Tuesday, July 31, 2007

commentary-ish-ness around Aristotle's first "definition" of "rhetoric"

Professor Richard Leo Enos, the rhetoric professor who’s made rhetoricians out of several of us, once asked this in class:

“What if Aristotle had said, ‘Rhetoric is the counterpart to poetics’?”

So here I ask why didn’t Aristotle begin the Rhetoric with this:

“Rhetoric is the antistrophos of an inside joke”?

As outsiders, we can only guess. I’m guessing that Pythias, Aristotle’s wife, and their daughter (also named Pythias) could read his Rhetoric without the need of a dictionary or a commentary. In their bodies, in the context of their Hellenistic society, they “got” the meanings around what this man wrote by making those meanings with him, with the ones they lived among and talked with and read of and about.

Now I’m proposing a translation that’s just as “rhetorical.” No huge requirement for a lexicon or an encyclopedia. The main ingredients in the cookery only need be the speaker (or writer), those listening (the insider audience members or readers), and the punch line (or the speech or text they all “get”). It’s just the party bore who will feel the need to give it away smartly (in commentary) as if to mark with so much detail not only “the” meaning but also the excluded who were not fortunate enough to be among the insiders.

So may I try out a translation? one that lets us let Aristotle’s undefined, unprecise, metaphorical definitions of “rhetoric” be, and one that lets us in on the joke so to speak. And would you let me comment, if only to explain why you and I shouldn’t really have to be so precise, when together?


ἡ ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῃ̂ διαλεκτικη

Rhetoric 3 is an antistrophos to dialectic.

(translated by George A. Kennedy, 1991)

Rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic.

(translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, 1991)

RHETORIC is the counterpart of Dialectic.

(translated by W. Rhys Roberts, 1954)

RHETORIC is the counterpart a of Dialectic;

(translated by John H. Freese, 1926)

Speakerly-ness is a turn taking different from declaration-talkiness.

(a translating by us, 2007. . . )

Now, just a few comments on why some translations still need commentary. First, some are transliterations, keeping the “sound” of the “Greek” but locking down the precise meaning elsewhere in a footnote.

Otherwise, ἡ ῥητορ is the speaker. And –ική signifies something adjectival and nouny like –ly-ness. Does that really need defining? One friend tells me this month of Stephen Colbert’s satirical term, truthiness. I only need an encylopedia to learn that it was named word of the year by The American Dialect Society and word of the year the next year by Merriam Webster Dictionary people. What English speaker needs a dictionary to get the funny meaning of the word, truthiness? Another friend emails me this month this sentence: Forgive me for sounding Kung-fu-ey here, but the analogy is true.” I have to read the context to get the analogy, but Kung-fu-ey I get. Without a dictionary, I get Kung-fu-ey rhetorically, enthymematically, and feminist-ical-ly.

Likewise, ἀντίστροφος is a turn taking different from. Readers of Aristotle’s Rhetoric who got it didn’t really have to wait until they turned to chapter 9 of Book III to find that word twice again, and there referring to a poet’s turn (in verse 1), with the second mention (in verse 6) a mention in contrast to an example of another kind of poetic turn – the ultimate non definition. We, today, could study the poetry (which Aristotle only leaves us contrastive examples of) and could speculate about how turn is something the poets mimicked oxen doing as they plowed the fields and then could extrapolate that back to the text of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. And we’d then justify a translation such as “counterpart of” or simply transliterate/translate as “antistrophos to” with the note mark so as not to bore our readers too much. But I’ll just note here that every single English translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric that I can find always and only transliterates the two words in chapter 9 or Book III, whether they translate the one word in this first opening sentence as “counterpart.” We might want to agree, at this turn, with William M. A. Grimaldi, S. J. that, from his rhetorical opener around rhetoric (Book I, Chapter 1, Verse 1) to his rhetorical turn to rhetorical style (Book III, Chapter 9, Verses 1 and 6), Aristotle's Rhetoric has some undefined unity, consistency the Hellenists make, unity together they "get." What if the Hellenists are accustomed to taking turns in their talk?

That brings us to the final phrase. ̂ͅ διαλεκτικη̂ compares (or contrasts) declaration-talkiness with what comes before it. That sounds commentary-ish, I know. Forgive me. Let’s break it down. Δια is across, as in the direction talk goes from one person to another in cross talk. And –ική signifies something adjectival and nouny like –ly-ness. So then we get to λεκτ. It’s a beautiful Hellenistic root. It means to talk, to bed, and/or to choose. To the Hellenists it means all those things all at the same time. Or at least it can. It may be close to the Latiny, Frenchy English speaker using the word declare to mean something like "to make clear" and also "to stake a claim" at "where I stand and will eventually sleep" (as with the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments).

I’m guessing the main troubling thing about διαλεκτικη is that it’s so close in meaning and in usages with variants of ἡ ῥητορ. In English, in our transliterations like rhetoric, we run with many different meanings. In English, in our transliterations like dialectic, we run with many different meanings also. Dialectic connotes regional variants of languages, and formal things in epistemology that Socrates, Plato, Hegel, Marx, and Derrida did. It also, in the variants dialogue and lego and logos and logic and syllogism and –ology and e-lect and se-lect and lectern, brings to mind many other things. But the characters in the Illiad took it so much more passionately (as we’ll see in a future commentary blogged here perhaps). It's a bedding down of choice through talk. A social turn taking. So taken-for-granted similar to ρημα that Aristotle can write a startling opener saying how ἀντί a turn-taking ῥητορ-ικη is from δια-λεκτ-ικη.

And we may already know how passionately ῥητορ brought to mind Eros, the god of love. But now we’re letting something feministic show again.

P(0st) S(cripts)

others' well-defined views (but not necessarily Aristotle's, at least not in his Hellenistic Rhetoric)

not exactly The Dictionary

Topos . . . accords with Aristotle’s fondness for visual imagery. . . . Neither in Topics nor in Rhetoric does Aristotle give a definition of topos, a sign that he assumed the word would be easily understood; he does, however, give his own special twist to its meaning.
--George A. Kennedy, “The ‘Topics’ of Syllogisms and Enthymemes,” On Rhetoric

In actual fact the word πίστις in Aristotle’s text will not sustain the univocal interpretation (i. e. proof, way of proving) which has been imposed upon it. The assumption of such a univocal meaning has generated some of the difficulties about the coherence and unity of the text. In reality the word pistis has a number of meanings in the text, and it is necessary to discriminate among them for an understanding of the text and the meaning of enthymeme.

--William M. A. Grimaldi, S. J., “The Centrality of the Enthymeme”

In view of the importance he has given the enthymeme, we might reasonably expect to find it carefully defined. However, although there are many hints as to its nature, the reader of Aristotle’s Rhetoric will find no unambiguous statement defining the enthymeme.
--Lloyd F. Bitzer, “Aristotle’s Enthymeme Revisited”

Readers of the Rhetoric soon discover that, despite the forthrightness of Aristotle’s opening statement and the centrality of the concept for his theory of rhetoric, the enthymeme is an elusive term. . . . In all of these [varied] perspectives [on the term], the dimension of gender remains unexplored.
-- Elizabeth Jane DeGroot, “A Reconceptualization of Enthymeme from a Feminist Perspective”

[I]n the Rhetoric . . . Aristotle’s account of pathos implies a rhetoric that is not quite “Aristotelian” in the usual sense and that sits uneasily with Aristotle’s preferences.
-- Jeffrey Walker, “Pathos and Katharsis in ‘Aristotelian’ Rhetoric: Some Implications”

Aristotle . . . makes four definitional statements in Book I of the Rhetoric, three of which depend on metaphors. . . . However, the metaphors defining rhetoric do not function according to Aristotle’s own criteria for heuristic metaphors. . . . [Moreover,] the four metaphors do not fill in the outline to form a precise enough Aristotelian definition. They never clarify how rhetoric and dialectic relate, for example, as antistrophos to stophe, as part to whole, or as species to species. Similarly unclear is rhetoric’s link to ethics and politics. As a result, none of the metaphors can be removed from the definition and leave the term rhetoric clear. Aristotle himself does not supply the appropriate and necessary textual materials to resolve the lack of clarity in his own definition of rhetoric according to his own criteria. The three, equivocal metaphorical definitions are not characteristic of a systematic treatise.
--Sara J. Newman, “Aristotle’s Definition of Rhetoric in the Rhetoric

If you have patiently read through the six epigraphs above, then you are asking a question with me.

If Aristotle is all about precisely defining and clearly cataloging, then what’s up with his Rhetoric?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Aristotle's Hellenistic "rhetoric": (p)resuming "feminisms"

Aristotle makes no provision for the intellectual woman, except for his nod to Sappho: “Everyone honours the wise . . . . [T]he Mytilenaeans [honour] Sappho, though she was a woman” (Rhetoric 2.23.1389.b). Otherwise, Aristotle denied any philosophical or rhetorical contributions by women.

--Cheryl Glenn, Rhetoric Retold

h `wsper Sapfw,

`oti to apoqnwiskein kakon: `oi qeoi gar `outw kekrikasin: apeqnwskon gar an.

[as says Sappho,

To die is an evil. The gods, in fact, have so judged; otherwise, in fact, they would die.]

--Aristotle, The Rhetoric

For this project, I’m making (if also contending for) two assumptions. (Let's call them presumptions.) First, rhetoric is already inherently feministic. Second, the key terms (the very rhetoric) of the Hellenist language of the Rhetoric are much more “feminine” than previous English translations suggest.

(And I’m not just referring to Greek grammar but also to lexis and to what Helene Cixous might say is embodied femaleness in writing, “l'écriture feminine.” Isn't the body of Helen what Homer and Sappho and Gorgias, in Hellenistic poetic rhetoric, wrote of? Who inspired whom? Cixous’s feminisms might embody Nelson Goodman’s insistence on radical relativism within rigid restraints. Her feminisms should get at what Alan Lightman must do when he quotes Richard Feyhnman as saying: “What we need is imagination, but imagination in a terrible straightjacket.” And we might try to see, as Lydia H. Liu does, translation as more collaborations between “guest language” and “host language” and less as a “source language” perverted by a “target language”). So, rhetoric is already inherently feministic (if also masculinistic). This view is not unlike Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s starting points: that the public sphere, legal rights, and spiritual life are natural for women (if for men also). She, of course, re-reads rightly-enough and resistantly-enough the Declaration of Independence and the English-translated Bible; so she writes the Declaration of Sentiments (with her colleagues who elect her their spokesperson) and The Woman’s Bible (which is too feministic for some of her more-traditional co-suffragists).

With respect to Aristotle, I will assume that “rhetoric” was not his usual (masculinist) “project” of defining and classifying the subjects of his study. That is, for all the (man-ish) defining and classifying he does (or tries to do) in the Rhetoric, he was theorizing what others (including women, even Sappho) were doing when they did rhetoric; and what they did as rhetoric may actually have un-done Aristotle’s typical (male-oriented) project. (It has provided the means for the equal citizenship of women and the abolishment of slavery, two things the misogynistic, dominant Aristotle clearly wrote against outside of the Rhetoric).

To go on with this assumption, I have juxtaposed the two epigraphs above—Glenn’s and Aristotle’s quotations. Glenn’s quick conclusion seems to be that Aristotle only “nods” to Sappho “though she was a [mere] woman.” (Really, maybe that’s all Aristotle actually wanted to do; or maybe our English translations reinforce such a masculinist reading). Glenn in her correct recognition of Aristotle’s general position against women fails to say that the quotation she excerpts from the Rhetoric is ambiguous in Hellenistic Greek: that Aristotle may actually be quoting another male writer (i.e., Alcidamus) who gives the (Mytilenaeans’s) view about Sappho. In fact, Aristotle (a few lines beyond his quotation of Alcidamus that Glenn incorrectly attributes singly to Aristotle) goes on himself to call Sappho “wise.” Moreover, Aristotle then quotes Sappho herself in the context of his quoting Plato, Isocrates, and other exemplary (albeit male) rhetor(icians) (Rhetoric 2.23). Furthermore, earlier in Book I (chapter 9), Aristotle quotes Sappho, who rebukes (the male) Alcaeus for his silence due to his evil and his own shame. Likewise, Aristotle himself (in Book III, Chapter 3) rebukes the very same Alcidamus who seems to have given some praise to Sappho (through the Mytilenaens) “although she was a woman”: Alcidamus (with several other men) is charged with four counts of using language poorly. Aristotle, in contrast, only praises the rhetor(ician) Sappho as noteworthy.

If female-and-male rhetoric is not Aristotle’s typical project (i.e., both misogynistic views and masculinist binaries, in his works other than the Rhetoric), then one could ask whether Aristotle as a fledgling rhetorician became more of a rhetorician later in life than he was a scientist-philosopher. After reading Reclaiming Rhetoric, Rhetoric Retold, and Available Means, I can’t help but wonder how much rhetoric Aristotle learned from women.

What must his (male) mentors and friends have said to him as he ventured into theorizing (dame) rhetoric, the (untruths and uncertain) means of sophists? What had Phaestis taught her little Aristotle before they moved to Athens, before he learned to read Sappho’s poetry (grappling with issues of love and persuasion as did Homer and Hesiod and, later, Isocrates and Gorgias)? What had his mother taught him to prepare Aristotle to hear (of) Aspasia’s speeches (written for Pericles and written up by Plato) and Aspasia’s dialectic method (taught to Socrates and attributed only to him)? Once Aristotle’s mother passed away, what did his aunt Arimneste teach him when he lived in her home? Why did Aristotle ultimately move with his wife, Pythias, and his daughter (also named Pythias) to the island of Lesbos (of Sappho) to set up his academy? Had he not invariably and elsewhere theorized (these) women as lesser than man (in his blatantly misogynistic writings)? Thus, did he not have to reconcile his Rhetoric, on the rhetoric(s) of man (and woman), with his other writings? In his second paragraph, does Aristotle not depart from (undertheorizing, male) rhetoric(ian)s when he writes: Enqumematon . . . esti soma thj pisteoj? More personally now, have I (a man) not learned enough of the art of language, from (women’s) rhetoric, to see how (such a small beginning to) Aristotle’s Rhetoric can be (re)translated (i.e., feministically as: “The things of the heart . . . are the body of belief”)? Still, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton rightly says, “man cannot speak for her.” Thus, she would insist on the equality of woman and man, such that even a man can speak for him (what he’s learning from her).

Even if Aristotle never budged from misogynism or from his masculinist epistemology, even if he did not sometimes see himself more as a rhetor(ician) or didn’t become some sympathetic to the feministic of rhetoric), then the Rhetoric still shows, I believe, two important possibilities for reformations of the document by its (womanly) rhetoric therein. First, (even) Aristotle’s rhetoric (i.e., as not only theorized but as also employed in his Rhetoric) is wonderfully different from (Plato’s) philosophy and from Aristotle’s other defining and categorizing works (as works of a dominant, anti-woman, pro-slavery male). Specifically, rhetoric tends to be more inclusive of (gendered) persons (i.e., both women and men) while philosophy (and Aristotle’s epistemology and philosophic methodology) tends to work in exclusive (perhaps male-like) binaries. Second, with dramatically different results, a person may “do” philosophy (or any other discipline) rhetorically or may philosophically “do” rhetoric.

A second of my theses is that key terms of the original language are much more feminine than English translations have suggested. In Aristotle’s notes on rhetoric (i.e., the Hellenistic Greek language treatise, the Rhetoric), he works much more inclusively (i.e., with riveted attention to his audiences) than in his other works, and his rhetorical methodology is more than (mere bifurcating and classifying) philosophy. For example, Aristotle leaves key terms in the Rhetoric —such as our transliterated “rhetoric,” “dialectic,” “enthymeme,” “pisteis,” and “topoi”—undefined. (Okay, he seems to start with the definition of our transliterated rhetoric as the antistrophos of dialectic; and he later says, “let’s suppose rhetoric is the viewing of what might be considered the available means of persuasion.” But how sloppy are those definitions! Full of undefined terms!) Aristotle was not being careless; instead, I believe, he was to a large degree enacting (perhaps unconsciously, sloppily) the very rhetoric he theorizes. That is, by leaving central words without definition, Aristotle calls on his audience to co-create meanings with him. Furthermore, from the get go, he explicitly says that rhetoric is something “all people” do; but he also makes particular notes to individual audiences (such as his students, other rhetoricians, the person on the street, and so forth) in different sections of the document.

To read it differently, or rhetorically from a feminist perspective, the result is changed. Translation of the Hellenistic Greek can help or hinder. What if, as Jan Swearingen seems to exclaim, pistis has to do with the (womanly) qualities of belief and expression(ism)? What if en-thymeme had more to do with what is in-the-heart than with some “counterpart” to a formal method of logic? What if antistrophos was understood more as a “differing sister” (as both John Freese and Jeffery Walker suggest independently) or as a “different sort of turn” in which “turn” recalled something a human body (maybe even a woman’s body) had to do? What if topoi were “places,” even metaphorical, that connote the context of the physical body, of a non-abstract, fleshly situation? What if techne, as Janice Lauer understands it, is “skill” as generative, “productive knowledge” and not necessarily something in the middle between “theory” and “practice”?

A review of some of the regard women rhetoricians have for (feminist) rhetoric is important to show the need for the project of translating the Hellensitic language of the Rhetoric in ways understood (or marked) as womanly. Different rhetoricians have contributed and developed various aspects of women’s rhetoric. At the risk of essentializing their ideas, I summarize some of the central thoughts below.

Andrea A. Lunsford has stressed the need for women to reclaim rhetoric since rhetoric is a woman (i.e., Dame Rhetoric). Cheryl Glenn has emphasized work that is “tethered” to the (masculine) tradition (“Position”) but also regenders and remaps the entire history of rhetoric (by employing historiography, feminism, gender studies, and postmodernisms). Susan Jarratt has focused on memory and re-membering in her recovery of rhetor(ician)s such as Sappho. Michelle Ballif regards “little narratives” as ways to read resistantly and to undo the “master narratives” of the likes of Aristotle. Patricia Bizzell welcomes all the above mentioned methods and adds that emotion and subjective care plays an important role in feministic rhetoric. Helene Cixous critiques phallo-logo-centrism by calling women (and men) to l'écriture feminine or the writing of the (woman’s) body through awareness of embodiment. Nancy Mairs builds on the notions of embodiment by exploring multiple dimensions of the body, or poly-morphing as feministic. Charlotte Hogg embraces Montaignian essaying as (feministically) including the mundane in writing. And each of these scholars regards the other, the audience.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is as feminine as the art of rhetoric and as womanly as the history of (even) classical rhetoric. Hence, through translation, it can be . . .




regarded as not so grand and as not so authorized and as not so canonized;

And, through translation, it can. . .

include subjective, emotive elements;

refuse abstraction far beyond the human body;

be polymorph-y if also binary;

be mundane if regarding style;

relate sensitively to various readers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

περὶ ῥητορικης

When Aristotle himself refers to the treatise in Poetics 19.2 he calls it Peri rhētorikēs (On Rhetoric).

--George Alexander Kennedy

Publication of any sort is an intrinsically social act, "I" having no reason to speak aloud unless I posit "you" there listening; but your presence is especially vital if I am seeking not to disclose the economic benefits of fish farming in Zäire, or to recount the imaginary tribulations of an adulterous doctor's wife in nineteenth-century France, but to reconnect myself—now so utterly transformed by events unlike any I've experienced before as to seem a stranger even to myself—to the human community....lending materiality to my readerly ideal, transform[ing] monologue into intercourse.

--Nancy Mairs

Then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
oh logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
clinical, oh, intellectual, cynical.
There are times when all the world's asleep,
the questions run too deep
for such a simple man.

--Charles Roger Pomfret Hodgson

As I left the house this morning, my wife said to me, “What’s with you complicating things?!” She hummed a smile, a simple Avril Lavigne lyric: “Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?”

So there. I’ve done it again.


Let’s say περὶ lends materiality to Aristotle’s readerly ideal. Rather than his getting logic, however, we get something we’ll call rhetoric.

Let’s say we read περὶ as nothing like the “ON” that George A. Kennedy reads it as (as in the first epigraph above).

Let’s say περὶ suggests something round, or around. Perhaps that means “about” or “on” in someone’s attempts at a precise definition of a thing; perhaps it also connotes an approximation; perhaps it also hints at a surrounding (like a lover’s embrace or a parent’s arms); perhaps it also gets at a circle (as in “yonic” to the literary scholar and as in “circumcise” to the Biblical academic, or “to cut around” for the classicist). Perhaps it indicates something of the muscles, for the physician, as in “perimysium” and “perinatal,” which brings us back to writing the body and around to talking about pregnancy all over again.

Let’s say ἔστω is more than imperative, is more than being, is more than a precise abstract definition of a thing in itself, is less a monologue, and is also more intrinsically the social act of intercourse. Let’s say it’s our speculation; now where does that get us in Jeffrey Walker’s publication, his Reply to Jerzy Axer?

Let’s say πίστεις may be other than proofs and persuasion, if Homer and Hesiod (before Aristotle) and if the Septuagint translators and the New Testament writers (after Aristotle) all say to us it’s something other. What if we like how C. Jan Swearingen keeps "Pistis, Expression, and Belief" together? What if belief is something you can’t really help, like falling in love, like the movement of your tiny hairs on the back of your neck when you see a snake in front of your feet out in the woods, like Abraham’s becoming a friend of God, like Mary’s appreciating him more?

Let’s say ἐνθύμημα is the body of something we’ve already mentioned—the very passion and heart and anger inside. Let’s say συλλογισμός is some bodys’ collection of some bodys’ statements. Let’s say στροφος is some ones’ turning one way or another or is our or their turn taking.

Let’s say φέρ is less “for.m” constricted and more “ferry” and “carry” and “womb” and “basket” and “bearing” related. So let’s say μεταφορὰ could be not so much a metaphor as a carrying to full term, as a poet will attempt in meanings and a riddler in puzzles.

Let’s say βλλω is a throwing or a putting (ποβλλω -- throw off; προβλλω -- throw before (put forward) propose; πιβλλω -- throw (or cast) upon; κβλλω -- put out of; throw out of; μβλλω -- put in (embark); καταβολ -- throw down (seed) put down (a foundation); καταβλλω -- put down; overthrow). Let’s not put down anyone’s reputation (as diablo does) and let’s tell a story that lines up my reality with anothers (as the parable sower does). Let’s say περιβλλω is to throw around (is to put on clothes).

Let’s say ἀληθείας are un-veilings and dis-closures and clothes-revealings instead of the Truth.

Let’s say Οδύσσεια is Homer’s playing with words. For “Ou tis” in his Cyclops story in substance only sounds like “Odysseus.” And Οδύσσεια has as much to do with an aoidos as with a way (an odus). (And play with words has as much to do with involuntary fun as it does with intentional wiggle room). Period. (peri.od, a way around)

Let’s say ική is Homer’s or Hesiod’s word coining with what it’s like to be a virgin.

Let’s say Kenneth Lee Pike was right in saying person is above logic, that we choose our perspectives (particle, wave, or / and field), that Nelson Goodman was coming around to something when he said what we need is something like radical relativism within rigid restraints. Let’s use Pike’s (and now many scholars’ and many disciplines’ Greek-ish) emics and etics. Let’s go ahead with complications by quoting Robert E. Quinn who starts by quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes on simplicity in Quinn’s book Change the World :

I believe that in any activity there are many novices, a few experts, and very occasionally there is an extraordinary master. If you ask a novice about a topic, the novice will give you a very simple (simplistic) explanation that will be of little value. If you ask an expert the same question, the expert will give you a complex explanation that will also be of little value. If you ask a master the same question, the master’s explanation may be simple, breathtakingly elegant, and remarkably effective. But the master’s answer will only be valuable, breathtaking, and effective if you and I are ready to hear it and act on it. (xi)

Let’s say simply and with complexity, in our bodies in this place (let’s call it ὁ τοπικός) in our materiality, in our publication, in our social intercourse . . . let’s come full circle. . . let’s say it’s what Aristotle called it . . . Let’s say it’s ΠΕΡῚ ῬΗΤΟΡΙΚΗ (AROUND SPEAKERISTICS).

Let’s hear what Aristotle hears from Sappho:

Πλρης μν φανετ σελννα
α δ ς περ Βμον σταθησαν.

The moon rose full,

and as around an altar, stood the women.

Now rose the moon, full and argentine,
While round stood the maidens, as at a shrine.

Quoted by Hephaestion as an example of the metre known as the Ionic a majore trimeter brachycatalectic. Poetically the figure is a fine one, and shows Sappho's wonderful power of visualizing a scene in a few unerringly chosen words. The moon and its light had a great attraction for her, as a number of fragments shows.

and from Homer:

Illiad.1.448 ἑξείης ἔστησαν ἐΰδμητον περὶ βωμόν,
for the god in orderly fashion around the strong-founded altar.

Let’s hear another foundation, another relation-al material statement-birth:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός γενηθήτω στερέωμα ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ ἔστω διαχωρίζον ἀνὰ μέσον ὕδατος καὶ ὕδατος καὶ ἐγένετο οὕτως

Let’s not make this too complicated.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest
--Paul Simon

Oh, you're a voyeur, the worst kind of thief
--Sheryl Crow

Talk with me like lovers do
--Annie Lennox

In this post, I'm aiming to do two things:

1. to consider who scholars say Aristotle's audience is for his

2. to reconsider our notion of targeted audience (recognizing this notion as simply an arrogant academic aim).

Let me just try to tantalize you into continuing to read what I'm writing here. Let me add quickly ( parenthetically) that you are my audience. So are they. You might say that I'm aiming at you and them. There's nothing you or I can do about it or them. Stop reading if you must. Jesus Christ's disciples put it this way: ος εχει ωτα ακουειν ακουετω. υμων δε μακαριοι οι οφθαλμοι οτι βλεπουσιν και τα ωτα [υμων] οτι ακουουσιν. (You and I and most any educated English and Greek reader now can notice how they used Hellenistic writing to tell us his Hebraic speech to them and us). But we digress, don't we?


Rhetorician George Alexander Kennedy says this: "Modern audiences for On Rhetoric fall roughly into four main groups, with considerable overlapping and many individual differences of opinion" (19). He says this in a little essay, "Aristotle's Original Audience and His Audience Today," in the Introduction of the second edition of Kennedy's translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric. (So I say to you, my reader, that Kennedy points his translation and this commentary of his at some of us: "modern readers" and "modern students" [xi]. And he dedicates his writing "To My Grandson, Alexander Kennedy Morton, The Original Rhetoric for a Later Alexander" [v]. He wants some of us, and his grandson, to read. Surely, he and the editors and textbook sales people of Oxford University Press, Inc., also aim for quite a few of us to buy this second edition of his translation. A few rhetoric professors are targets too. This is the added cost, if the rhetorical benefits, of higher education. But we digress again, don't we?)

"Modern audiences for On Rhetoric " are audiences for Aristotle's work, and for Kennedy's. Kennedy says these "modern readers" are

(1) "the classical philologists, specialists in Greek language, literature, and culture . . . who tend to pounce on the inconsistencies in the text and thus resist viewing it as a unity";

(2) "the philosophers, largely scholars who study and teach ancient philosophy . . . skilled dialecticians, [who] are good at what they do and can easily overwhelm the average reader with their subtlety and learning, sometimes at the expense of distorting what Aristotle actually says";

(3) "teachers of English composition and speech communication, whose primary interest is in the rhetorical theory found in the work . . . [who] are understandably inclined to use it as the basis of developing a comprehensive system of rhetoric, following out the implications of the text or imaging [sic] what Aristotle ought to have said but didn't";

(4) "the literary scholars and critics. . . [whose] interest in the Rhetoric is largely confined to the third book, where Aristotle's theory of metaphor is of special interest . . . in conjunction with the Poetics" (19-20).

(Now, don't we wonder where the "modern student" is in this list of "modern audiences"? And don't we wonder why Kennedy accuses philologists of "pouncing" and "resisting"? Shouldn't we ask whether he's avoided "easily overwhelming the average reader," the very thing he attacks philosophers for doing in their "distorting"? Can we wonder how teachers of English composition and speech communication are more "understandably inclined" to do what they do, and how it is that Kennedy more understands them? Finally, doesn't it seem Kennedy thinks literary scholars and critics are a bit narrow in their "largely confined" and "special" interests? But we seem to be digressing again, don't we?)

Kennedy also reviews the "resumption of the ongoing scholarly discussion about the audience for which On Rhetoric was composed." He says that Carol Poster says that Aristotle writes

for the student trained in dialectic who needs, particularly for self-defense or defense of Platonic-Aristotlelian philosophy, to sway an ignorant or corrupt audience or to understand the functioning of rhetoric within the badly ordered state. The techniques described are dangerous, potentially harmful to both the speaker and audience, and ought not be revealed to the general readership of Aristotle's dialogues, but only taught within the controlled environment of Aristotle's school, as part of the esoteric corpus of Platonic-Aristotelian teaching. (244) (17)

(Kennedy concedes that what he excerpts from Poster is from her "prize-winning article." So, don't you wonder who gave her the prize? Was it philologists, philosophers, teachers of English composition and speech communication, or literary scholars and critics? Is Poster one of these? And doesn't what she says make Aristotle more of a defensive specialist philosopher whose academic specialty trumps a social phenomenon he calls, "rhetoric," a "dangerous, potentially harmful [thing] to both the speaker and the audience"? So doesn't Poster seem to think that Aristotle uses his Rhetoric to fight against rhetoric? Indeed, Poster's article is entitled "Aristotle's Rhetoric Against Rhetoric." But does Poster claim that Aristotle uses rhetoric in the Rhetoric? And doesn't she use it in her article? Just so we know, Kennedy, in his review of the first edition of his translation, slams philosophers for neglecting the rhetoric in all of Aristotle's writings, even the purely philosophic stuff. But, once again, aren't we digressing?)

Kennedy seems to like better than Poster's article the long essay by Edward W. Clayton. Clayton reviews all the possible original audiences of Aristotle's Rhetoric, "including the legislator of an ideal city, the Athenian public, the students in his philosophical school, or different audiences in different parts of the work, written at different times" (17). Kennedy says that Clayton "concludes that the students in his school are the most likely audience, agreeing in this with Poster, though without her emphasis on moral urgency" (17).

(Now, shall we together, my targeted readers, get round to the real, second, point?)


Let's suppose that Aristotle aimed his Rhetoric at a specific audience. How would we know today, unless the likes of Carol Poster, Edward W. Clayton, and George A. Kennedy tell us? Have they targeted us? Are they really any different from what Poster says Aristotle was? Are they not academic specialists who are defending the boundaries of their specific interests to those of us paying our interest, our time, our journal subscriptions, and our tuition to be their special audience?

Now let's imagine something else. What if none of Kennedy's "modern audiences" of Aristotle's Rhetoric will ever know, really, who his "original audience" for the text was? Or what if it is always everybody?

What if we got over our idealistic (shall we call it Platonic?) quest for the "original" and the precisely "targeted" listener and reader? What if we took a second look at how our English language and our American academic culture tends to reinforce artificial and elitist boundaries? Are the connotations of the following phrases positive or negative, bridge building or wall constructing?

whispering through the fence,
reading someone else's mail,
spying over someone's shoulder,
invading someone's privacy,
imaginary friendship,

Now, how different do you think, really, these terrible things are from what "modern audiences" do with Aristotle's Rhetoric? Are we readers and translators and teachers and students of what Aristotle wrote not reading something we insist is written for, aimed at, someone else and not ourselves? Did we pay Aristotle for his work?

Or could Aristotle really care? And if he does, would he be bothered? I think now of four things: Four things Jesus said (that his disciples wrote down); four things literary critic George Steiner wrote; and four things business scholar Robert E. Quinn wrote. Then, I'll end this long post with something C.S. Lewis wrote about audience, and something Aristotle wrote along the same lines, hoping that you'll stay with me here, my reader.

Jesus said we might as well compare a speaker or writer to an inefficient seed sower. Some seed falls by the wayside, other in shallow rocky sunbleached soil, other in choking weeds, and other in good soil. That's four isn't it? The minority goes where aimed; the majorities fly elsewhere. (If you get common Hellenistic writing, like the involuntary laugher gets the inside joke, then enjoy this:
ος εχει ωτα ακουειν ακουετω. υμων δε μακαριοι οι οφθαλμοι οτι βλεπουσιν και τα ωτα [υμων] οτι ακουουσιν. Or read a good translation of the parable Mark recorded in chapter 4).

George Steiner wrote of four difficulties a reader has reading a poem-writer's poem. (Steiner wrote of this in "On Difficulty" in On Difficulty). Note these four: "epiphenomenal" or "contingency" difficulties, "tactical," "modal," and "ontological" difficulities. I'll let you find the article (or someone's commentary reading of it) and read it for yourself. But, would you see my point here. The author and the poem can hardly get around the fact of multiple possible readings, if difficulties of four kinds.

Robert E. Quinn wrote a book, Change the World: How Ordinary Individuals Achieve Extraordinary Results. Therein, he reviews the business, change-agent strategies and finds four: telling, forcing, negotiating, and self-transforming. You could take what Quinn has written, line it up with what Steiner has written, and stack that up with what Jesus's disciples' recorded of his parable telling. What we see are different kinds of readings, and hearings, suggesting different kinds of readers and audiences. And the writer speaker is always at their mercy.

C. S. Lewis wrote a book, Reflections on the Psalms. Therein, he has a chapter he entitles, "Second Meanings." In the chapter, he writes of a Greek slave boy speaking an important message, of Virgil writing a prophecy, and of Plato writing an ideal. All of them are and can be "misunderstood." That is, the boy and the two writers have "second meanings," meanings they never intended for audiences they never targeted. Plato, Lewis imagines, might concede that his ideal person of whom he's writing actually must also refer to another who comes after them all.

Lewis, in writing his book, takes the position of professional literary scholar. But his first readers knew also his reputation as an atheist turned theist turned Christian. Lewis writes the book, then, as a Christian assessing the Jewish Psalms. He reads Christian (second) meanings (of love mainly) into the psalm-writer's psalms. But Lewis writes as a non-specialist, as an eavesdropper if you will, but one who is interested in love:

This is not a work of scholarship. I am no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself. If an excuse is needed (and perhaps it is) for writing such a book, my excuse would be something like this. It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

In this book, then, I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained, when reading the Psalms, with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. I am “comparing notes”, not presuming to instruct. (1-2).

So now, shall we listen in on Aristotle? He's writing to someone isn't he? (See the Rhetoric, Book III, Chapter 7, verse 11 in translation if you like). He's talking like a lover does, with a specific interest in another's hearing, in another's interest in what he's saying to them. Could it be only his students who he's writing to? Is he acknowledging us? Won't he? Won't he acknowledge, and isn't he acknowledging, that audiences ("us") are a tricky lot? Won't we?

τὰ δὲ ὀνόματα τὰ διπλα̂ καὶ [τὰ] ἐπίθετα πλείω καὶ τὰ ξένα μάλιστα ἁρμόττει λέγοντι παθητικω̂ς: συγγνώμη γὰρ ὀργιζομένῳ κακὸν φάναι οὐρανόμηκες*, ἢ πελώριον εἰπει̂ν, καὶ ὅταν ἔχῃ* ἤδη τοὺς ἀκροατὰς καὶ ποιήσῃ ἐνθουσιάσαι ἢ ἐπαίνοις (15) ἢ ψόγοις ἢ ὀργῃ̂ ἢ φιλίᾳ, οἱ̂ον καὶ ̓Ισοκράτης ποιει̂ ἐν τῳ̂ Πανηγυρικῳ̂ ἐπὶ τέλειφήμην δὲ καὶ μνήμηνκαὶοἵτινες ἔτλησαν”: φθέγγονται γὰρ τὰ τοιαυ̂τα ἐνθουσιάζοντες, ὥστε καὶ ἀποδέχονται δηλονότι ὁμοίως ἔχοντες. διὸ καὶ τῃ̂ ποιήσει ἥρμοσεν: ἔνθεον γὰρ ἡ ποίησις. ἢ δὴ οὕτως δει̂, ἢ (20) μετ' εἰρωνείας, ὥσπερ Γοργίας ἐποίει καὶ τὰ ἐν τῳ̂ Φαίδρῳ.