Thursday, October 5, 2017


So I foolishly agreed to teach Foundations of Rhetoric this fall, and it has been a semester of discovery. In honor of my Foundations learning, I have classified this entry in five ways: Invention, Arrangement, Delivery, Style, and Memory.

I haven't written anything in a while. I feel like the opposite of Q in Wonder Boys, "I am not a writer." Whence the invention, I wonder. Or the desire. L is always talking about writing. As is E. They do it better than I do--both the talking and the doing. The rhetoric of it is more in their practice than in mine. Since Daddy got super sick, I have been slow about writing or reading anything challenging. But that might not be the foundational reason of it, I know. The invention is the thing. Hence the whence.

It used to be there, but maybe that was because it was a force from the outside. The ancients argued about these things, as well. I mean, out loud, of course. They were writers.

The still bleeding wounds of the ancient traumas between rhetoric and philosophy amaze me. Reading Conley's Rhetoric in the European Tradition whilst also reading Demelza and Poldark in Winston Graham's Poldark series is a funny sort of arrangement; the arts of the past and the romantical practicalities nestled up, close and cuddly. Conley does a good job of arranging the situations--demonstrating the rhetorical constructions up and against the historical constructions in a sort of academic bas relief. It makes me wonder how much is possible to include in the class discussion--how much to arrange, how much to compare, how much to collude with the past in this very Western pattern of thought.

In my notes about English rhetorics in the Renaissance, I wrote, "[Thomas] Wilson proves that you can be a Protestant and not a Ramist. Yay!" Yay, indeed. Nobody likes you, Peter. Shame about the massacre.

Speaking of what and how to convey the messages of these complicated pasts and passed complications, I got called a hot dog vendor by my student the other day. He was very passionately arguing that he pays for classes, and, therefore, he should get what he paid for. Like a hot dog. This conversation happened before we got to the Renaissance, in many ways. I do not think he is a humanist. I wonder if he cares that I might accidentally be one. Interpreting these messages from the ancients to these new and sparkly humans is a challenge that has left me feeling out of my depth. In and under a water of unfamiliarity. I am teaching a class about things that so many people specialize in, watching, as the time goes by in the text, how these things like specialization came about. It's a dizzying message to convey, hot dog vendor or no.

A friend and former professor (one of the people who made me want to be a professor in the first place) posted an article on my FB wall about the difficulty some people have with complicated academic writing. Clarity, says the woman in the article, is the thing. She is a lawyer, this woman in the article, and she ends the whole thing by talking about how she'd rather tangle with the law than with the academics. That made me lol. Because the real question seems to be who is her audience? Who are theirs? I'm thinking that some person talking about Being in a Heideggerian sense to other people who've read and thought Heidegger is going to necessarily speak to their specific audience. It's not, after all, a fucking Dr. Seuss novel. But if she were talking to people who like Dr. Seuss novels, she'd probably change her tone. Her style, as they say, would depend on the audience toward whom she is directing her words.

But that sort of thinking doesn't get thought very well in popular press magazines. Or in academic circles, really. To talk about changing one's style is, again, one of those bloody open wounds about which this class has me in so many tizzies. It has been revolutionary for my thinking to see these old things dragged on about. In class, we have divided up the major areas (because that's a thing we do in rhetoric, divide things and then explain about the divisions) into four sections: The Civic, The Virtuous, The Decorous, and The Speaker. Tomorrow, I am going to get them to draw a map, a borough, if you will. The four neighborhoods will be the Civic, the Virtue, the Decorum, and the Orator. And I am going to ask them where they think our theorists would live, based on their theoretical propositions and inclinations. I'll let you know how it goes.

Two things:
First, I miss my Dad. Incredibly. He would laugh so much at the hot dog vendor thing. And he would love my distaste for Ramus--Daddy always knew that elegant and syllogism go together like hot dogs and mustard.
Second, I remember remembering the first time I took Classical Rhetoric. It wasn't until grad school, and it was with my MA advisor, Meg Zulick. I was one of the first students to start putting that website together. 20 years ago. In Foundations this semester, I passed around a Roman chronology I had done for Meg, just because I kind of wanted them to see how some of these assignments might look a bit different. The date on the work is October 1997. Old hot dog vendor. But still kicking.

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