Tuesday, December 23, 2008

51. Kugelmass?


Thanks to JA and W(B)K for pointing this out as needing a response. Yet where are they in the fight? I take our "composition" and pop in "public speaking" and pop out "literature" for "psychology/sociology/comm theory" and there but for the grace of God goes Comm.

But Comm doesn't go to the wall for rhetoric in public speaking, then, does it? Ahem....

Feisty!

Responding to:
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/12/23/kugelmass

The problem with analyses like these is that they begin with an impoverished understanding of rhetoric and proceed to spin their argument against that straw man.
(That this author suffers from this flaw is doubly surprising given that some of the best scholars in rhetorical studies teach at his institution. But those are failings for his faculty to consider, not me.)
The central problem with this piece can be located here:
“But it is worth examining how rhetorically themed instruction in writing — especially in ethos, pathos, and logos — arose as a natural way of resolving political conflicts between Western institutions, and to consider the consequences of this paradigm shift for our students. My objection is not merely political; it is also pedagogical, since “rhetoric and composition” forecloses many other valuable ways of teaching reading and writing.”
The error can be dissected in these ways:
1. But it is worth examining how rhetorically themed instruction in writing —
... we do not speak of rhetorically themed writing instruction, any more than we speak of “themed” sociology instruction or “themed” biology instruction. To do so is to begin with a false assertion, from the start: that rhetoric is a flavor that can be added on to writing instruction, and that writing instruction is possible without rhetoric. It should be clear that nonliterary discourse is rhetorical discourse, and so nonliterary writing instruction is rhetorical instruction. The only question is, what form of rhetorical theory informs your pedagogy?
2. especially in ethos, pathos, and logos
... here is the reduction — the use of terms from the worst, most incomplete of first-year textbooks as metonymic for the field. If rhetoric is defined by ethos, pathos, and logos, then literary criticism of narrative is defined by beginning, middle and end. Let’s avoid reduction in the representation of the field you would dismiss.
3. arose as a natural way of resolving political conflicts between Western institutions
... the rise of rhetorically inflected instruction in both writing and speaking has very little to do with the dynamics you describe. What you object to, it seems to me, is not the use of rhetoric to teach writing, but the slow but seemingly impossible to stop shifting of the bulk of the work of English faculty from the teaching of literature and reading to the teaching of writing. Wlad Godzich nails this shift (with a more even-handed discussion of the implications) in The Culture of Literacy — take a look.
The question is, if English faculty at most undergraduate institutions are finding their teaching loads heavier in writing and their writing colleagues more numerous than in the past, how do we grapple with these changes?
The answer, I think, is to professionalize the work, to treat it as an area of intellectual inquiry, and so to master the practices that shifts much larger than the discipline or the department can control are forcing upon us.
4. and to consider the consequences of this paradigm shift for our students.
... The consequence, that I can most easily see, is that writing is taught by those with professional specialization in writing, rather than by those with professional specialization in literary interpretation.
5. My objection is not merely political; it is also pedagogical, since “rhetoric and composition” forecloses many other valuable ways of teaching reading and writing.
...and here we have the great misdirection. Rhetorical instruction, once a master art that would have included literary and theatrical practice, for example, includes under its tent so many diverse pedagogies, undergirded by strong empirical and theoretical and historical research. Very little is precluded by the scope of the field.
A simple skim of the tables of contents of the _Rhetorical Tradition_, _Contemporary Rhetorical Theory_, and the _SAGE Handbook on Rhetoric_ shows the diversity of approaches and methods. Rhetoric encompasses the moves you push to “critical thinking” — what would 100 years of rhetorical criticism amount to, then? It includes discussions of communication ethics and the work of the citizen in the democracy. (Rhetoric is more properly allied with citizenship than with the market.) And, it has tools for the analysis of science, literature, politics and academic discourse — the depth and variety of texts advocated for in this piece.
What is required is that the teacher understand the tradition that starts with the Greeks (where this author’s knowledge fails even to begin) and runs through 2000 years of philosophical, literary, social and critical theory tied together by a common interest in the work of language in human communities.
And so the last major point of failure in this essay:
“[rhetoric] follows an intersubjective logic similar to that of capital. Rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with advertising, the dominant language of contemporary desire”
Never has anything more wrong been said. And said so brazenly, without citation, evidence, or proof. Rhetoric goes hand in hand with the processes of community formation and reinstantiation (consusbstantiation and critique through a variety of argumentative, narrative and other discourses in a range of media).
Until Mr. Kugelmass understands the field, I suggest that he refrain from criticism. His local Barnes and Noble has a primer that the average reader (nonacademic) can grasp (Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion). Take a stab at that, then, and this will be harder, take a stab at the professional literature.
Then, and only then, come back and re-evaluate whether rhetorical studies has an integral place in the 21st century university, as it did in the classical, medieval, renaissance and enlightenment universities.

No comments: