Friday, October 2, 2009

Joint Effort!

I’m left thinking about Obama. And Glen Beck. And Reagan. And Clinton. And Hitler. Would you prefer Jefferson? I’m thinking of him too… Walker (paraphrasing Hesiod) suggests the world of “rhetoric” breaks into two clear worlds: in short, the rhetoric of art and the rhetoric of business/politics. That rhetoric (or whatever word will eventually become “rhetoric”) is a “pyschagoogic art” of enthralling the given audience and turning aside listeners’ minds. Literally, taking control of their thoughts and bending them to the task at hand, be it poetry or policy. That the Arts would originally be considered the “secondary” half of the two is not surprising. However, the deduction that the most-successful rhetoric of politics and business actually springs from this “secondary art” is quite interesting to me as a writer and as a teacher and as a citizen, and I think Walker and company are on to something quite empowering here. Back to Obama. He is our President because he’s a good speaker. Period. That’s it. Politics aside, what separated him from that pack and captured the imagination and support of so many a year ago was his ability to speak well. To share his vision in a way that was comprehensible to the “lore and language” (epos) of his mass audiences and supported by the “rhythmic formulae” (epea) of a sweeter discourse clearly found within our churches, streets and cultures. Our ears, suggests Walker, are trained to appreciate these “rhythms” and devices through church, ceremony, art. An epideictic code of an almost Jungian nature that the audience (must never forget the audience) shares collectively. To this, does the master speaker address.
I should just get onto my question: What rhetorical practices that we’ve encountered so far this year in song appear in your favorite “practitioner of pragmatika?” I’ve had a ball the last few days watching Obama speak (on Iran) and Beck rant on Fox. I’ve thought about the best salespersons I’ve ever worked with in the business world. I’ve thought about the “best” teacher I ever had and why... How did he speak? Question #1: What in the language of these practical speakers is similar to the rhetorical devices found in song? From repetition and cadence to expletives and hyperbaton, and everything in between. These devices are learned by the audience from ART, from the poetry of five thousand years of song and story. If Wallace speaks true, we’ll find these same devices in the next speech by your favorite (and least favorite) politician. And if, indeed, the Muses have blessed us with the gift of rhetoric to foster peace and justice on Earth, our very best leaders will those who have assimilated the very best practices of art (rather than the detached “rhetoric”propsed by Aristotle and Socrates). Question #2: As writers and educators and citizens, what rhetorical devices might we learn for ourselves and pass on to the next generation that are lifted from directly from the “bards” of so long ago and today?

As I read through Walker's essay I couldn't help but focus in on the sophist as he defines (if they can at all be defined fully) one. A "...professional intellectual, a 'wiseman,' 'sage,' or the possesor , performer, and a professor of some special skill...The sophist might, perhaps, even be a 'wizard'..." (37). This is because they seemed to translate as poets, in that a poet must be some type of wizard to pull the audience into the text/performance with grace. I use the word pull because I am imagining now a ribbon in the wind that a speaker must extend to the audience in order to reach them. The audience might not always be able to catch the ribbon (meaning the imagery or every word spoken) but that the image/text/performance is ever present, dancing before them. The subject matter in poetry can be stronger or more engaging when it dangles in from an audience, leads them to or through a story. This is most clear in poems such as Edmund Spenser's "Aegloga Quarta" and Shakespeare's "It Was a Lover and His Lass" where the story seems whimsical, fluid, song-like. And, of course these are song-like, as Spenser has a, sort-of duet with these two voices talking back and forth to one another. And as Shakespeare writes with refrain using "with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino" Sophists are poets in the sense that they bridge the gap, or more importantly, overlap the epideictic and pragmatic speech. So, to the question. If poets like Blake, Spenser, and Donne are capable of creating poems that are "timeless," in the sense in that they "embody an ancient, ancestral wisdom," (23) speaking as "sages," how then, can modern poets such as Langston Hughes or Geoffrey Hill immortalize their poems? Are they steeped in the language of the present and is that language song-like enough to keep us from forgetting it or its importance/success as a "timeless" art? P.S. Does anyone still have the Lip Gloss song in their head? Man, I can't stop singing/humming it.

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