Discussion Writing for Week 3

AL 805 Discussion Questions on Ancient Greek Rhetoric

As put forth by Frannicus, a Spartan Woman and Rhetor

(Aka Franny Howes)

What are the affordances of toga fetishism? Now, I know (and I corrected someone else on Facebook) that the Greeks did not wear togas, but I think the image is appropriate to the question of, why are we reading this stuff? Why do we read it, we as the members of this particular history of rhetoric class; moreover, why do other rhetoricians read Ancient Greek rhetorical theory, and with such intensity of focus?

This ties into something I noticed that both the Plato and Aristotle texts had in common. Axes of difference were very rarely contested within the works—slaves are slaves, and Sappho is a great thinker despite being a woman. Yet, one particular axis of difference between people that is contested within these works is that of youth versus age. Callicles criticizes Socrates greatly for engaging in what he sees as an adolescent pastime; Aristotle declares what the young can and can’t do, or can and can’t know (they can be mathematicians but not natural philosophers or metaphysicians, because math relies on laws that they can learn, but the other arts rely on experience and life that they don’t have).

Is an old text necessarily a good or worthy text? What is the significance of ancient Greek rhetorical theory other than it is writing about rhetoric that exists pretty close to the invention of writing in Greece in the first place? Do rhetoricians study it simply because it is old? Do people in other disciplines base their theory on the oldest example of their theory? I proposed this to a physics grad student and he laughed and described Platonic physics as “epic fail”. Now, we haven’t shown Aristotle to be categorically false in his descriptions of rhetoric, but is he truer than anyone else in trying to categorize different types of rhetoric?

This all leads me to wonder: do texts have roles according to their age like people, as outlined by Plato and Aristotle? We see texts as old or new, but people as old or young. Is there such thing as a young text? Do texts have an adolescence? What would that look like? Are there any affordances to looking at a text as elderly or juvenile due to its distance from the present rather than looking it as contemporary versus ancient? Or would such a change in view perpetuate our own views of what age means in people? In Gorgias, Callicles criticizes Socrates for philosophizing as an old man, for he deems it to be something people should do when they are young, and then move on to being involved with politics as adult citizens. Is this the opposite of what we expect texts to do? Do people only accept outright philosophizing in old texts rather than young texts?

Atwill describes these philosophers as asking the questions, “Who is most happy, the wisest, the best man”? Are these questions worth asking anymore? Their ideas on rhetoric are woven tightly together with their ideas on what is good, just, and pleasant. Who asks questions about what makes a happy life anymore, outside of a church that is?

I wonder, how does this all implicate writing instructors? Should we be concerned with what is good in life, in conjunction with how to describe it in rhetoric? If this seems like a weird question, I am posing this from the standpoint of teaching my first writing class, and thinking back to my own freshman writing class, where my crusty old (beloved) instructor did make the question of what makes a life worth living a central topic of our class. I get the impression that he was pretty far “out there” but is that necessarily so?

If asking questions about what is good in life is not the domain of rhetors/rhetoricians, do we still have an obligation to speak of good? Can "good writing" be evil? Is content an important topic in writing studies? Isn't the work of Plato and Aristotle "great work" that contains ideas we think are evil now? I feel silly asking the question, but as someone new to the field, do/should we care as much about the “what” of writing as the “how”? (This comes from Plato’s criticism of rhetoric as being a vehicle to convincing people of things that are untrue or unjust, and Gorgias’s defense of the teacher in the case that one’s student might have committed a crime or injustice.)

The previous section was a more stream-of-consciousness attempt to connect the most important questions that occurred to me while I was reading this week. The chunks of questions that follow are less connected to each other but also important:

What force drives the dividing of a whole into parts over time? Disciplines of thought and study were being established back in Ancient Greece that have been further distanced from each other over time. Is this intellectual entropy? Have we the ability to unite what has been drawn apart—can interdisciplinarity create metadisciplines? Or does disciplinarity only move in one direction? Sometimes I feel like looking at very old scenes in the history of consciousness is like looking at map of Pangaea—is it like that, or is it more like looking at maps of nations and borders over time? Is the differentiation between natural philosophy and, say, rhetoric like the difference between continents or is it the difference between nations?

What is the difference between making and doing? Is rhetoric a making or is it a doing? What are the affordances of seeing it as making, as doing, or as something else? (Theoretical art, practical art, productive art, something totally different?)

Is pleasantness so mutually exclusive from speech that leads people to virtue? Can't a pleasant speech inspire virtue? Or persuade people to virtue? Maybe?

Is narrative "alogon", a “knack” rather than a craft? Is there a reasoning/logos of narrative? Might such a logos of narrative be more apparent in history than in fictional narrative?

Moreover, what is wrong with flattery? Does it not have its place as a skill, knowing how to appeal to the masses? What differentiates fine art from flattery? I could tell you what differentiates contemporary fine art from flattery in some cases, but was ancient sculpture, for example, so exalted by the rules of its art that it couldn’t be decried as flattery?

Finally, is there a pleasure to doing this kind of study? To bring it back to “toga fetishism, does engaging with these texts so deeply as a discipline a fulfilling or satisfying thing to do for any parties? Who does it please that some in our field get hot and bothered over swords and sandals? Why might people choose to valorize and canonize old texts over new? Was this a necessary process for us to exist as a discipline? Must we reenact it?

email me at howesfra at msu dot edu