Friday, January 16, 2009

Why I Have few Suggestions on What to Read on Richards in 20th Century Theory

I got nothing. I just finished writing a section of the MS in which I describe Richards as the 8-track tape of the rhetorical tradition: from today's iPod, there is no way to reverse-engineer your way back to the 8-track (Richards). The only way to understand the 8-track is to start from a different starting point, treat it as a response to an exigence that no longer exists, and work forward.

Richards was answering questions we don't ask anymore -- as if a rhetoric could be built by understanding the relationship between mind, language, and world.

Rhetoric since 1945 at least, in Comm and since 1960 in Comp has been about inventing the narrative of the classical tradition in the 20th century, which has never really been about mind/language/world. We have been busy pretending that Bromley Smith and Fred Newton Scott knew what the classical tradition meant for criticism and pedagogy -- inventing that narrative so that we can claim a narrative from the births of the fields...

...when in fact what we are erasing are the messy bits, like Richards and his awkward, indirect American inheritors, the General Semanticists. Composition in 1950 WAS about language, mind and world, every time a teacher yelled that "the map was not the territory." And while not as pronounced in Comm, it appeared in the journals as was reflected in some pedagogy.

We don't ask those questions anymore, so there is little that Richards can speak to, directly.

That said,
1. If you're using Lakoff, excerpt the bits about the failures of the interactionist theory of metaphor in "More than Cool Reason" and pair them with the bits in Philosophy of Rhetoric. Does Lakoff's critique of the Richards/Black model hold, or... is Lakoff impoverished against the Interactionist model?

2. The most interesting thing I've read is "Coleridge on Imagination," in which Richards rethinks his early, naive psychology thru the "Subject-Object Coalescence" in Coleridge -- the claim that the separation of subject/object in philosophical discourse is a fiction of convenience, because the mind fashions the object in the process of thinking about it and the object participates in the processes of self-constitution of the mind. Richards works thru defs of "nature" with this in mind -- a literary Anglo complement to Adorno/Hork on the domination of nature. Apparently once taught often in lit crit grad classes, now forgot.


Anonymous said...

Interesting treatment of I.A. but I can't help but think it was the turn to Burke that was Richards' killing blow?

Hey amigo, didja see Stanley Fish's musings on "The Last Professor"?


David said...

You are so right -- but not exactly.

(a) Richards never penetrated Rhet in Comm, directly. To the extent that his way of thinking made it into the Semanticists, his way of thinking did make it into Comm, but not Richards himself (except some metaphor criticism). So the turn to Burke killed the Semanticists, killing Richards.

But what makes Burke different from the Semanticists, really, in my opinion, is Burke's classical orientation and his Marxism. But his Marxism is suppressed by the 1940s-1950s, and it is the classicism that makes the difference.

Do you think?