When reading Burke, I find it helpful to be mindful of the sections and subsections Burke creates in his work. Often, his work lacks the type of linearity that is common to most works. Each section and subsection can be read as a mini-argument/article in and of itself. There is logic in this, even as some critics struggle to find the coherence between it all. My favorite quote regarding Burke’s difficulty in reading comes from James Kastely, when he writes that Burke is “Strunk and White’s worst nightmare.”
Burke is often regarded as being against “systems” of thought. He is hyper aware of the way symbolically constructed “systems” distort, overlook, and diminish a topic (or rather the flawed nature of using any type of grand “synecdoche” for basing conclusions). Hence, he jokes about dramatism as being only one way (of many) in which to look at “human relations” (a term Rueckert has ascribed to Burke’s work).
Dr. Brooks has a theory that Burke is (purposively) challenging due to the heightened awareness of being seen as a communist. It is true, the FBI did have a file on Burke because of his ties to the communist party (I think this was back in the 30s—but he quickly left the party). Interestingly, the Kenneth Burke Society used to have the declassified FBI file online, but I couldn’t find it on the website now (http://www.kbjournal.org/).
The important point here, when reading Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives, is to see the many perspective parts to the whole. In class so far, we have read the first section (“The Range of Rhetoric”), and part of section two (“Traditional Principles of Rhetoric”). The first section is full of very unique examples of just how far (and extensive) “rhetoric” can be seen:
Literature (Homer, Milton, Arnold, Coleridge, Wilde, Eliot, Shakespeare, etc.)
History/Social Issues in Time (Areopagitica 4, Hitler, War, Truman/Wallace, etc.)
Religion/Bible (God, angels, Philistines and Israelites, Babel, etc.)
Out of this “range of rhetoric,” we discover some interesting principles that Burke develops:
These principles set the stage for Burke’s discussion about the traditional principles of rhetoric, where Burke highlights the importance of identification with rhetoric. In the final section of the book (Order), we discover the myriad ways in which these principles (and the function of rhetoric) help establish divisions (and cooperative unions) that influence hierarchies of order. On the final page, Burke writes:
In hierarchy it can exist under many guises. Nature, society, language, and the division of labor—out of all or any of these the hierarchic motive inevitably develops . . .. in hierarchy reside the conditions of the “divine,” the goading of “mystery.” / But since, for better or worse, the mystery of the hierarchic is forever with us, let us, as students of rhetoric, scrutinize its range of entrancements, both with dismay and in delight.
Out of the Rhetoric of Motives, we discover a means by which to discern how society, language, and nature influence our actions, beliefs, and values. We discover the rhetorical influence found in motives, “both with dismay and in delight.”
One of many recurring themes this semester is dishonest rhetoric. In the Phaedrus, Lysias tries to persuade Phaedrus to be his lover, even though this may not be in the boy’s best interests (only Lysias’). In responding to Phaedrus’ recititation of Lysias’ speech, Socrates then uses his knowledge of rhetoric to craft equally misleading arguments – he then explains his (and Lysisas’) deception as a way of educating young Phaedrus in the rhetorical arts, and enabling him to recognize and defend himself against dishonest uses of rhetoric.
Johannesen recounts how Weaver, drawing on an analysis of the Phaedrus, defines the dishonest rhetor as one who subverts logic and clear definitions, and ignores alternative explanations by offering only one side of an issue. The influence of dishonest rhetoric was an important motivating factor in Weaver’s teaching of undergraduate students, whom he schooled extensively in the tools of classical argument to enable them to better navigate the ethical choices they would face as communicators. Presumably this instruction would also enable them to identify and counter “dishonest uses of language [which] have grown not only more systematic but respectable” (p.278).
Helping students to identify dishonest uses of rhetoric seems to me to be one of the most important goals of the first-year composition class. And like Weaver and Plato, we often focus on the classical definition of rhetoric as persuasive argument as a way of empowering our students to recognize deception. OSU’s program is no exception, as one might be able to guess from the title of the FYC textbook.
Burke’s take on dishonest rhetoric adopts a different stance, emphasizing the power not of argument or rhetorical appeal, but the broader concept of identification. He talks about the “possibility of malice” (p.45) when rhetors make their own cause seem favorable to their audience, causing them to identify with the rhetors’ claims. He goes on to say that “You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his” (p55). The use of identification for deceptive purposes has serious implications in contemporary politics, as has been alluded to in some of these weblog posts this country’s politics, Republicans have been particularly effective at getting Americans to vote against their own economic interests by positioning themselves as the party that supports the traditional ideals of this country, and of many voters. This has been in focus recently in the debate over healthcare, and is further demonstrated daily in responses to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Incidentally, Republicans in turn accuse Democrats of having tricked African-Americans into identifying themselves as overwhelmingly Democratic (90% in both of the last two presidential elections), despite the fact that African-American communities typically are often highly sympathetic to the conservative morals espoused by the GOP.
But I’m getting off track. Burke’s passage above about identifying listeners’ ways with your own is frequently quoted, in part because it explains so concisely the concept of identification, and the concept’s importance for our students’ understanding of both rhetoric and its dishonest use. My memory for the details is a little hazy, but it seems to me that some of the classroom activities I’ve heard Steve, Steven, Dustin, and Ben describe have been geared toward getting students to see how texts (particularly advertising) try to deceive by getting us to identify with their claims. Selling image or identift is a central feature of contemporary advertising, as Don Draper explains near the end of this clip from Mad Men. You don’t sell an arguable claim, such as “Lucky Strikes are good for your health”: you get consumers to associate your product with their own happiness.
The above graphic comes from the Marshall Goldsmith FeedForward website: “Jon Katzenbach (author of The Wisdom of Teams, Harvard Business School Press, 1993) and I coined “feedforward” to encourage spending time creating a future.”
I enjoyed Richards’ exuberant essay on his own weaknesses and how he strengthened them by using feedforward, “a product of former experience” (p. 11) that we reflect on, and it reminds me of Hillocks’ reflective practices we discussed in composition pedagogy. I wondered what feedforward means today, as opposed to what it meant in 1968. I searched on the internet and found Feed-Forward, a site whose philosophy is “Creative people thrive most by giving and receiving high-quality, honest feedback for each others’ work. The more feedback that you give for works on our homepage, the more often your work will be featured on our homepage.” Then there is an article in the scientific journal Nature at doi:10.1038/nature09946 (“Learning-related feedforward inhibitory connectivity growth required for memory precision”).
Since Richards’ article was published 43 years ago, I also looked briefly at how the concept of feedforward is being treated in writing generally. One website that caught my eye was “Tips for New NIH Grant Applicants” since I am interested in writing proposals. The article includes this text:
Instead of feedback, try “feed forward.” (This approach, put forth by Dr. Keith Yamamoto of the University of California, San Francisco, involves asking three senior colleagues to act as your “grant committee” and discussing your ideas for the application with them before starting the writing process. Next, write one page of three to five specific aims and discuss these with the committee before beginning to write the body of the application. Thus, by the time you tackle the bulk of the writing, the organization and content of your proposal have received fairly detailed scrutiny and critical consideration.)
The idea here is that feedforward will eliminate that pesky drafting stage, or least have a head start (I think). There are also multiple articles on assessing students’ learning by giving them feedforward and feedback; in fact, too many to include here. Many business models have also adopted a theory of feedforward (see the graphic above). I found that I would like to at least loosely embrace Richards’ ideas in my classroom, and decided that in some ways, I already have.
As a technical communicator, considering my audience’s knowledge, expectations and needs is a “no brainer” and yet the way Richards presents the concept of feedforward, I almost feel like I am missing something in that simple yet powerful equation, because the “mysterious thing I am calling the feedforward” relies on extreme mind reading on the part of the speaker/writer. We must have a “swift, before-the-event recognition of how something will seem to people looking at it from angles other than our own” (p. 14). This implies a vast store of knowledge of people’s beliefs, ideals, values, etc. that may not exist in the minds of college freshmen (how can they have former experience at this stage of their lives?).
By investigating my own practice, I discovered that despite my DABS (a la Crowley) when it comes to certain writing styles (it takes a long time to undo legalese), I am learning to anticipate my audience and to teach my students how to do the same thing. When I teach my students how to write a job application letter, they reveal their expected inexperience in this genre by either being extremely arrogant (“this makes me a perfect fit for your job”) or by not creating a shared context in any way, shape or form (“I received certificates in listening skills and politeness in high school”). Of course, there are many other faux pas (someone please fix my attempt at French) in their drafts, but by the time they complete the assignment, their prose is appropriately matched to the job qualifications, opens with a shared context, and is persuasively sincere. How do students move from one extreme to the other? By learning to anticipate what the invisible reader will be like, i.e., performing audience analysis, which I interpret as at least one component of feedforward.
Richards’ account of considering the literal Statute of Liberty from many angles is a great reference point for me: ask my students to consider the many audience expectations of their writing. When I ask them if they would write a letter to their grandma in the same style as they would write a letter to their instructor, they say no; suddenly they have an “aha” moment about their writing style. In this way, the mind reading doesn’t seem quite so difficult. In class, my students perform a reader profile before writing their application letters. They find it somewhat tedious to complete a chart that forces them to consider the context, purpose, exigence, etc. of this simple letter, but it helps them identify the most important goal of this genre: to gain an interview with a potential employer.
Perhaps this is where feedforward comes into play. Students learn to put various perspectives into view and properly address them in written form. This responds to Richards’ suggestion that we help people look at things from more than one mindset and put those views “intelligibly together,” (p. 15).
Logo from feedforwardband.com
It will take many years of celebrating “openmindedness” and suspending my judgment to be a better writing instructor or just a better writer, period. For instance, Richards talks about his conviction that some people are “wrongheaded” in their beliefs and Crowley addresses our society’s DABS as if they are wrong. Both authors make suggestions about how to overcome these “obstacles” of miscommunication or lack of commonplace. Richards describes feedforward as a method for students to “explore an intelligible sequence of oppositions and connections” (P. 13) rather than spout what the instructor is projected to expect. Crowley invites us to find a common ground to reach civil discourse. Both activities require the writers/speakers to identify (!) with their audience by being openminded, contemplating the topic from all angles, and recognizing that we have diverse points of view. If I can keep all of these secret weapons in my invisible artillery and try to be a better communicator, perhaps my students will learn to invoke these practices to become better communicators also.
Initially, I’m inclined to answer the prompt that—of course—a 21st century perspective on Burke must reveal that the external audience is far more important than an internal one. Given the globalization of rampant communication through technology, especially portable technology, it’s easy to see that everyone has a voice and a space and a metaphorical bullhorn that can be utilized to shout out anyone’s given issue or idea.
Of course, it’s not that simple.
My gut instinct is probably biased thanks to the laptop(s), the desktop computer, the ipad, and the other gadgetry I’ve got in front of me. It’s biased because I use web 2.0 applications, cross-platform software, and a plethora of electronic aides that I can’t replicate outside of a computer. And I’ve learned how to use and incorporate those pieces not from word of mouth or a manual, but from articles found online (as well as personal usage).
The problem with my bias and with my initial inclination is that I leave out a number of questions. If we (I’ve been reading too much Burke, it seems) consider the notion of audience, that notion is, obviously, twofold: some thing that communicates and some thing that receives. Asking the question “who benefits?” might help to uncover motive, but I think that if we’re going to answer this question for a 21st century audience, perhaps the better question may be “who listens?” Surprisingly, the answer is could easily be “no one” just as often as it could be “everyone.”
Burke notes that “the persuasive identifications of Rhetoric, in being so directly designed for use, involve use in a special problem of consciousness, as exemplified in the Rhetorician’s particular purpose for a given statement (36). Since we are discussing the 21st century, it may be better to think of his statement as more of a global consciousness, or even just as groupthink. If anything, the Internet has provided a means for niche groups to come together and communicate (my favorite example is a group that I interact with; our focus is on a certain knock-off guitar company and primarily the discussions center around off-brand guitars and frugal musicianship). I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss social media (I mean, c’mon. Audience in the Internet Age? You saw that coming, right?).
I have found that I prefer Twitter to Facebook. As someone who is legally an adult (an occasionally sees himself that way), I caught myself reloading Facebook in order to see if someone had responded to a comment, “liked” my status, or, dare I say, “poked” me. I’m not proud, but I am self-aware enough to have realized what was happening. I don’t get that with Twitter. Although I tweet semi-regularly and do get responses from time to time, I don’t feel that invented pressure that I used to with Facebook. Facebook feels like an audience of everyone—and I marvel that my students seem to wade through such convoluted audience issues. Twitter feels like an audience of none, or that I am the audience. There’s less pressure. It’s a place where I write short jokes or thoughts or plans. Twitter reminds me of Burke, when he writes “For you become your own audience, in some respects a very lax one, in some respects very exacting, when you become involved in psychologically stylistic subterfuges for presenting your own case to yourself in sympathetic terms” (39). In that same passage, however, Burke reminds us of the negative aspects of an internal audience: “(and even terms that seem harsh can often be found on closer scrutiny to be flattering, as with neurotics who visit sufferings upon themselves in the name of vey high-powered motives which, whatever their discomfiture, feel pride)” (39). For Facebook, Burke’s quote exemplifies this idea. Even the negative responses are still just that—a response—and that validation continues the conversation and original poster has the opportunity to respond, ignore, or delete; in any case, they are in control and they can decide how to proceed. Simply put, I say something, people care about what I say, what I say gets validated, I say more, and the cycle continues.
When the Occupy Wall Street protests began, I learned of these protests from a friend on facebook. My friend is a peace activist and on the Nobel Peace Prize committee. He’s no slouch. He posted an article online and asked the question “why hasn’t anyone been reporting on this?” This was early in the protests, and a fair question—no one in the mainstream cable or network media had reported anything at all at this point. The protesters have sparked a national debate both on the issue of Wall Street and of the nature of protesting and protesters. If you’ve used social media at all in the last month, then you’ve likely seen the “I am the 99%” pictures—people using their webcams to snap a photo of themselves next to a sheet of paper describing their situation and affiliation. Later, we saw the “I am the 53%” responders. Since I’m grad school, I try to avoid the news in order to not feel completely crushed under the weight of it all. Still, these photos have caught my attention and there’s just not enough stasis to go around for all those involved. Luckily, there’s some. Burke writes “If you, like the Stendhals and Gides, conceive a character by such sophistication, Rhetoric as the speaker’s attempt to identify himself favorably with his audience then becomes so transformed that the work may seem to have been written under an esthetic of pure “expression,” without regard for communicative appeal” (37). This transformation through expression might be the gift of the Internet—for better or worse.
Stil, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s possible to quantify an internal audience through traditional methods (e.g., psychotherapy). But it may be possible to quantify this kind of audience through the external expressions—or lack thereof.
I’ve embedded one of my favorite TEDtalks from one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Each of the TEDtalks that I’ll post here are about twenty minutes long, so if you don’t have the time, I’m also including synopses. In short, Gladwell discusses the history of product diversification. His point is that, for much of the history of capitalism, we were presented with only a few choices and within the past forty years there has been an explosion of choices. Previously, it was believed, we didn’t know what we wanted in, say, a spaghetti sauce. However, we can uncover it using empirical tests. By uncovering our specific wants, we can find a path to happiness, a path that is our own. Universals don’t bring happiness; rather, our needs and wants are our own.
The natural follow-up to Malcolm Gladwell is Barry Schwartz. Schwartz’s point is that there are simply too many choices available, and that the paradox of choice lies in the idea that with so many choices, we are overwhelmed and stymied.
Finally, Dan Gilbert posits that happiness can be simulated and that our brains and our psyches really can’t tell the difference. Although I was initially hesitant to include Gilbert, I think his work captures Burke’s work best: “A man can be his own audience, insofar as he, even in his secret thoughts, cultivates certain ideas or images for the effect he hopes they may have upon him” (38). We are our own audience in that we continually strive to make sense of our everyday reality. It may be as simple as Henry Ford said, now inscribed on countless motivational posters: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
What are we trying to convince ourselves of? I ask this fully aware of the implications it likely holds for graduate students. I know that I’ve had more than my fair share of internal debates about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. For now, I guess the important part is external: I keep coming to class, keep reading, and keep teaching. This isn’t to say that the shouting in my head doesn’t get louder right around November and April…
The important part, for me, is the external. It’s the expression of intent, the actions we take, not the contemplation involved in coming to the decision. It’s literature in use, it’s the expression of motivation.
As we all should know The Onion is a satirical online newspaper. Just like many other news sites, the Onion allows visitors to share links to articles directly to Facebook. Sometimes Facebook citizens are perhaps caught off guard and confuse the satirical news for real news. A man (who goes) by the name of Hudson Hongo has begun curating a Tumblr called Literally Unbelievable to document when this happens. While the intention of the site is probably to be funny, I think we can learn a lot about rhetoric and consider some of Burke’s questions about audience by looking at one of the entries.
Much of the humor of this entry comes from the dramatic irony, so to speak, of us know the rhetorical situation of the Onion while this person doesn’t, but also we see that the person fails to acknowledge that the “Massive Star in the Center of Our Solar System” from the article is just our own sun that we see everyday. In defense of the person that wrote the Facebook post here, I’ll point out first that links to articles from the Onion and links to articles from “actual” newspapers look very much alike. The Onion borrows much of its ethos from visually aligning itself with reliable news sources. A person sees the bolded letters of the article title, which also omits articles (a common practice in newspaper headlines), followed by the dateline and assumes that the news source is just as reliable as any other. Secondly, when a person sees a headline like this, they assume that the information comes from a news source and that is precisely that, new. The headline here points out something so obvious, so tightly woven into our quotidian lives that it is almost unnoticeable. She (I am guessing it is a girl from the blurry picture, I could be wrong) assumes that a massive star causing problems talked about in a news source would be a new development as a real news source would have no reason to report on the sun. The Onion article is funny because it exploits our expectations of what is new and what is newsworthy. It is also poking fun at anyway searching for an answer to why the weather has been so hot recently. The readers are left to judge the credibility of the source almost entirely on the content. A problem then arises because we live in a world where we take visually and circumstantially established ethos just as if not more seriously than an ethos based on quality of information presented. Because of this, we laugh at how stupid these people must be for not understanding the satire, but without fully seeing how complex a rhetorical situation we are dealing with.
Burke argues on page 64 that “new mediums of communication” are rhetorically “‘carving out’ … new audiences” but that “there is nothing here essentially outside the traditional concerns of rhetoric.” While we might be justified in calling the people who show up on Literally Unbelievable as dim-witted idiots, we must also realize that the limits, constraints, and style of the Facebook interface, and the very specific particular audience of the Onion clashing with the very general audience of Facebook, also play a role in these misunderstandings.
When presenting the article, the facebook citizen takes care to position herself as an open-minded, rational thinker. She watched a show that didn’t agree with her world view and beliefs because it featured Stephen Hawking, a known astrophysicist, and how he theorizes the universe was made without a creator. She “followed it” but “disagreed.” She even questions whether she has spelled Stephen Hawkings’ name correctly, which shows concern for correctness. But, even still, the information from the Onion article took her by surprise. There’s no way of knowing in what format she came across the article, it could have been the full article at the Onion’s site, a link like the one above, or other formats. But regardless, she took the information as truthful reporting of actual scientific findings. She assigns herself a role in the audience. She sees herself as a selective consumer of information and she imposes that role on the information she encounters from the satirical news. She goes on to point out the connection of these grand scientific principles to very base things. She connects this massive star, which the article has presented to her as a new phenomenon, to a sunburn she got on her “butt” while on a “floaty” in the “lazy river.” She is taken aback that this new scientific phenomenon has effected a personal, intimate, and common part of her life and she is at a loss for “what to think anymore.” In this entry we are witnessing her struggle with cognitive dissonance, her beliefs about the creation of that world that were recently questioned by Stephen Hawkings, and her own personal connection to what the Onion has led her to believe is scientific discovery. In other words, the recent situations of her life, the television shows she has recently watched, her religious worldview, a recent sunburn on a vacation trip, the identity she has constructed for herself as a rational consumer of information, and countless other factors went into how she saw and understood the article.
It is easy for us to see that she failed to connect the “Massive Star” in the article to our sun and see her as a dim-witted christian girl with little to no experience parsing information. However, when we consider the massive amount of information that really goes into processing any information, we can start to understand why a misunderstanding like this can happen. Burke says, “an act of persuasion is affected by the character of the scene in which it takes place and of the agents by whom it is addressed. The same rhetorical act could vary in its effectiveness, according to shifts in the situation or in the attitudes of the audience.” More than his facebook citizen’s intelligence played a role in whether or not she understood the purpose and intent of the Onion article, her attitude and “scene” in which she received the message were just as influential.
But what can we learn from this as rhetors ourselves? I think we must realize that if our audience doesn’t understand or isn’t persuaded by our message, it is not entirely our fault. If we assume it is, then we grossly misunderstand the entire rhetorical process. We can’t get down on ourselves for our own “failure to communicate” but we must work harder to understand all the myriad aspects of our rhetorical situations.
Before I begin my analysis of a specific cultural object, I want to briefly mention a story, while parenthetical, maintains some relevance to our classroom observations. Today, while visiting with my grandpa and parents, my grandfather lauded the state of communication within our society. Constantly criticizing text messages, he simply cannot understand why people my age—whatever that means—refuse to talk on our cell phones and, instead, routinely text friends. But, with my knowledge of Plato’s Phaedrus, I was able to state that times are not a-changing. Two thousand years and we still discuss, and lament, new forms of communication!
Within the context of our class discussion on visual rhetoric, I want to revisit the idea that print media and digital media share a reciprocal relationship in the development of new media. Mary Hocks states that “critiquing and producing writing in digital environments actually offers a welcome return to rhetorical principles and important new pedagogy of writing as design” (632). Under the banner of new design, I offer up a past issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #16. McSweeney’s is a creative journal that only publishes stories that are rejected for other journals. The design of each issue, according to their website tries to “make each issue very different from the last. One issue came in a box, one was Icelandic, and one looks like a pile of mail. In all, we give you groundbreaking fiction and much more.” One particular short story feeds into the ethos Hocks’s mentions regarding Wysocki’s website. “Heart Suit” by Robert Coover is a short story printed like a deck of cards. Each five by seven heart card contains part of the story. The author provides instructions to help the audience decipher the “order” of his text. “The thirteen heart cards may be shuffled and read in any order, with [the title card] first and the joker last.”
As Hocks states, websites such as Wysocki’s challenge and recreate conventions for linear arguments. Many websites maintain a specific “bookish” order, but contain different subsections that can be read and reread in any particular order. Coover’s story, if my math is correct, can be read in over 100 combinations! Linear arrangements are considered, after all the first card and the last card remains fixed, but each card offers new scenarios within the context of the larger story. The story also presupposes audience knowledge on how decks of cards are shuffled and the random order that players receive them in games. Since the subject is who stole the Queen’s tarts and each time a specific character is sent to the gallows, within each shuffle the guilty party could range from the King of Hearts or the knave. Hocks claims that the reordering “fulfills, and also plays with, the desire for ordered readings, using the [text] itself to challenge the audience while also giving them the linearity they might want or even need” (635). Creative texts in McSweeney’s still maintain some illusions of linear organization. However, the visual element that the journal provides, allows authors to reconstruct and refigure assumed conventions within this type of writing.
Returning to the Phaedrus, Socrates lamentation over the “new” form of communication is not necessarily a negative to our society. New forms of writing or communication, whether it is a website or a short story, allow authors and audiences to experience new ways of seeing. These new ways within visual designs allow meditations “about our own perceptions, expectations, and attitudes regarding the visual in relation to text” (638).
Crowley has permanently warped how I view the world, particularly when it comes to deeply articulated ideologies and persuasion tactics. For some reason, I cannot shake her presentation of apocalyptic rhetoric and how it is going to cause the downfall of democracy if the liberals don’t find a way to stop them (although I do think that whole idea is a little dramatic). At the end of her book Crowley quickly rolls through suggestions for the “arousal of passion and desire” she claims would-be rhetors should focus their persuasive efforts on if they intend to challenge the privilege and isolation enjoyed by conservative Christians (194-5). Although I agree that storytelling can be a very powerful rhetorical tool (see Obama), I do not think Crowley provided an adequate solution to the apocalyptic epidemic she asserts is spreading through America. Then I read Burke and suddenly Crowley’s solutions made more sense. What Crowley means to say (I think) in the final chapter of her book is that liberals and apocalyptic need to find a way to be consubstantial with one another in order for an open exchange of ideas to occur between the two sides.
In order to explain I will start at the beginning of my thought process, which does not necessary follow the order Burke lays out. Burke writes that the most basic function of rhetoric is the “use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents” (41). This fairly straightforward and widely accepted definition of rhetoric applies directly to the fundamental idea contained in Crowley’s final chapter: use words to move toward a civil discourse. If “rhetoricians are forever proving opposites” and “identification implies division”, then there should be no surprise that two such disparate groups such as liberals and apocalyptics are at odds or that persuasion is meant to close the gap between the two (45). However, both of these groups are involved in a very clear “rhetoric of identification” because the individuals that comprise the groups strive to form themselves in accordance with the communicative norms and cooperative ways of the society (39). Both liberals and apocalyptics are identified through the beliefs and ideas forwarded by the collective individuals that comprise the groups. Simultaneously, this shared “rhetoric of identification” employed by both sides provides a foundation for consubstantiation while guaranteeing division by identification.
According to Burke, “two persons” (or for our purposes two political groups) “may be identified in terms of some principle they share in common, an ‘identification’ that does not deny their distinctness. To identify A with B is to make A ‘consubstantial’ with B” (21). Liberals and apocalyptics will always be distinct from one another, but that does not mean there cannot be consubstantiation on some very simple or basic level. For example, liberals and apocalyptics both want what is best for America even if it comes through different means; both groups have had similar cultural experiences, speak the same language, and reside in the same country. All of these things, though seemingly insignificant, add to the “common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, or attitudes” that lead to consubstantiation (21). Identification and division are at the root of the uncivil discourse between liberals and apocalyptics, but put these two “ambiguously together, so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and where the other begins, and you have he characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (25). Consubstantiation, identification and division, provide the foundation for persuasion.
“If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity” (22). As modern day rhetoricians, we need to be proclaiming unity instead of using consubstantiation as a means to declare what we “are not”. Consubstantiation is about finding the similarities, establishing common ground, and recognizing what is shared; it is an “acting-together” and rhetoric is the means in which we accomplish consubstantiation with one another. Before there can be an idealized civil discourse, there must first be consubstantiation; and in order for two unlike things to be consubstantial with one another there must be something shared. This should be the goal: find a means of consubstantiation.
I confess that the title of this entry might be better noted as “An Audience of One,” a more neutral statement to be sure, but that would be dishonest and stems from a self-protective reflex. No, I’ll go with the voices in my head instead. I’m also going to write this as though I’m having a conversation with myself. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m surprised and amazed by my positive response to Burke’s writing, and unashamedly state that I am confounded by his work. I do not have a solid or sound background in theory, despite a generally good, broad, if non-traditional approach to education; it took me 18 years, and 7 institutions in 3 states to earn the AA/AS/BA/MA degrees (the spread, by the time I’m done here, will be a 42 years, 5 degrees, 8 institutions, 4 states). During Wednesday’s class, while Steven Hopkins related his anecdote about moving furniture and boxes to aid the English Department and described his thoughts as “This is not who I am. I am a scholar,” I was thinking the opposite about myself. Had I been in his place, I would have thought, “This is who I am; I am not a scholar.”
What, then, does this have to do with Burke? I turn first to his claim that “Only those voices from without are effective which can speak in the language of a voice within” (39). I’m struck by the idea of inseparable connections: of the body/mind connection; of “the individual . . . striving to form himself in accordance with the communicative norms that match the cooperative ways of his society” (39); that of the speaker to audience. In order for an audience to be moved, the speaker–as an individual–must identify “himself with his audience”(56). Individual audience members must share common interests and opinions in order to identify one with another, and to be moved by the aims and opinions of the speaker. Finally, the audience must perceive the speaker as being genuine, thereby retaining agency as individuals and as a whole by either withholding or extending approval of the speaker. I’m not sure if I’m making sense, or going in circles when I try to analyze or speak knowingly of Burke’s writings. The idea I’m toying with, again, is the necessary inseparability of the individual from the community, and the community from the individual.
I don’t want to push this too far; I get lost in my own thoughts and feel very much like Alice falling into the rabbit hole when I attempt to engage in intellectual pursuits (ah, those naughty voices in my head telling me what I am not). However, here I go, tumbling down. Along with identity flows the idea of transformation. Transformation stated as a binary may be viewed as Life/Death; Birth/Rebirth. Burke, speaking of images of transformation, identifies “its variants of being born, being reborn, dying, killing, and being killed”(12). Burke more specifically addresses the poet utilizing the poem as a means to transpose his personal trait onto a character in the poem in order to “purge his own self of this vice”(12). This appears to be a metaphorical transformation of the self through one’s art. I may return to this concept later. For now, I want to think about transformation in the sense that I believe Burke implies when he writes of Henry Adams. Burke stresses that Adams’ change was a “ritual transformation . . . from personal images to impersonal ones,” from identity as a member of his family to the impersonal “conditions of modern history” (11). Of this movement, Burke says “the ritual transformation is also, in its way, a kind of self-immolation”(11).
Maybe I’m reading too much into Burke and the ideas of identity and transformation, but the above idea of self-immolation is reminiscent of the phoenix: death/rebirth; destruction/renewal. The more precise Buddhist phrase I was trying to remember earlier in the semester is: All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and death. Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy of nirvana. Again, the philosophy behind the phrase is one of self-immolation leading to self-transformation. But in order to transform myself, I must identify: first, internally with a concept of who I am and what or who I want to be, and second, with external agents, groups, communities, nations which serve as templates against which I measure my sameness/difference.
Extinguishing the past, however, is not possible. Those elements of my past with which I identify who I was still inform who I am today. I’m leaving out the key term motive at this point, for I still need to how Burke means the term, but he seems clearly at times to mean goal or object that leads to action. I’ll have to contemplate that more before I further attempt to discuss motive.
I feel like I’ve been going in circles, not making much sense, but what I hope to develop is a stronger sense of using art as a transformative vehicle, of identifying and expiating undesirable traits, consciously or otherwise. I’ll stop now.
On page 644 of Hocks’ article “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments,” I had an “ah ha!” moment. Hocks begins discussing the pedagogical implications of digital rhetoric by saying, “When we bring an understanding of digital rhetoric to our electronic classrooms, we need to expand our approach not only to rhetorical criticism but also to text production.” In the margin next to this statement I wrote, “Webblog??”
This “ah ha!” moment triggered a series of additional realizations. First, I realized I haven’t even considered that the audience for my blog posts could potentially be readers outside of our History of Rhetoric class. But reading Hocks’ article made me realize that unlike our online classroom discussion forums, this blog is “out there” on the web, for anyone to access. Second, Hocks’ article made me realize that the overall objective for this assignment is much greater than showing an engagement with our reading assignments. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have not been consciously considering the rhetorical nature of my blog posts. All of a sudden, the emphasis on including images, videos, etc. seems to be a response to Hocks’ call to engage students in “new kinds of multimodal compositional processes that ask students to envision and create something that perhaps does not yet exist” (645).
So with these newfound insights in mind, I would like to use this post as an opportunity to explore how WordPress supports “writing as design” (632) by considering the audience stance, transparency, and hybridity capabilities of WordPress blog posts. I am going to focus on blog posts rather than pages because I am contributing posts to an established page and am therefore only working in the world of the individual blog post. I am hoping that this exploration may not only be pertinent to our studies in History of Rhetoric, but may also be informative to anyone who is interested in using an online blogging tool to “write as design.”
The first aspect of digital rhetoric I will explore is that of audience stance, and in particular “the ways in which the audience is invited to participate in online documents” (632). In terms of creating a sense of agency for an audience of a WordPress blog post, it seems there are limits to the amount of interactive involvement the audience can have. One way to create a sense of agency for the audience is to include links and embedded videos within a blog post that the reader can decide to click on or not. Another option would be to include a poll.
Finally, similar to most blog sites, readers are welcome to leave comments on the blog.
Where WordPress blogs seem to be lacking in terms of audience agency is in the navigation of a blog post. Hocks says of Wysocki’s web essay “Monitoring Order,” that “Readers are offered the pleasure of consciously “monitoring order” themselves by clicking on tiles and pursuing different orders as they read or re-read the essay.” Hocks also notes that Boese’s “The Ballad of the Internet Nutball,” offers “complex and multifaceted” kinds of agency “allowing many choices for interaction, including several ways to read the document” (639). Compared to the sites that Hock’s details, the readers of Wordpress blog posts have essentially one way to navigate the post, one order to read its content – top to bottom. This seems to be a common characteristic of blogs in general. However, one way a blogger can try to increase the audience’s agency is through using headings and subheadings within longer blog posts. Headings and subheadings would allow the reader to skip sections or read sections of the blog out-of-order.
The second aspect of digital rhetoric I will explore in relation to blog posts created through WordPress is that of transparency. According to Hocks transparency is the “ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film and Web pages” (632). WordPress blog posts are fairly transparent as they adhere to many established conventions.
Similar to print conventions, WordPress blog posts begin with a title, can include headings and subheadings and, as previously mentioned, the text of a blog post is read left to right and top to bottom (unless a reader decides to skip to sections). The Learn WordPress.com site says the following about blog posts, “Posts are what make your blog a blog — they’re servings of content, similar to journal entries, listed in reverse chronological order. Posts can be as short or as long as you like; some are as brief as Twitter updates, while others are the length of essays.”
In this brief explanation of what a blog is, WordPress aligns itself with the established conventions of journals and essays (print) and of Twitter (web). And in the directions for beginning a blog post the site recommends,
“First, write a title for the post in the space at the top. Think of your post title as a headline for a news article — the more detailed and captivating it is, the more readers it’s going to attract . . . Below the title you’ll see the visual editor, which allows you to easily create, edit, and format the content of your post, similar to the way you would with a word processor.”
Once again, the blog post is relaying on established conventions: this time of a newspaper and word processing.
Just as Wysocki’s page “Monitoring Order” “uses forms, color, and a familiar page layout to create a fairly transparent interface that quickly teaches a novice reader how to navigate it” (Hocks 636), writers of WordPress blog posts can use forms, color, and familiar layouts to make their posts transparent. Conversely, if writers wish to create less transparent blog posts, they might try breaking from established conventions by departing from a linear academic argument or essay and using links and multimedia in unconventional ways. Boese’s “The Ballad of the Internet Nutball” offers an example of a less transparent digital text; however, Wordpress may not offer a writer some of the features used in Boese’s site. (Disclaimer: It is possible Wordpress does offer these features, but I am using the free version and am not the savviest of users. However, the options featured in the Learn WordPress.com site are the basics – embed videos, pictures, etc.)
The final aspect of digital rhetoric I will explore in relation to WordPress blog posts is hybridity, or “the ways in which online documents combine and construct visual and verbal designs” (Hocks 632). As I have mostly touched on the verbal design features of WordPress, I will now address the visual design features provided to writers. Concerning text, the free version of WordPress offers a writer nine options relating to text size, font, and formatting (Paragraph, Address, Preformatted, Headings 1-6). The writer also has the option of bold, italics, underline, and strikethrough, aswellasapalletofcolorstochosefrom. A writer may use bullets for an unordered list and numbers for an ordered list and may set off a block quotation as shown above, but beyond that visual options for the text itself are limited. In addition, the formatting of text is not preserved when copy and pasting from Microsoft Word, so using design features from other programs and inserting them into WordPress is not an option for dressing up your blog post text.
Other visual features available through WordPress include embedding images, videos, audio, polls, other media and custom forms. Concerning the incorporation of these media, Hocks says that hybridity is the “interplay between the visual and verbal in one constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space” (637) and she comments on the hybridity of Wysocki’s site which includes combining texts and images in unconventional ways and unconventional margins. Boese’s site swaps out different kinds of media in and out of various screens and pop up windows. The “constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space” that these writers achieved is unfortunately not as easily achieved in a WordPress blog post.
Take this image for example. I inserted this image once only to have it disappear mysteriously while I was editing text that was near it. Now, I have inserted the image, and according to the “Get Flashy” section of Learn WordPress.com, I should be able to “move images around by dragging and dropping them in different parts of your post.” However, when I try over and over again to drag and drop this image it moves nowhere. Also, I should be able to edit the image and at least center it or align it to the right, but currently when I click on the “edit image” symbol, my cursor jumps up to the beginning of my post and no “edit image” screen is displayed. At this point, I’m scared to try too many trouble shooting tricks in fear that my image will just disappear again. Whether these are WordPress issues or issues due to operator error, I’m not definitively sure, but I’m left with an image here whether this is where I really want it or not.
Established Twitter Conventions in Print
After thinking about the capabilities of WordPress blog posts in relation to the aspects of digital rhetoric identified by Hocks, I’ve come to the conclusion that while this site will help me personally as a writer “engage in multimodal composition processes,” I doubt it will allow writers to “create something that perhaps does not yet exist” (Hocks 645). WordPress blog posts offer little in terms of audience interaction, relay heavily on established conventions, and make the use of visual features possible but not cutting edge. But I wonder if that isn’t what makes a blog post a blog post.
In the interests of multimedia textual enhancement, I will begin this week’s post with a short video clip from the 1993 film Gettysburg, which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.
Every time I watch this scene, it feels a bit like I am watching a discussion between my ego and my superego. On one hand, we have Col. Chamberlain, an idealist who believes in a Divinely-implanted equality. On the other hand, we have Buster Kilrain, the pragmatist, who contends that no “magnificent equality” exists between men/women, that the notion of basic human goodness is simply an ideal not grounded in practical reality. Love for your fellow man/woman is clearly not an inherent, universal truth when you stop and pay attention to humanity in action. “Where have you seen this Divine spark in operation? Where have you noted this magnificent equality?” he asks. In his mind, we are left with a dichotomy between what the human condition is and what we would like it to be?
But it’s Buster’s final comment that I really want to point to here: “There’s only one aristocracy, and that is right here (as he points to his temple).” What does he actually mean by this? Truth is mind-dependent? Such an interpretation would make sense in this context, I think, as the philosophical mind-dependent versus mind-independent truth debate seems to fit into this dichotomy. Also, it seems safe to infer from the context here that we are talking about moral truths, specifically. Is morality something that is inherent in us all? Is it the substance of a metaphysical reality that exists independent of cognitive thinking? Or is morality a construct of the human mind? Some social scientists, such as Karl Mannheim, have suggested that the mind’s power over our morality is the source of our free will.
I gathered from Burke’s “Rhetoric of ‘Address’ (to the Individual Soul)”, especially from pages 37– 39, that each individual is constantly moving through an internal, “moralizing process” within himself/herself, and this process occurs as part of one’s “socialization” in the realm of external experiences. (I am looking specifically at the first full paragraph on page 39.) The process works like this: We gather information from the external world, and then wash that data through our inner consciousness for processing. It’s in this processing stage that the “I” and the “me” debate one another, using rhetoric, of course. At the conclusion of such debate, what comes back out, through various forms of communication, is our own, individual brand of moral reasoning.
If we embody Buster Kilrain’s pragmatist perspective for a moment and look around, I don’t think it’s difficult to see evidence of our innermost moral struggles. All around us there are politically-relative “moral” debates taking place – abortion, capital punishment, war, drugs, sex. In these we find debates over what constitutes morally-sound judgement. Some believe the act of killing in the context of war is moral if it’s in the name of saving lives. Some believe that sex is only moral inside of a marriage, while others believe sex is moral as long as it involves two consenting adults. Are certain drugs illegal because they are immoral, or are they immoral because they are illegal? Is personal drugs use moral in the context of one’s rightful control over his/her own body?
In the end, all I know is what goes on in my own mind. I know that I’ve been my own audience on many, many occasions, and I can honestly say that my own thoughts are rhetorical … which is kind of a scary thought, in my opinion.
Are morals constructs of the mind … that gain validity with social acceptance? Thus, is morality rhetorically constructed intersubjectively? Is morality fundamentally rhetorical?