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)


Anonymous said...

I understand completely what you're aiming at - but if you want to construct compound words to elucidate meaning do it sparingly, or try German.

J. K. Gayle said...


Sie wissen nicht, was ich tue.