Monday, March 28, 2016

Rhetoric and Composition: Tying the Greeks to the present.

Maybe this is worthy of #dorkalert, but I am so excited to read Chapter 3 of Janie Lauer Invention in Rhetoric and Composition because I see it's bringing us back to the Greeks (and following that, the Romans, the medieval period, the Renaissance and, finally, my beloved eighteenth and nineteenth centuries-- which I might have to explore at a later date).

I was immediately struck by the dilemma given in the opening paragraph, that "in earlier periods rhetoricians held narrow views of who could hold the subject position of rhetor, i.e., who could engage in rhetoric and hence in invention" (11). This brought me back to a conversation from a few weeks ago in which we discussed the world of research academia, where a few key scholars seem to set the rules, and the rest are left to wonder about their place in the field. It is interesting to me that this was a question going all the way back to the Sophists.  Evidently, as is the case today, people argued the answer to this dilemma, as Aristotle, Ramus, Bacon, Blair, and Hope exemplify).

Lauer breaks into the three dominant Greek conceptions of invention, regarding composition. First up was the Sophists, who focused on the initiation of discourse as being of top importance. They called this initiation, "Kairos" (or, as Debrah so kindly expanded on via Hypothesis, the "opportune moment"). In conjunction with dissoi logoi, defined as a two fold argument in which one must equally consider both sides, I find this to be a compelling conception-- utilizing kairos, the opportune moment, as the catalyst for knowledge. However, it seems to be difficult to pin kairos down-- a key point offered by Lauer and backed up by other critics is the question of if "rhetor could control kairos or be overwhelmed by it" (15).

Lauer then considers sophistic epistemology, and she cites Kathleen Freeman's writing on Protagoras's theory of knowledge and explains that, "each individual's perceptions are immediately true for him at any given moment, and there is no means of deciding which of several options about the same thing is the true one; there is no such thing as 'truer' though there is such a thing as better" (qtd. in 15). Hmmm. I don't think I'm a fan of this approach. As Lauer goes on to explain, this totally disregards any kind of stable knowledge. Additionally, "objects do now exist except while someone is perceiving them" (qtd. in 15). Once again, hmm. Lauer cites Janet Atwell as defending this idea, "while his theory of knowledge is relativistic, it does not give way to skepticism or solipsism. Considering that solipsism is defined as "the view of theory that the self is all that can be known to exist" (and yes, I had to Google that), the fact that everything is based on each individual's perceptions, then I feel that this may imply that the self is the only thing that does truly exist. I think, to the contrary of Atwell, that this does certainly give way to skepticism and solipsism.

Moving on from the Sophists, Lauer next considers Plato's view of Invention. Plato seems to be more focused on the soul of the matter, in regard to discourse, and Lauer cites Martha Nussbaum as arguing that "to reach insight one needed personal love and passion, the ferment of the entire personality, even certain aspects of madness" (18).  Scholars differ in their approaches to Plato's view of the purpose of invention. Some argue that Plato "considered invention's goal to be locating support for judgments and truth found outside of rhetoric and then adapting these truths to various audiences" while others "have claimed that Plato viewed invention as a process of inquiry and reasoning" (18).  I'm not sure where I would side on this issue, and I think I would have to know more about Plato to make an educated decision on the matter. Regardless, it appears that, unlike the Sophists, Plato seems to dig more into the meaning of knowledge, not merely the point at which a new idea is instigated.

Finally, Lauer focuses on Aristotle's Rhetoric, in which he "delineated several acts of invention and constructed arts(strategies or principles)...for analyzing the discourse situation and categorizing its matter; arts for exploring using the 28 common topics...and the special topics...:and arts for framing its probably rhetorical epistemology facilitated by the enthymeme and the example" (19). Of the three groups examined thus far, Aristotle seems to have the most point-by-point breakdown of his analysis, however, there is still debate over the implications of what is has lain out.  I found John Gage's opinion to be intriguing, that "Aristotle's rhetoric was legitimate inquiry into probable knowledge...that for Aristotle knowledge was created through invention in the activity of discourse (21). However, Eugene Garver would argue that "Aristotle was not interested in creating specialized knowledge but in finding the available arguments" (21).

The questions of truth, purpose, and meaning were clearly hotly debated among the Greeks, and I think it is so interesting to be able to go back in time and see that the questions that are debated today were problematic back then too. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is nothing new under the sun.

Moving on to something a little more recent (I think that's safe to say!), this reading was paired with Chapter 16 of Farris and Anson, "Theory, Practice, and the Bridge Between: The Methods Course and Reflective Rhetoric" by Kathleen Blake Yancey. I think that this pairing is going to be an important one, because all of the previous reading was theory. Theory is fantastic, but sometimes it seems like a far leap from what is actually instituted in the classroom, and I think Yancey's questions are important ones: "How have I taught? How do I understand my own teaching? What have my students learned?" (234). Stepping back from theory, I think it is crucial to realize that human beings are the test subjects in the field of knowledge, and Yancey immediately highlights this as being the case.

Yancey explores the important question of delivery and perceived intention, which certainly hearkens back to the writings of the Greeks. As one could see all throughout Lauer's article, scholars differed in their interpretations of the texts. This is an issue across the board, whether one is reading the ancient Greeks, or attempting to convey a mathematical concept to a group of 4th graders.

I particularly loved Yancey's point that a good teacher is forever a student. I've seen this to be true in my own life, as the best teachers that I have had have been openly willing to learn from those they are teaching. Conversely, the worst have been the one's who waltz into the classroom, completely disconnected, and pretending to have all the answers. Yancey seems like a teacher whom I would love to have!

I appreciated this article because I felt a very real connection to Yancey through her writing. In so any ways, academic articles can seem to fly over the heads of the intended audience, for the purpose of being on another level. However, throughout her article, Yancey continually brings the topic back to her research, her students, and her purpose mentioned within the first few pages, to weave together a theory that would be applicable to her own students who seek to teach, as well as any other aspiring teachers that may be out there. Her ending point about the importance of reflection is threaded throughout the entire article, and it is an important one. As a future teacher, I want to be approachable, and I want my students to know that I care. I do not want to passion to be crushed out of me by cynicism, and an inability to connect with those who I intend to educate. If that were to happen, what good would come to me, or to my students?

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