
- Stress need to ad-lib, improvising, hold always before the student’s rhetoric’s practical purpose: to win, to persuade.
- Use the case method
- What would ‘homo rhetoricus’ be?
- Rhetorical man must have felt overpowering self-consciousness about language
- We have moved in the opposite direction that the point that bears emphasis, which is needing verbal spontaneity
- “Rhetorical man is an actor; his reality public, dramatic” (p4)
- The lowest common denominator of his life is a social situation
- Motivations are characteristically ludic, agnostic. “He thinks first of winning, of master the rules the current game enforces,” (p 4)
- Rhetorical man is trained not to discover reality, but to manipulate it
- He’s not Puritan, especially about language
- “The rhetorical view of life, then, begins with the centrality of language. It conceives reality as fundamentally dramatic, man as fundamentally a role player. It synthesizes an essentially bifurcated, self-serving theory of motive,” (p 4)
- Style – two sets of premises – serious and rhetorical
- If we consider rhetoric within serious premises, it will truly be the ‘grotesque bogey’ which a distinguished historian of medieval Latinity, E.R. Curtius thought it. It will be indeed the bogey that Plato conjured up under the banner of “sophist” and that has been plaguing us ever since.
- Rhetorical view of life threatens the serious view at every point
- Homo rhetoricus and homo serious – social self and central self
- Serious view flatters us, the rhetorical view doesn’t
- The rhetorical view is satirical
- Rhetoric’s real crime, one is often led to suspect, is its candid acknowledgment of the rhetorical aspects of ‘serious life”
- The concept of central self, true or not, flatters man immensely
- For Plato, the reality is rational, scientific and logical or it is nothing
- At the heart of rhetorical reality is a pleasure
- We personify pleasure, we act for pleasure
- “The Western paideia has always been a mixed one. The Sophists cannot have found it alone, nor the philosophers. The best education has always put the two views of life into profound and fruitful collision. Divorce and domination present equal dangers,” (p 8)
- The study of rhetoric doesn’t free us from rhetoric
- “to liberate man from his rhetorical dimension is to freeze him in the nightmarish prison of unchanging essence Plato so prayerfully invoked in the Republic. The Republic succeeds in abolishing politics, abolishing dramatic reality.” (p 9)
- What remains – ontological vacuum. Not freedom but political tyranny
- Speeches are for display – dramatize public conscience
- Most famous oration ever composed – “O tempora! O mores!”
- Context is crucial in rhetorical documents
- “the decorum of rhetoric, well-known history of the narrative tells us, is antihistorical and anti-mimetic” (p 13) – such a statement is a half-truth
- His real motive is to play Cicero and establish Cicero’s reality
- Ciceronian egotism – a motive, not selfish or patriotic, but dramatic
- SRC-Yes; Think about it…When people are “grandstanding” they are being dramatic, not necessarily patriotic
- Kenneth Burke coined the term for such motive, “pure persuasion” the actor’s attitude toward his audience
- “in a dramatistic, rhetorical world view, the dramatic motive – pure pleasure in impersonation – forms the groundwork of all ‘respectable’ motives. Acting establishes the self,” (p 14).
- Contemporary fiction seems preoccupied with motiveless malignity for just this reason – it sees motive as amoral, a wholly aesthetic.
- SRC-YES-this is crazy b/c this is extremely prevalent today. Fiction/movies, preoccupied with
- The rhetorical narrative does better. It offers an imitation of dynamic motive, of the flight into and out of the histrionic center.
histrionic center – overly theatrical or melodramatic in character or style.
- For realistic fiction, the self is assumed to be central, whole, as real as everything else; for the nonrealist, dramatic only. Neither will see the other half.
- Nominalist view of rhetoric, a new definition of persuasion
- “one thinks of it as changing the opponent’s mind. This is hard to do; this is the philosopher’s way. Far easier – here sophist and Madison Avenue are one – to change his self. To redefine him so that he will do what you like spontaneously, hypnotically, by desire.” (p 14)
- Gorgia’s oration
- The more contrived the language the more allegorical the style becomes – the more it serves its purpose (15)
- Gorgias makes the contrast between style and subject; wants to show us a new version of ourselves
- Narrative – speech narrative
- Middle state is flanked by two unstable extremes
- Its theoretical opposite requires a comment
- Narratives are always posting; their style aims for effect
- Like realistic fiction, rhetorical “narrative” is straightforward and consistently mimetic
- Literary history in the last 200 years has delighted in applying serious, realistic coordinates to either center, where they half fit or to rhetorical forms, where they don’t fit at all
- Two characteristics of Western literature. Narrative and speech or serious and rhetorical.
- Two ranges of motive, one serious and purposive and other dramatic and playful
- In Aristotle’s Poetics, we can perhaps now see, is essentially a serious poetic.
- Referent reality
- Aristotle concentrates on how literature is related to reality on the nature of mimesis
- What of the reality is imitated?
- Posit a rhetorical rather than serious reality and mimesis is reversed 180 degrees
- What if human behavior is not purposive to begin with? How then? What if we posit as a referential rhetorical, playful range of motive?
- The rhetorical style seems less miraculous because it does not hide the amplifying powers of language, it waves them in our faces. The real deceiver is the plain stylist who pretends to put all his cards on the table. Clarity then, is a cheat, an illusion. To the rhetorical man at least the world is not clear, it is made clear (22)
- SRC-YES!!!! I’ve always said, I would take, anyway, the person who tells me to my face what they think that the person who claims to be on my side and talks shit behind my back.
- Takes longer to write than read
- The reader gets, in a rush, what has taken the author ten times longer to create. We feel a tremendous transfer of power, an infusion of virtue
- None of us knows what he thinks till he sees what he writes. We surrounder ourselves to language, and not once but over and over, we oscillate between language and concept, from draft to draft.
- Bawdy – The Committee, a San Francisco comedy troupe, “The Date”
- First one, a formal greeting, corsage, etc..
- Second, “ya wanna screw?”
- First, opaque rhetorical style, the second as briefly as clarity could demand
- Reality needs them both
- Neither can say what the other says
- The wit of the second depends on the preparation of the first
- Clarity needs opaque styles to be itself. Without them, we may mistake clarity for reality, (p 24)
- The more objective you try to be, the more intuitive you become
- High-middle-low stylistic division
- Three-fold division, three discrete stages or as a continuum, leaves out the observer and leaves out the time
- From the beginning, Aristotle, the style wasn’t supposed to show
- “excess” not meant to be shown
- No topic has more exercised rhetorical theorists than decorum
- Opaque Kantian philosophical vocabulary stands truer to the nature of man than plain speech
- Profundity is as enjoyable as conflict
- If people cannot get enough in real life, they will seek it somewhere else
- If we define academic to mean discussable rather than significant – can pin down rhetorical ornament’s unpopularity more precisely
- Rhetoric has usually been depicted as a woman, especially an overdressed one- the harlot rhetoric (29)
- SRC-Wow!!!! Hmm…idea
- Harlots don’t paint to improve nature, they paint to invite a certain attitude
- The cosmetics, since they are not referential, cannot be excessive
- Their excess is their meaning – until, at least, all womankind follows suit
- The cosmetic analogy of the philosophers provides more illuminating than insulting. Personality the high style and the low, woman dolled up and woman made plain. Both are inviting us to assume certain attitudes. Eye makeup says, look at my eyes: I consider them sexually provocative and invite you to attach the same value of them. So with any detail of dress; it calls attention to, evaluates, an element of the structure. It does not try to look at nature, look unseen. If it really escaped notice (summa ars celavit artem) why bother?? It wouldn’t work. Like verbal style, it must be seen as such in order to function as an analog. Nor can plain Jane escape. In a fallen, cosmetic world, she is asking not to be considered, wants to be overlooked – or perhaps to claim attention by contrast. She is as rhetorical as her made-up sister, proclaims as loudly an attitude. Thus the whole range of ornament, from zero to 100, is equally rhetorical, equally deep or equally superficial. (p 30)
- Ornament seems more honest than plainness
- SRC-hmmm…I don’t know what to think about this. I don’t agree that eye makeup is inviting someone to find them sexually provocative. That is the equivalent of saying that dressing sexy is inviting a man to think of them sexually and treat them sexually. And I don’t see how ornament is more honest than plainness.
- Style as a self-corrective circuit. A movement toward either extreme on the spectrum generates a counterpressure back toward the middle
- Language cannot last long without returning to its rich resources of play
- We try to make sense of the nonsense
- Freud – no one can talk nonsense for long
- Some people remain at either end; zealot and trigger
- Western society has both extremes of sociopathic
- Stylistic circuit came first or self circuit?
- The rhetoric barrier to ancestors – a difference of cosmology, not cosmetics
- “For Western literature, especially the Renaissance has been not simply misunderstood but methodically misunderstood. (p 34)
- The whole story does indeed need to be rewritten – as two theories of knowledge –
- the task of the critic isn’t to choose sides and ignore the other half. His job is to describe the conflict accurately.
- Rehearse quarrel between philosophy and rhetoric (35)
- Western literature, hold together two different ways of knowing which together makes us human
The List: Rhetorical man
- is an actor; his reality public, dramatic;
- his sense of identity, his self, depends on the reassurance of daily historionic
- He is … centered in time and concrete local event;
- his motivations must be characteristically ludic, agonistic;
- is committed to no single construction of the world; much rather, to prevailing in
- the game at hand;
- accepts the present paradigm and explores its resources;
- trained not to discover reality but to manipulate it;
- can play freely with language;
- will always be an unregenerate punster. (selected from p. 4)
Perhaps the serious premises have thrived because they flatter us. The
the rhetorical view does not.
The Western paideia:
- The Sophists cannot have found it alone, nor the philosophers.
- The best education has always put the two views of life into profound and fruitful
collision. Divorce and domination present equal dangers.
- The West has confused itself unnecessarily. It seduction has until modern times
been in the hands of rhetoricians, but the historians of education have been
philosophers. So too in literary history. The poets have been rhetoricians, the
critics, serious philosophers.
Lanham points to the style of Gorgias’s oration over the Athenian dead. It is
seemingly low on substance and high on song and playfulness. Lanham says:
The style is one of alternating between narrative and speech (as illustrated above),
- “dramatic action and speech,
- translucent and opaque style,
- teller naive and teller self-conscious; or, more largely,
- the serious world and the rhetorical in oscillation.
Is there a male-female(centralMatrix)-male shift/dialectic here? Perhaps this would be
another way of thinking about it, but not one that we should valorize over yet other
“Clarity does not lie entirely in the eye of the beholder. It lies in formal properties, too,
and these suggest a second general and neglected criterion, pleasure ability, a style’s
success in tapping sources of formal pleasure irrelevant to content”;
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