Recant Reviling Love

I am going to have to say the appeal of the metaphor for love and rhetoric is quite effective for drawing in the audience. Perhaps it is unprofessional to say about the reflections on my personal life as pertains to Plato’s writings – but then I think the Greeks had an altogether different view of what professionalism might be. Suffice to say, this is the most I have laughed reading for classical rhetoric so far.

Phaedrus’ recounting of Lysias’ speech says lovers without love are better because Love gets exhausted, keeps score of the wrongs over the years, is irrational, jealous limiting and not a friend – a friend would point out flaws but Love does not. So, speaking of professionalism, the case is that sex for pleasure versus love turns out better. I can get on board with this metaphor for rhetoric and writing. It is subjective – there’s not one right way – it’s limiting, there are many ways to communicate, why writing? And it definitely can be exhausting.

However, sex without love also cannot ultimately satisfy and so – recant! Socrates recants after all agreeing with Phaedrus (except that he didn’t argue it well and that Socrates could do it better). The two discourses, he says, were lacking in delicacy: “Would not anyone who was himself of a noble and gentle nature, and who loved or ever had loved a nature like his own, when we tell of the petty causes of lovers’ jealousies, and of their exceeding animosities, and of the injuries which they do to their beloved, have imagined that our ideas of love were taken from some haunt of sailors to which good manners were unknown – he would certainly never have admitted the justice of our censure?” (243 c-d).  Indeed. Bias wrecks the rhetoric, just as love gone wrong wrecks the ways we love ever after. It’s like the misuse of rhetoric has wounded rhetoricians like Plato and Quintilian deeply – and maybe this is why there is so much talk about a rhetorician/orator needed to be morally good.

It feels a lot like the case I make to my students: I know writing has hurt you before, been painful, made you feel dumb or frustrated – but it has it’s uses! There can be good writing experiences! In the love metaphor, just because there was cheating and insults and they kicked you out of the house before you had a place to stay, does not mean that’s going to happen again. As teachers in college we have to address the wounded and make a safe place for students to make all the blunders of new love without criticism.

One thought on “Recant Reviling Love”

  1. I had a meeting with one of my mentors this morning, who said to me (twice): “Where are you going, where have you been?” Which of course is the first line from the Phaedrus, as well as the title of the famous short story by Joyce Carol Oates in which an adolescent girl meets the devil. (His name in the story is actually ‘Arnold Friend,’ but the symbolism is pretty obvious, especially when you take out the r’s.)

    Anyway: I like the idea of the pedagogical parallels to the love-gone-wrong idea; rhetoric gone wrong; writing gone wrong. It makes me think of Elspeth Stuckey’s stuff on class in “The Violence of Literacy,” and maybe Richard Rodriguez in “Aria,” as well (and “Bootstraps”): how these patterns of ascent and maturing and learning all inevitably rip something away from us or damage us in some way. Or maybe it’s just change. If you’re not the same as you were before, are you damaged?

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